Dems alarmed when WH lawyer shows up at classified briefing
By MARY CLARE JALONICK and ERIC TUCKER
Friday, May 25
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican and Democratic lawmakers have gotten classified briefings about the origins of the FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a highly unusual series of meetings prompted by partisan allegations that the bureau spied on Donald Trump’s campaign.
Democrats emerged from the meetings saying they saw no evidence to support Republican allegations that the FBI acted inappropriately, although they did express grave concern about the presence of a White House lawyer at Thursday’s briefings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News he had learned “nothing particularly surprising,” but declined to go into detail.
Still, the extraordinary briefings drew attention to the unproved claims of FBI misconduct and political bias. The meetings were sought by Trump’s GOP allies and arranged by the White House, as the president has tried to sow suspicions about the legitimacy of the FBI investigation that spawned a special counsel probe. Initially offered only to Republicans, the briefings were the latest piece of stagecraft meant to publicize and bolster the allegations. But they also highlighted the degree to which the president and his allies have used the levers of the federal government — in this case, intelligence agencies — to aide in Trump’s personal and political defense.
Under direct pressure from the president, Justice Department officials agreed to grant Republicans a briefing, and only later opened it up to Democrats. The invite list evolved up until hours before the meeting — a reflection of the partisan distrust and the political wrangling. A White House lawyer, Emmet Flood, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly showed up for both briefings, although the White House had earlier said it would keep a distance, drawing criticism from Democrats.
“For the record, the president’s chief of staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the president’s campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing,” Sen. Mark Warner tweeted after the briefing.
The White House said the officials didn’t attend the full briefings, but instead delivered brief remarks communicating the “president’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law” and relaying “the president’s understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government,” according to a statement.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats attended both meetings — the first at the Department of Justice and the second on Capitol Hill.
Trump has zeroed in on, and at times embellished, reports that a longtime U.S. government informant approached members of his campaign in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the election. The president intensified his attacks this week, calling it “spygate” and tweeting Thursday that it was “Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history.”
It was unclear how much information was given to lawmakers. According to a U.S. official familiar with the meeting, the briefers did not reveal the name of an informant. They brought documents but did not share them, and made several remarks about the importance of protecting intelligence sources and methods. The person declined to be identified because the briefing was classified.
In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan wouldn’t say what he learned, but said he looked forward to the “prompt completion” of the House Intelligence Committee’s work now that they are “getting the cooperation necessary.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter, had originally requested the information on an FBI source in the Russia investigation. The original meeting was scheduled for just Nunes and Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but the Justice Department relented and allowed additional lawmakers to come after Democrats strongly objected.
Nunes and other Republicans already eager to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation used Trump’s complaints to obtain the briefing from the Justice Department, whose leaders have tried for months to balance demands from congressional overseers against their stated obligation to protect Mueller’s ongoing investigation into ties between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
Nunes attended both briefings Thursday. According to the U.S. official and another person briefed on the Capitol Hill meeting, Nunes did not speak at all during the briefing. The second person also declined to be named because the meeting was classified.
Democratic lawmakers declined to comment on the substance of the briefing, but gave a joint statement afterward saying their view had not changed that “there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a ‘spy’ in the Trump Campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.”
The statement was issued by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence panels, Warner and Rep. Adam Schiff.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr also attended the briefing but did not comment afterward.
The back and forth between Congress and the Justice Department has simmered for weeks.
The Justice Department had rejected Nunes’ original request, writing in a letter in April that his request for information could put lives in danger.
Negotiations over release of the information stalled but restarted when Trump demanded, via tweet, on Sunday that the Justice Department investigate.
In response to the tweet, the Justice Department immediately asked its inspector general to expand its ongoing investigation to look into whether there was any politically motivated surveillance of the campaign and agreed to hold the classified briefings.
It remained unclear what, if any, spying was done. The White House provided no evidence to support Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama’s administration was trying to spy on his 2016 campaign for political reasons.
It’s long been known that the FBI was looking into Russian meddling during the campaign and that part of that inquiry touched on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian figures. Mueller took over the investigation when he was appointed special counsel in May 2017.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Jonathan Lemire, Lisa Mascaro, Chad Day and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
Empowering Kids Instead of Arming Them
By Robert C. Koehler
Let’s open the classroom doors — all of them. Open up the schools, open up America, looking for the lost souls.
“Woo hoo!” he shouted as he fired off his guns. By the time he was done, 10 more people were dead. Eight students, two teachers.
More sacred lives tossed to the God of War.
The murders at Santa Fe High School, in Santa Fe, Texas, on May 18 were “the fourth-deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. public school in modern history,” according to Reuters, as though such stats help us grasp what happened, and why. Perhaps in a way they accomplish the opposite — converting the deaths to numbers, filing them away in the national memory as the news cycle moves on.
But we all know the next horror headline is waiting to be written.
“… while shootings at schools are terrible, it’s not the schools that are the problem. The real problem is that America as a whole is dangerous,” writes Mike Malesat of Yes! Magazine, making the point that American schools, overall, are far safer than most of the rest of American society, where thousands of gun homicides occur annually. The problem faced by American schools, in other words, is that they’re located here, in the land of the free and the home of the armed, where 300 million firearms are at the ready; and thus they are vulnerable to occasional invasions by armed America.
The problem here is unimaginably large. The more gun homicides the country endures, the more people feel the need to be armed in order to protect themselves, which simply — paradoxically — feeds the problem. The more guns out there, the more dangerous the world is. It’s the sheer presence of firearms that creates the likelihood that they will be used, just as national preparation for war makes the next war virtually inevitable.
As Males points out, arming 20 percent of the teachers — the insane “solution” Donald Trump and the NRA have tossed into the vortex — “would mean 800,000 more armed adults in schools,” intensifying the danger of going to school beyond what anyone dare imagine.
But the other side of the American “debate” about guns and violence seems achingly ineffectual. Tougher gun laws — background checks with teeth — may be necessary, but take control over such a miniscule part of the problem. Legal and bureaucratic fixes will not, by themselves, rescue, let alone transform, a violent culture.
The 17-year-old Santa Fe High School shooter’s weapons were legal, for God’s sake. Dimitrios Pagourtzis murdered classmates and teachers with his father’s legally owned shotgun and revolver. Does that lessen the seriousness of what he did?
The issue here goes well beyond the law. Is this not a matter of what constitutes empowerment? The addictive popularity of guns is not due to their pragmatic usefulness. It’s due to the sense of power they bestow: being fully human, fully alive.
No matter, as Brad J. Bushman pointed out some years ago in Psychology Today, that “the costs of gun ownership far outweigh the benefits.” The gun you own is, he writes, “much more likely to be used to kill you (suicide) or someone you love (accident, homicide in a heated argument) than a stranger in self-defense. The costs of living in a society of gun owners also means a substantially higher rate of homicides, suicides, and accidents.”
And, oh yeah, mass murders.
And the boy in the trench coat opens fire in art class. He’s described (like all those who preceded him) as a “quiet loner.” His father said he was bullied and disrespected at school.
And USA Todaytells us: “As the horror unfolded, Pagourtzis roamed from classroom to classroom, taunting students and blasting away as they made ill-fated efforts to elude or hide from his barrage of gunfire.”
Please, let this be the moment at which we pause, as a lost kid — deeply, spiritually lost — uses guns and bullets to find a half an hour of respect, then surrenders. What’s missing in this scenario is an alternative.
Empowerment is about more than being able to protect yourself. It’s about fully being yourself, connected to your community: valued by it, indispensable to it. This is not a priority or focus of our educational system, which mostly separates its students from one another and measures their worth in separation. This means there will always be losers. And sometimes — as the headlines tell us every couple of months — the losers push back.
The most encouraging alternative I’ve seen to this situation is the movement, taking hold in some of our country’s most troubled schools, called Restorative Justice, which begins by giving every student his or her voice.
Several years ago I wrote a column about City Springs School, a K-8 school in Baltimore, which has transformed itself by moving beyond zero tolerance and punishment-based discipline, replacing this failed educational status quo with peace circles, in which all participants — adults and children — sit together in vibrant equality.
“I spent half a day at City Springs recently, as part of my own determination to see how people are creating peace on our planet,” I wrote. “I sat in ‘proactive circles’ with first-graders and eighth-graders, listening and participating as the kids checked in and talked about how they were doing that day. One teacher said the proactive circle, held not in response to a problem but simply to get the day started, was like taking a daily vitamin. Kids and adults connect with each other and a context of respect and mutual cooperation is established anew.”
I’m talking here not about quick fixes but long-term transformation — the emergence of schools that don’t separate education from empowerment. What happens to kids who grow up feeling valued?
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.
Stop Blaming Women and Girls for Men’s Violence Against Them
By Laura Finley
It is infuriating to write what feels like the same piece. Multiple times, in way too rapid succession. But here we go again…a shooting, a white male perpetrator, a rejection, and victim-blaming.
Dimitrios Pagourtzis shot and killed 10 people and wounded more than a dozen at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas on May 18, 2018. Although there were, according to school officials, no “red flags,” there actually were, to the knowledgeable eye. I do not mean that to throw anyone under the bus but rather to illustrate that we have far to go before, as a society, we actually address what is known about school shooters and create appropriate prevention programs. Almost always, the shooters are white males who have issues with females, be it rejections or overtly abusive relationships. The red flag, then, was his persistent and increasingly angry pursuit of a young lady despite her lack of interest.
One of Pagourtzis’s targets was Shana Fisher, who, according to news reports, over four months repeatedly rejected his advances. Allegedly, she finally stood up to him in class, which was an embarrassment, supposedly, and some reports say, the final straw. That he targeted a girl who he was interested in, is, sadly and horrifically, normal in the U.S. Virtually all of the school shooters in modern times have targeted a dating partner or someone who spurned their advances. Nickolas Kruz, the Parkland, Florida school shooter, had abused both his mother and his former girlfriend. In March, Austin Wyatt Rollins shot a girl he had dated and another boy in a Baltimore school. In April, Alek Minassian drove a van into a crowd, murdering 10 people in Toronto. Minassian claims to be part of the “incel,” or involuntarily celibate culture, which aims to punish women for denying men like him sex, and was inspired by Elliot Rodgers’ attack May 2014 attack that killed six and wounded 14. Rodgers had recorded a video on YouTube in which he explained that he intended to punish women for rejecting him. These men imagine themselves to be the victims, and media plays along.
As is typical, mainstream media, when it covers this part of this part of the story at all, has reinforced the notion that somehow it was her fault for rejecting him. “Spurned advances provoke Texas shooting,” read one ridiculous headline. Similarly, Pagourtzis was described as a “sweet, nice boy.” Even trying to explain away these atrocities is problematic, as it presumes that something must have prompted these good guys to turn to the dark side. This “himpathy,” as Kate Manne has called it, is nowhere more clear than in the six-month prison sentence of Stanford rapist Brock Turner. Because of course his reputation matters. Hers, not so much. She should sacrifice. She should give in. She should protect his precious feelings.
Some sources outside the mainstream media, like Salon, have done way better, noting that we live in a culture in which women are to accept and even appreciate a man’s attention, even if it is unwanted. Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote in Salonthat this is about “getting called a bitch when you ignore a harasser on the street. About being passed over in your industry because your boss finds you too (attractive) or not (attractive) enough. This is about policing the attire of schoolgirls because they’re a ‘distraction,’ rather than teaching boys about maturity and respect in a world that contains females.”
Despite the clear linkage between hegemonic masculinity and lethal violence, school officials continue to disregard this warning sign. They look for “creepy” behavior, and fail to interpret incessant and aggressive pursuit of an uninterested girl as such. So, once again, I offer this advice. Please, please, please, can we include teaching about healthy and unhealthy relationships as a mandatory part of our school curricula? Can we please implore media to research or at least talk to experts on abuse and assault? And can we, as parents, vow to talk to our kids, especially our boys, about how to handle rejection?
Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.
So, the summit with North Korea is off, and now pundits will have at it on such themes as overreach, hidden agendas, John Bolton’s ill will, and misinterpretation of the meaning of “de-nuclearization.”
But the leaders of nuclear nations are like fish making petty threats and counter-threats while they swim in an ocean of reality they ignore to everyone’s peril: “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” (Ronald Reagan, 1984).
What an opportunity our planet is missing!
We all sense that the arms race has reached a fatal level of destructiveness. There is some debate about how many nuclear detonations might be required to bring on nuclear winter, but the number is clearly a small fraction of the total available to the nine nuclear powers. The meaning of peace through military strength will never be the same again. In recognition, 122 nations signed an agreement outlawing the weapons.
Two doors face us, one leading to death and one to life. We don’t see it, but both are equally easy to open and walk through. There are 82 million fellow humans in Iran, 25 million in North Korea, 1.4 billion in China, 143 million in Russia, all of whom want the same things we want for our children. Are they all our sworn enemies? Only in the insane, launch-on-warning, “surviving”-a-first-strike world where the tail of nuclear strategy wags the dog of common sense.
Everything has changed, and diplomacy must change with it. Diplomacy based in reality rather than double standards and illusion would suggest meeting our adversaries on the common ground of a shared desire not only to survive by gradual, verifiable, reciprocal steps back from the brink, but also to flourish by becoming free to re-purpose the money formerly spent upon weapons to life-affirming programs and devices. Imagine governments encouraging the development of decentralized, sustainable power sources such as non-toxic rechargeable batteries and solar panels, creating an economic abundance that would reduce the “need” for war—a virtuous circle.
On this the major powers must lead—especially the United States, the only nation to have actually used a nuclear weapon to kill people. There are so many small, confidence-building measures we could take unilaterally which would not only not compromise our security, but would increase it, beginning with a pledge of no first use of nuclear weapons.
Such alternatives as renewing and miniaturizing our nuclear arsenal or taking the arms race out into space, as military planners in a number of nations are apparently racing to do, are the height of folly. The level of destruction available to nations is far larger than all our political and economic conflicts, and so the destructiveness has become irrelevant to the resolution of such conflicts. Because this is a Gordian knot we all share, we can cut through it on the basis of a common awareness that the arms race offers no way to reach the common security we all desire.
Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide” and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.