Friday Reads

Good Morning!!

two-acrobats-with-a-dog-by-pablo-picasso-1905-m-g-whittingham

Two Acrobats with a Dog, by Pablo Picasso, 1905

In my Tuesday post, I wrote about the right wing media attacks on Hillary Clinton after Bill Barr’s handpicked special counsel (aka attack dog) John Durham made public a court filing that implied that the Clinton campaign had somehow spied on Donald Trump in 2016. I posted a NYT piece by Charlie Savage that explained why the charges were nonsensical.

This insanity has continued all this week, and yesterday even Durham pointed out that the wingers were wrong. Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Durham Distances Himself From Furor in Right-Wing Media Over Filing.

John H. Durham, the Trump-era special counsel scrutinizing the investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, distanced himself on Thursday from false reports by right-wing news outlets that a motion he recently filed said Hillary Clinton’s campaign had paid to spy on Trump White House servers.

Citing a barrage of such reports on Fox News and elsewhere based on the prosecutor’s Feb. 11 filing, defense lawyers for a Democratic-linked cybersecurity lawyer, Michael Sussmann, have accused the special counsel of including unnecessary and misleading information in filings “plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage and taint the jury pool.”

In a filing on Thursday, Mr. Durham defended himself, saying those accusations about his intentions were “simply not true.” He said he had “valid and straightforward reasons” for including the information in the Feb. 11 filing that set off the firestorm, while disavowing responsibility for how certain news outlets had interpreted and portrayed it.

“If third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the government’s motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the government’s inclusion of this information,” he wrote.

But even as he did not acknowledge any problem with how he couched his filing last week, Mr. Durham said he would make future filings under seal if they contained “information that legitimately gives rise to privacy issues or other concerns that might overcome the presumption of public access to judicial documents.”

Former President Donald J. Trump has seized on the inaccurate reporting to declare that there is now “indisputable evidence” of a Clinton campaign conspiracy against him — and to suggest that there ought to be executions. Mr. Trump, Fox News hosts and others have also criticized mainstream journalists for not covering the purported revelation.

Yesterday, Clinton herself spoke out in an aside in a speech at the New York Democratic Convention.

That was a clear warning that the nonsense is approaching libel territory. Ted Johnson at Deadline: Hillary Clinton On Fox News’ Amplification Of “Spying” Claims: “They’re Getting Awfully Close To Actual Malice In Their Attacks.”

Hillary Clinton went on offense against a fusillade of attacks from Donald Trump and his defenders among rightward talk hosts and media outlets, as she took aim specifically at Fox News.

“Fox leads the charge in their accusations against me, counting on their audience to fall for it again,” Clinton said in a speech before New York state Democrats. “And as an aside, they are getting awfully close to actual malice in their attacks.”

Last week, John Durham, the special counsel who has been investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, raised some new allegations in a court filing. Conservative talk hosts seized on it as a bombshell that showed that Clinton’s campaign spied on Trump. The New York Post had a cover on Tuesday with the headline “Hillary the Spy,” and a Fox News chyron read “Hillary Is The Real Insurrection” during Jesse Watters’ show.

Edvard Munch, In the Kennel

In the Kennel, by Edvard Munch

In fact, according to multiple fact checking stories from outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN, Durham’s allegations, which involve an internet security expert working for the U.S. government and a law firm that did work for Clinton’s campaign, were old news, not as significant as they seem, or potentially misleading. Yet media on the right ran with it, characterizing it as a Watergate-level scandal, or even greater.

A FoxNews.com story claimed that Durham alleged that lawyers from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 had paid to “infiltrate” servers belonging to Trump Tower and later the White House, in order to establish an ‘inference’ and ‘narrative’ to bring to federal government agencies linking Donald Trump to Russia. The word “infiltrate,” however, comes not from Durham’s filing but from commentary from an ally to Trump, Kash Patel.

Read more on the Hillary hate story:

Gregory Krieg at CNN: Hillary Clinton sidesteps Cuomo, hits out at Fox News and GOP lies in New York speech.

Oliver Darcy at CNN: Sean Hannity dares Hillary Clinton to sue as she warns network’s dishonest coverage gets ‘close to actual malice.’

Factchecker Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post: How the right embraced the false claim that Hillary Clinton ‘spied’ on President Donald Trump.

Erick Boelert writes that John Durham is “Ken Starr II”: The media and Durham’s corrupt “spying” investigation.

In other news, the situation in Ukraine is getting more and more dangerous. Here are the latest stories this morning:

Interesting analysis of Putin from Anton Troianovski at The New York Times: Vladimir Putin: Crafty Strategist or Aggrieved and Reckless Leader?

MOSCOW — At this moment of crescendo for the Ukraine crisis, it all comes down to what kind of leader President Vladimir V. Putin is.

In Moscow, many analysts remain convinced that the Russian president is essentially rational, and that the risks of invading Ukraine would be so great that his huge troop buildup makes sense only as a very convincing bluff. But some also leave the door open to the idea that he has fundamentally changed amid the pandemic, a shift that may have left him more paranoid, more aggrieved and more reckless.

Interior with dog, 1934, Henri MatisseThe 20-foot-long table that Mr. Putin has used to socially distance himself this month from European leaders flying in for crisis talks symbolizes, to some longtime observers, his detachment from the rest of the world. For almost two years, Mr. Putin has ensconced himself in a virus-free cocoon unlike that of any Western leader, with state television showing him holding most key meetings by teleconference alone in a room and keeping even his own ministers at a distance on the rare occasions that he summons them in person.

Speculation over a leader’s mental state is always fraught, but as Mr. Putin’s momentous decision approaches, Moscow commentators puzzling over what he might do next in Ukraine are finding some degree of armchair psychology hard to avoid.

“There’s this impression of irritation, of a lack of interest, of an unwillingness to delve into anything new,” Ekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist and former member of Mr. Putin’s human rights council, said of the president’s recent public appearances. “The public is being shown that he has been in practical isolation, with ever fewer breaks, since the spring of 2020.”

Could Putin be nearly as crazy as Trump?

A large-scale invasion of Ukraine, many analysts point out, would be an enormous escalation compared with any of the actions that Mr. Putin has taken before. In 2014, the Kremlin’s subterfuge allowed Russian forces stripped of identifying markings to capture Crimea without firing a single shot. The proxy war that Mr. Putin fomented in Ukraine’s east allowed him to deny being a party to the conflict.

“Starting a full-scale war is completely not in Putin’s interest,” said Anastasia Likhacheva, the dean of world economy and international affairs at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. “It is very difficult for me to find any rational explanation for a desire to carry out such a campaign.”

Even if Mr. Putin were able to take control of Ukraine, she noted, such a war would accomplish the opposite of what the president says he wants: rolling back the NATO presence in Eastern Europe. In the case of a war, the NATO allies would be “more unified than ever,” Ms. Likhacheva said, and they would be likely to deploy powerful new weaponry along Russia’s western frontiers.

CNBC: Russia now has over 150,000 troops near Ukraine, U.S. official says, amid reports of more attacks.

The Ukrainian government and Russian state-controlled media on Friday exchanged fresh accusations of cease-fire violations near the country’s eastern border.

Andre Utter and his dog, by Suzanne Valadon, 1932

Andre Utter and his dog, by Suzanne Valadon, 1932

In a statement on Facebook, the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation said 45 cease-fire violations had been recorded in eastern Ukraine on Friday as of 2 p.m. local time. The JFO alleged that 34 of those violations included the use of weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements, which Russia, Ukraine and pro-Moscow separatists signed in 2014 and 2015 to prevent a war in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian state-controlled media agency RIA claimed on Friday that Ukrainian government forces had launched three shelling strikes against Russian-backed separatists.

CNBC was unable to verify either report.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday said its mission in Ukraine had reported almost 600 cease-fire violations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, substantially higher than the 153 violations reported during the previous period.

There’s much more at the link.

CBS News: Shelling intensifies in eastern Ukraine amid concern Russia’s creating a pretext for an invasion.

Kyiv — Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian separatists they’re fighting in the country’s east reported a second day of increased shelling on Friday, as the leaders of the rebels’ self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics accused the Ukrainian government of planning an imminent attack. The rebel administrations in the two breakaway regions announced plans to evacuate thousands of civilians into neighboring Russia.

Western leaders say an escalation in the fighting in Ukraine‘s Donbas region — which has simmered for almost eight years — could be part of Russian efforts to create a “false-flag” pretext to invade.

“Ukraine is not your enemy, but those who want to defend you against Ukraine are. Do not heed rumours about some offensive operation,” Ukraine’s defense minister said in a speech Friday. “We have no intentions to conduct any force actions towards the ORDLO (Donbas) or the Crimea. At all. We will move by the political and diplomatic way. Because there are our citizens and we will not put them in danger.”  

The Ukrainian government’s reassurance didn’t appear to be calming nerves in the rebel-held region, however, with social media photos purporting to show people lining up to take money out of banks.

Read more at CBS News.

Two Dogs, Malmo Konsthall, Sweden, 1911

Two Dogs, Malmo Konsthall, Sweden, 1911

Reuters: Rebels announce evacuation from east Ukraine.

MOSCOW/KYIV, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine said on Friday they planned to evacuate their breakaway region’s residents to Russia, a shock turn in a conflict the West believes Moscow plans to use to justify an all-out invasion of its neighbour.

Announcing the move on social media, Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said Russia had agreed to provide accommodation for those who leave. Women, children and the elderly should be evacuated first. The other self-proclaimed region, Luhansk, made a similar announcement.

Millions of civilians are believed to live in the two rebel-held regions of eastern Ukraine; most are Russian speakers and many have already been granted Russian citizenship.

The eastern Ukraine conflict zone saw the most intense artillery bombardment for years on Friday, with the Kyiv government and the separatists trading blame. Western countries have said they think the shelling, which began on Thursday and intensified in its second day, is part of a pretext to invade.

Washington said Russia – which says it started drawing down troops near Ukraine this week – had instead done the opposite: ramping up the force menacing its neighbour to between 169,000 and 190,000 troops, from 100,000 at the end of January.

“This is the most significant military mobilisation in Europe since the Second World War,” U.S. ambassador Michael Carpenter told a meeting at the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

One more from Foreign Policy: Russia Planning Post-Invasion Arrest and Assassination Campaign in Ukraine, U.S. Officials Say.

The United States has obtained intelligence that Russia may target prominent political opponents, anti-corruption activists, and Belarusian and Russian dissidents living in exile should it move forward with plans to invade Ukraine, as U.S. President Joe Biden warned on Thursday that the threat of a renewed Russian invasion of the country remains “very high” and could take place within the next several days. 

Four people familiar with U.S. intelligence said that Russia has drafted lists of Ukrainian political figures and other prominent individuals to be targeted for either arrest or assassination in the event of a Russian assault on Ukraine.

Cape Cod Evening, Edward Hopper

Cape Cod Evening, Edward Hopper

A fifth person, a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the United States has been downgrading its intelligence classification regarding threats to specific groups within Ukraine to share this information with Ukrainian government officials and other partners in the region positioned to help….

“As we’ve seen in the past, we expect Russia will try to force cooperation through intimidation and repression,” said a U.S. official who spoke on background on condition of anonymity. 

“These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons,” the official said. 

The Biden administration has also been startled by how formalized the lists are, which appear to target anyone who could challenge the Russian agenda. Five Eyes intelligence partners have also tracked Russian intelligence agencies, such as the FSB and GRU, building up target and kill lists. One congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the moves were typical of Russian doctrine, using armed forces to seize military objectives, while special operators shape the conflict and intelligence operators come into the country to get rid of opposition elements. 

I expect there will be more developments in the Ukraine story today and over the weekend. 

What are your thoughts? What other stories are you following?


9 Comments on “Friday Reads”

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