Podcast: Empire Has No Clothes Episode 3, With Ben Denison
TAC talks regime change follies and the Bay of Piglets.
On the latest edition of “Empire Has No Clothes,” Matt, Kelley, and Daniel speak to Ben Denison of the Notre Dame International Security Center about regime change and why it’s failed almost every time it’s been tried. They also talk with TAC reporter Barbara Boland about the Bay of Piglets fiasco in Venezuela and whether our government knew.
Listen to the episode in the player below, or click the links beneath it to subscribe using your favorite podcast app. If you like what you hear, please give us a rating or review on iTunes or Stitcher, which will really help us climb the rankings, allowing more people to find the show.
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Trump Gives Another Gift to Hard-liners with Open Skies Exit
It is an unforced error and voluntary self-blinding.
The president has given hard-liners another gift with his decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty:
President Trump has decided to withdraw from another major arms control accord, according to senior administration officials, and will inform Russia on Friday that the United States is pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, negotiated three decades ago to allow nations to fly over each other’s territory with elaborate sensor equipment to assure they are not preparing for military action.
Withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty is a serious mistake in its own right, and it portends the death of New START next year. The president has made no secret of his disdain for arms control and nonproliferation agreements, and leaving Open Skies will be the third such agreement that Trump has quit since taking office. The decision to exit the latest treaty is proof that the president’s antipathy to arms control was not just the result of Bolton’s malign influence. It also comes from the president’s own blinkered, zero-sum view of all diplomatic agreements. Hard-liners in the Senate, such as Tom Cotton, have been beating the drum against the Open Skies Treaty in particular, so the the decision this week is also a victory for them.
John Bolton was predictably thrilled with the news:
US to announce its intention to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty – another great moment in arms control history if and when it happens!
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) May 21, 2020
The only moments in arms control history that Bolton celebrates are the moments when important treaties are killed. He may no longer be in government, but Bolton’s agenda is still thriving and defining Trump’s foreign policy in many respects.
Quitting the treaty is a blow to our allies and other partners in Europe. They pleaded with the Trump administration not to do this, and they were ignored. While they remain parties to the treaty, many of them lack the capabilities to conduct the overflights to gather intelligence on Russian movements, so they will be in the dark along with the U.S. The treaty has had value as a stabilizing factor in relations between the U.S. and Russia, and it has made Europe more secure. Throwing the treaty away puts the U.S. and our allies at a disadvantage, and it introduces new uncertainty into the relationship with Moscow. For all of the president’s feigned interest in better relations with Russia, he has consistently acted in a way guaranteed to ratchet up tensions and increase distrust. Complaints about Russian noncompliance are just a pretext for scrapping a treaty that hard-liners have never liked. If they were really concerned about Russian noncompliance in one small area of their country, they would not be advocating for leaving the treaty and denying the U.S. the ability to conduct overflights over the rest of it. The restrictions that Russia has put in place around Kaliningrad are not serious enough to justify giving up on the treaty as a whole:
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the dispute about overflights near Kaliningrad does not warrant abandoning the agreement.
“Concerns about Russian compliance with the accord, though serious, are resolvable, pertain to political disputes between Russia and some of its neighbors, and do not rise to the level of a material breach that would merit US withdrawal from the treaty,” Kimball said.
He pointed out that even though Russia has imposed a 500 kilometer flight limit over Kaliningrad in contravention of the treaty, “a treaty flight by Estonia, Lithuania, and the United States in February over Kaliningrad flew for more than 500 kilometers for the first time since Moscow imposed the sublimit in 2014, according to an April 8 report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant.”
The only way to resolve these concerns successfully is to stay in the treaty. Once the U.S. is out of the treaty, it will be in no position to fix anything. It is an unforced error and voluntary self-blinding. The treaty is worth keeping, and abandoning it makes no sense.
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Saudi Arabia Threatens Democrats: We’ll Support You
Our great and glorious ally is staring at a bleak future. But are they really prepared to ditch Trump?
Our great and glorious ally Saudi Arabia has fallen on hard times. The coronavirus has arrived in the desert kingdom, prompting its government to take emergency measures and sending its economy into a tailspin. Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious plan to turn his country into Tomorrowland, has either, depending on who you check, hit a speed bump or crashed headlong into a wall.
Perhaps most ominous of all, though, the recent Saudi-Russian economic war, which at one point turned the price of oil negative, has sparked unrest in the Saudi heartland, by which we mean the GOP. As Daniel Larison has pointed out, Senator Ted Cruz, normally prostrate in front of the Saudis, criticized them publicly in recent weeks. He wasn’t alone: other GOP senators, many from oil-rich states, threatened to impose tariffs and sanctions on Riyadh. And according to Reuters, Donald Trump called the crown prince himself and threatened to withdraw military support unless the price war ended. The message was summed up by one American official: “We are defending your industry while you’re destroying ours.”
And doesn’t that just sum up the entire U.S.-Saudi relationship.
That relationship has now arguably hit its lowest point ever. And while there’s gloomy news on both sides, at least we can say that we now know the market value of a glowing orb: three years of unquestioning fealty. In all seriousness, Trump does deserve credit for finally chewing out the royals, however belated his stand might have been. And while the Saudis have since ended their price war, GOP dissent reportedly has Riyadh reconsidering their interventions in American politics. Here’s Ali al-Ahmed at UPI:
The Saudi government recently engaged two new firms to strengthen ties with the Democratic establishment. Meanwhile, its existing army of lobbyists has turned their focus to blue state leaders. FARA filings show that Democratic heavyweights at Saudi Arabia’s lobbyists of record, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Shreck and Hogan Lovells, have been mounting a full-on assault to appeal for support from party luminaries.
A couple takeaways from this. First, it’s striking how the Saudi approach to global affairs differs from the American one. While we flop around the Middle East searching for a democratic spark, Riyadh ruthlessly pursues its own interests. While we remain trapped in the template of Cold War alliances and enmities, Riyadh turns on a dime to adjust to circumstances. Saudi Arabia has been bilking the United States for years, extracting every dollar and troop it can while offering comparably little in return. And given how gullible we seem to be, it’s hard to blame them.
Second, while the Gulf has seen plenty of strategic grandmasters, Mohammed bin Salman clearly isn’t one of them. His lobbying of Democrats is less a sign of cunning than of desperation. It was the Democratic Party, after all, that inaugurated the Iran deal, which the Saudis viewed as an ultimate betrayal. Barack Obama in the last year of his presidency even had the audacity to issue a few mouse squeaks of concern over the war in Yemen. All that meant that when Trump arrived, the Kingdom viewed him as their salvation. Now they’re turning frantically to his opponents. It may be that after butchering a Washington journalist, slaughtering Yemeni civilians with American bombs, aggressing pointlessly against Iran and Qatar, and continuing to spread Wahhabist fanaticism, one’s options do begin to run out.
Then again, maybe not. Two weeks ago, Trump and Saudi King Salman reportedly spoke by phone and committed to a continuing defense partnership. In international affairs, “partnerships” are very often master-servant relationships, and the question now is whether the United States is finally prepared to switch into the master role. Either way, given the Saudis’ record, the Democrats should probably view their offers of support as a threat.
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Bibi is Totally Sweating the Prospect of a Biden Win
Under a power sharing agreement, the Israeli PM must get U.S. (Trump) approval before he can annex the West Bank.
Trump’s success in the U.S. never rested on the political fate of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They are fierce allies and even friends—probably the closest one Trump has among other heads of state—but Netanyahu’s rise and fall and rise again in the recent national elections probably did not keep the U.S. president up at night, wiping his brow at the thought of Benny Gantz besting Bibi and licking the Likud Party for good.
The same cannot be said for Benjamin Netanyahu. He really needs Trump to win this Fall. The U.S. president and his administration—particularly Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ambassador David Friedman (who tested negative for COVID by the way) and son-in-law Jared Kushner—have provided back-up for all of his tough policies on Palestine every step of the way. The moving of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? Check. Withdrawing U.S. aid to Palestinian refugees as a way to keep their right of return off the table in future peace talks? Check. Recognizing the Golan Heights as an Israeli territory and naming a settlement there “Trump Heights”? Check. Breaking with international law and saying the Jewish settlements (nearly 430,000 settlers as of 2018) in the West Bank aren’t illegal? Check.
The Trump administration has helped paved the way for Bibi to come through on his ultimate campaign promise: annexing wide swaths of the West Bank and likely putting the final nail in the coffin of any hoped for two-state solution. It did this, primarily, by endorsing annexation in the so-called White House “peace proposal” back in January.
Now that Bibi has worked out a power sharing agreement with Gantz (clearly getting the upper hand) and was sworn in again as prime minister Sunday (one week before he stands trial for corruption) he is now sweating out how he will get his prize legislation through before November. According to the power sharing deal, he can seek a government vote to annex 30 percent of the West Bank as early as July 1, as long as he has the full endorsement of the U.S.
If for whatever reason he can’t get that vote before November, he risks facing a Biden Administration and Biden just publicly warned against the annexation in a speech given in a virtual fundraiser. “Israel needs to stop the threats of annexation and stop settlement activity because it will choke off any hope of peace. Today neither (Israel’s) present government or the Palestinians want to take steps thanks to President Trump’s unilateralism,” he told an audience of Jewish Democrats hosting the event this week.
He added that the Trump administration has “just been unequivocal on anything that (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) does and has been equivocating on the importance of this two-state solution.” Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., must’ve been using those words as rocket fuel, as he was reportedly on a lobbying tear this week, urging the White House and GOP lawmakers to act fast on backing Netanyahu’s annexation plan. “He said that it should be done, and the quicker the better,” an official told The Jerusalem Post this week. “He did not necessarily mention any connection to the upcoming elections.” Right.
The majority of Americans endorse a two-state solution, but Trump has been known to pull the “anti-Israel” card against his opponents to win political points. This could become a wedge issue if Biden pushes it. Evangelical Republicans, especially, support Trump’s moves in Israel and Netanyahu’s policies in general. But really, Netanyahu needs Trump more than Trump needs him. You’d never see Trump producing campaign ads like this using Netanyahu to sell himself or plastering both of their visages on billboards overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue.
Most importantly, Trump now has the power over a vote that “would alter Israel’s character forever.” Whether he gets to execute it, or even will, is not certain, but that it is even a question—a foreign government having the power to shape the future of another country (or really, two) is a stunning revelation in itself. That the direction it takes hinges on who wins our dysfunctional duopolistic cage match in November makes it even more frightening.
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It Isn’t #BelieveAllRaccoons
A ludicrous New York Times op-ed weaves around the truth: Democrats don't want to believe the Tara Reade accusations.
We right-wingers are like velociraptors, forever coming up with clever and exciting ways to ambush our prey. There’s the old “conservatives pounce” trope, which the media uses to describe Republicans attacking someone for hypocrisy, exalting that into bigger news than the hypocrisy itself. And now we have an op-ed in the New York Times warning of yet another “right-wing trap.”
That trap? “Believe All Women.” The long-time #MeToo moniker is actually a snare set by conservatives. Lest you think I’m kidding, the headline of the piece is: “‘Believe All Women’ is a Right-Wing Trap.”
It’s the most diabolical conservative scheme since the Covington Catholic kids brought back racism by smirking on the National Mall. In the Times op-ed, author Susan Faludi undertakes an extensive and deeply professional journalistic investigation, consisting of her typing “#BelieveAllWomen” into Twitter’s search function. What she discovers is shocking: the hash tag had been used mostly by conservatives. They’d adopted it, she says, as a kind of sardonic echo, meant to hold the left’s feet to the flames: if you’re going to believe all women, then you also have to believe X accuser of Y Democrat.
In detailing her findings, Faludi makes an imperishable distinction:
This is why “Believe All Women” is not an amplification of “Believe Women,” but its negation. As Mr. Morales Henry at the Schlesinger Library told me, after several days of analyzing the use of the two hashtags, “It looks like #BelieveAllWomen, especially recently, is being used in opposition to #BelieveWomen.”
That’s it. That’s the peg on which the left intends to hang its skepticism of Tara Reade. “Believe Women” doesn’t mean the same thing as “Believe All Women.”
To which a sane person who’s graduated from the first-grade reading level might respond: yes it does. “Believe Women” does not mean “Believe Seven Eighths of Women.” It does not mean “Believe Hypoglycemic Women” or “Believe Welsh Women” or even “Believe Credible Women.” It does not mean “Believe Raccoons” or “Believe Protocol Droids.” Without a modifier, “women” is a noun that covers roughly half of the human race. The lack of an “all” does not imply partiality. Neither does any demand for consistency by conservatives.
Faludi asserts that the “Believe All Women” tagline is wrong, because, as she puts it, “feminism was birthed out of a desire that women be treated as individuals, not as a cookie-cutter ideal or a faceless stereotype.” And here’s to that! But it isn’t conservatives who regard women as mere emissaries of their gender. It’s contemporary left-wing identity politics, whose basic unit is not the individual but the racial, ethnic, and gender group, to which the individual is expected to conform. This is why Samantha Bee recorded a monologue after Trump’s election asking what was wrong with “white women.” It was simply assumed that white women were obligated by their gender to support Hillary Clinton. Likewise did some #MeToo feminists make similar categorical generalizations about accusations of sexual assault. Women deserve trust; the men they accuse deserve skepticism; that’s that.
Hence, as Robby Soave has pointed out, it wasn’t just the right that cried “Believe All Women.” Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton said approximately the same thing. And in fairness, even when conservatives did use that line, many feminists accepted their challenge, putting their politics on hold and reconsidering accusations of assault against left-wing men. Michelle Goldberg wrote an essay saying she believed Juanita Broaddrick, who credibly accused Bill Clinton of rape back in the ’90s. Al Franken was expeditiously bum-rushed out of the Senate.
The difference is that with Clinton and Franken, the political stakes were relatively low. Notably, neither was running in an election against Donald Trump. Joe Biden is, which for the left, makes believing his accuser a dicey proposition.
And that’s the real purpose of Faludi’s piece: to provide leftists with a psychological workaround so they can justify voting for a man credibly accused of the same crime whose denouncement they’ve turned into an ideological centerpiece. It isn’t “Believe Women” or “Believe All Women”; it also isn’t “Carefully and Charitably Investigate the Claims of Women,” which, despite committing the unpardonable sin of not being tweetable, is the correct standard. It’s “I Get to Disbelieve This One Woman.” Expect that to become a genre in the months ahead.
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Rubio Tapped as the Senate’s Temporary Spymaster
Richard Burr’s mistake is the perpetually young senator’s profit.
WASHINGTON- Senator Marco Rubio’s convulsive career reinvention took a new turn Monday.
A benefactor of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pitiless machine politics, Rubio will pinch-hit for the increasingly beleaguered Richard Burr, the disgraced North Carolina senator who has resigned his chairmanship of the upper chamber’s vaunted Intelligence Committee. Rubio, who mounted an underachieving run for president four years ago, remains a perpetual rising star of the GOP.
“I am glad to announce that Senator Marco Rubio has accepted my invitation to serve as Acting Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” McConnell said Monday. “The senior senator for Florida is a talented and experienced Senate leader with expertise in foreign affairs and national security matters. Senator Rubio was the natural choice.”
Rubio fills the void for Sen. Burr—whose political survival is in doubt after a devastating insider trading scandal amidst a national pandemic and a fresh, knives-out attitude towards China. Rubio is under 50 and a commanding orator; hailing from a megastate, the hawkish senator is a palliative selection to lead a committee with a battered reputation following the troubled Russiagate investigation.
In 2016, Rubio sought the nation’s top office as an unvarnished champion of free enterprise and empire. In 2020, his temporary appointment will serve as another feather in his political cap as he seeks to rebrand as a more skeptical, burnished champion of the common good.
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Trump Fires State’s IG to Protect Pompeo from Investigation
The president announced on Friday that he was firing Steve Linick, the State Department’s Inspector General. One possible reason that Linick was removed may have been that he was conducting an investigation into the bogus emergency declaration that the administration used to expedite arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE last year:
House Democrats have discovered that the fired IG had mostly completed an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s widely criticized decision to skirt Congress with an emergency declaration to approve billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year, aides on the Foreign Affairs Committee tell me.
“I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing,” Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement sent to me. “His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia.”
If Linick was investigating the bogus emergency declaration, he would have come across reporting that showed how a former Raytheon lobbyist serving at the department was instrumental in pushing through the plan to expedite arms sales that benefited his old employer. He would have discovered that there was no genuine emergency that justified going around Congress. Once his investigation was concluded, it would have found that the emergency declaration was made in bad faith and that the law was abused so that the administration could proceed with arms sales that Congress opposed.
Another reason for the firing was to protect Mike Pompeo from an investigation into the Secretary’s abuses of government resources for personal purposes:
The State Department inspector general fired by President Trump was looking into allegations that a staffer for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was performing domestic errands and chores such as handling dry cleaning, walking the family dog and making restaurant reservations, said a congressional official familiar with the matter.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a statement immediately on Friday objecting to Linick’s firing and suggesting that it might be an illegal act of retaliation. There will now be a Congressional investigation into the circumstances surrounding Linick’s firing. If Trump hoped to reduce the scrutiny on Pompeo by getting rid of Linick, he will be disappointed. It remains to be seen how much of a price Pompeo will pay for this, but the price is likely higher now than it would have been if he hadn’t pushed for removing the inspector general.
Pompeo reportedly recommended Linick’s removal. This is not the first time that Pompeo has been accused of misusing government resources. There was a report last summer that a whistleblower alleged that Pompeo and his wife were using Diplomatic Security agents as their personal errand boys:
Democrats on a key House congressional committee are investigating allegations from a whistleblower within the State Department about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his family’s use of taxpayer-funded Diplomatic Security — prompting agents to lament they are at times viewed as “UberEats with guns”.
Congressional investigators, who asked for the committee not to be named as they carry out their inquiries, tell CNN that a State Department whistleblower has raised multiple issues over a period of months, about special agents being asked to carry out some questionable tasks for the Pompeo family.
Pompeo has also repeatedly used government resources for domestic travel that seems to have more to do with advancing the Secretary’s political ambitions in Kansas. There has been widespread speculation that he has used official trips in an attempt to lay the groundwork for a possible Senate campaign. If so, it would be a flagrant violation of the Hatch Act. That prompted a call for a special counsel investigation into Pompeo’s travel. If Pompeo and his wife have been using a political appointee as a gofer, that would be more of the same abusive behavior.
Linick has previously clashed with other Trump administration officials at State. Last year, he released a damning report on Brian Hook over his treatment of Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, the Iranian-American official who was apparently targeted for political retaliation because of her policy views and ethnic background. The fired inspector general was well-respected at the department, and his firing at Pompeo’s urging will likely cause further demoralization at a department that has already been run into the ground under the Secretary’s dismal leadership.
The Secretary of State seems to think that government funds and personnel are at his disposal for his personal errands and political activities. Linick was doing exactly what an inspector general is supposed to be doing by investigating the allegations against him, and then he was conveniently fired on Pompeo’s recommendation. You could hardly ask for a more straightforward case of a corrupt official using his influence to remove the person responsible for scrutinizing his conduct. If Linick was also fired because he was in the process of exposing the administration’s dishonest push for more arms sales to the Saudi coalition, that makes his removal all the more outrageous and sinister.
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Before COVID Strong, Navarro Was Big War’s Man in the White House
Trump's dedication to Raytheon and foreign weapons sales has been a bigger priority than we thought.
In the battle between Trump’s stated desire to extract the U.S. from unnecessary wars in the Middle East and his dedication to making the defense industry boom, it seems that the president has been more laser focused on the latter.
According to an exhaustive report in The New York Times on Saturday, his administration has made a deliberate effort to grease the skids for U.S. weapons manufacturers since he was inaugurated, using the unpopular war in Yemen to increase total U.S. arms sales to $51 billion a year (the weapons market totaled about $36 billion under Obama.) According to new documents obtained by the paper, when Senator Mike Lee wanted to cut off the weapons to Saudi Arabia (which is responsible for most of the human carnage there) in 2017, it was Trump’s trade guru Peter Navarro (you know, the guy who has been successful at arguing the president’s America First manufacturing plan during COVID), who put a stop to it. From the NYT piece by Michael LaForgia and Walt Bogdonich:
Weapons supplied by American companies, approved by American officials, allowed Saudi Arabia to pursue the reckless campaign. But in June 2017, an influential Republican senator decided to cut them off, by withholding approval for new sales. It was a moment that might have stopped the slaughter.
Not under President Trump.
With billions at stake, one of the president’s favored aides, the combative trade adviser Peter Navarro, made it his mission to reverse the senator. Mr. Navarro, after consulting with American arms makers, wrote a memo to Jared Kushner and other top White House officials calling for an intervention, possibly by Mr. Trump himself. He titled it “Trump Mideast arms sales deal in extreme jeopardy, job losses imminent.”
Within weeks, the Saudis were once again free to buy American weapons.
According to their reporting, Navarro’s role as a conduit between the administration and the defense firms has paid off big especially for Raytheon, which was crawling out of a financial hole when Trump came in. Thanks to a more aggressive push for sales by the State Department, which oversees the foreign arms market, Navarro’s facilitation, and full scale lobbying by Raytheon, the arms manufacturer has thrived off the war in Yemen. More:
Intent on pushing the deals through, Raytheon followed the industry playbook: It took advantage of federal loopholes by sending former State Department officials, who were not required to be registered as lobbyists, to press their former colleagues to approve the sales.
And though the company was already embedded in Washington — its chief lobbyist, Mark Esper, would become Army secretary and then defense secretary under Mr. Trump — Raytheon executives sought even closer ties.
They assiduously courted Mr. Navarro, who intervened with White House officials on Raytheon’s behalf and successfully pressured the State Department, diminished under Mr. Trump, to process the most contentious deals.
They also enlisted the help of David J. Urban, a lobbyist whose close ties to Mr. Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo go back to the 1980s, when all three men were at West Point.
I’ve said it a million times before, but welcome to the swamp. There was always the hope that Trump’s “better angels” on one shoulder— telling him to turn U.S. resources and attention back home by ending our involvement in military interventions overseas—could knock those fat venal creatures off the other shoulder. You know, the ones who’ve convinced him that blowing up people in other countries’ wars is good for business back home.
If this administration has taught us anything, however, it is that the defense industry has the ability to devour any president as long as it knows his weaknesses. For Trump, it is his desperation to outdo his predecessor and be able to say he has “created an amazing economy” no matter the cost. It won’t be long until the truth is revealed: you cannot “end wars” if your chief constituency is a war making machine. Furthermore, if Navarro’s “hard stance against China was well known,” it would make his role in the president’s new resolve to face “the threat” that more auspicious, especially if he’s already serving as the administration’s point man with the defense industry. Something to chew on.
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Podcast: Right Now Episode 2, The Russiagate Hoax, with Svetlana Lokhova and Chuck Ross
Svetlana Lokhova was a researcher at Cambridge who came into contact with Mike Flynn in 2014. Three years later she was contacted by four journalists in the same day, and was later accused of being a “honeypot” for Russian spies. She joins Right Now this week along with Chuck Ross, investigative reporter at the Daily Caller News Foundation, to get to the truth about Russiagate. In the intro segment, Arthur, Ryan and Helen talk about a new settlement Facebook is paying out, and congressional Republicans’ new tough talk on immigration. And, in the final segment, the death of Little Richard.
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(Both this podcast and Empire Has No Clothes have been submitted to Google Play for review, and should appear there in a few days)