Tag: Ukraine

Why Iran’s role in the Ukrainian plane crash could be very bad news for Donald Trump

United States

On the face of it, it’s been a good week for Donald Trump.

He’s killed one of America’s most menacing figures, without a single US citizen receiving so much as a scratch in response.

As the President read his national address from the teleprompter, he appeared strong and decisive and even resisted the temptation to go off-script to, for example, talk about how great an author he is.

He now goes into an election year with a message that he has taken out two of America’s biggest enemies in the space of two months, the other being the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Mr Trump’s campaign team is already running hundreds of self-congratulatory election ads on Facebook.

But no-one should kid themselves that this is over.

That Qassem Soleimani’s hands were blood-soaked is not in dispute

Mr Trump said on Friday that Iran was “looking to blow up” the US embassy in Baghdad, but declined to give further details.

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Trump tweet 1

Regardless, assassinating a senior, serving member of a foreign government which boasts considerable military might is no small thing.

Iran’s most powerful military general, Soleimani exerted huge influence within and outside the country.

Why the killing of General Soleimani is such a big deal
The death of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani is a watershed moment, even in the long and bloody history of Middle East conflict.

He was hailed as a hero by millions of people throughout the Middle East.

Iran called the killing an “act of war” but its response (so far) appears largely symbolic.

The missiles were fired at 1:20am, the same time as Soleimani was killed five days earlier and didn’t cause a single casualty.

Iran also gave notice to Iraq that it was launching the attack, surely aware the US would be warned in turn.

It looks very much calculated to give the appearance of fire and fury, without risking a further escalation against a much more powerful adversary, led by an erratic and unpredictable President.

It now appears certain there were unwitting casualties after all

Video: Debris litters the crash site

(ABC News)

A total of 176 people were killed when a Ukrainian passenger plane came down soon after taking off from Tehran in the hours after the missile strike.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has revealed intelligence that suggests it was shot out of the sky by Iran. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australians have the same intelligence.

“The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” Mr Trudeau said. “This may well have been unintentional.”

Iran was on a war footing in the hours after launching its ballistic missiles and would have been prepared for an American response from the air.

All indications point to a tragic mistake.

It won’t take long for critics to point the finger of blame at Mr Trump himself.

Even before Mr Trudeau’s press conference, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, who served for the US military in Afghanistan, implied the President should carry responsibility.

“Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat” he tweeted.

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Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat. My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of all 176 souls lost aboard this flight.

For his part, the President seemed quick to wash his hands of any responsibility when asked about the cause of the crash.

“Someone could’ve made a mistake on their side, it was flying — it has nothing to do with us — flying in a pretty rough neighbourhood.”

“I have my suspicions,” Mr Trump said when asked about the reports earlier on Friday.

“Some people say it was mechanical, I personally don’t even think that’s even a question. Personally.”

Going forward, there are several potential US-Iran flashpoints

  • Iran, which has so far refused to hand over the black box from the plane crash, could take offence at the US accusations it shot down the plane, heightening tensions. The head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority said the allegations were false because “if a rocket or missile hits a plane, it will free fall”.
  • Iran has opened the door to enriching uranium, but Mr Trump has made clear he’ll never allow Iran to get a nuclear bomb under his watch.
  • Mr Trump has promised even harsher sanctions on Iran, even though his “maximum pressure” campaign is the very thing that pushed Iran to attack Persian Gulf shipping and Saudi oil fields.
  • Iran’s proxies could launch revenge attacks without Iran’s say-so.
  • Mr Trump could say or do something else to fan the flames again.
  • In Washington, members of Congress are so worried things will spiral out of control from here, they’re voting to try and limit Mr Trump’s ability to take further military actions against Iran without specific congressional approval.

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    This Media Post will serve as a reminder that war powers reside in the Congress under the United States Constitution. And that you should read the War Powers Act. And that you’re not a dictator.

    It’s unlikely to pass through a Senate controlled by Mr Trump’s political allies, but several Republicans have indicated they would vote for a similar measure in the Senate.

    On Thursday, Republican Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul emerged furious from an administration briefing on Iran.

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    Sen. Mike Lee: "To come in and tell us that we can't debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran — it's un-American, it's un-Constitutional, and it's wrong."

    Mr Lee described it as “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen,” saying he was unconvinced of the “legal, factual and moral justification” for the attack.

    “It’s un-American. It’s unconstitutional. And it’s wrong” he said.

    Week was expected to be dominated by Trump impeachment trial debate

    Congress has returned from the Christmas break. The articles of impeachment against the President are still being held up in the House, as Democrats demand a “fair trial” in the Senate.

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    Today, @SenateMajLdr McConnell made clear that he will feebly comply with President Trump’s cover-up of his abuses of power and be an accomplice to that cover-up. The American people deserve the truth. #DefendOurDemocracy

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    There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure. We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment. The House Democrats’ turn is over. The Senate has made its decision. This is for the Senate, and the Senate only, to decide.

    They want four of Mr Trump’s closest advisors, past and present, who have intimate knowledge of his dealings with Ukraine, to give evidence.

    Most prominent among them is former national security adviser John Bolton, who was quietly penning a book while the impeachment inquiry was gathering evidence.

    This week, as the news of Soleimani’s killing was being digested, Mr Bolton dropped his own bombshell.

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    I have posted a brief statement regarding testimony on the Ukraine impeachment matter before the Senate at:

    “I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,” he said in an unprompted statement posted on his website.

    Until now, he has complied with a White House directive not to cooperate in the impeachment investigation.

    As such, his comments breathed new life into the Democrat’s case for withholding the articles of impeachment.

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    Hope that all House Republicans will vote against Crazy Nancy Pelosi’s War Powers Resolution. Also, remember her “speed & rush” in getting the Impeachment Hoax voted on & done. Well, she never sent the Articles to the Senate. Just another Democrat fraud. Presidential Harassment!

    To force Mr Trump from office, the Democrats need 20 Republicans in the Senate to turn on him, a most improbable scenario.

    But to subpoena key witnesses, like Mr Bolton, to give evidence under oath in the Senate, Mr Trump’s opponents need on only four Republicans on side.

    If Republicans start to believe Mr Trump represents a genuine threat to American security, they have a convenient method of bringing him to heel.

    Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

    A humiliating roast by Joe Biden may have turned Rudy Giuliani into Trump’s avenger

    United States

    In September 2001, America was stunned. Terrorist attacks had reduced the Twin Towers to rubble and shattered the nation’s sense of invincibility.

    But amidst the fear, smoke and soot in New York, one man forged an image of strength — the city’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani.

    “I was with him on the morning of 9/11 and he was magnificent,” said Andrew Kirtzman, a former journalist.

    “He comforted people, reassured them. For a long time afterwards, he was beloved. He was almost above politics.”


    Rudy Giuliani earned the nickname ‘America’s mayor’ after the September 11th attacks on New York. (Reuters: Peter Morgan)

    Oprah Winfrey called him “America’s mayor.”

    An honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth followed. He was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year and a film was made about him, starring actor James Woods.

    To many outside the United States, who were underwhelmed by the Republican President George W Bush, he came to embody the resilience that defined the world’s undisputed superpower.

    “He was a man of integrity and ethics,” said Ken Frydman, who used to serve as Mr Giuliani’s press secretary and was even married by him.

    “Now, people ask: what’s happened to him? Has he lost it?”

    From 9/11 hero to impeachment villain

    Eighteen years on, Mr Giuliani is once again the star of a pivotal national moment.

    But now, his reputation has been shattered; his halo dislodged.


    Then President George W. Bush embraces Rudy Giuliani days after the September 11th attacks. (Reuters: Win McNamee )

    As Donald Trump’s divisive personal lawyer, he is a key character in the Ukraine scandal that led to the impeachment of the 45th President.

    Democrats portray him as a villain, an architect of a failed plan to abuse the power of the Oval Office to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, the Commander-in-Chief’s potential opponent at the 2020 election.

    He is so central to the case against Mr Trump that frustrated Republican Mark Meadows recently remarked, “this is an impeachment of Rudy Giuliani”.


    Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump have known each other for decades, and the former New York mayor is now his personal lawyer. (Reuters: Mike Segar)

    Even some of the President’s allies think he is a liability and want him sacked.

    In 2006, he was the most popular politician in America. Now only 29 per cent of Americans approve of him.

    But to understand how “America’s mayor” squandered much of his goodwill and ended up in such a precarious position, you have to look back at how he rose to fame.

    The rise of Rudy Giuliani

    Mr Giuliani made a name for himself in the 1980s as the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.


    Rudy Giuliani ran for New York Mayor in 1989, but did not win until his second run in 1993. (Reuters)

    The brash prosecutor attracted enormous attention by taking on the city’s famous mafia families and Wall Street insider trading.

    The then-moderate Republican used his profile to run for mayor, winning on his second attempt.

    A lover of the limelight, his first act the morning after being elected was to make a guest appearance on “The Non-Fat Yoghurt” episode of hit TV sitcom Seinfeld.

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    Rudy Giuliani made a cameo on the classic frozen yoghurt episode of Seinfeld

    While in office, Mr Giuliani got to know Mr Trump, who was then an equally colourful New York property tycoon.

    In 2000, they appeared in a bizarre parody video together, where Mr Giuliani, dressed in drag, had his fake breasts nuzzled by Mr Trump.

    “Oh, you dirty boy, you!” Mr Giuliani exclaimed, before slapping Mr Trump’s face.

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    Trump and Giuliani filmed the skit for annual New York city charity dinner in 2000.

    His time in City Hall is warmly remembered by many Republicans but it was regularly pockmarked by controversies or publicity stunts.

    He surprised his wife by announcing their separation at a press conference, cracked down on homeless people and presided over a contentious stop-and-frisk policing policy, which he still claims reduced crime and helped him clean up the city.

    The then-mayor also had his own radio show, which is perhaps best remembered now for a spectacular, fiery confrontation with a ferret owner.

    “This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness,” Mr Giuliani told the head of a New York ferrets’ rights advocacy group.

    “There’s something deranged about you.”

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    Mayor Giuliani yells at a caller about ferrets during a radio show

    Long-term critics of “America’s mayor” claim there’s plenty of evidence to suggest his controversial behaviour on Thursday is completely consistent with how he acted in the past.

    The humiliation of ‘America’s mayor’

    After leaving office, Mr Giuliani set up a couple of businesses.

    He cashed in on his September 11 experiences, offering policing, security planning and counterterrorism advice to a variety of governments and companies around the world, some with less-than-perfect reputations.

    On Thursday, he maintains several foreign clients, while also representing the President.

    “He used to order a slice of pizza and a Diet Coke and pay for it himself because he didn’t want to be compromised by anyone,” Mr Frydman told the ABC.

    “Then you fast forward to today, it seems like he will take money and work for anyone.”


    Mr Giuliani was expected to be a frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2008, but withdrew from the race in January. (Reuters: Hans Deryk)

    But some former friends argue it was the 2008 Presidential campaign, not his business interests, that changed Mr Giuliani’s trajectory in life.

    After starting as an early frontrunner in the race for the Republican Party nomination, he nose-dived spectacularly, dropping out early to endorse John McCain.

    One line of attack from then-Democratic candidate Joe Biden, who went on to become Vice-President, seems to have added relevance on Thursday.

    “Rudy Giuliani, there’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb and 9/11,” Mr Biden said during a Democratic debate.

    “There’s nothing else.”

    One former associate told the ABC he believes Mr Giuliani has never forgotten that attack on one of his proudest moments.

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    @kylegriffin1 Important to remember this debate moment from 2007 when considering Giuliani's attacks today on Joe Biden.

    Rudy Giuliani gets close to team Trump

    Following his failed run and Barack Obama’s defeat of Mr McCain at the 2008 election, Mr Giuliani found his public standing had slipped.


    Rudy Giuliani was one of the first major political figures to endorse Donald Trump for President. (Reuters: Mike Segar)

    His once-lucrative public appearance and speaking fees fell. He still had debt from his campaign and crucially, his relevance to the national debate began to fade.

    Instead of guest-starring on big-budget sitcoms, the former mayor appeared as a colourful and at times controversial commentator on evening, right-wing cable news programs.

    He made unfounded comments about President Obama, claiming he “didn’t love America”, and repeatedly targeted Hillary Clinton.

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    Rudy Giuliani starts rumours about Hillary Clinton on Fox News

    “Go online and put down ‘Hillary Clinton illness,'” he once urged Fox News viewers.

    “I think Hillary’s tired … she looks sick.”

    By the summer of 2016, Mr Giuliani had emerged as one of Mr Trump’s most incendiary advocates.

    He was among the first establishment Republicans to back the real estate mogul, calling him “an agent of change.”

    Following the broadcast of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, where the future President said he could walk up to women and “grab them by the pussy”, Mr Giuliani was the only one to appear on Sunday political shows defending him.

    “The fact is that men at times talk like that. Not all men but men do,” he said on CNN.

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    Rudy Giuliani defends Donald Trump after the Access Hollywood tape leaked

    “I know he believes it’s wrong. I believe this is not the man we’re talking about today.”

    Mr Trump wasn’t grateful — he reportedly thought the performances “sucked”.

    But it was an early sign of just how far the former mayor would be willing to go to support Mr Trump’s ambitions.

    The renewed relevance of Rudy Giuliani

    Following the election of the President, Mr Giuliani pushed hard, publicly and privately, to be made Secretary of State.


    Days after the 2016 election, Rudy Giuliani went to Trump Tower to discuss his future with the President-elect. (Reuters: Eduardo Munoz)

    “My knowledge of foreign policy is as good or better than anybody they’re talking to,” he claimed after Trump’s surprise victory.

    But he was passed over, perhaps partly due to concerns about his catalogue of international clients.

    It wasn’t until 2018, again during a time of crisis, that he truly entered Mr Trump’s inner circle.

    “When he was invited to become the President’s personal attorney, that was a major coup for Giuliani,” Mr Kirtzman said.

    “It brought him back to the centre of the action.”


    Associates say Rudy Giuliani enjoys the attention that comes with being close to the President. (Reuters: Mike Segar)

    His main task was grappling with the Special Counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, led by Robert Mueller.

    Allegations of possible Kremlin collusion with the Trump campaign had cast a long, dark cloud over the first few years of the administration.

    A frustrated Commander-in-Chief, who had seen several close confidants indicted, was demanding a more aggressive response.

    From the outset, Mr Giuliani delivered during a series of chaotic encounters with journalists.

    “There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians. It depends on where it came from,” he claimed in one exchange.

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    Rudy Giuliani defends taking info from the Russians

    When Mr Giuliani discovered the President would not face charges from the probe, he decided impeachment — a political, not criminal, proceeding — was the biggest threat to his client’s grasp on the Oval Office.

    So, at the end of last year, he turned his attention to eastern Europe, looking for anything that could be used to challenge damaging findings.

    Rudy Giuliani looks to Ukraine

    For some time, a debunked story has circulated on fringe right-wing websites suggesting it was Ukraine, not Russia, that was responsible for meddling in the 2016 US election.

    While the narrative is pushed by the Kremlin, the US intelligence community has unanimously concluded it is false.

    But while Mr Giuliani was digging into the theory, he came across separate unsubstantiated claims that Joe Biden — now one of Mr Trump’s leading political rivals — abused his power as Vice-President in 2016 to protect his son’s business interests in Ukraine.


    Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden (far left) is at the centre of right-wing conspiracies about his business dealings in Ukraine. (Reuters: Bryan Woolston)

    There’s no evidence Mr Biden acted improperly.

    But there’s plenty to show Mr Giuliani and associates began promoting the claim and pushing for Ukraine to announce investigations.

    Official inquiries into the Bidens and 2016 meddling theories could have been beneficial to his most important client, the President, as he campaigned for re-election.

    The shadowy work of Mr Trump’s private lawyer in eastern Europe made many US officials uncomfortable.

    “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” former national security adviser John Bolton reportedly warned.

    Impeachment risk fades then rapidly re-emerges

    On the 24th of July, Robert Mueller made his long-awaited appearance before Congress to discuss his inquiry’s findings.

    But the special counsel was an anti-climactic witness.

    Many Democrats were left deflated and Trump supporters were jubilant – the threat to the President seemed over.

    But the next morning, Mr Trump changed everything.

    While chatting with his newly-elected Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, he asked for a “favour”.


    US President Donald Trump’s impeachment woes began with a phone call to the leader of Ukraine. (Reuters: Jonathan Ernst)

    The President urged him to look into the two theories his personal lawyer was pushing.

    “Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak with him that would be great,” the President asked.

    That conversation triggered a CIA whistle-blower complaint, which quickly turned into a full-blown investigation.

    It heard allegations that military aid and a White House visit were being withheld as leverage to get the Ukrainian inquiries launched.

    Democrats claim there is enough evidence to throw the 45th President out of office in an impeachment trial in the Senate.

    They say he abused his office to try to secure political help from a foreign country and then tried to cover it up.

    “President Trump put his own personal and political interests above those of the nation,” leading Democrat Adam Schiff declared.

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    @RepAdamSchiff This is precisely the conduct the Founders were most concerned about when they provided the remedy of impeachment:

    Mr Giuliani’s work to protect the President had badly backfired, though he claims to have been unfairly maligned.

    “These morons, when this is over, I will be the hero,” Mr Giuliani told The Atlantic earlier this year.

    “I’m acting as someone who has devoted most of his life to straightening out government.”

    To make things worse, in October two associates of his were arrested with one-way tickets at an airport in Virginia.

    Prosecutors have charged them with making illegal campaign contributions.

    The US Attorney’s office in New York that Mr Giuliani once ran is now scrutinising his interactions with the pair.

    “He’s in a world of trouble right now,” Mr Kirtzman said of Mr Giuliani.

    “He’s an embattled figure, he’s facing potential indictment for his activities in Ukraine. He’s in a very precarious state.”

    Will Donald Trump throw Giuliani under a bus?

    Due to the numbers in the Senate, the President looks all but certain to survive the trial in the upper house of Congress early next year.

    By the time he faces voters in November 2020, the Ukraine scandal could have faded into the background.

    But the immediate future of his personal lawyer is far from clear.

    For months, there have been signs many Republicans and a chorus of White House officials want him cut loose.

    Early last month, Mr Giuliani was asked if he was worried Mr Trump could “throw him under a bus.”

    “I’m not, but I do have very, very good insurance, so if he does, all my hospital bills will be paid,” he said.

    His lawyer immediately claimed the comment was a joke and Mr Giuliani later called Mr Trump to apologise.

    The President was already reportedly cross about a New York Times report that Mr Giuliani was pursuing business opportunities at the same time he was carrying out his shadow diplomacy.

    It is well known in Washington that Mr Trump hates when others profit off him.

    Rudy Giuliani rarely backs down

    Despite his mounting woes, Mr Giuliani refuses to back down.

    He has recently been in eastern Europe, interviewing Ukrainians for a documentary series for a conservative television outlet.

    It aims to promote a pro-Trump narrative to undermine the impeachment case.

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    @RudyGiuliani Working on an important project with @OANN, intended to bring before the American people information

    By any measure, it is a brazen act, considering many might have suggested he keep out of the spotlight for a bit.

    “He’s always been one to double down and he has always liked the spotlight,” Mr Frydman said.

    “He said he doesn’t care about his legacy because he’ll be dead, but the people who worked for him do.”

    “I just wish he and the President would think about what they’re doing to the country.”

    Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news