The French Horn Fruitlessly Warns the Iranian Nuclear Horn

France stresses need for Iran to respect nuclear accord

Elaine Ganley | APJuly 23

A speedboat of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard moves around a British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which was seized on Friday by the Guard, in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, Sunday, July 21, 2019. Iranian officials say the seizure of the British oil tanker was a justified response to Britain’s role in impounding an Iranian supertanker two weeks earlier off the coast of Gibraltar, a British territory located on the southern tip of Spain. (Hasan Shirvani/Mizan News Agency via AP) (Associated Press)

PARIS — French authorities in a meeting Tuesday with an Iranian envoy stressed the need for Tehran to quickly respect the 2015 nuclear accord it has breached and “make the needed gestures” to deescalate mounting tensions in the Persian Gulf region.

A statement by the French Foreign Ministry said Seyed Abbas Araghchi gave a message to President Emmanuel Macron from Iranian leader Hassen Rouhani. Macron and Rouhani spoke last Thursday.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who met with Araghchi, is working with European partners on an observation mission to ensure maritime security in the Gulf, where tensions have mounted after Iran’s seizure last Friday of a U.K.-flagged oil tanker.

Le Drian made no mention of a Europe-led “maritime protection mission” announced a day earlier by his British counterpart, Jeremy Hunt, offering instead what seems to be a softer version.

France is working “at this moment on a European initiative” with Britain and Germany, he told lawmakers, without elaborating. “This vision is the opposite of the American initiative, which is … maximum pressure” against Iran.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von der Muhll said at a briefing that the initiative involves “appropriate means of surveillance” aimed at “increased understanding of the situation at sea” to facilitate traffic in a waterway that is critical to the global economy.

Iran’s seizure Friday of British oil tanker Steno Impero and its 23-member crew in the Strait of Hormuz aggravated tensions that were already mounting with Iran’s breaching of a 2015 Iran nuclear accord among world powers.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the accord last year, reinstating sanctions on Iran and raising tensions.

Nations still party to the shaky Iran nuclear deal plan to meet in Vienna on Sunday to see to what extent the agreement can be saved. The European Union said the meeting of China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, chaired by the EU, “will examine issues linked to the implementation of the (nuclear deal) in all its aspects.”

Iran began openly exceeding the uranium enrichment levels set in the accord to try to pressure Europe into offsetting the economic pain of U.S. sanctions.

Le Drian stressed the need for diplomacy to de-escalate volatile tensions, which he has said previously could lead to “an accident.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Babylon the Great Refuses to Learn from its Nuclear Mistakes in the Middle East

Has US learned from its history of nuclear mistakes in the Middle East?

Does America still have nuclear redlines for the Middle East, and will it act on them if they are crossed?

What has America learned over the last 40 years, since the1979 Iranian Revolution, in dealing with all the variations of 21st century Islamism?

Does the United States realize that Israel’s Begin Doctrine, never to allow an enemy to acquire nuclear weapons, is still very much in force? This is an existential issue, and Israel will act alone to enforce its own redline.

A few years ago, a senior Middle East military intelligence expert told me that Iran was interested in doing work on weapons of mass destruction in Syria that would be undetected because the IAEA and the West were solely focused on Iranian territory.

According to Ronen Bergman’s The Secret War with Iran, in 2007, an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) General Ali Reza Askari, who defected or was kidnapped from Turkey, confirmed that Iran had paid for a Syrian nuclear program built by North Korea.

In 2007, two American foreign policy redlines were crossed. The Israelis had shared intelligence with the US proving with a high level of certainty that the Syrian regime under future genocidal dictator Bashar Assad was close to completing a nuclear reactor.

The first American redline crossed was nuclear proliferation. The North Koreans, a rogue nation who had repeatedly lied to the United States over many administrations, had now built a nearly identical plutonium reactor to its own in Deir Al Zour, Syria. This was the ultimate challenge to the United States regarding nuclear weapons proliferation, which violated every American national security interest imperative.

The second redline was that the proliferation consisted of transactions we forbade between two of the worst state sponsors of terrorism in the world. Yaakov Katz, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, tells the story in all of its compelling details in Shadow Strike, which is essential reading for all Middle East watchers.

So what did the United States do?

It deliberated, and in the end was so hand-tied by the 2003 nuclear intelligence failure that claimed Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapons program that it decided not to strike the Syrian reactor even with compelling evidence that it existed, was unprotected and was not yet hot. All Condoleezza Rice and the Bush administration could see – with the exception of US vice president Dick Cheney – was a third Middle East War, and the best they could offer was bringing it to the UN.

The message heard in Tehran and Pyongyang was that the Americans speak loudly, but will not act to stop nuclear proliferation. In fact, the US went right back to talking to the North Koreans, and tried to help shepherd an Israeli-Syrian deal that would give the Golan Heights back to Syria.

Fast-forward eight years to 2015 and the JCPOA (Iran Deal). The US decided to give Iran – a US State Department-designated state sponsor of terrorism – the right to enrich uranium, something not given to any other nation. All other countries that wanted nuclear power were provided at most with heavily regulated peaceful nuclear programs that couldn’t ever turn their reactors into producing nuclear weapons grade material.

Iran knew from the American decision not to attack the Syrian reactor in 2007 or the Iraqi reactor in 1981, and from the post-traumatic damage Americans experience to this day regarding its two never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that the US would not attack Iran over its nuclear program, despite lots of bluster and sanctions. The Iranians had all the leverage, and they knew it. Economic sanctions – unless exercised to the max – are not likely to get results when dealing with an Islamist totalitarian regime.

WHAT HAS Israel learned?

For 71 years, Israel has learned to never trust its existential security to anyone but itself. Israel took out the Syrian nuclear reactor itself. If it hadn’t, either ISIS or Hezbollah would be nuclear today! If Hezbollah were nuclear, that would mean Iran would already be a nuclear power. Where are the thanks to Israel for saving the West from calamity in 2007 or 1981?

The US has little recourse with North Korea, as they already possess an unknown number of nuclear weapons. They do not need a ballistic missile to hit South Korea, Japan or the US; they can fly it on a plane and release it like the US did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or detonate it on an American coastline, paralyzing the electrical grid for months.

But unlike the North Koreans, the Iranians can still be stopped before they get to that point. Rejoining the JCPOA would guarantee that Iran has a clear path to nuclear bombs. It will also guarantee nuclear proliferation in response to a nuclear Iran in all the Sunni authoritarian states whose stability is not guaranteed, making the possibility of Sunni jihadists becoming nuclear a real threat in the future, if there is another Arab Winter.

The answer is to stop Iran now with sanctions that are fully enforced, including secondary sanctions on China and European companies. US President Donald Trump needs to allocate more financial and manpower resources to all of his government agencies to implement the full force of sanctions. According to some of my Congressional friends, this is not the case; only more money is needed now.

Unless the regime collapses, it will be a growing and increasingly dangerous menace, because its underlying fundamental goal is for a Shi’ite revolution to change the face of the Middle East from Sunni to Shi’ite. Possessing nuclear weapons and the destruction of Israel are an integral part of that strategy.

Imagine a US president looking back in the year 2028, having to deal at that time with an expansionist nuclear Iran that is threatening a nuclear Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and the UAE, with the world on edge, and saying “What were they thinking, that they allowed this to happen?”

It remains to be seen whether Trump is a Rand Paul isolationist or a Mike Pompeo Republican who will act if American redlines on proliferation and an Iranian nuclear weapon are crossed.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy advisers. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill, JTA and The Forward.

The Russian Nuclear Horn Continues to Grow (Daniel 7)

Russia to Lay Down 2 More Yasen-M Nuclear Attack Subs By 2021

The two submarines are expected to join the Russian Navy by 2027 and 2028 respectively.

Franz-Stefan Gady

Russia’s shipbuilding industry will lay down two more Project 885-M Yasen M-class multipurpose nuclear-powered attack/cruise missile submarines (SSN/SSGN) in 2020 and 2021 respectively, the CEO of the Sevmash shipyard, Mikhail Budnichenko, told TASS news agency at the St. Petersburg international maritime defense show earlier this month.

These submarines will approximately be laid down in 2020-2021,” Budnichenko was quoted as saying. When asked about a delivery timeframe, the CEO of Sevmash shipyards, the company responsible for building Yasen M-class subs, said that “the construction cycle for these submarines is seven years.” Consequently, the two new Yasen M-class boats will enter service with the Russian Navy in 2027 and 2028.

This will bring up the total number of Yasen-class submarines serving in the Russian Navy to nine by the end of the 2020s. A total of five Yasen M-class SSNs are in various stages of construction. The first Yasen M-class SSN, Kazan, was launched at the Sevmash shipyards, part of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, in Severodvinsk, a port city on Russia’s White Sea in Arkhangelsk Oblast, in March 2017 and is currently undergoing sea trials. It is not expected to enter service until the end of 2020 or later. The Yasen-class SSN Severodvinsk, the only boat of the original Yasen–class, was commissioned in 2018.

In December 2018, I wrote about the new SSNs technical characteristics and armament:

The improved Yasen M-class SSN is reportedly quieter than the lead Yasen-class boat. It is built with low magnetic steel to reduce its magnetic signature. The Yasen M-class SSN is purportedly not equal to the United States Navy’s new Virginia-class attack subs. Rather it is technically on par with older U.S. Seawolf-class SSNs, built by the U.S. Navy from 1989 to 2005, although the underwater top speed of the Russian subs is reportedly much lower than that of U.S. boats.

The Kazan is fitted with eight vertical СМ-346 complex (3Р-14В) silos for submarine-launched cruise missiles as well as 10 torpedo tubes for firing the 3M-54 Kalibr supersonic cruise missile, the P-800 Onik over-the-horizon supersonic anti-ship missile, and an improved variant of the 533-millimeter Fizik-1 homing torpedo. The Severodvinsk can carry up to 40 Kalibr cruise missiles while the second, Kazan, can carry 32. (The Kazan is approximately 10-12 meters shorter than the first boat.)

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) signed a contract with Sevmash for the two additional Yasen M-class boats at the “Army-2019” military and technical forum, which took place just outside of Moscow, in the last week of June.

Children Exploited Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

EXCLUSIVE: Not Only in Summer Camps – How Hamas Exploits Children During the Riots on the Gaza Border

TPS / Tazpit News Agency

22 Tammuz 5779 – July 24, 2019

Not Only in Summer Camps – How Hamas Exploits Children During the Riots on the Gaza Border

Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror groups conduct summer camps in the Gaza Strip for youngsters, mostly for high school students, on an annual basis. Thousands of campers enjoy summer activities, which are combined with the indoctrination of radical ideologies and paramilitary training.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, is the most prominent organization conducting the summer camps, as a continuation of the military training it holds in high schools during the school year.

However, TPS’ in-depth five-month-long investigation has revealed Hamas’ systematic luring and exploitation of children as pawns to advance their objectives.

The Hamas-led weekly Gaza border riots, the so-called “Marches of Return,” have been taking place for over a year.

Since the organized violence commenced on 30 March 2018, some 2,200 terror-related incidents have been recorded, including some 20 incidents of gunfire, over 100 explosive devices and 600 Molotov cocktail attacks.

Violent attacks on the border claimed the life of an IDF soldier and 16 others were wounded.

Gazan sources say that more than 250 civilians, including many children, were killed and tens of thousands were wounded during the violence.

While the IDF has proved, and the Hamas leadership has admitted, that the majority of those killed on the border were terrorists, claims persist that the IDF intentionally targeted civilians and children.

TPS was at the border to take a closer look at the facts.

TPS has learned that Hamas terrorists operate from within the civilian crowds, and carry out attacks and incite the crowd to try and breach the border, maximizing the civilian and children casualties.

The Merchant of Merchants is Not Exonerated

Mueller tells Congress his report did not exonerate Trump — live updates

Speaking in short sentences and frequently turning to cite his report, former special counsel Robert Mueller spent the morning testifying to lawmakers for the first time about his two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and attempts by the president to impede his probe.

The former FBI director hewed closely to the findings of his report in response to sometimes-heated questioning from 41 members of the House Judiciary Committee during the first of two hearings slated for Wednesday. His hearing before the House Intelligence Committee began shortly before 1 p.m.

In the first hearing, Mueller gave one-word answers — “yes,” “no,” “true,” “correct” — 112 times over the course of nearly four hours. He repeatedly asked members to repeat their questions. He flatly refused to address a range of topics or even read directly from his report, asking members to recite relevant passages themselves. He declined to discuss whether his report was a tacit recommendation of impeachment, and would not elaborate on the process behind key decisions that were made over the course of his investigation.

At the beginning of the hearing, Mueller reiterated his investigation did not exonerate President Trump on obstruction of justice, emphasizing Department of Justice policies against charging a sitting president.

Democrats largely focused on the portion of Mueller’s report dealing with possible obstruction by the president, while Republicans expressed outrage over Mueller’s failure to clear the president and questioned the origins of the investigation itself.

The few instances when Mueller diverged from the report came when he defended the integrity of his investigators, pushing back on Republicans who suggested his team was politically motivated.

Mueller’s testimony at the first hearing began at 8:30 a.m. and ran longer than its allotted time, concluding shortly after noon. He is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee for another two hours in the afternoon. — Stefan Becket

Watch the hearing on CBSN in the player above, and follow along with updates below

Turner questions Mueller’s ability to “exonerate” Trump

1:45 p.m.: GOP Rep. Mike Turner questioned whether Mueller had the ability to “exonerate” Mr. Trump. Mueller declined to argue whether Attorney General William Barr had the power to exonerate someone of a crime, saying: “I’m going to pass on that.”

Asked why, Mueller replied: “Because it embroils us in a legal discussion and I’m not prepared to do a legal discussion in that arena.”

“You have no more power to declare Trump exonerated than you do to declare him Anderson Cooper,” Turner said, after referencing a headline seen on CNN.

The concept of “total exoneration” in the investigation (or lack thereof) originated with Mr. Trump.

— Grace Segers

Mueller clarifies earlier answer on why Trump wasn’t indicted

1:15 p.m.: In his opening statement, Mueller clarified an exchange he had with Rep. Ted Lieu in the first hearing. Lieu had asserted Mueller did not recommend charges against the president because of Justice Department policy that says a sitting president cannot be indicted.

The reason again that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of the OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting President, correct?” Lieu had asked.

“That is correct,” Mueller responded, sparking immediate reaction online.

But Mueller clarified that his office “did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”

— Kathryn Watson

Nunes calls hearing a “Hail Mary” attempt

1:05 p.m.: House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes called the Mueller hearing a “Hail Mary” attempt by Democrats to revive what he calls the Russian hoax. Nunes described the hearing as the “last gasp of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory.”

“As Democrats continue to foist this spectacle on the American people as well as you, Mr. Mueller, the American people may recall the media first began spreading this conspiracy theory in the spring of 2016 when Fusion GPS funded by the DNC and the HIllary Clinton campaign started developing the Steele dossier, a collection of outlandish accusations that Trump and his associates were Russian agents.”

— Kathryn Watson

Trump: “#ShiftySchiff” an “Embarrassment to our country”

1:04 p.m.: Mr. Trump thanked Democrats for holding the hearing in a tweet, seemingly expressing confidence that Mueller’s testimony had benefited him more than it had Democrats. He also took aim at Schiff, the committee chairman:

— Grace Segers

House Intelligence Committee hearing begins

12:52 p.m.: The House Intelligence Committee kicked off its hearing after a brief break. This time around, Mueller deputy Aaron Zebley at the witness table to assist him with any details.

Chairman Adam Schiff began by thanking Mueller for a “lifetime of service to the country.” Schiff called Mueller’s report “methodical” and “devastating.”

Schiff said Mueller’s report is not only about Russian interference, but about disloyalty to country and lies.

“Disloyalty to country. Those are strong words,” Schiff said.

— Kathryn Watson

White House calls first hearing a “disgrace” for Democrats

12:48 p.m.: White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement after the conclusion of the first hearing saying, “The last three hours have been an epic embarrassment for the Democrats. Expect more of the same in the second half.”

Jay Sekulow, the president’s private lawyer, claimed the first hearing revealed “troubling deficiencies of the special counsel’s investigation” and “revealed that this probe was conducted by a small group of politically-biased prosecutors who, as hard as they tried, we’re unable to establish either obstruction, conspiracy, or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.”

— Kathryn Watson

Judiciary Committee hearing concludes

12:10 p.m.: The Judiciary Committee hearing concluded shortly after noon. After a brief break, Mueller will testify before the House Intelligence Committee. That testimony is scheduled for two hours.

— Grace Segers

Mueller declines to discuss impeachment

11:55 a.m.: Mueller, asked whether or not his report recommends impeachment, declined to discuss the topic. The former special counsel told a questioning member of Congress he was “not going to talk about that issue.”

Some critics of the president have interpreted Mueller’s report as a call to Congress to begin impeachment proceedings. Mueller’s report says that, because of current OLC policy, charging a sitting president isn’t an option. “The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system,” Mueller’s report says, a line that has fueled speculation about Mueller’s meaning.

— Kathryn Watson

Mueller defends integrity of his team of investigators

11:50 a.m.: Mueller defended the integrity of his team of investigators, saying he did not believe their political beliefs impacted their ability to do their jobs. When there was a conflict, like with Peter Strzok, those investigators were transferred.

Mueller said asking about someone’s political affiliation before hiring them is “not done” at DOJ.

“I’ve been in this business almost 25 years, and in those 25 years I’ve not had occasion once to ask about somebody’s political affiliation. It is not done,” Mueller said. “What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job seriously and quickly and with integrity.”

— Grace Segers

Trump campaign fundraising off Mueller hearing

11:43 a.m.: The Trump campaign is sending texts and emails to fundraise off the Mueller hearing.

“Pres. Trump: There was NO COLLUSION! Let’s tell the Dems to end this WITCH HUNT by raising $2,000,000 in 24 HOURS! Contribute NOW,” a text message sent to supporters read.

An email sent to supporters included a lengthier version of that plea.

“Robert Mueller is testifying on right now, and the Democrats and Corrupt Media are going to pull out all the stops to try and TRICK the American People into believing their LIES,” the email read. “How many times do I have to be exonerated before they stop?”

— Kathryn Watson

Graham calls Mueller hearing “confusing”

11:36 a.m.: Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters he finds the Mueller hearing “confusing.”

“I like Bob Mueller,” Graham, a Trump ally, said. “The hearing is confusing. Bob Mueller has served our nation well for a very long time. This hearing should not be the judge of his service to our country. He’s a decorated marine. He received a Purple Heart, he was the FBI director after 9/11. I’ve known him for a long time and I’m not going to let this hearing change my opinion of Mr. Mueller.”

— Kathryn Watson

Mueller won’t say whether investigators interviewed Steele

11:35 a.m.: Under questioning by Rep. Greg Steube, Mueller repeatedly said he could not get into whether his investigators interviewed former British spy and dossier author Christopher Steele.

Mueller said at the beginning of the hearing he couldn’t discuss the origins of the Russia investigation, something he repeated during the congressman’s line of questioning.

“As I said at the outset this morning, that was one of the investigations I could not speak to,” Mueller told Steube.

— Kathryn Watson

Lesko hits Mueller for citing news stories in report

11:09 a.m.: GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko criticized Mueller for citing news articles in the second section of the report, which dealt with whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice. Lesko said, by her count, the report cited The Washington Post around 60 times, The New York Times 75 times and Fox News 25 times.

“It looks like Volume II is mostly regurgitated press stories,” Lesko said.

Mr. Trump initially denied a 2018 New York Times article reporting he asked former White House Counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller fired, even though the Mueller report later confirmed the incident.

— Grace Segers

Mueller’s team told committee he wouldn’t read report aloud

10:59 a.m.: Mueller’s team specifically informed the Judiciary and Intelligence committees that he would decline to read from the report during the hearing, according to a committee source involved in the negotiations surrounding Mueller’s appearance.

He has asked members several times to read portions of the report aloud themselves. A Democratic source said their questioning was structured around that assumption, which is why members have had citations ready.

— Olivia Gazis

Mueller declines to agree with ex-prosecutors’ letter on obstruction

10:50 a.m.: Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell referenced a May letter signed by about 1,000 former federal prosecutors of both parties, who agreed that Mr. Trump would be charged with obstruction if he weren’t president.

Swalwell asked whether Mueller agreed with the prosecutors.

“They have a different case,” Mueller said.

Swalwell then asked if Mueller wanted to sign the letter.

“They have a different case,” Mueller repeated.

— Grace Segers

Mueller says attempting to obstruct justice is still a crime

10:43 a.m.: Democratic Rep. David Cicilline asked Mueller about Mr. Trump’s multiple attempts to limit the scope of the Russia investigation, such as when he asked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his decision to recuse himself from the probe or when he told former White House Counsel Don McGahn to order Mueller’s firing.

“An unsuccessful attempt to obstruct is still a crime, is that right?” Cicilline asked.

“True,” Mueller replied, again indicating Mr. Trump could conceivably face indictment after leaving office.

— Grace Segers

Mueller reaffirms Trump could be indicted after leaving office

10:38 a.m.: Mueller reaffirmed to GOP Rep. Ken Buck that a president can be indicted on criminal charges after he leaves office. Current Justice Department guidance says a sitting president cannot be indicted.

“We cannot indict a sitting president, so one of the tools a prosecutor could use isn’t there,” Mueller said about making a determination about whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice.

Republicans on the committee have repeatedly criticized Mueller for not making a determination while also not exonerating the president, arguing he should have made a determination one way or the other.

— Grace Segers

Mueller avoids questions on Steele dossier

10:25 a.m.: Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a staunch Trump ally, raised his voice as he criticized Mueller for not doing enough to address the dossier authored by former British spy Christopher Steele.

Mueller declined to address the matter in detail, adding that the subject is “under investigation” internally at the Justice Department and is therefore “beyond my purview.” Gaetz shot back, calling that notion “absurd.”

— Kathryn Watson

Trump tweets Fox coverage of Mueller testimony

10:11 a.m.: Mr. Trump had said he probably wouldn’t watch Mueller’s testimony, but the president, who has nothing on his public schedule before 4 p.m., appears to be watching Fox News, which is televising Mueller’s testimony.

“‘This has been a disaster for the Democrats and a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller,'” Mr. Trump said, apparently quoting anchor Chris Wallace.

— Kathryn Watson

Mueller can’t say why Trump wanted to fire him

9:45 a.m.: When Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch asked why the president wanted to fire him, Mueller responded, “I can’t answer that question.”

But Mueller did confirm his report suggests the president wanted to fire him because Mueller was investigating him for obstruction of justice.

Mueller’s report outlines multiple times when McGahn said he was instructed to remove the special counsel.

— Kathryn Watson

Mueller says he didn’t discuss FBI job with Trump “as a candidate”

9:40 a.m.: Rep. Louie Gohmert, a firebrand ultra-conservative, asserted that Mueller spoke with Mr. Trump about becoming FBI director before he was appointed special counsel in 2017, but Mueller clarified he did not meet with Mr. Trump “as a candidate.” The president has repeatedly claimed Mueller is “conflicted” because he wanted to be FBI director, and Mr. Trump didn’t offer him the job.

Gohmert also questioned Mueller’s friendship with former FBI Director James Comey. The two have known each other for years, and once worked together.

At one point during his questioning, Gohmert began yelling at Mueller for allowing former FBI official Peter Strzok, who made critical comments about the president in texts, to join his investigative team. Mueller did not react.

— Kathryn Watson

Mueller ducks questions on Fusion GPS

9:30 a.m.: Responding to repeated questions about Fusion GPS, the firm that commissioned Christopher Steele’s investigation and the so-called “Steele dossier,” Mueller said questions about the origins of the Russia investigation were “outside of my purview.”

— Grace Segers

Mueller declines to answer question on “impeachable conduct”

9:20 a.m.: When asked why he did not determine if the president had undertaken any “impeachable conduct,” Mueller noted his mandate did not include determining whether an offense could be addressed by other means.

“We have studiously kept in the center of the investigation our mandate. And our mandate does not go to other ways of addressing conduct. Our mandate goes to developing the report and turning the report in to the attorney general,” Mueller said, in response to a question by Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.

— Grace Segers

Ratcliffe says Mueller violated his mandate as special counsel

9:12 a.m.: GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe slammed Mueller for not exonerating Mr. Trump in his report, arguing there should be a presumption of innocence if someone is not indicted of a crime.

“Donald Trump should not be above the law. He’s not. But he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where Volume II this report puts him,” Ratcliffe said, referring to the section of the report dealing with obstruction.

Ratcliffe said Mueller was meant to come to a decision on obstruction of justice under his mandate as special counsel. Ratcliffe criticized Mueller for failing to do so in the second portion of his report.

“You wrote 180 pages about decisions that weren’t reached,” Ratcliffe said.

Mueller was largely unable to respond, and Ratcliffe’s combative questioning served as an indication of how Republicans would use their time to undermine the conclusions of the report and Mueller’s seeming independence.

— Grace Segers

Collins questions difference between “collusion” and “conspiracy”

9:02 a.m.: Noting that “collusion” is not a legal term, ranking member Rep. Doug Collins asked whether Mueller believed the terms “collusion” and “conspiracy” were synonymous. The report found that no Trump campaign official criminally conspired with Russian individuals to influence the election.

Mueller initially said “collusion” and “conspiracy” were not synonymous. However, when Collins noted the report said the two terms were “largely synonymous,” Mueller deferred to the language in his report.

— Grace Segers

Mueller says report did not “totally exonerate” the president

8:54 a.m.: Questioning Mueller first, Nadler asked whether the report totally exonerated the president, as Mr. Trump and his allies have frequently claimed.

“No,” Mueller responded.

Mueller also reiterated his report did not clear the president of obstruction of justice, and that the president could still be indicted after leaving office.

— Grace Segers

Mueller says his testimony will be “limited”

8:47 a.m.: In his opening statement, Mueller defended the independence of his investigation, saying he and his investigators aimed to “to work quietly, thoroughly, and with integrity so that the public would have full confidence in the outcome.”

Mueller added that his testimony would be “limited” due to ongoing litigation, and because he was unable to comment on the origins of the investigation and the so-called “Steele dossier” — a key talking point for Republicans on the committee.

“These matters are the subject of ongoing review by the Department. Any questions on these topics should therefore be directed to the FBI or the Justice Department,” Mueller said about the origins of the investigation.

He also indicated his testimony Wednesday would not include any new information.

“I do not intend to summarize or describe the results of our work in a different way in the course of my testimony today. As I said on May 29: the report is my testimony. And I will stay within that text,” Mueller said, adding that he would not comment on Barr’s determination that Mr. Trump did not obstruct justice.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious. As I said on May 29, this deserves the attention of every American,” Mueller concluded.

— Grace Segers

Collins defends Trump in opening statement

8:39 a.m.: In his opening statement, ranking member Rep. Doug Collins defended Mr. Trump, noting that the Mueller report concluded that no one on the Trump campaign “colluded, collaborated or conspired” with Russian officials.

Collins referred to Mr. Trump’s repeated criticism of the investigation and Mueller, saying that “the president’s attitude toward the investigation was understandably negative.” However, Collins said Mr. Trump did not shut down the investigation — even though the report suggested the president had questioned his advisers about firing Mueller and limiting the scope of the probe.

“Nothing we hear today will change those facts,” Collins said, referring to Mueller finding no conspiracy by Trump campaign officials and Russia to influence the election.

— Grace Segers

Nadler: “Not even the president is above the law”

8:35 a.m.: In his opening statement, chairman Jerry Nadler points directly to Mueller’s findings from the Russia report that while Mr. Trump was not charged with obstruction of justice, citing long standing Department of Justice policy, he “made clear that he is not exonerated.”

“Any other person who acted this way would have been charged with a crime. And in this nation, not even the president is above the law,” Nadler says in his prepared opening statement.

“Director Mueller, we have a responsibility to address the evidence you have uncovered. You recognized as much when you said ‘the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.'”

— Emily Tillett

Mueller hearing begins

8:33 a.m.: The hearing began on schedule, with Mueller taking his seat shortly after 8:30 a.m.

— Grace Segers

Mueller arrives for hearing

7:50 a.m.: the former special counsel pulled up in a grey SUV ahead of his highly-anticipated testimony. Mueller ignored shouted questions from reporters as he made his way into the Capitol.

Trump attorneys say legal team is confident

7:41 a.m.: Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani told CBS News the Trump legal team is “feeling very confident that no matter what Democrats do, they can’t rewrite the report’s conclusion that no case be brought.”

Not surprisingly, Giuliani wants to see an emphasis on the origins of the probe. He said, “More interesting will be how Mueller answers questions about how much he knew about the now obvious effort to frame the President. And why didn’t he follow exculpatory leads.”

Attorney Jay Sekulow meanwhile confirmed that the Trump legal team has not had any contact with Mueller ahead of the hearing.”We expect that his report is his testimony, and his testimony is his report,” he said.

— Weijia Jiang and Paula Reid

Dems to push Mueller on Barr spar

7:29 a.m.: While Democrats will push Mueller to be on the record about potential instances where Mr. Trump could have been charged with obstruction of justice, CBS News’ chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford predicted Democrats will also push to expose a rift between Mueller and Barr.

Crawford told “CBS This Morning” they would press Mueller on whether he thought the attorney general was right in making his call to issue a conclusion before the report was released, pointing to his widely contested 4-page summary of the 448-page report.

Crawford said Democrats want Mueller on the record if he felt Barr was ever misleading to Congress and the American people in testifying on the report’s findings, a moment that is sue to cause tension between Mueller and the attorney general.

Trump issues first tweet on testimony day

7:05 a.m.: “So Democrats and others can illegally fabricate a crime, try pinning it on a very innocent President, and when he fights back against this illegal and treasonous attack on our Country, they call It Obstruction? Wrong! Why didn’t Robert Mueller investigate the investigators?” President Trump posed on Twitter just an hour before Mueller is to appear before lawmakers.

Just days before, Mr. Trump’s Justice Department told Mueller to limit his congressional testimony to information contained in the public version of his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mueller had previously been adamant that his report was the only testimony needed on the matter.

Mr. Trump added, “It was NEVER agreed that Robert Mueller could use one of his many Democrat Never Trumper lawyers to sit next to him and help him with his answers.”

“This was specifically NOT agreed to, and I would NEVER have agreed to it. The Greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history, by far!”

There is no evidence that Zebley is a “Never Trumper.”

Pelosi pushes for Dems to safeguard election ahead of testimony

6:46 a.m.: Ahead of Mueller’s testimony, Speaker Nancy Pelosi distributed a 6-page memo to House Democrats telling them to “fight for our national security” by safeguarding the U.S. election process.

The memo, which was obtained by CBS News, cites “key findings” from Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. But while Pelosi’s memo offers a damning assessment of the president’s behavior, it makes no mention of impeachment, an issue that has roiled the Democratic caucus since the spring.

“Democrats will close gaps in existing law, bolster our defenses and uphold the balance of powers enshrined in our sacred Constitution, honoring our oath: investigate, litigate, legislate. Nothing less than the integrity of our democracy, the rule of law and national security are at stake,” the memo, titled “Exposing the Truth,” reads.

Lines form before hearing starts

6:37 a.m.: Hours before Mueller is to appear before lawmakers, a long line, comprised of mostly young professionals, formed along the winding halls of the Rayburn House office building. Many of those camped out told CBS News that they suffered through the long lines “for the historic moment.”

Two interns told CBS News they had sat in the hallways since 8 p.m. the night before and ordered take out food to make it through the night.

What Democrats expect from Mueller

In a public statement at the end of May, Mueller indicated he wouldn’t provide any new information if called to testify before Congress. “The report is my testimony,” he said at the time. “I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”

Democratic staffers on the House Judiciary Committee aren’t expecting a “big, dramatic new revelation” from Mueller. They think he’ll “lean into” the factual findings and legal conclusions.

Lawmakers will “respect” the fact that Mueller has been very clear about not wanting to give his personal opinion on whether Mr. Trump broke the law, the staffers said, and understand Mueller feels he has to stay within the confines of the report.

— Rebecca Kaplan

What Democrats hope to accomplish

A Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee told CBS News that lawmakers are “just hoping” to get the basic findings and conclusions related to obstruction of justice out in the open for people to hear them, away from the “thick fog of propaganda” put forth by the attorney general and president.

“The hope is that we can achieve some kind of national consensus about what took place, based on the report, and then we can move on to oversight and to all of the other allegations,” the representative said.

Lawmakers, according to the staff, plan to focus on five instances they think would incur criminal charges for obstruction of justice if any other individual besides the president had carried out these actions. They’re laid out here:

Mr. Trump’s repeated directions to former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller;

His direction to McGahn to deny he’d been ordered to fire Mueller;

His direction to adviser Corey Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the investigation to exclude the president and only focus on future elections;

Mr. Trump’s message to Lewandowski to tell Sessions he would be fired if he didn’t meet with Lewandowski

His tampering with witnesses Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen

— Kathryn Watson and Rebecca Kaplan

Trump doesn’t think Mueller should testify

Mr. Trump says he thinks Mueller’s testimony is another ploy by Democrats to undermine his presidency.

“Highly conflicted Robert Mueller should not be given another bite at the apple. In the end it will be bad for him and the phony Democrats in Congress who have done nothing but waste time on this ridiculous Witch Hunt. Result of the Mueller Report, NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION!” Mr. Trump tweeted Monday.

However, Mueller’s report made no determination about whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice.

“As set forth in the report, after the investigation, if we had confidence that the president did not clearly commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller told reporters in May.

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Next U.S.-Iran Flashpoint Will Probably Be Iraq

The Next U.S.-Iran Flashpoint Could Be Iraq

July 23, 2019, 1:02 PM MDT

(Bloomberg) — Drones have been downed and tankers attacked in the Persian Gulf as U.S.-Iran tensions raise fears of war around a critical oil chokepoint. But any conflict between rivals might actually start in the one country where both sides have forces on the ground: Iraq.After two wars with America since 1990, a brutal civil conflict and the rise of Islamic State more recently, about 5,200 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq — amid thousands of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, controlled by officials in Baghdad sympathetic to Tehran.That complicated reality leaves Iraqi officials in a difficult situation as they navigate security ties with the U.S. and their political and religious links to Iran, according to Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group.“The Iraqi government cannot afford to alienate either side,” Vaez said in a phone interview from Washington. “That is exactly why now it finds itself between a rock and hard place.”So far direct conflict has been avoided, and open warfare is unlikely given greater U.S. firepower, but it’s an uneasy lull. The U.S. pulled non-emergency staff from its embassy in Baghdad — its largest and most expensive mission in the world — and closed its consulate in Basra late last year as officials worried that Iran was undermining Iraq’s central authority, as well as Washington’s influence. The consulate remains closed.Exxon Mobil Corp. temporarily evacuated its foreign employees from a camp near the West Qurna-1 oil field in Basra in southern Iraq after a nearby rocket attack. In June, rockets hit an official compound in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the Taji Military camp near Baghdad, both of which house American military advisers, according to local press reports.Some “rogue” Iranian-backed militias “plot against U.S. interests and plan operations that could kill Americans, coalition partners and Iraqis,” Joan Polaschik, the acting principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said at a Senate hearing last week. These groups monitor U.S. diplomatic facilities and “continue to conduct indirect fire attacks,” she said.At the same hearing, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Michael Mulroy said that Iran’s “cynical interference” undermines Iraqi interests and “jeopardizes” stability.‘Loyal to Tehran’“Our primary concern is the extent to which noncompliant militias, more loyal to Tehran than Baghdad, undermine the Iraqi prime minister’s legitimate authority, prey on ordinary Iraqis and destabilize the fragile communities recently liberated from ISIS control,” Mulroy said.Iran’s influence with Iraq was highlighted on Monday when Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi met with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran and discussed ways to defuse the ongoing crisis in the region. In the latest flare-ups, Iran said it will execute a group of alleged CIA-trained spies, while Tehran and London remain in a standoff over a pair of seized oil tankers.Caught in the middle, the Iraqi government “tries to control the situation” by being a “calming factor” in the region, said Raid Fahmi, an Iraqi lawmaker with the Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr-backed Saeroon alliance. “If the situation escalated and moved to armed clashes, then this could have consequences. Iraq could become part of the conflict because there are political parties” that would consider this as “their battle against the U.S.,“ he said.Iranian officials regularly tout their access to top Iraqi officials as well as their ability to travel the country openly, a stark contrast to American diplomats and administration officials who usually remain hunkered down.When Rouhani visited Iraq in March, he met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s most revered Shiite cleric. President Donald Trump, who earlier this year angered Iraqi lawmakers by saying U.S. troops in the country were needed to keep “watch” on Iran, visited American forces northwest of Baghdad in December but didn’t meet with any top Iraqi officials.Syrian AllianceFor Iran, Iraq is a strategic link in its regional policy that pits it against the U.S. and America’s allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Iranians have backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen in regional proxy wars, and bolstered ties with Qatar — which hosts a key U.S. military base — after the emirate was economically isolated by a Saudi-led bloc of nations two years ago.On rare occasions, U.S. and Iranian interests in Iraq converge, as they did when forces from both sides fought separately to oust Islamic State from the country after the terrorist group gained a foothold about five years ago.Hussein EraIran’s ability to influence politics in Iraq goes back to the era of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni. Then, many in Iraq’s Shiite majority fled across the border into Iran to escape imprisonment, execution and torture. Over decades, they built close ties to Iranian officials, became members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, learned Persian and married into Iranian families, according to Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.After the U.S. toppled Hussein and his Baathist party in 2003, they returned to join the government or support powerful Shiite militias.“Large parts of the Iraqi civil-military establishment, not just the militias, are very closely aligned to Iran,” said Kamran Bokhari, founding director at the Center for Global Policy and a non-resident scholar at the Arabia Foundation. “Iran’s influence is far greater in Iraq than that of the United States.”This month, in what was viewed as a nod to Washington, Iraq moved to curtail the power of Iran-backed militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces by putting them under the formal command of the military. Its decision was welcomed by U.S. officials, though cautiously.‘Flouted’ GovernmentElements of the militia forces, “fought bravely against ISIS and earned public respect,” the Pentagon’s Mulroy said. “But in recent years, Iran-backed, semi-autonomous militias have consistently flouted the government of Iraq and turned to local criminality for self-enrichment. ”Under Trump, the U.S. has ramped up its policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran after the president withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord, and that effort shows little sign of easing. With Islamic State’s so-called caliphate largely wiped out, the U.S. wants Iran to get out of Iraq, seeing it as another example of Tehran’s regional meddling.“Iran must respect the sovereignty of Iraq and other regional states, cease destabilizing activities in the region, and refrain from actions that inflame sectarian tensions or empower extremists,” Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email.The potential of a conflict in Iraq — intended or not — is something Iranian officials worry about too, Vaez of the International Crisis Group said.“I asked a very senior Iranian official a few months ago of all of these flash points around the region — from the Strait of Hormuz, to Yemen, to the Golan Heights, to Iraq, to Lebanon — which one worries him the most?” Vaez said. “And he said Iraq.”(Updates with Iraqi lawmaker comment in 11th paragraph.)\–With assistance from Kevin Crowley and Khalid Al-Ansary.To contact the reporter on this story: Glen Carey in Washington at gcarey8@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, Larry LiebertFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.