Ivan Pentchoukov


Attorney General William Barr announced on Dec. 9 that the surveillance operation against the Trump campaign in 2016 amounted to a “clear abuse” of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process.

Barr made the remarks in a statement responding to the Justice Department inspector general’s report on the handling of the FISA applications for warrants to spy on Trump-campaign associate Carter Page.

“In the rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates, FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source,” Barr said.

“The Inspector General found the explanations given for these actions unsatisfactory. While most of the misconduct identified by the Inspector General was committed in 2016 and 2017 by a small group of now-former FBI officials, the malfeasance and misfeasance detailed in the Inspector General’s report reflects a clear abuse of the FISA process.”

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded in a report released on Dec. 9 that the four applications for warrants to spy on Page contained 17 significant errors. The errors and other failures amounted to “serious performance failures by the supervisory and non-supervisory agents.”

Barr said FBI Director Wray is “dismayed” by the handling of the FISA applications. Wray is expected to announce a comprehensive set of reforms on Dec. 9, according to Barr.

The FBI launched a counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign in late July 2016. Barr concluded that the investigation was “intrusive” and was initiated based “on the thinnest of suspicions.” The suspicions were “insufficient” to justify the steps the bureau went on to take, Barr said.

“Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration,” Barr said.

In late October 2016, the FBI secured a FISA warrant to surveil Page. The bureau renewed the warrant three times, surveilling Page for a total of twelve months.

The FISA warrant application featured claims from an unverified dossier of opposition research on Trump. Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele compiled the dossier by using second- and third-hand sources with ties to the Kremlin.

“Steele himself was not the originating source of any of the factual information in his reporting. Steele instead relied on a Primary Sub-source for information, who used his/her network of sub-sources to gather information that was then passed to Steele,” the inspector general’s report said.

The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee ultimately paid for Steele’s work, a fact the FBI did not disclose in the warrant application.

While the extent of the surveillance granted in Page’s case remains classified, FISA warrants allow for some of the most intrusive spying under the law. Under the so-called “two-hop” rule, investigators could collect the communications of every person Page interacted with as well every person who communicated with Page’s contacts. As a result, it is possible that the FBI obtained the communications of the entire Trump campaign, both retroactively and in real-time.

A number of FBI officials directly involved in preparing and signing the FISA warrants have all either left or been fired from the bureau, including Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok.

The scandal surrounding the surveillance warrants was amplified by the discovery of biased text messages between Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, with whom Strzok was having an extramarital affair. Strzok and Page vented their hatred of Trump, spoke of his slim chances of winning the election, committed to stopping him from being elected, discussed an “insurance policy” in the unlikely event of a Trump victory and mulled “impeachment” once around the time they joined special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Strzok led the investigation of the Trump campaign and the probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of an unauthorized private email server for government work. In a report on the review of the Clinton-email probe, Horowitz concluded that Strzok and Page’s biased messages “cast a cloud” over the investigation, but was unable to find evidence to support the claim that the bias had an effect on any investigative decisions.

Horowitz formally announced the investigation into the Carter Page FISA in March 2018. He submitted a draft report to the DOJ in September. Horowitz said at the time that his team reviewed more than 1 million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses.

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov

Author: Ivan Pentchoukov

Source: The Epoch Times: Attorney General: Surveillance of Trump Campaign ‘a Clear Abuse of the FISA Process’

U.S. lawmakers conducting the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry have yet to discover any direct evidence of the central allegation against President Donald Trump, even after a parade of witnesses and weeks of depositions and hearings.

The leader of the inquiry, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), has long alleged that Trump sought to boost his reelection chances by withholding foreign aid from Ukraine to pressure the nation’s leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

The evidence that witnesses have shared to date adds up to a pyramid of hearsay that rests primarily on just two original sources: U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.

Under cross-examination on Nov. 20, Sondland said that no one had told him that the hold on aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations and that he simply presumed that the connection existed. Volker, who had contact with both Trump and the Ukrainians, testified that the aid was never conditioned on investigations.

While the House impeachment proceedings aren’t a formal trial, where hearsay and presumptions would be promptly cut off by defense counsel, Democrats and a number of media outlets have nonetheless appeared to treat the hearsay and presumptions as evidence of impeachable conduct.

In remarks made during the testimony of former National Security Council official Fiona Hill on Nov. 21, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) crystallized the problem of cases that are built on hearsay evidence.

“For those of you keeping score at home, the effort to accuse our president of coercion, extortion, or bribery with these witnesses, as we now come to closing session of this, basically breaks down as follows: We have [State Department official George] Kent and Ambassador [to Ukraine William] Taylor who spoke of hearsay—their hearsay of these matters that they’ve said that they had heard—were all statements that they’d heard from others who have also testified in front of us, so there’s no one that’s missing, there’s no one out there,” Turner said.

“Kent and Taylor said that they basically heard it from Morrison and Sondland. Morrison indicated that he’d heard it from Sondland. Sondland testified yesterday that he’d heard it from no one on the planet.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko have both said they were never aware of a connection between the hold on aid to Ukraine and Trump’s request for investigations; Trump has also denied any connection.

As pointed out by Turner, Hill testified earlier in the hearing that, “based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country.” Hill’s statement appeared to have been aimed at Republicans on the committee who have questioned witnesses about Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

During the hearing, Turner produced a copy of the report compiled by the committee’s Republicans on Russian active measures in the 2016 presidential election; Republicans unanimously voted in early 2018 to release the report to the public. The first sentence of the report states, “In 2015, Russia began engaging in a covert influence campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election.” Turner noted that, with a little research, Hill could have avoided the mistake of relying on “questions and statements I have heard.”

“This is a problem with no matter how convinced we are, Dr. Hill. No matter how we believe we know that what we’ve heard is true, it is still just what we’ve heard,” Turner said.

A number of witnesses who could shed more light on the events at the core of the inquiry have refused to appear before the committee. The key figures in the case would be Trump himself, the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Turner also pointed to the single piece of evidence that may prove to be direct. In testimony contradicted by Volker, Sondland said he was told that a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky was conditioned on investigations.

“You guys want to be the laughing stock of history to impeach a president of the United States because he didn’t take a meeting?” Turner asked. “Please undertake that.”

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov

Author: Ivan Pentchoukov

Source: The Epoch Times: After Weeks of Hearings, Impeachment Evidence Still Limited to Hearsay and Presumptions

Shortly after overseeing the signing of a “safe third country” asylum agreement with Guatemala at the Oval Office on July 26, President Donald Trump told reporters that he expects to soon sign similar deals with Honduras and El Salvador.

Prior to the pact with Guatemala, Trump had already secured help from Mexico to tackle the migration crisis. In both cases, the president used the threat of tariffs to compel the two nations to cooperate, suggesting that the option of a tariff threat is on the table in dealing with Honduras and El Salvador as well.

“We have other great countries that are going to be signing up also,” Trump said.

Asked later if he expected to reach similar agreements with Honduras and El Salvador, Trump replied, “I do indeed.”

Migrants from Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras account for 74 percent of the cases in U.S. immigration courts. In addition to their nationals who continue to pour into the United States, these countries serve as the major transit corridor for migrants from more than 200 other nations traveling en route to the United States.

As a result, cooperation from the four nations is crucial to stemming the flow of migrants to the U.S. southern border, especially at a time when Democrats in Congress continue to refuse to work with the Trump administration on legislation to patch up the loopholes in the U.S. immigration system. The president said the deals with Honduras and El Salvador may come “pretty soon,” suggesting that his international diplomacy may end up addressing a crisis largely perceived as a domestic issue under the purview of Congress.

The agreement with Guatemala requires migrants from Honduras and El Salvador to file their asylum claims and await the decisions in their cases in Guatemala; those who fail to do so will be sent back to Mexico once they are apprehended on the U.S.-Mexico border. While details of the implementation are unclear, the deal can technically prevent the vast majority of migrants from Honduras and El Salvador from traveling to and remaining in the United States. Migrants from El Salvador and Honduras constitute more than a third of the total claims in U.S. immigration courts.

Trump called the deal with Guatemala “historic” and said it would be “terrific” for both countries. The president noted that the deal will pave the way for investment in Guatemala and the expansion of the farm workers visa program.

“Today, we’re sending a clear message to human smugglers and traffickers that your day is over. And we’re investing in the future of Guatemala, the safety of migrants, and their families,” Trump said. “We’ll protect the rights of those with legitimate claims, and we’ll end the widespread abuse of the system and the crippling crisis on our border.”

Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart signed the agreement in the Oval Office as Trump looked on.

Guatemala briefly walked away from the deal earlier this month, and Trump responded with a threat of levying tariffs, raising fees on remittance payments, or imposing a travel ban. With any one of the measures posing the threat of crippling its economy, Guatemala signed the deal days later.

While it’s too soon to tell what effect the deal with Guatemala will have, the assistance that Mexico is providing is already having a substantial impact on the flow of migrants. According to McAleenan, apprehensions on the southwest border dropped by 28 percent in June and 22 percent in July, following Mexico’s commitment to use its National Guard to intercept and deter migrants traversing its territory.

The Trump administration also recently expanded the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) policy to cover the entire length of the border. Under the MPP, which requires cooperation from Mexico, some migrants who seek to enter the United States are sent back to Mexico to await the resolution of their cases.

Mexico’s government said July 27 it would help Honduras create 20,000 jobs this year and support its coffee farmers, as the two countries seek to curb migration to the United States. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his Honduran counterpart, Juan Orlando Hernández, pledged to work together to lift prosperity in Central America, where poverty and violence have fueled the northward exodus of people.

Similar to Guatemala, Mexico sealed the cooperation deal with the United States after Trump threatened to impose increasingly crippling tariffs on Mexican goods. Earlier in his presidency, Trump imposed tariffs on some of America’s biggest allies and adversaries, despite opposition at home and abroad. These measures against China, Canada, and the European Union are now a factor for any leader contemplating whether Trump is bluffing when he threatens to impose tariffs.

In Guatemala’s case, the United States negotiated for months before Trump used the threat of tariffs to push the deal over the finish line.

“This is a very big day,” he said. “We have long been working with Guatemala and now we can do it the right way.”

In response to some of his domestic critics, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said on social media that the deal evades “drastic sanctions … many of them designed to strongly punish our economy, such as taxes on remittances that our brothers send daily, as well as the imposition of tariffs on our export goods and migratory restrictions.”

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov

Author: Ivan Pentchoukov

Source: The Epoch Times: Honduras, El Salvador Expected to Follow After Guatemala, Mexico Make Immigration Deals With Trump

The Department of Defense awarded two contracts worth nearly $1 billion on April 9 for the construction of border walls in New Mexico and Arizona.

The department awarded $789 million to SLSCO Ltd., a builder based in Galveston, Texas, to replace a border wall in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. The department also awarded $187 million to Barnard Construction Co. Inc., a builder based in Bozeman, Montana, to replace pedestrian barriers in Yuma, Arizona. Both projects should be completed by October 2020.

According to a statement from the Pentagon, both contracts will be paid with Army funds. The statement didn’t specify whether the funds came from the $1.4 billion approved by Congress, the $3.1 billion shifted from other departments, or the $3.6 billion allocated for border wall construction via the emergency declaration by President Donald Trump. The Pentagon didn’t immediately respond to a request for clarification.

Santa Teresa, where the $789 million section of wall will be built, is part of the El Paso border sector, which has seen the sharpest increase in crossings. From October to March, apprehensions of illegal aliens in the El Paso sector grew 1,670 percent for family units, 333 percent for unaccompanied minors, and 60 percent for single adults, compared to the same period in 2018, according to the Border Patrol.

Agents working the El Paso sector apprehended 35,898 unaccompanied alien minors, 53,565 migrants traveling as families, and 9,933 single alien adults in the six months before March 31.

The Yuma border sector, where the $187 million border wall will be built, has experienced a 273 percent increase in illegal border crossings by migrants traveling as families from October to March compared to the same period a year earlier.

Border Patrol agents in the Yuma sector apprehended 3,679 unaccompanied alien children, 24,194 aliens traveling with a family member, and 3,520 single alien adults in the six months before the end of March.

During his campaign, Trump promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Despite staunch opposition from Democrats in Congress, he has secured more than $8 billion for wall construction this year.

Virtually all construction is occurring in sections of the border where older walls no longer meet Border Patrol’s operational requirements.

“We’ve built a lot of wall. A lot of wall. And it’s new wall,” Trump told reporters at the White House on April 10.

“You know, when we rip down an old wall and then replace it, it’s called a ‘new wall.’ And that’s what we’ve done. A lot of wall is going up. And every place we build the wall, it’s less and less,” the president added, referring to the decline in illegal border crossings in sections where walls have gone up.

The White House is in the midst of reshuffling the senior leadership of its immigration agencies. The leadership changes are part of Trump’s plan for a tougher approach to immigration.

The president said on April 10 that migrants are drawn to the United States because of the great economy and loopholes in the immigration system. The sharp increase in family units illegally crossing the border is largely attributed to a patchwork of policies which force immigration authorities to release family units into the interior of the country before their asylum claim are adjudicated.

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov

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Author: Ivan Pentchoukov

Source: Theepochtimes: Pentagon Awards $976 Million in Border Wall Contracts

WASHINGTON—Ahead of his second meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump said on Feb. 15 that the leader of Japan had nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work to open up a dialogue with the reclusive country.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “gave me the most beautiful copy of a letter that he sent to the people who give out a thing called the Nobel Prize,” Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden when asked about his upcoming summit with Kim later this month in Vietnam.

“He said, ‘I have nominated you, respectfully, on behalf of Japan. I am asking them to give you the Nobel Peace Prize.’”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who also has credited Trump with starting negotiations with North Korea, has endorsed him for the Nobel Peace Prize as well.

Trump said early exchanges with Kim were filled with “fire and fury,” but since their first meeting last year in Singapore, the two have established a good relationship. He said Abe nominated him because he was worried about North Korea conducting missile tests over Japan.

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The Associated Press could not immediately confirm the nomination. The Japanese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2009, President Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize for laying out the U.S. commitment to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

“I’ll probably never get it, but that’s OK,” Trump said. “They gave it to Obama. He didn’t even know what he got it for.”

Congressmen Nominate Trump for 2019 Nobel Peace Prize

A group of 18 House lawmakers signed a letter formally nominating President Donald Trump for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula on May 1, 2018.

“Since taking office, President Trump has worked tirelessly to apply maximum pressure on North Korea to end its illicit weapons programs and bring peace to the region,” said the letter drafted by Rep. Luke Messer and signed by 17 Republican House members.

The formal nomination came on the heels of a statement from South Korean President Moon Jae-in that “Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha had both credited Trump for the breakthrough.

“His Administration successfully united the international community, including China, to impose one of the most successful international sanctions regimes in history,” the letter said. “The sanctions have decimated the North Korean economy and have been largely credited for bringing North Korea to the negotiating table.”

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Messer had floated the idea of nominating Trump for the prize since March 2018.

“The only reason the North Korean dictator is coming to the table is because President Trump has stared him down and shown him that we have a leader in America who means business and who has changed the dynamic in major ways,” Messer told Fox News. “That’s why I think he has to be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

When Trump spoke about the breakthrough with North Korea during a rally in Michigan last year on April 28, the crowd began chanting, “Nobel, Nobel, Nobel.”

Trump faced the threat from North Korea head-on early in his presidency while dealing with a battery of high-stakes crises at home and abroad. The communist regime’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, tested several missiles purportedly capable of reaching the United States and detonated what Pyongyang said was a hydrogen bomb.

Trump responded with firm threats of military action and a corresponding relocation of firepower to the Korean peninsula. Simultaneously, the president spearheaded an unprecedented sanctions regime and forged alliances with key players in the region.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Author: Ivan Pentchoukov

Source: Theepochtimes: Japanese Prime Minister Nominates Trump for Nobel Peace Prize

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