Collusion, Treason, Evidence of Interfering With Elections

Yes, I know you have heard all this before, but maybe this is different? The last Presidential election in the US has a lot to answer for, but wait, there’s more! And with evidence to go with it! First, some background. New Zealand has a law that states that anyone with one New Zealand parent is automatically a New Zealand citizen. Australia has a law that states that to be a member of parliament, you must not be a citizen of another country. It turned out that an Australian reporter found out that the father of Barnaby Joyce (the Australian Deputy Prime Minister) was a New Zealander and therefore Joyce was a New Zealand citizen by descent. Barnaby Joyce was born in Australia and as far as we know has never been to New Zealand. The journalist wrote to Joyce’s office, the New Zealand High Commission in Canberra, and the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs for clarification and got no response. A further relevant piece of information is that New Zealand is shortly to have an election and very recently, thanks to appalling poll results, the leader of the Lahour Party here, who are in opposition, was replaced by Jacinda Ardern, who is somewhat younger and more vibrant. Two weeks into the job the following mess descended on her.

It is less clear exactly what started this, but the New Zealand MP Chris Hipkins raised the issue of dual citizenship by submitting questions to the New Zealand Parliament, which is in its dying stages. Exactly why he did this is the unclear part. One story is that an assistant to Penny Wong, the shadow foreign affairs spokesman for the Australian Labour Party, primed Hipkins. Whatever the source or the reason, clearly Hipkins had a brain fade. You don’t start commenting on the constitutional aspects of another country if you are in Parliament; you don’t raise an issue formally (had he really wanted the answer as opposed to making a public statement he could have asked one of the legal aspects available to Members of Parliament) unless you have an objective, and finally if you don’t know where an issue might go, you do not raise it about six weeks before an election, especially with a new leader struggling to find her way. Ardern quickly lashed Hipkins, verbally at least, as soon as she had found out, but the fuse had been lit.

The Australian Prime Minister immediately accused Bill Shorten, the leader of the Australian Labour party, of conspiring with a foreign power. That accusation may have been the first Shorten knew of the issue. However, it left the average New Zealander in a funny position. On the whole, leaving aside sporting contests, we consider ourselves rather friendly with Australians, although I suppose the temptation of either side to give the odd raw prawn is still there. But fancy that – we are accused of being a power. First I’ve heard of that one. Then, obviously having got the rhythm, the conspiracy is to undermine the Australian government, and that is treason!

There was more stuff for this fuse to ignite. The Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, could not be restrained, and accused the Australian Labour Party of trying to use the New Zealand Labour Party to undermine the Australian government. Collusion and treachery! She was also quoted on TV (evidence!) as saying “New Zealand is facing an election. Should there be a change of government I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved in allegations designed to undermine the government of Australia.” That is effectively the Australian government intervening in the New Zealand election.

So, what of Jacinda Ardern? She seemed somewhat unfazed by these accusations. She certainly sent Hipkins to the dog box and she tried to diplomatically engage with Ms Bishop, so far with no luck. But she refused to apologise. So, will this have any effect on the election? We have to wait and see, but my guess is the only effect will be from Ms Bishop’s attack, and that will help Jacinda. As one of our previous Prime Ministers once said, New Zealand politicians don’t lose votes by refusing to bow down to Australian politicians. As for the Australian Labour politicians, I understand their response to accusations of treachery and collusion was to sit back and laugh, which is probably the only response worth making.

I have no idea what the average Australian thinks, but my guess it will be either shaking the head in disbelief or laughing. And in New Zealand? This morning’s newspaper had two items that probably represent our feelings. The first was a cartoon with an aboriginal sitting outside a hut and being told about this electoral law fiasco. His response” Wow! Pity they didn’t have that law 200 years ago.” There was also a letter to the editor, with the proposal that, in the spirit of good relations and friendship with our Aussie neighbours, that New Zealand immediately convey New Zealand citizenship on all Australian politicians.

Michael Flynn (Misha to his Russian friends?)

One of the more tragic figures currently in the news is the retired army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. He had a distinguished military career, which involved 33 years service, and most of the latter part was involved with military intelligence. He retired a year earlier than necessary, but there are assertions he was forced to retire as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. There are two versions on the web as to why he was effectively fired. One side says he did not listen, worked against policy, he was a bad manager, and various other things. One such incident involved what Flynn described as a twenty minute meeting with Svetlana Lokhova, who had claimed to have access to Soviet GRU files and was writing a book about them. The meeting was in the presence of an ex-Director of MI6, and a senior person in MI5. Apparently Flynn has been accused of subsequently inviting Lokhova to go to Moscow with him to act as a translator, but that trip did not occur. According to the New York Times, Flynn, as Director of the DIA, exhibited a loose relationship with facts, i.e. initiating “fake facts”. The other version is that Flynn argued al Qaeda was nowhere near defeat, that it would be wrong to topple Assad because radical Islamists were the main force in the Syrian insurgency and that Turkey was looking the other way regarding Daesh in Syria. He criticized Obama for letting al Nusra grow in Syria. The second version suggests he was in fact right, but somewhat inconvenient.

After retiring, he set up a private company as a means of further earning income. This raises a question I cannot answer: what is the exact status of a retired General? Obviously he will be required to keep secure any information he acquired as a General, but as far as I am aware, there is no accusation that he has violated that. However, quite naturally his means of earning income drew on his previous experience. Amongst other things, he had given paid interviews for RT (a Russian television network, which as far as I know, broadcasts in the US), and he also gave an interview unfavourable to Turkish President Erdogan, accusing him of taking Turkey away from secularism. However, after this he was hired by a company indirectly owned by the Turkish Government, to investigate Erdogan’s opponent Fethullah Gulen. Later, Flynn joined the Trump campaign, and spent some time attacking Hillary Clinton. Flynn has been accused of conflict of interest over these events, of accepting money from a foreign agent (although it was an American company) without registering. He also gave a talk in New York for Kaspersky Laboratories (a Russian based company dealing with internet anti-virus software) and received money from these talks. Ex-Presidents are notorious for earning money this way, so it should not be prohibited.

He is also accused of receiving money from Russia in 2015, and he did not fill out the required paperwork and receive consent from Congress, which might violate a clause of the US Constitution. The US Constitution forbids military officers from receiving money from foreign governments, but Flynn could well argue that once he retired from the army, he was no longer a military officer. Added to which, his interview appearing on RT is hardly a covert action. Flynn apparently did report most of these activities to the DIA, so there is no case that he tried to conceal what he was doing. Merely he did not report to all the right places. The essence of all this is, as far as I can see, is that he may or may not have violated laws regarding registration/permission to work, reporting to the required bureaucrats, and he may or may not have done good jobs for those who paid him, but apart from that it is hard to see any problem. Sally Yates, the previous Attorney General, has maintained Flynn would be open to Russian blackmail, but how? Also, like most of the accusers, Yates has several bones to pick with Trump.

President-elect Trump then offered Flynn the job of national security advisor. On the day President Obama announced retaliatory measures in response to Russia’s alleged interference in the US election, Flynn spoke to Russian ambassador Kislyak. The argument was that any secret deal could have violated the Logan act, a rather antique example of a strange law prohibiting a private citizen from discussing anything with a foreign government that might subvert the cause of the US Government, and passed by the 5th Congress. Nobody has ever been prosecuted under it so there is no case law. Flynn argues he never discussed these sanctions. However, somewhere in the mix, Flynn was asked by Mike Pence what happened and Flynn admits he misled Pence. Accordingly he was fired.

Did Flynn offer some deal on sanctions? The evidence that he did seems to be indirect. Immediately after they were announced, Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia would certainly respond. So did some others, but nothing happened. Putin announced there would be no retaliation. The argument is that Flynn had assured Kislyak that the sanctions would not last, and hence had undermined US policy, although how is more questionable, since Russia still received the sanctions that still apply and did nothing back. The US comes out ahead here. A strange way of undermining the government.

The next accusation against Flynn is that he has committed a significant crime. Why? Well, he has been asked to give evidence to Congress about Russian involvement in the US election, and he has demanded immunity from prosecution. According to various experts, this “proves” there was serious wrong-doing. I am not so sure. Various people have already accused him of violating various regulations, such as the Logan Act and the requirement to register as representing foreign agents, and when you know there are accusations against you, wouldn’t you ask for immunity? You would be stupid not to. At the very least, by making it a condition to give evidence he can refuse by arguing the Constitutional Amendment against self-incrimination, which, even if he feels he has nothing to hide, at least gets him out of the expense of having to have lawyers present through what could be an extended witch-hunt. If nothing else, you don’t get to be a Lieutenant General by being stupid. You get there by doing things, which is what Flynn apparently did. That was a mistake. According to Congress, he should have sat on his backside for two months, and maybe that says something about Congress.

As an aside, I tried to write a similar tragic figure in my Dreams Defiled, which is on discount over Easter. I don’t think I quite managed someone like Flynn, though, but I would be curious to know what others think.