Background Briefing with Ian Masters Russia Files

May 22, 2018

Are the DOJ and FBI Making Too Many Concessions as Trump Bullies Them?
Trump Dampens His Own Expectations on the Summit With Kim Jong-Un
Why the Reaction in Texas is So Different To What Happened After the Florida High School Shooting
Program Notes

We begin with the unprecedented assault on the law by the President of the United States who is being investigated but has now managed to have his investigators investigated and to unleash his lapdog Congressman Devin Nunes and Tea Party Republicans to rummage through secret evidence which the special prosecutor Mueller has compiled to find selective and misleading leaks to pass on to Fox News and to give Trump a preview which he can use to prepare his defense.  Bruce Green, the Director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics and the Chair at Fordham Law School who was the past chair of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section, joins us. We  discuss his forthcoming scholarly article “Can the President Control the Department of Justice” and whether top officials in the DOJ and the FBI are making too many concessions as Trump bullies them into chipping away at prosecutorial independence.  Or is the tasking of the DOJ’s Inspector General to investigate Trump’s absurd claim that the FBI “infiltrated” his campaign and spied on him, a way to placate the target of the investigation who is likely be held criminally liable if Mueller is able to complete his investigation?

Then with Trump meeting today with South Korea’s leader ahead of the planned summit with Kim Jong-un where he announced that, “there is a very good chance that it won’t work out”, we will speak with Charles Armstrong, a Professor of History and the Director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University and author of “Tyranny of the Weak: North Kores and the World”. We  discuss how much Kim Jong-un learned from Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” which Dennis Rodman gave him since the North Korean dictator seems to have Trump begging for a deal while minting commemorative medals and musing about Nobel Peace prizes.

Then finally we assess why the response to the recent gun massacre at a high school in Texas was so different from what happened after the 17 students and teachers were gunned down at the Parkland High School in Florida and speak with best-selling author and Emmy-award winning television news correspondentJames Moore. He joins us from the Texas capitol to discuss his article at CNN “Thoughts and prayers this isn’t true in Texas” and why the gun culture is so strong in Texas that the priority of the State’s leaders is to protect guns over protecting children.

Bruce Green | Charles Armstrong | James Moore


May 21, 2018

North and South Korea Blame Neocon Bolton For Shaky Summit
Gorsuch Kills Off Long-Standing Workers’ Rights
Did the Ultimate Dealmaker Get Smoked By the Chinese?
Program Notes

We begin with Ken Vogel, a reporter with The New York Times Washington Bureau joins us to discuss his latest article “Advising Bolton Is a “Shadow N.S.C.”  We look into the role of a group of neocon activists and lobbyists close to the new National Security Advisor John Bolton which means that now, with like-minded neocons dominating the NSC, there will be no diversity of opinion or dissenting views presented to Trump.  With both North and South Korea blaming Bolton for the shaky ground that the summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un is now on because Bolton tied the upcoming talks to the “Libyan model” which Kim interprets as regime change by a mob tearing a dictator apart, it looks like the tail of the neocon is wagging the big dog in the Oval Office.

Then we get an analysis of the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 decision led by Trump’s new justice Neil Gorsuch which kills off a vestige of the 1935 New Deal in terms of worker’s rights, doing away with class action suits for redress such as wage theft and forcing employees into arbitration which is heavily weighted in favor of employers over their employees. Celine McNicholas, the Economic Policy Institute’s Labor Counsel and a core member of their Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages, joins us to discuss the court’s corporatist tilt and today’s stinging dissent by Ruth Bader Ginzberg.

Then finally we examine the Secretary of Treasury announcement “we’re putting the trade war on hold” after the completion of talks with Chinese negotiators in what looks like a win for China since they appear to have given up little in return for the U.S. holding off on imposing tariffs of $150 billion on Chinese imports. Katheryn Russ, a Professor of Economics at the University of California, Davis who worked for the Obama Administration’s Council of Economic Advisors as Senior Economist for International Trade and Finance, joins us to discuss whether the self-proclaimed ultimate dealmaker Donald Trump has been smoked by Xi Jinping.  Given the recent case of a Chinese bank investing in a Trump-related Indonesian deal which appears to be a quid pro quo to get the Chinese telecomm giant ZTE off the hook, we will assess whether calling Trump’s bluff with money is an advantage the Chinese and others can exploit if Trump can be bribed with financial deals that enrich him at the expense of our economy and U.S. national security. With Jared Kushner having already shown that a bad investment by the Kushner Company in 666 Fifth Avenue can be rescued by the Trump Administration using the instruments of statecraft against Qatar to get them pay up to have a blockade lifted, then how can we be confident that the Trump family business does not take priority over our economic and foreign policy?

Ken Vogel | Celine McNicholas | Katheryn Russ


May 20, 2018

Trump Tries to Manufacture a “Spying” Scandal
An Election in Venezuela as the Country Falls Apart
Maybe We Are Not as Polarized and Politically Dysfunctional as We Think
Program Notes

We begin with the outing of an FBI confidential informant who President Trump is claiming was a spy “infiltrated” into his campaign which he is demanding the congress investigate, tweeting out that “this is bigger than Watergate”. Scott Horton, a professor at Columbia Law School and a contributing editor at Harper’s in legal affairs and national security joins us to discuss how Trump is trying to gin up a campaign of phony outrage to get Devon Nunes and the junkyard dogs of the so-called “Freedom Caucus” to yap loudly along with Sean Hannity and the Fox New propagandists in the hope Trump can use this as an excuse to slow or shut down the Mueller investigation. We will assess whether the revelation that a 73 year-old American professor at Cambridge University who has been a long-time CIA and FBI informant for the Administrations of Republican Presidents Reagan, Bush and Bush junior and was meeting with Trump campaign officials who the FBI suspected had ties to the Russians, will be seen by the broader public as the “smoking gun” Trump is trying to make it appear to be. We also examine the latest expose from The New York Times on meetings in Trump Tower and the Seychelles brokered by the convicted child molester George Nader who set Donald Trump Jr. up with Erik Prince who was offering his services to the Trump campaign to use his mercenary army in the Emirates to start a war with Iran.

Then we will go to Venezuela to get an update on today’s elections which are widely seen as a choice between participating in a rigged election or boycotting the vote, thus handing the incompetent ideologue Maduro another term as the country spirals into economic ruin and social disintegration. Caracas-based journalist Virginia Lopez, who covered Latin America and Venezuela for The Guardian and Al Jazeera English joins us to discuss her article at the Toronto Globe and Mail, “In Venezuela, an election where no one wins” and how the oil infrastructure in the once oil-rich country is so neglected and mismanaged that oil exports will soon grind to a halt.

Then finally James and Deborah Fallows join us in the studio to discuss their new book, just out, “Our Towns: A 100,000 mile journey into the heart of America”. James has been a national correspondent for The Atlantic for more than 35 years and Deborah is a linguist and writer and they have traveled into America’s heartland in their small private plane to discover a surprising portrait of the civic and economic reinvention taking place outside of the view of the national media which at a time of polarization and political dysfunction, is both welcome and encouraging.

Scott Horton | Virginia Lopez | James and Deborah Fallows


May 17, 2018

Kim Jong-Un Has Mastered the Art of the Deal at Trump’s Expense
Trump Disregards the Emoluments Clause and American National Security to Rescue Jobs in China
Program Notes

We begin with the North Koreans casting doubts on whether the upcoming summit is Singapore between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump will happen on June 12 as they cut off talks with South Korea and lambaste Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton in an official statement saying that it would be a “ridiculous comedy” if Trump payed too much attention to Bolton’s positions and that “we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him”. This prompted Trump to distance himself from the hawkish Bolton and try to clarify what Bolton meant by applying the “Libyan model” to disarming North Korea in a garbled and incoherent statement which ended in a threat to decimate North Korea if they did not make a deal with Trump. Jacob Heilbrunn, a Senior Editor at the National Interest and the author of “They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons”, joins us to discuss his article at The Spectator “Could John Bolton cost Trump his Nobel Peace Prize?” and the extent to which Kim Jong-un has mastered the art of the deal and has Trump begging to meet in Singapore, making it clear that it was not Trump’s toughness and threats of “fire and fury” which brought Kim to the negotiating table, but rather Trump’s weakness and his narcissistic need to make a deal”.

Then we look into the highly coincidental reversal by Trump of his campaign mantra that the Chinese were stealing American jobs to has call on Sunday to rescue the Chinese company ZTE from U.S. sanctions because it is costing “too many jobs in China”. This at the same time a State-owned Chinese bank loaned a half a billion dollars to an Indonesian developer in partnership with Trump to build a Disney-like theme park, hotel and golf course in a protected rainforest.  Joining us is Sarah Chayes, a senior associate at the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who was a special advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and whose latest book is “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security”.  We will discuss the brazen contempt President Trump has for the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as his daughter Ivanka who is being paid $1.5 million annually from three companies one of which manages the Indonesian project. Her 2017 financial disclosure was dueTuesday but has not yet been released by the Office of Government Ethics.  But more outrageous is Donald Trump’s almost treasonous disregard of the national security concerns raised by the heads of the CIA, NSA, DIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Director of National intelligence, all of whom consider ZTE, the Chinese company Trump is rescuing, a national security threat and a front for Chinese Intelligence.

Jacob Heilbrunn | Sarah Chayes


May 16, 2018

The Senate Releases Transcripts of the Infamous Trump Tower Meeting
As Technology Overruns Privacy, What Can Be Done to Restore the 4th Amendment?
The US Senate Votes to Reverse the FCC’s Overturning of Net Neutrality

Max Bergmann | Cyrus Farivar | Craig Aaron

Program Notes

We begin with today’s statement from the Republican Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Russians did indeed help elect Trump, contradicting the widely-panned opposite conclusion of the House Intelligence Committee which Trump has celebrated, as well as the release today by the Senate Judiciary Committee of the transcripts of interviews with the participants in the infamous Trump Tower meeting between Trump’s inner circle and Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. A former senior State Department official, Max Bergmann, the Director of the Moscow Project and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, joins us to assess whether there are any more “smoking guns” in the over 2,000 pages of testimony released today, the most incriminating of which appears to be phone logs that indicate Donald Trump Jr. was communicating with a blocked phone likely his father’s, as though reporting in on the meeting before engaging in follow-up conversations with some of the participants. We will discuss the issue Trump constantly rails against, collusion, which has no legal relevance since the crime is conspiracy against the United States, and if meddling in our elections is at appears to be, a Russian intelligence operation, Putin would not have wanted or needed to collude with Trump to have achieved the results he got.

Then we speak with Cyrus Farivar, the Senior Business Editor at Ars Technica and author of the new book, just out “Habeas Data: Privacy vs. the Rise of Surveillance Tech” and discuss how as citizens we are under attack on two fronts from government and big tech companies who have us under more and more surveillance as technology has overrun privacy and the slow pace of legal reform is being eclipsed by the rapid transformation of technology. We assess what citizens can do to restore protections under the 4th Amendment in the digital age in which the law desperately needs to catch up with Big Brother.

Then finally we look into today’s surprising and encouraging vote in the U.S. Senate of 52 to 47 reversing the recent deeply unpopular ruling by the FCC to overturn net neutrality and speak with Craig Aaron the Managing Director at Free Press. We discuss how his organization and others are leading the grassroots effort to overcome the lobbying power of the big cable and telecomm companies who have the House of Representatives and President Trump in their pockets even though citizens and consumers hate these monopolies providing their cable and internet access as they continue to charge more for less service.


May 15, 2018

Racists, Bigots and Anti-Semites Offer Blessings at the Opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem
An Adviser to the Palestinian Leadership on Conditions in Gaza
How in 50 Years Politics Went From “Camelot” to “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards”
Program Notes

We begin with today’s observance by the Palestinians of the 70th anniversary of the “Nakba”, the catastrophe, following violent protest yesterday which left many dead and wounded from Israeli gunfire that Nikki Haley the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. applauded as “restraint” by the IDF as she vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a probe into the violence. We speak with Heather Hurlburt the director of the New Models of Policy Change project at the New America Foundation’s Political Reform Program. She previously served as a speechwriter for President Clinton and Secretaries of State Albright and Christopher and was a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning staff and we will discuss the prayers offered at yesterday’s opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem by a racist rabbi and two bigoted anti-Semitic American “Christian” preachers and her article at New York Magazine, “Status Quo Minus’ in Israel and Palestine.”

Then Khaled Elgindy, a Fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution who served as an advisor to the Palestinian leadership on permanent status negotiations with Israel and is the author of “Blindspot: America and the Palestinians from Balfour to Obama”, joins us. We will discuss the sharp drop in protest activity today along the Gaza border perhaps due to a deal Egypt made with Hamas to open its Rafah border crossing to let much needed food and medical supplies into the besieged and blockaded Gaza strip. We  assess whether Egypt in acting in concert with the Israelis to temporarily ease the suffering in the crowded outdoor prison of 1.8 million Palestinians controlled by the militant group Hamas who the U.S. and Israel blame for the deaths yesterday.

Then finally a leading U.S. political analyst Bill Schneider joins us in the studio. He is a visiting professor at UCLA and was CNN’s senior political analyst from 1990 to 2009 and his latest book, just out, is “Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable”. We discuss how in a little more than 50 years, American politics has gone from “Camelot” to “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards” and how American voters have increasingly placed values over interests and now have elected a leader who most voters – 61 percent – did not think was qualified to serve as president.

Heather Hurlburt | Khaled Elgindy | Bill Schneider


May 14, 2018

Ivanka Smiles While Palestinians Are Shot Down
Why Does the “Christian” Betsy DeVos Have No Problem With Destroying the Lives of Young Americans?
The Kilauea Summit Crater is About to Explode as it Did in 1924
Program Notes

We begin with a day of stark contrasts between Ivanka Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin gleefully announcing the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem while 40 miles away Palestinian protesters were being shot down by Israeli snipers with more than 60 killed and 2,700 wounded. Dr. Guy Ziv, a professor at American University’s School of International Service and Director of the Israeli National Security Project and author of “Why Hawks Become Doves: Shimon Peres and Foreign Policy Change in Israel”, joins us to discuss Prime Minister Netanyahu’s soaring popularity in Israel where he is seen as having got Trump to tear up Obama’s Iran deal and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. We will look into whether today’s carnage could be topped by massive demonstrations planned for Tuesday, the day which Palestinians observe as the “Nakba”, the catastrophe, when in the 1948 war Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes. And we will assess whether the U.S. has extracted any concessions from Israel in exchange for handing Netanyahu such massive political gifts and if there is any hope of reviving the two-state solution and the so-called peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Then we examine the staggering hypocrisy of the overtly “Christian” Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who has just shut down the Department of Education’s investigative unit looking into the rampant abuses by for-profit colleges who are subsidized by the taxpayer to rip students off with meaningless education and worthless diplomas, indenturing them for life with crippling student debt they will never be able to pay off because they will never get the jobs they were promised. David Halperin,a senior fellow at Republic Report who was a special assistant for national security affairs to President Clinton and a counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, joins us to assess why Betsy DeVos has no problem with ruining the lives of young Americans who, instead of being seen as investments in the country’s future, are seen a profit centers to be milked by Wall Street vultures and bottom-feeding scammers.

Then finally we speak with Einat Lev, a volcanologist and research professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University whose research focusses on lava flow dynamics at different volcanos around the world including Hawaii. We  discuss her article at CNN “Why Hawaii’s volcano is in danger of going ballistic” and whether, while the focus is on fissures spewing lava on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone, the Kilauea summit crater where the lava lake is dropping precipitously, is about to explode as it did back in 1924 sending giant 8 ton rocks into the air the size of 4 pickup trucks.

Dr. Guy Ziv | David Halperin | Einat Lev


May 13, 2018

Violence and Demonstrations Are Expected When the US Moves Its Embassy to Jerusalem
A New Gulf War Could Both Revive Putin and Be a Boost for Electric Cars
California’s Speaker on Republican Efforts to Punish the World’s 5th Largest Economy
Program Notes

We begin with the expected violence and demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank and across the Arab world accompanying Monday’s move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and speak with Asher Kaufman,Director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and a professor of History and Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. who taught at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was the Director of Middle East Studies at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. He joins us to discuss tomorrow’s controversial move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem which President Trump will not be present at but his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, both senior White House advisors, will be in attendance for the opening ceremonies.  We also assess the broader roiling landscape in the Middle East following the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal and recent exchanges of missile fire between Israel and Iranian forces in Syria and while Ivanka Trump tweeted out that she is praying for peace, we examine the potential for another war in the region.

Then we speak with Robert Bell, the former Chair of the Finance and Business Management Department at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and author of “The Green Bubble”. He joins us to discuss his article in the major French newspaper Le Monde “Is This the Explanation of Trump’s and Putin’s Diplomacy?” which explores the possibility that rising tensions in the Gulf between the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran following the U.S. pullout of the Iran agreement and rising tensions between Iran and Israel over an Iranian military buildup in Syria, could lead to another war in the Gulf which would cause a dramatic rise in the price of oil and be a huge windfall for American oil companies and frackers as well as  Russia and Putin.

Then finally we speak with the Speaker Pro Tem of the California Senate Kevin de Leonwho is challenging long-time incumbent U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein in the upcoming California primary on June 5th. He joins us to discuss how Trump and the Republicans are punishing the successful state of California which is now the world’s fifth largest economy, and how Democrats can win over alienated centrist Republicans disgusted with Trump’s capture of the GOP.

Asher Kaufman | Robert Bell | Kevin de Leon


May 10, 2018

A Former CIA Interrogator on the Haspel Nomination
Are Pompeo and Bolton Heading for a Showdown?
Caught Between Putin and Trump, Will American Democracy be Saved by Robert Mueller?
Program Notes

We begin with Senator McCain urging his colleagues to vote against the confirmation of Gina Haspel to head up the CIA because of her equivocation over renouncing torture as immoral and speak with a former member of the CIA’s clandestine Service who tried to stop the torture program from the inside the agency while Dick Cheney was ordering them to double down on a practice that was both immoral and ineffective. Glenn Carle, who retired from the CIA in 2007 as deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats and is the author of “The Interrogator: An Education”, joins us from Tokyo. We will discuss the local reaction to the summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un now scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, and whether McCain’s thumbs down on Haspel could sway other Republican senators and wavering Democrats to reject her nomination to head up the CIA as well as the failure of senators to question Haspel during the public confirmation hearings on the fact that, in spite of Trump’s claim to the contrary, the CIA has found no evidence that Iran has cheated on its commitments to the JCPOA deal which Trump just pulled the U.S. out of.

Then we speak with Thomas Wright, a fellow and director of the Project on International Order and Strategy, as well as a fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. The author of “All Measures Short of War: The Contest For the 21st Century and the Future of American Power”, he joins us to discuss his article at Politico “John Bolton and Mike Pompeo Are Headed for a Clash” and how the pragmatic and ambitious Pompeo has his eyes on the presidency while the ideological Bolton, has no sense of strategy beyond nationalism and a hatred of multilateralism.

Then finally we get an insightful briefing on the tenuous state of American democracy as we find ourselves caught between two kleptocratic and autocratic criminals. One, Vladimir Putin, has used fascist tactics to neutralize democracy in Russia and justify rule by wealthy oligarchs. And the other, a wannabe billionaire whose business was rescued by Russian dirty money, Donald Trump, who owes his election to the Russian intelligence services and is attacking the very foundation of American democracy, the rule of law, as the special counsel Robert Mueller closes in on him. Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale and author of “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” joins us to discuss his latest book just out, “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America”.

Glenn Carle | Thomas Wright | Timothy Snyder


May 9, 2018

Are Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s Leaders Drawing the US Into Fighting Iran on Their Behalf?
Trump’s CIA Pick Refuses to Say Torture Was Morally Wrong
How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics
Program Notes

We begin with an assessment of what is widely seen as a strategic blunder and foreign policy malpractice by President Trump who yesterday tore up an agreement which the U.S. signed together with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany just as Trump is poised to sign another agreement with North Korea. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who now teaches at the College of William and Mary and has an article at The American Conservative “Gina Haspel and How Torture Deceived Us Into Iraq”, joins us. In the absence of any alternative policy or rational explanation for such a destabilizing and unnecessary act, we  discuss how much Trump is motivated by spite in undoing his predecessor’s achievements following his racist campaign of hatred towards Barack Obama whose birth certificate and legitimacy Trump rose to political prominence questioning. Or could it be Trump’s own ego-driven exaggerated sense of fulfilling his campaign promises, no matter how ridiculous, at the expense of U.S. National Security and global peace? With Iran now free to pursue nuclear weapons as the U.S. moves away from diplomacy towards military confrontation, are the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia hoping to draw the U.S. into fighting a war against Iran on their behalf?

Then with Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee to head up the CIA, refusing to say in senate testimony today that the torture program she was involved in was morally wrong, we will speak with Stephen Soldz, an anti-torture advisor with Physicians for Human Rights who is the co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and was a dissident psychologist inside the American Psychological Association who opposed their collaboration with the Bush/Cheney torture regime. We discuss America’s ill-fated journey to the dark side and how torture does not work.

Then finally we speak with David Faris, a professor of political science at Roosevelt University and the author of a new book just out “It’s Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics”. He joins us to discuss how Democrats have got to battle for democracy as vigorously as Republicans fight for power and undo voter suppression, reverse gerrymandering and stop the capture of the courts by Federalist Society reactionaries by winning electoral power then using it to carry out the will of the majority.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson | Stephen Soldz | David Faris



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