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'I was WRONG' Merkel's GROVELLING apology as Germany coalition ...

Express.co.uk-Sep 25, 2018
Mrs Merkel's government was plunged into crisis over allegations Hans-Georg Maassen, from Berlin's spy agency BfV, held far-right ...
Merkel's Power on the Wane After Veteran Ally Ousted
U.S. News & World Report-40 minutes ago
Merkel Ally Loses Vote as Lawmakers Push Back
In-Depth-Wall Street Journal-20 hours ago
Story image for merkel's crisis from Reuters

Merkel wants to defuse coalition crisis over spymaster this weekend

Reuters-Sep 21, 2018
BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday the leaders of her coalition parties would try to find a solution this weekend to a ...
Story image for merkel's crisis from Telegraph.co.uk

Merkel coalition in crisis once again over intelligence chief as more far ...

Telegraph.co.uk-Sep 15, 2018
But the intelligence chief is being shielded by Horst Seehofer, the controversial interior minister and leader of Mrs Merkel's Bavarian sister party ...
Story image for merkel's crisis from The Weekly Standard

Wurst Case Scenario: Merkel's Coalition Calamity

The Weekly Standard-Sep 25, 2018
So the two have formed a “grand coalition,” which Merkel has held ... in the government, and that is what brought about Merkel's latest crisis.
Story image for merkel's crisis from Express.co.uk

MERKEL CRISIS: Chancellor saves coalition by skin of her teeth by ...

Express.co.uk-Sep 19, 2018
Chaos hit the Bundestag as the German Chancellor faced an ultimatum from her allies that could have brought her government down.
Story image for merkel's crisis from The Times

Angela Merkel tries to defuse coalition crisis

The Times-Sep 23, 2018
A former spy chief was moved to another job last night in an attempt to defuse a crisis that threatened to bring down Angela Merkel's coalition ...
Story image for merkel's crisis from Financial Times

Fate of Merkel's spy chief exposes fragility of coalition

Financial Times-Sep 19, 2018
If nothing else, the latest government crisis in Berlin has produced a new entry into the German political lexicon: raufgeschmissen, thrown ...
Merkel removes spy chief to defuse row over far-right
Opinion-<a href="http://gulfnews.com" rel="nofollow">gulfnews.com</a>-Sep 19, 2018
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Merkel news: German chancellor hit by ‘uprising’ as she losing key CDU vote | World | News

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MPs from her Christian Democrat party (CDU) rejected her chosen candidate as their parliamentary leader and voted instead for a challenger who had promised to be more independent.

The defeat, her first since taking power, was a body blow to Mrs Merkel’s authority and leaves her facing a backbench rebellion as she tries to get her coalition’s legislative programme through parliament.

Conceding her nominee had lost she said: “This is an hour of democracy, and it has its defeats. There is nothing to gloss over.”

Thomas Oppermann, a senior MP from her coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), described the result as “an uprising against Merkel”.

Opposition MPs seized on the defeat as a clear sign that her grip on power was diminishing.

Niema Movassat of The Left Party said: “This is the beginning of the end for Merkel. Her authority is massively damaged.”

Alice Weidel of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party said: “The defeat of Volker Kauder makes Angela Merkel’s loss of power in the CDU clear.

“The twilight of Merkel has finally begun.”

Mrs Merkel had nominated Volker Kauder, an arch-loyalist who has served her as parliamentary leader for 13 years for re-election, and her choice was endorsed by the rest of the party leadership.

But the 69-year-old Mr Kauder was defeated by Ralph Brinkhaus, a relative unknown who said he was standing as the candidate of change, to renew the party.

Mrs Merkel has failed to stamp her authority on the Grand Coalition government and has suffered a bruising summer of power struggles with CSU leader Horst Seehofer.

This culminated in last night’s shock defeat which had previously been considered unthinkable.

Some MPs were expected to rebel in a protest vote against Mr Kauder but most forecasts predicted the challenger could hope for 30 per cent at most.

In the end, Mr Brinkhaus won with 125 votes to Mr Kauder’s 112. Two MPs abstained.

The result calls into question Mrs Merkel’s ability to get legislation through parliament as her 45-seat majority could easily by overturned by a a similar rebellion within her own party.

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merkel - Google News

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This really is the beginning of the end for Merkel

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The next challenge for Mrs Merkel will be key regional elections in Bavaria and Hesse next month. The CDU does not stand in Bavaria, and she will be hoping that predicted losses for the CSU in its home state will weaken her arch-rival Mr Seehofer, and perhaps even see him overthrown as party leader. But losses could also lead to renewed pressure on Mrs Merkel from her Bavarian sister party.

Ahe also faces the prospect of damaging losses for her own party in Hesse, a conservative stronghold, at the hands of the AfD. That could strengthen calls within the party to abandon her centrist approach and return to a more conservative line.

If the losses in Bavaria and Hesse are bad enough, or if her authority continues to ebb away, Mrs Merkel could surprise everyone and choose to bow out gracefully by not standing for re-election as party leader in December. If that happened, the frontrunners to succeed her would be Jens Spahn, the health minister and darling of the party’s right wing, and Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, the party chairman, who is more in Mrs Merkel’s centrist mould.

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Manafort guilty plea: a former spy explains why Manafort is crucial to Mueller’s Russia investigation

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Viktor Yanukovych, a Ukrainian politician, ran a divisive and ultimately successful presidential campaign in 2010.

Over the course of several months, he portrayed his political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, as corrupt and threatened to jail her. He warned that the election might be rigged and called on supporters to march in protest if he lost. He yelled about the corruption of the political elite and attacked his Western allies, calling instead for closer ties with Russia, with whom he had cultivated deep — and hidden — business ties.

Any of this sound familiar?

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump had the same strategic adviser as Yanukovych did six years earlier: Paul Manafort.

Coincidentally or not, Manafort proceeded to implement a nearly identical political playbook to launch Trump into the most powerful office in the world.

On September 14, Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy — counts that include money laundering, failing to register as a foreign agent, and witness tampering — and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the presidential election.

The plea agreement came after Manafort was found guilty on charges of tax fraud, bank fraud, and hiding foreign bank accounts in a separate trial last month. The charges Manafort pleaded guilty to concern his influence-peddling on behalf of Yanukovych and his pro-Russian political party, the Party of Regions, in Washington and elsewhere — all of which occurred years before Manafort joined the Trump campaign.

The day the plea agreement was announced, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement emphasizing that fact — that Manafort’s crimes happened long before he ever worked for the campaign — saying that the plea deal “had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.”

But while she’s right that the crimes Manafort pleaded guilty to predate his work with the Trump campaign, his decision to plead guilty brings us closer to resolving questions surrounding possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russian interests.

For Mueller, Manafort is a way to gain detailed insight into the campaign’s most controversial inner machinations, including the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting billed in advance by Russians as a way to collect damaging information on Hillary Clinton, and the decision to weaken the Republican Party’s support for Ukraine (which Russia had invaded) in its official platform.

Manafort may also provide new details about who knew what and when about WikiLeaks’ dissemination of Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails at a key moment during the election.

As a former spy, I know that Manafort was a vulnerable target

Manafort’s guilty plea makes it clear that his actions on behalf of Ukraine’s pro-Russian leader were in lockstep with the larger interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sought to undermine democracy not only in Eastern Europe but in America as well.

So why did this convergence of interests occur? My experience as an intelligence officer tells me that Manafort’s unmitigated greed and his business practices — including money laundering and his frequent use of offshore accounts — highlight vulnerabilities that Russian intelligence officers could have exploited to their advantage, including while he was working for Trump.

At the CIA, where I worked in the Directorate of Operations, we assessed a potential asset’s vulnerabilities using the acronym MICE: money, ideology, coercion, and ego. Any good intelligence officer finds a way to use those vulnerabilities to leverage the asset to work on her or his behalf.

Manafort, it was clear, had multiple vulnerabilities. He liked money, and he hid a lot of it. Prosecutors at his first trial highlighted Manafort’s extravagant lifestyle, trotting out exhibits showing he spent a million dollars on clothing at a single store, bought a $21,000 watch, spent a million dollars on Oriental rugs, used millions to buy and renovate real estate, and shelled out $15,000 on an ostrich leather jacket.

Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president, lived an opulent lifestyle as well — particularly for a lifelong public servant.

After he was forced out of office in February 2014, Ukrainians stormed his residence and discovered luxury cars, an 18-hole golf course, a presidential sauna, and a private exotic zoo, which included several ostriches (no word yet on how Yanukovych, or his ostriches, felt about Manafort’s jacket). Elsewhere, investigators for the new government found a ledger outlining $12 million in unofficial payments to Manafort.

So we know that Manafort had extensive ties to important people, some of whom were in their own compromising situations. Any intelligence officer would recognize the opportunity. Manafort was, quite simply, a ripe target to be exploited.

But what does lobbying for Ukraine have to do with Russia?

Yanukovych and his political party, who were both Manafort’s clients, had a political agenda aligned with Russia and influenced by a flow of Russian money.

The most glaring example of this occurred in November 2013, when Yanukovych decided not to sign an agreement with the European Union — despite popular support in Ukraine for it — and to push, instead, for closer ties with Russia.

The move set off a series of protests in Ukraine that nearly led to a civil war and ended with Yanukovych’s ouster in February 2014. He fled the country and remains in exile, notably, in Russia.

What’s notable as well is that Manafort and his partners pushed that same pro-Russia political agenda with US policymakers and the American press.

Manafort tried to clean up Yanukovych’s image in the West, convincing policymakers that his jailing of Tymoshenko was not politically motivated, for example, and that Yanukovych was the best leader to forge Ukraine’s relationship with Europe — exactly as Putin wanted.

Manafort also did other things to promote Putin’s agenda. According to the Associated Press, Manafort signed a contract in 2006 with Russian oligarch and Putin friend Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska agreed to pay Manafort $10 million a year to develop and execute an influence plan that Manafort promised would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Manafort carried out similar pro-Russian influence operations in Georgia and Montenegro, two other countries Putin has been keen to keep on a tight leash due to their geographic proximity and historic ties to Russia.

This type of lobbying shares many similarities with espionage.

Both focus on gathering information, and influencing and manipulating people to do one’s bidding. The only real difference is deniability: Intelligence agencies like to hide the fact that they are behind the influence.

Lobbyists often don’t — but Manafort did.

In fact, Manafort’s correspondence, included as evidence in court filings, is littered with spy lingo depicting his efforts at deniability. In a June 2012 email to his associates Rick Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik outlining plans to put together a high-level group of former European leaders to push Ukraine’s agenda, for example, Manafort notes “some informal and covert interaction is possible.”

He also pushed news stories denigrating Yanukovych’s political opponent in the American press. Those, too, needed to be “push[ed]” “[w]ith no fingerprints,” according to court filings.

As the charging documents state, Manafort hid that he and the government of Ukraine were behind efforts “to influence both American leaders and the American public.” He viewed “secrecy for himself and for the actions of his lobbyists as integral to the effectiveness of the lobbying offensive.”

Manafort and his partners even used other companies and individuals as cutouts, allowing them to influence policymakers “without any visible relationship with the Government of Ukraine,” according to the statement of offenses.

This all brings us to the question of collusion

Why did Manafort, a man who loved money, agree to work for Trump for free?

Was someone else paying him secretly? Were the loans he received from Deripaska or others connected to pro-Russian interests, whether business executives or organizations, really meant to be paid back? Or was Manafort in debt to these people, and thus vulnerable to coercion?

Manafort’s lawyers have denied he colluded with the Russian government. But his relationship with Deripaska, the Russian oligarch, included financial debt — which Deripaska wound up pursuing in the courts, and Manafort has denied.

This raises the question of what exactly Manafort owed to people close to Putin.

Of particular note is an email exchange — published by the Washington Post and the Atlantic — in which Manafort offered to brief Deripaska on developments in the Trump campaign.

This was an intriguing offer considering Deripaska’s relationship with Putin, and the fact that Manafort had received millions of dollars from Deripaska to do something. (They have each said the funds were for consulting or business deals that fell apart.)

Mueller may soon learn the answers to some of these questions, and perhaps the American public will learn the answer to the most important question of all: When Manafort worked on the Trump campaign, whose interests was he serving?

Alex Finley (@alexzfinley) is the pen name of a former journalist and an officer of the CIA from 2003 to 2009. She is the author of Victor in the Rubble, a satire about the CIA and the war on terror.

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German Chancellor Merkel has a new rival with powerful supporters: her own spy chief

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Rick Noack and Luisa Beck, The Washington Post

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a news conference following a European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels on Feb. 23, 2018. Photo: Bloomberg Photo By Dario Pignatelli. / © 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a news conference following a European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels on Feb. 23, 2018.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a news conference following a European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels on Feb. 23, 2018.

    Photo: Bloomberg Photo By Dario Pignatelli.
  • photo

Photo: Bloomberg Photo By Dario Pignatelli.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a news conference following a European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels on Feb. 23, 2018.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a news conference following a European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels on Feb. 23, 2018.

Photo: Bloomberg Photo By Dario Pignatelli.

German Chancellor Merkel has a new rival with powerful supporters: her own spy chief

BERLIN - For a few months this summer, it looked as if German Chancellor Angela Merkel had successfully fought off an attack by her own Interior Minister Horst Seehofer's over her decision three years ago to welcome refugees. But now it seems as though the revolt inside her government isn't over and has erupted again over her domestic spy chief.

The turmoil is the result of an interview Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of the domestic security agency, gave to Germany's most widely read tabloid Bild two weeks ago, following demonstrations and mob attacks on immigrants by far-right and extremist groups in the east German town of Chemnitz. In the interview, Merkel's spy chief questioned the authenticity of an online video showing the incident and contradicted Merkel who had previously condemned the attacks.

In one of his many statements that fueled the controversy, Maassen had told the German daily Bild "there is no evidence, that the videos spread online about this alleged occurrence are authentic," he said, without giving any basis as to why he was questioning them.

Prosecutors leading the investigation into the far-right demonstration in Chemnitz said there's no evidence the video is fake.

Maassen's statements caused an uproar among German politicians and journalists, some of whom accuse him of playing into a far-right narrative of "fake news" that helped fuel the demonstrations in Chemnitz in the first place. After a German man was killed following a brawl with migrants, far-right groups began demonstrating in Chemnitz on Aug. 26. At one point, some 6,000 people took to the streets, with some openly saluting Hitler as well as assaulting immigrants.

After indirectly - and apparently falsely - contradicting the chancellor, many expected Maassen to be fired within days. Maassen is in charge of a domestic spy agency that has faced the fallout of a number of far-right scandals in recent years, including its failure to stop the far-right NSU terror group from killing 10 people between 2000 and 2007. After the group's alleged crimes were revealed, a review of thousands of cases brought to light that 849 more people than originally thought could have been killed by right-wing extremists since 1990.

But instead of resigning or being forced out of his job over the latest incident, Maassen has been backed by his boss, Interior Minister Seehofer, the same person who nearly brought down Merkel's government over her immigration policies.

Given Seehofer's support for Maassen, any decision to remove Maassen from his office would likely also result in his patron's ouster or resignation. But Seehofer remains a key figure in Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU) that forms a coalition with Merkel's Christian Democratic Union on the national level. If he was fired or forced to resign, the CSU may ultimately leave the coalition government and break it apart.

At the same time, Merkel is facing pressure from her other coalition partner, the Social Democrats, who have repeatedly called for Maassen to step down. This week, SPD leader Andrea Nahles stated "Mr. Maassen must go, and I tell you, he will go," citing not only his statements about the Chemnitz video, but calling into question his ability to fight right-wing extremism.

Maassen's critics argue that he has already become a hero of the far right in Germany. At recent protests, the spy chief who is supposed to be Germany's top anti-extremism official was applauded for what the far right views as support for their agenda. But for other, more moderate right-wing voters, their support for Maassen appears to be driven more by a dislike for Merkel than by enthusiasm for the controversial spy chief.

Some German media commentators are calling the decision over Maassen's future a stand-in for much larger questions about where the country stands, and where it's heading.

The German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote on Tuesday that the Maassen affair is "a symbol for all who reject Angela Merkel's stance toward refugee politics. And a symbol for the question, how big the power and influence of the right-wing populists already is in this country." The German daily Spiegel wrote that Maassen has become a sort of martyr figure for opponents of Merkel and supporters of the far right, some of whom have spread the false narrative that Maassen is slated to be fired because he contradicted Merkel politically. On Tuesday afternoon, party leaders including Merkel and Seehofer are scheduled to meet to reach a final decision about whether Maassen will be fired.

In an article defending Maassen, titled "Will the man who protects us from terror fall?," the tabloid Bild describes a "domino effect" that would likely ensue, with Seehofer being forced to resign and Merkel's coalition government thrown into a crisis it may not survive.

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