Background Briefing with Ian Masters Russia Files

April 12, 2018

Russia and Iran Frustrated With Assad as Trump Prepares to Bomb Him
Republican Lawmakers are Quitting in Droves
An Update on the Mueller Investigation
Program Notes

We begin with the looming probability that bombs and missiles will soon rain down on the House of Assad in Syria and speak with Dr. David Lesch, a professor of Middle East History at Trinity University and author of “Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad?” Since David knows Bashar al-Assad, he joins us to discuss what is likely going on inside the Assad family and how much the Russians are frustrated with the Syrian dictator’s uncompromising ruthlessness and refusal to make any kind of diplomatic settlement which would enable the Russians to withdraw their forces. We also look into the extent that the Iranians too are frustrated with their client Assad and how much Iran and Israel are on a collision course which could spark a wider war involving Syrian and Lebanon, a war that would dwarf whatever punitive display of military power Trump and the coalition he is forming are about to unleash on Assad.

Then with the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan walking away from the third most powerful office in the land, we will assess why it is that so many of Ryan’s predecessors have either been driven out, quit or been forced to resign as did John Boehner before him and before Boehner gave up, Dennis Hastert, Newt Gingrich, Tom Foley and Jim Wright left in ignominy or scandal. Gregory Wawro, Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and author of “Legislative Entrepreneurship in the U.S. House of Representatives” joins us to discuss how Republican lawmakers are quitting in droves as Republican leaders jockey to succeed Ryan, and the deep and possibly irreparable divide within the GOP that will last as long as the Koch Brothers-backed Freedom Caucus holds sway.

Then finally we get an update on the status of the Mueller investigation just as concerted efforts are underway at the White House to undermine Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, discredit James Comey and possibly fire Robert Mueller. A former Federal Prosecutor and deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department Harry Litman, joins us to assess whether a bill by a bi-partisan group of lawmakers to protect Mueller could allow Mueller’s findings to emerge before Trump shuts down the inquiry and buries the report.

Dr. David Lesch | Gregory Wawro | Harry Litman


April 11, 2018

Paul Ryan’s Personal Versus His Public Morality
Trump Threatens Russia With Schoolboy Taunts
Zuckerberg Faces Tougher Questions Before the House Today
Program Notes

We begin with the announcement today by the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan that he will leave the congress when his term ends in January and speak with a long-time analyst of politics in Wisconsin Matthew Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign who was previously the editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine in Madison, Wisconsin.  He joins us to discuss how Ryan makes much of his personal morality which does not translate into public morality since Ryan has never made a stand in the face of Trump’s manifest moral turpitude, racism, misogyny and flagrant dishonesty, and how the deficit hawk exploded the debt with his tax cuts for the rich while this paragon of family values allowed a reprobate Trump to capture the GOP.  With Ryan announcing today that he is resigning because he wants to spend more time with his kids, we examine the obvious hypocrisy of this Ayn Rand acolyte’s determination to cut programs that allow other parents to spend more time with their kids. We also assess the chances of Randy Bryce, the Democratic challenger hoping to unseat Ryan, and Ryan’s Republican challenger, the neo-Nazi and anti-Semite Paul Nehlin.

Then with Trump threatening Russia with schoolboy taunts as he promises to rain missiles and bombs down on Syria, we examine the possibility of a wider confrontation with Russia breaking out as Trump assembles a coalition of the willing to soon mount a major attack on the Assad regime. Nicholas Heras, a Middle East expert and former Andrew Bacevich USA Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, joins us to discuss whether Russia’s threat to attack American missiles and their “carriers” will mean that U.S. and coalition aircraft will be targeted and navy ships in the Mediterranean will be fired upon.

Then finally we look into the grilling today of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg before the House Energy and Commerce Committee and speak with Siva Vaidhyanathan, Professor of Media Studies and Director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia and author of the forthcoming book “Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy”. He joins us to assess whether the questions today were more targeted, tech-savvy and aggressive than what Zuckerberg faced in yesterday’s contrition and apology tour before the senate.

Matthew Rothschild | Nicholas Heras | Siva Vaidhyanathan


April 10, 2018

Half of the US Senate’s All-Day Grilling of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg
Trump’s Threats and Russia’s Counter-Threats Over Syria
White House Admits Trump Believes He Can Fire Mueller
Program Notes

We begin with half of the United States Senate grilling the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg for most of the day today, as he tried to deflect criticism with contrition and vague promises to reform his company’s business model of surveillance capitalism in which the user is the product.  Matt Stoller, a Fellow at the Open Markets Institute who was recently a senior advisor to the Senate Budget Committee, joins us to discuss his article at The Daily Beast with Sarah Miller “Facebook Can’t Be Fixed, It needs to Be Broken Up”. We look into what appears to be the first challenge to the culture of impunity which Silicon Valley has enjoyed in a perfect unregulated libertarian world that transcends nation states, out of which the world’s richest and most powerful companies have been built in part on monetizing the abuse of citizen’s privacy. With regulations now emerging in Europe which Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft oppose, we assess whether the senate will force Mark Zuckerberg to deliver on his promises in a meaningful way.

Then we speak with Frances Brown, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Democracy and Rule of Law Program. She recently served on the White House National Security Council staff under Presidents Obama and Trump and joins us to discuss her op-ed at The Hill “If Trump wants to defeat ISIS, America must stabilize Syria”, and Trump’s threat to make Russia, Iran and Assad pay a price in Syria. Threats which have been met by a counter-threat from the head of the Russian military that if the U.S. attacks Syrian government facilities, Russia will fire back with the Russian armed forces taking “retaliatory measures against both missiles and their carriers”.

Then finally we examine the fallout from the FBI’s raid on Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and the admission by the White House today that Trump believes he has the power to fire Robert Mueller. Lawrence Douglas, a Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought at Amherst College joins us to discuss his article at The Guardian “The Cohen raid is a game changer: Trump’s reaction tells us so” and the extraordinary claim Trump made that the FBI raid was “an attack on our country” when the opposite is true; it is Trump who is attacking the rule of law in America.

Matt Stoller | Frances Brown | Lawrence Douglas


April 9, 2018

The FBI’s Raid on Trump’s Lawyer Michael Cohen
Trump Promises Those Behind the Gas Attack in Syria Will Have “a Big Price to Pay”
The Criminalizing of Peaceful Protests Against Oil and Gas Pipelines
Program Notes

We begin with the raid today on Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s Manhattan office and his room at the Loews Regency hotel where FBI agents seized privileged communications between Cohen and his clients and confiscated electronic equipment, emails, tax documents and business records. A former FBI Special Agent Michael German, who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at New York University, joins us to discuss the raid that was in part acting on a referral from Special Counsel Mueller, making it the second time only after the FBI raid on Paul Manafort that FBI agents were used to seize material instead of the usual practice of issuing subpoenas. We will assess how much this raid has to do with the Russia investigation because Trump’s lawyer was mentioned prominently in the Steele dossier, or the case involving the second mortgage Michael Cohen took out on his home to pay $130,000 to a porn star a week before the election for no apparent reason since his client Donald Trump insists it had nothing to do with him.

Then we look into whether the bombs and missiles will fall on John Bolton’s first day on the job in the White House or the next day, since Trump has promised that within 48 hours those behind the latest chemical attack in Syria will have “a big price to pay.” Thanassis Cambanis, who writes “The Internationalist” column for The Boston Globe and is a contributor to Foreign Policy, joins us from Beirut to discuss the competing pressures on Trump from his new hawkish advisor and Trump’s need to appear tough and not weak like he accuses Obama of being, at the same time wanting to get the U.S. out of Syria and not wanting to offend Putin.

Then finally we speak with Jeff Biggers, an award-winning journalist, historian and playwright who joins us from Iowa where the state legislature just passed a law criminalizing peaceful protest against oil and gas pipelines, punishable by up to 25 years in jail. He joins us to discuss his article at The Huffington Post “Iowa’s Anti-Protest Bill Would Make the Boston Tea-Partiers Felons” and how the Koch Brothers-backed bills through their front group ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, are already in the legislatures of 20 states and have become the law in Oklahoma.

Michael German | Thanassis Cambanis | Jeff Biggers


April 8, 2018

Trump Calls Out Putin for the First Time
Why Does the White House Press Corps Passively Stomach the Daily Diet of Lies?
Hungary’s Election Marred By Islamophobia and Anti-Antisemitism
Program Notes

We begin with Donald Trump publicly criticizing Vladimir Putin for the first time today in a tweet holding Russia and Iran responsible for backing the “animal Assad” for his use of a chemical weapon against women and children in which Trump threatened they would pay a “Big price”…Nina Khrushcheva, a Professor in the Graduate Program of International Affairs at the New School and author of “The Lost Khrushchev: A Journey into the Gulag of the Russian Mind”, joins us to discuss why Putin appears to be testing the boundaries of the democratic world’s tolerance for human right’s atrocities and the flouting of civilized norms. We assess whether the latest round of sanctions against Russian oligarchs and government officials, which Trump delayed implementing to the point where the likely targets had plenty of time to move their money stashed abroad, will influence Putin’s behavior and whether a threatened U.S. military attack on Assad will deter future provocations or trigger a wider war in Syria.

Then we examine why the White House press corps tolerates the sneering contempt that the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders levels at them daily while flagrantly lying as she defends her boss the Liar-in-Chief often to the point of laughable absurdity. Eric Boehlert, a Senior Writer for Share Blue Media and author of “Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush”, joins us to analyze the extent to which the press enables Trump’s reality TV presidency and government by stunt by following the bright shiny light down the rabbit hole instead of shedding light by exposing the obvious lies and sleight of hand of a tawdry and transparent carnival huckster.

Then finally we get an update on the elections in Hungary that were marred by ugly Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and speak with Charles Gati, a senior research professor of European and Eurasian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of “Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt”. He joins us to discuss whether today’s strong turnout means a further drift to the right empowering the government of the increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, or that the splintered opposition might win enough seats to constrain Orban in his fourth term in office.

Nina Krushcheva | Eric Boehlert | Charles Gati


April 5, 2018

Trump’s Reality TV Antics on the Border
General McMaster’s Parting Broadside
A Former Sinclair News Director on Having to Mouth Pro-Trump Propaganda
Program Notes

With Donald Trump sending the military to the Southern border to help build his wall, we will begin with President Trump trying to have it both ways taking credit for the drop in border crossings while ginning up fears of a looming invasion from Mexico. Ivan Eland, a Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independence Institute who spent 15 years in Congress working on national security issues, joins us to discuss Trump’s latest stunt in reaction to criticism from Ann Coulter which has him shoring up his base by making it seem he is doing something to deliver on his promise to build a wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for. We will assess how long our reality TV president can keep the press and the public distracted by his daily reality TV stunts to mask the utter incompetence of this dangerous ignoramus who was elected by a minority of Americans. We also look into whether reality will catch up with Trump’s increasingly frenzied performances and at what point will his base tire of his antics and realizes Trump is a fraud, because then presumably, the Republicans in congress will stop defending him thus making impeachment both possible and likely.

Then we speak with Steven Pifer, the Director of the Brookings Institution’s Arms Control Initiative and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and senior director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia on the National Security Council. He joins us to discuss outgoing National Security Advisor General McMaster’s broadside at the Trump Administration deliberately contradicting Trump’s claim that nobody has been tougher on the Russians than Trump has. We also assess the U.N. Security Council meeting today called by Russia to head off next week’s release of a report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on their investigation into the use of a nerve agent against a Russian exile on British soil.

Then finally we speak with a former News Director of a TV station that the Sinclair Group took over and forced the local news anchors to mouth “Must run” pro-Trump propaganda mandated by the owners of Sinclair, the Smith Family. Aaron Weiss, who spent 14 years as a local news producer and news director, joins us to discuss his article at The Huffington Post “Confessions of a Former Sinclair News Director” and how Sinclair is forcing professional journalists to become state propagandists”.

Ivan Eland | Steven Pifer | Aaron Weiss


Timothy Snyder – June 6, 2017

We begin with the proposition that we may only have one year left to save American democracy from an autocratic president who is increasingly isolated from reality as he and his tightening inner-circle of right wing zealots move to undo institutions and confront the truth in a fascistic approach to governance that indicates a fascist worldview. Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale who has researched and written extensively on Hitler and Stalin, joins us to discuss his latest book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” and how as the incompetence and crudeness of the Trump Administration drives down the popularity of the Republicans heading into the 2018 elections, Trump will try to stage a coup to overthrow American democracy. We will assess the extent to which American institutions already under attack from the Trump Administration like the judiciary, the military, the intelligence community, the press and now much of corporate America as well as an expanding majority of the American people, will fight back against Donald Trump’s incipient authoritarian regime.


Fatih Akin – December 27, 2017

We speak with the director of a new film that takes on the issues of immigration and race relations roiling America and Europe and deals with the ugly re-emergence of white nationalism. Fatih Akin, the director of “In the Fade”, a feature film out of Germany starring Diane Kruger, joins us to discuss this drama about a German woman seeking justice for the terrorist attack that killed her Kurdish husband and son. Based on a real incident involving young German neo-Nazis who killed Turks living in Germany, the movie reflects the political tensions resulting from immigration in Germany today that Donald Trump has inflamed here at home and which emerged in Charlottesville.


February 27, 2018

China’s President Declares Himself Leader for Life
The Head of Cyber Command Admits Trump is Ignoring Russian Attacks
The Continuing War Within the Democratic Party
Program Notes

We begin with China’s president Xi Jinping abolishing term limits and declaring himself the “unrivaled helmsman” of China for years to come. Orville Schell, the Director of the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations and author of “Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty First Century” joins us to discuss the growth of illiberal regimes around the world with authoritarian leaders like Xi Jinping, Putin and Erdogan grabbing power and holding on to it ruthlessly and permanently. We will assess the absence of any pushback in defense of Democratic ideals and values coming from the traditional bulwark of Democracy the United States, whose leader Donald Trump does not care for or defend democratic values but instead is infatuated with dictators and demagogues. And although Xi Jinping has vowed to restore the Middle Kingdom to its rightful place as a global power, he presides over a corrupt Communist Party and a brittle economy which if internal pressures were to erupt, the fear is the aggressive nationalism that Xi champions could find expression in Chinese military assertion in the South China Sea and against Taiwan.

Then we speak with a leading intelligence historian and expert on the NSA, Matthew Aid, the author of “The Secret Sentry” the definitive history of the NSA. He joins us to discuss the testimony today before the Senate Armed Services Committee by Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the NSA who is also head of Cyber Command. In response to questions from senators about why the U.S. has not responded to cyberattacks from Russia that continue and will impact the 2018 elections, Admiral Rogers admitted that the President of the United States Donald Trump has shown no interest or inclination to do anything and that the Russians “have not paid a price that is sufficient to change their behavior”.

Then finally we examine the peculiar phenomenon of the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attacking a candidate who is one of seven running for congress in the Democratic primary in the Texas 7th congressional district in Houston.Lawrence Douglas, a Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought at Amherst College joins us to discuss the unnecessary and suicidal but continuing battle between the Democratic Party’s progressive Bernie Sanders and centrist Hillary Clinton wings, and his article at The Guardian “The Democratic party is now publicly attacking progressive candidates”.

Orville Schell | Matthew Aid | Lawrence Douglas


February 26, 2018

The Republican’s Successful Stacking of the Supreme Court to Kill Unions and Defund Democrats
Has the White House Succeeded in Burying the Democrat’s Rebuttal to the Nunes Memo?
The Dangerous Complexities of the Combined War in Syria and Iraq
Program Notes

We begin with arguments before the Supreme Court today in Janus vs AFSCME, a case that will likely rule against AFSCME and cripple public sector unions representing teachers, firefighters, nurses and municipal worker and limit the ability of unions representing public employees to fund the Democratic Party.Celine McNicholas, the Economic Policy Institute’s Labor Counsel who tracks the Trump Administration’s wage and employment policies, joins us to explain how, with the death of Scalia, an earlier union-busting case was deadlocked so the Republicans, led by Senator Mitch McConnell, were so determined to get a conservative replacement for Scalia to rule against unions that they denied Obama his appointment to the court.  And now with Gorsuch on the court, they have another bite of the apple with the Janus case which was put together by a handful of billionaires, one of whom is close to Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society, who not only championed Gorsuch’s appointment, but is an expert in Supreme Court shopping for reactionary causes.

Then we assess the impact of the Democratic memo meant to rebut the Nunes memo which was held up by the White House and released on a Saturday in the hope it would get limited media coverage which appears to be the case. Harry Litman, a former United States Attorney and deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department who is now a Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego, joins us to discuss how successful Trump and his Republican enablers are in distracting the press and public from the Mueller investigation which is closing in on Paul Manafort.

Then finally we speak with William Harris, a Professor of Politics at the University of Otago in New Zealand and the author of a new book “Quicksilver War: Syria, Iraq and the Spiral of Conflict”. He joins us to discuss the dangerous complexities of a rapidly changing combined war in Iraq and Syria which recently saw Russian mercenaries attacking American troops as we now witness a humanitarian horror unfolding in the suburbs of Damascus with the possibility of a major clash between Israel and Iran looming on the horizon since Iran in poised to send Iraqi Shia militias into Syria and Lebanon.

Celine McNicholas | Harry Litman | William Harris



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