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Merrick Garland dodges questions over allowing for completion of Durham probe

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Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden‘s nominee for attorney general, on Monday said he sees “no reason why” Special Counsel John Durham should stay in his position to continue his investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.

On Monday during Garland’s confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee’s ranking member, asked Garland about if he would let Durham continue his investigation.

“Will you commit to providing Special Counsel Durham with staff, resources and funds needed to thoroughly complete his investigation?” Grassley asked.

Biden’s pick to head the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) replied, saying that, at the current moment, he does not have “any information about the investigation as I sit here today.”

“I understand that he has been permitted to remain in this position and sitting here today, I have no reason to think that was not the correct decision,” Garland said, adding that he does “have to have an opportunity to talk with” Durham.

“I don’t have any reason, from what I know now, which is really very little, to make any determination on that ground,” Garland continued. “But I have no reason to think he should not remain in place.”

Grassley pointed out that, during former Attorney General William Barr’s confirmation hearing, he stated it was “vitally important” that then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller be allowed to finish his Trump-Russia probe.

The Iowa Republican asked Garland again, but rather about if he would commit to letting Durham’s report to be made public.

“I am a great believer in transparency. I would, though, have to talk with Durham and understand the nature of what he’s been doing and the nature of his report,” Garland said.

Grassley said he understood that Garland was limited in what he could say regarding the Durham investigation, but was frustrated that the judge didn’t provide a stronger commitment.

“Your [answers] were not quite as explicit as I’d hoped they’d be,” the Iowa senator said. “I think you’ve come close to satisfying me, but maybe not entirely.”

Shortly following the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into now-debunked allegations the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials to swing the 2016 election in then-candidate Donald Trump’s favor, Durham’s probe launched in May 2019. Ultimately, Mueller’s yearslong probe yielded no evidence of criminal conspiracy or such collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign.

Back in October last year, Barr appointed Durham as special counsel so that Durham could continue his investigation.

Conservatives have long accused Mueller’s probe of being motivated by political animus, with former President Donald Trump having repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt.”

Thus far, Durham’s investigation has resulted in only one criminal charge.

Late last month, former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith was sentenced to one year of probation and 400 hours of community service for altering an email during Mueller’s investigation that was used as grounds for the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Back in August, Clinesmith had pleaded guilty to “one count of making a false statement within both the jurisdiction of the executive branch and judicial branch of the U.S. government, an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.”

Significantly, the DOJ used Clinesmith’s allegation as a basis for submitting a third and final application to surveil Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) asked Garland about FISA, as well as about DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on abuses of FISA during the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.

“There were certainly serious problems with respect to the FISA applications for Carter Page,” Garland said, adding that the inspector general had a “substantial” amount of suggestions for how the FISA system “could be fixed and must be fixed.”

Garland stated that, if confirmed by the Senate, he plans to talk with Horowitz and FBI Director Christopher Wray “to make sure these and any other things necessary” with regard to FISA reform “be done.”

“I am always very concerned, and have always been concerned that we be very careful about FISA,” Garland said, referring to it as a “very useful and important” tool for investigations.

As to whether he feels Durham’s probe was legitimate, Garland said: “I don’t know really anything about the investigation.”

“I do think that somebody should look at what happened with respect to those FISAs and I believe the inspector general has done that,” the judge added.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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EXCLUSIVE: Former Trump appointee explains an ‘America First Strategy’ in the ME

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Photo: Israeli Government

The author interviewed Ellie Cohanim, one of the authors of the new book: “An America First Approach to US National Security.” Ellie is the former U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism under the Trump administration. She is currently a Senior Fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum focusing on Iran, Israel, and global antisemitism, and is a national security contributor for the Christian Broadcasting Network. In 2021, Ellie launched and hosted for Jewish News Syndicate 30 plus episodes of the show “Global Perspectives with Ellie Cohanim.” Ellie spent 15 years in media and NGO management before serving in the public sector. How would you define an “America First” strategy in the Middle East?

Cohanim: An America First strategy in the Middle East would seek to advance American national security interests in that region, while maintaining our status as THE global superpower. To do that, the US would ensure that our principal allies in the region, countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel, are economically and militarily strong, and that our adversaries in the region are deterred.

Postal: How has the United States’ standing in the Middle East differed between the Trump and Biden administrations?

Cohanim: Under President Trump, for four years we had peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region. Under President Biden, in just three tumultuous years there has been war in the region, which holds the potential for becoming a regional conflict and even a nuclear confrontation. Meanwhile, the US’ status in the region and the world has diminished due to Biden’s disastrous mishandling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, his emboldening of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and his weak response to Iranian attacks on our personnel and assets in the region. 

 

Postal: Do you think the United States and Israel are/were in a stronger position to deter Iran’s nuclear and territorial ambitions in Biden or Trump’s administration?

Cohanim: America’s position of strength has not changed under either administration vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic of Iran. What has changed is our Iran policy. Under President Trump’s administration, the US contained and constrained Tehran. Trump applied a “Maximum Pressure” sanctions campaign which left the Iranian Regime with only $4 billion in accessible foreign currency reserves by the end of his term, giving the Iranians less cash and less ability to fund their terror proxies and their nuclear program, and Trump eliminated Qassem Soleimani. While all President Biden needed to do was to continue implementing such successful policies, his administration instead did the exact opposite.  Under the Biden administration, Israel, our leading ally in the region, was attacked for the first time directly from Iranian soil. This was an unprecedented escalatory attack by the Iranian regime, and could only happen under the Biden administration.

Postal: In your chapter of the book, you discuss the weakening of US relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia under the Biden administration. How has the Biden administration affected the likelihood of future normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and deals between Israel and other Muslim countries (i.e., new Abraham Accords)?

Cohanim: The good news is that the Abraham Accords have withstood the test of multiple Hamas provocations against Israel, and now the current war. Despite numerous claims from the Biden administration regarding “successful” efforts to normalize ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, I do not think that the Biden administration will be able to clinch such a deal. In the Middle East, people have a long memory. Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has not forgotten President Biden’s snub when he first came into office, and Biden’s incredibly poorly advised behavior towards the Crown Prince when he made his first visit to the Kingdom as president. The last thing the Crown Prince wants is to hand Biden his first foreign policy success with a Rose Garden peace deal ceremony. So, I do not believe President Biden can broker Saudi/Israeli normalization.

However, I am also convinced that it is a matter of “when” and not “if” such a peace deal will happen between those two countries, as it serves both of their interests to make such a deal. The Saudis understand better than anyone that it is the Islamic Republic of Iran that threatens the Kingdom’s security and stability, not Israel.

Postal: What do you think of the Biden administration’s latest statements withholding arms to Israel?

Cohanim: President Biden will go down in history for his abject moral failure in not standing by Israel while she fights a five-front war. Biden has shown his despicable personality for trying to keep his anti-Israel arms embargo concealed until he could first deliver a speech on the Holocaust. Biden’s behavior is despicable on so many levels.

Ultimately, Biden is betraying the American people. He came into office presenting himself as a “centrist Democrat,” but has proven repeatedly to be beholden to the radical, extremist, pro-Hamas wing of his party.

Postal: How does the Biden administration’s support of a Palestinian state differ from the Trump administration’s support of a Palestinian state under its Peace to Prosperity framework?

Cohanim: The Biden administration stated that they will “unilaterally recognize” a Palestinian state. What the borders of that state are and who would lead it, nobody knows. 

The Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” was a detailed plan that was premised on the realities on the ground in Israel. The plan required that the Palestinians reach benchmarks proving a real desire to live in peace with their Israeli neighbors. It included over $50 billion in investment in the region, which would have been a road to prosperity for all. Perhaps most significantly, the Palestinian state envisioned under the Trump plan would have been demilitarized, the wisdom of which could not be more clear following the October 7 massacre and attack.

The author would like to thank Ellie Cohanim for participating in this interview.

 

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