Ex-Dem IT aide Imran Awan could flee to Pakistan if restrictions lifted, DOJ warns

Dec 18, 2017 1

The Justice Department warned Monday that ex-Capitol Hill IT aide Imran Awan is a “flight risk” and could flee to Pakistan if a judge approves his request to lift “all of the conditions of his release.” 

U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu filed a motion before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, urging the court to deny Awan’s request.

Awan, a former IT aide for Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is currently enrolled in the High Intensity Supervision Program (HISP) with conditions that he abide by an electronically monitored curfew of 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. and a limit on traveling beyond 150 miles from his residence, according to court documents. Awan and his attorney want to lift those conditions, including the electronic monitoring bracelet. 

Federal prosecutors warned this could give Awan an opening. 

“While the government possesses Awan’s Pakistani passport, nothing prevents him from obtaining a new Pakistani passport at the Embassy in D.C. That passport would permit Awan to board a flight and leave the country at any time,” the motion read. “The government asserts that Awan is a flight risk and that his participation in HISP is by far the least restrictive condition that can be imposed on him to ensure his return to Court.”

FORMER DEM IT STAFFER STRIKES DEAL TO RETURN FROM PAKISTAN AND FACE CHARGES IN US 

The motion pointed to Awan’s “strong ties” to property in Pakistan, and the fact that Awan has transferred money to Pakistan that suggests he can “clearly maintain a life in that country.”

Awan’s attorney slammed the Justice Department’s statement as purely “political.”

“It is a complete impossibility for Mr. Awan to get another passport, his entire life is here, he has no plans to leave,” Awan’s attorney Christopher Gowen told Fox News in an email Monday. “His wife an children are here, his wife is also charged in this case, and in fact has more charges and the government has no issue with her not being on GPS.”

Gowen added: “The government’s opposition to our motion is solely for political purposes.”

Awan pleaded not guilty in September to multiple federal charges including bank fraud and conspiracy. A grand jury had returned an indictment in August charging Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, with a total of four charges.

The indictment for Awan and his wife suggested the couple allegedly engaged in a conspiracy to obtain home equity lines of credit from the Congressional Federal Credit Union by giving false information about two properties – and then sending the proceeds to individuals in Pakistan.

Awan and other IT aides for House Democrats had been on investigators’ radar for months over concerns of possible double-billing, alleged equipment theft and access to sensitive computer systems. Most lawmakers fired Awan in February, but Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., kept him on until his arrest in July.

Awan was arrested at Dulles airport in Virginia, as he attempted to board a flight to Pakistan. At the time, Gowen told Fox News that federal authorities have no evidence of misconduct by Awan relating to his IT duties. 

Liu’s latest motion said “the government opposes [Awan’s] request” to lift the conditions of his release, citing Alvi’s May trip to Pakistan.

“Alvi departed abruptly with her two children to Pakistan …Alvi only returned to the United States after the government arrested her husband, thereby preventing him from joining his wife and children in Pakistan,” the motion read, also pointing to Awan’s attempt to leave the U.S. for Pakistan before he was arrested. 

Fox News’ Alex Pappas and Jake Gibson contributed to this report. 

Brooke Singman is a Politics Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @brookefoxnews.

Trump national security strategy restores reference to 'jihadist' terror threat

Dec 18, 2017 7

President Trump’s national security strategy, set to be unveiled in a major address Monday afternoon, restores references to the “jihadist” terror threat – in a tacit rebuke to the Obama-era decision to avoid such language.  

The president is expected to detail his administration’s strategy at 2 p.m. ET in Washington, D.C.

Trump is expected to discuss threats he’ll deem as “rogue regimes,” like North Korea, and “revisionist powers,” like Russia and China, who aim to change the status quo.

But notably, the document repeatedly refers to “jihadist” terror groups, in a break from the Obama administration.

“The primary transnational threats Americans face are from jihadist terrorists and transnational criminal organizations,” the document states, according to excerpts released ahead of the speech.

Another section calls for strengthened missile defense and homeland security, vowing to “pursue threats to their source, so that jihadist terrorists are stopped before they ever reach our borders.”

Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump White House adviser, drew attention to the term in an interview Monday morning with “Fox & Friends.”

“The political correctness of the last eight years is gone,” he said. “You haven’t seen anything like this for 20-25 years.”

ISIS guy_reuters

President Trump’s National Security Strategy is restoring references to ‘jihadist’ terrorists.  (Reuters)

Then-President Barack Obama stirred controversy when he first removed terms like “Islamic extremism” in the 2010 security document, effectively scrubbing language used by the George W. Bush administration. The shift came on the heels of Obama’s visit to Egypt, where he vowed a “new beginning” in the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world. 

The administration’s 2015 strategy also did not contain the word “jihadist.” 

Shortly before leaving office last year, Obama explained at a CNN town hall that he avoided using those terms because he did not want to “lump” murderers like Al Qaeda and ISIS members “into the billion Muslims that exist around the world, including in this country, who are peaceful, who are responsible, who, in this country, are fellow troops and police officers and firefighters and teachers and neighbors and friends.” 

Broadly speaking, according to a senior administration official, Trump’s doctrine has four main principles: protecting the homeland and way of life; promoting American prosperity; demonstrating peace through strength; and advancing American influence in an ever-competitive world.

The official said the “principled realism … takes a clear-eyed view of the threats we face.”

In another shift for the president who ran on an “America First” platform, Trump’s strategy will remove an Obama declaration that climate change is an “urgent and growing threat to our national security.”

Fox News’ Lukas Mikelionis, Kristin Brown and Jennifer Bowman and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Trump to unveil 'America First' strategy

Dec 18, 2017 14

President Trump is set to unveil a new national security strategy on Monday, emphasizing national sovereignty over alliances, economic security, and reverse Obama-era warnings of climate change.

Trump will go further into detail about the so-called “America First” national security strategy in a speech on Monday, a plan that could alter the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world if fully implemented.

According to a senior administration official, Trump’s doctrine has four main pillars: protecting the homeland and way of life; promoting American prosperity; demonstrating peace through strength; and advancing American influence in an ever-competitive world.

The official said the “principled realism (contained in the document) takes a clear-eyed view of the threats we face,” adding that “the strategy promotes a world that is free, with sovereign nations and diverse cultures with their own aspirations, respecting the rights of those nations to do so but also finding ways to promote American values.”

President Donald Trump speaks at Fort Myer in Arlington Va., Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, during a Presidential Address to the Nation about a strategy he believes will best position the U.S. to eventually declare victory in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

August 21, 2017: President Donald Trump outlined his strategy towards Afghanistan.  (AP)

The document will affirm that all nations are in perpetual competition and thus the U.S. must wage a fight on all fronts – allies and foes includes – to ensure the country’s sovereignty and prosperity. “Economic security is national security,” said a senior administration official.

Trump is expected to make clear that he the U.S. will be standing up for itself even if that means unilaterally or disaffecting others on issues such as trade, climate change, and immigration.

But this will not mean the U.S. is retreating from global politics. The strategy is supposed to assert the U.S. presence in the international community, with respect for all other countries and without imposing American values anywhere.

The U.S. will continue to be open to relationships with other countries, including alliances like NATO, but they will have to be based on fairness and reciprocity. Trump attacked NATO during the campaign for letting other countries take advantage of American military while not spending enough on their own.

The new strategy will also strip the Obama administration’s decision to designate climate change as an “urgent and growing threat to our national security,” but will mention the importance of environmental stewardship.

In the speech on Monday, the president is expected to discuss “rogue regimes” such as North Korea and criticize “revisionist powers” like Russian and China. Trump is likely to issue stark criticism of the Kremlin and its actions in Ukraine and Georgia.

The criticisms of China, meanwhile, will be toned-down. Rather than accusing of “economic aggression” as it was previously believed the strategy will, the document refer to China a “strategic competitor.”

In regards to the Middle East, the new national security strategy sees emerging opportunities to promote U.S. interests in the region.

“Some of our partners are working together to reject radical ideologies and key leaders are calling for a rejection of Islamist extremism and violence,” the document reads. “Encouraging political stability and sustainable prosperity would contribute to dampening the conditions that fuel sectarian grievances.”

The document will point out to “radical jihadist terrorist organizations” and Iran as “the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region.”

“For generations the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been understood as the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region,” the strategy document reads. “Today, the threats from radical jihadist terrorist organizations and the threat from Iran are creating the realization that Israel is not the cause of the region’s problems. States have increasingly found common interests with Israel in confronting common threats.”

Fox News’ Jennifer Bowman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lukas Mikelionis is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LukasMikelionis.

Trump to unveil 'America First' national security strategy

Dec 18, 2017 9

WASHINGTON — Prioritizing national sovereignty over alliances, President Donald Trump is poised to outline a new national security strategy that envisions nations in a perpetual state of competition, reverses Obama-era warnings on climate change, and de-emphasizes multinational agreements that have dominated the United States’ foreign policy since the Cold War.

The Republican president, who ran on a platform of “America First,” will detail his plan Monday, one that if fully implemented could sharply alter the United States’ relationships with the rest of the world. The plan, according to senior administration officials who offered a preview Sunday, is to focus on four main themes: protecting the homeland and way of life; promoting American prosperity; demonstrating peace through strength; and advancing American influence in an ever-competitive world.

Trump’s doctrine holds that nation states are in perpetual competition and that the U.S. must fight on all fronts to protect and defend its sovereignty from friend and foe alike. While the administration often says that “America First” does not mean “America Alone,” the national security strategy to be presented by Trump will make clear that the United States will stand up for itself even if that means acting unilaterally or alienating others on issues like trade, climate change and immigration, according to people familiar with the strategy.

The last such strategy document, prepared by then-President Barack Obama in 2015, declared climate change an “urgent and growing threat to our national security.” A senior official said the Trump plan removes that determination — following the administration’s threat to pull out of the Paris climate accord — but will mention the importance of environmental stewardship.

Despite the risk of potential isolation presented by Trump’s strategy, its fundamentals are not a surprise. The Associated Press last week reviewed excerpts of a late draft of the roughly 70-page document and spoke to two people familiar with it. The draft emphasizes that U.S. economic security is national security and that economic security must be ensured with military might. And they said it would stress the U.S. is interested only in relationships with other countries, including alliances like NATO, that are fair and reciprocal.

Trump, according to the senior officials, is also expected to discuss threats he’ll deem as “rogue regimes,” like North Korea, and “revisionist powers,” like Russia and China, who aim to change the status quo, such as Moscow and its actions with Ukraine and Georgia, and Beijing in the South China Sea. Trump is also planning to renew his call for the member states in the United Nations and NATO to spend more on defense, saying that the United States will insist on its alliances being fair and reciprocal.

The senior officials said the document refers to China as a “strategic competitor,” rather than the stronger accusation of “economic aggression” previewed last week by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Despite international challenges, the document cites emerging opportunities to advance American interests in the Middle East. “Some of our partners are working together to reject radical ideologies and key leaders are calling for a rejection of Islamist extremism and violence,” it says. “Encouraging political stability and sustainable prosperity would contribute to dampening the conditions that fuel sectarian grievances.”

The strategy document asserts that “for generations the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been understood as the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region. Today, the threats from radical jihadist terrorist organizations and the threat from Iran are creating the realization that Israel is not the cause of the region’s problems. States have increasingly found common interests with Israel in confronting common threats.”

The president is also set to make the case that U.S. economic security is national security and that economic security must be ensured with military might.

The criticism of Russia will come as a break from recent warm words between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The leaders have spoken twice in four days, with Trump calling Putin to thank him for kind words about the U.S. stock market and Putin reaching out to Trump to thank the CIA for help in stopping a terror plot in St. Petersburg.

The strategy document will not make explicit reference to Russian attempts to meddle in the U.S. political system, but an official said it would highlight the importance of ensuring the resilience of U.S. democratic institutions.

The early draft of the strategy reviewed by the AP lamented that America had put itself at a disadvantage by entering into multinational agreements, such as those aimed at combating climate change, and introducing domestic policies to implement them.

The senior officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan before the president’s remarks.

New Jersey Gov-elect poses for picture with Christie 'Beachgate' cutout

Dec 18, 2017 11

New Jersey Governor-elect Phil Murphy has fallen under harsh criticism after posing for a photo last week with a cardboard cutout of Gov. Chris Christie lounging on a closed beach last summer after a government shutdown.

Murphy took the picture at a gala held Thursday night by the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, a group who has criticized Christie in the past. When asked about the photo-op, Murphy told the NJ Advance Media that he was standing next to the cutout and just “couldn’t resist.”

“It was right in front of me!” he told the paper.

Christie came under fire this past summer after images surfaced of him lounging in a chair with his family on a beach that he had closed to the public over the Fourth of July weekend because of a government shutdown.

During his campaign, Murphy said on multiple campaign stops “We will not go to the beach ourselves,” referring to the incident that became known as ‘beachgate’.

FiLE - In this Sunday, July 2, 2017 file photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, uses the beach with his family and friends at the governor's summer house at Island Beach State Park in New Jersey. New Jersey Gov.-elect Phil Murphy is getting some pushback for posing for photos on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, next to a cardboard cutout of Christie lounging on a beach last summer. Christie came under intense criticism for using the beach closed to the public over the Fourth of July weekend due to a government shutdown. (Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media via AP)

AP  ( In this Sunday, July 2, 2017 file photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, uses the beach with his family and friends at the governor’s summer house at Island Beach State Park in New Jersey.)

Christie spoke out on Murphy’s recent photo-op calling it “disappointing.”

“We’ve been so open and so welcoming to him,” he said. “I just think it sends a really terrible message to people about if you say you want to bring people together and do all the rest of that, then what you should want to do is focus on the future and not be looking at the past.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mueller’s office defends investigation after Trump team slams email access

Dec 18, 2017 14

President Trump on Sunday blasted special counsel Robert Mueller for obtaining ‘unauthorized’ access to thousands of emails sent and received by his presidential transition team before the start of his administration.

“Not looking good, it’s not looking good,” Trump said on Sunday. “It’s quite sad to see that– my people were very upset about it. I can’t imagine there’s anything on them, frankly, because, as we’ve said, there’s no collusion, no collusion whatsoever.”

The New York Times reported that Mueller’s office issued a statement on Sunday defending how it obtained the information.

“When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman said.

Mueller’s investigators obtained the emails from the General Services Administration, a federal agency that stored the material, rather than request them from Trump’s still-existing transition group, Trump for America, Kory Langhofer, the general counsel for the transition group, said in a letter sent to two congressional committees.

Langhofer said in his letter to two congressional committees that the GSA had improperly provided the transition records to Mueller’s team, which he said has been “actively using” the emails. In the letter to the Republican chairmen of the House Oversight and the Senate Homeland Security committees, Langhofer contends that the disclosure by GSA was “unauthorized,” and it considers the documents private and privileged and not government property.

While conservatives have been critical of Mueller’s probe of Russian activities during the 2016 campaign, Trump said Sunday afternoon that he has no plans to fire Mueller.

The documents were provided to Mueller’s team by the GSA in September in response to requests from the FBI, but the transition team didn’t learn about it until last week, Langhofer said.

The tens of thousands of emails in question pertain to 13 senior Trump transition officials.

Many of the emails that Mueller’s investigators have now include national security discussions about possible Trump international aims as well as candid assessments of candidates for top government posts, said those familiar with the transition. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the records’ sensitivity.

Langhofer also said that a GSA official appointed by Trump in May had assured the transition in June that any request for records from Mueller’s office would be referred to the transition’s attorneys. According to Langhofer, the assurance was made by then-GSA General Counsel Richard Beckler, who was hospitalized in August and has since died. A copy of the letter was obtained by the AP.

But late Saturday, another GSA official present for the conversation told Buzzfeed News that there was nothing improper about the disclosure of the emails to Mueller’s team. The GSA has provided office space and other aid to presidential transitions in recent years and typically houses electronic transition records in its computer system.

GSA Deputy Counsel Lenny Loewentritt, who Langhofer blames along with other GSA career staff for providing the transition documents to the FBI, told Buzzfeed that Beckler didn’t make a commitment to the transition team that requests from law enforcement for materials would be routed through transition lawyers.

Transition officials signed agreements that warn them that materials kept on the government servers are subject to monitoring and auditing, Loewentritt told Buzzfeed, and there’s no expectation of privacy.

In a statement, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, dismissed the transition’s arguments that GSA shouldn’t have turned over the records to Mueller.

Among the officials who used transition email accounts was former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to a count of making false statements to FBI agents in January and is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. Trump fired Flynn in February for misleading senior administration officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Schumer calls for TSA machines that detect bombs at transit hubs after NYC

Dec 18, 2017 17

Screening devices that detect suicide vests like the one that exploded in a New York City subway tunnel are being tested in a Los Angeles transit station, but U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday the Transportation Security Administration should speed up plans to deploy the technology nationally.

“The fact that we have this new, potentially life-saving technology at our fingertips — an ability to detect concealed explosives worn by cowards looking to do us harm — demands the federal government put both the testing and the perfecting of this technology on the fast-track,” Schumer said. “We not only want these devices in America’s busiest cities, like New York, but we need them here.”

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority is partnering with TSA to test devices known as stand-off explosive detection units, which do a full-body screening of passengers walking through a station without slowing them down. If an explosive device is detected, it triggers an alarm. The operator, a transit employee, sees a camera image of the passenger on a computer screen, but no anatomical details.

“Along with industry partners, we are committed to identifying, testing and deploying technology that addresses threats to transportation across the spectrum,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement.

QinetiQ SPO-NX screening devices were tested this week in one of Los Angeles’ busiest stations, the 7th Street Metro downtown. The technology, under development since 2004, was also tested in Union Station in Washington before Thanksgiving and was used at a New Jersey Transit station during the 2014 Super Bowl, TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

Schumer called on the TSA to formally test the devices in New York City.

The machines, which resemble white television cameras on tripods, don’t detect explosive vapors but instead scan for metallic and non-metallic objects on a person’s body. Unlike airport screening devices, the equipment projects scanning waves at a person from a distance rather than having the person walk through a scanner.

The would-be suicide bomber in New York City during the morning commute on Monday injured himself when he set off a crude pipe bomb strapped to his chest. Officials said the Bangladeshi immigrant was indoctrinated into terrorism through internet videos.

“There’s a global pattern that seems to be emerging involving suicide bombers and explosives in soft spaces,” said Alex Wiggins, who runs the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s law enforcement division. “We want to be prudent and stay ahead of the threat.”

The technology is still in the test phase and isn’t ready for a widespread national rollout because it’s still being evaluated to determine, among other things, how effective it is at detecting bombs and how often it gives false alarms, TSA spokesman Michael England said.

NY Times columnist praises Trump for winning against ISIS, hits media for not giving credit

Dec 18, 2017 14

A conservative New York Times columnist on Sunday wrote a piece on President Trump’s successful approach at taking on the Islamic State and how his strategy has gone unnoticed by the media.

Ross Douthat, who previously endorsed Hillary Clinton, wrote that the Trump administration surprised him in foreign policy, namely in the war on ISIS that Trump has won.

“If you had told me in late 2016 that almost a year into the Trump era the caliphate would be all-but-beaten without something far worse happening in the Middle East, I would have been surprised and gratified,” Douthat wrote in an column titled “A War Trump Won.”

Douthat wrote that Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq – which he calls “the defining foreign policy calamity of Barack Obama’s second term” – were effectively routed by Trump without the need of a massive ground troop invasion and without getting into a war with Russia or Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Douthat wrote that it is a “press failure” for succumbing to “the narrative of Trumpian disaster” and ignoring the story.

“But this is also a press failure, a case where the media is not adequately reporting an important success because it does not fit into the narrative of Trumpian disaster in which our journalistic entities are all invested,” he wrote.

Earlier this month, Iraq declared its war against the Islamic State was over after more than three years of combat operations drove extremist fighters from all of the territories they once held.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Iraqi forces were in full control of the country’s border with Syria during remarks at a conference in Baghdad, and his spokesman said the development marked the end of the military fight against ISIS.

 “Trump has avoided the temptation often afflicting Republican uber-hawks, in which we’re supposed to fight all bad actors on 16 fronts at once. Instead he’s slow-walked his hawkish instincts on Iran, tolerated Assad and avoided dialing up tensions with Russia,” Douthat wrote.

Lastly, Douthat gives credit for Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – a move condemned by multiple countries across the globe – as recognizing that the Middle East has changed its priorities since the 1990s.

He wrote: “And the Trump strategy on Israel and the Palestinians, the butt of many Jared Kushner jokes, seems … not crazy?”

“The relatively mild reaction to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may be a case study in expert consensus falling behind the facts; the Arab world has different concerns than it did in 1995, and Trump’s move has helped clarify that change.”

Douthat ended the article: “So very provisionally, credit belongs where it’s due — to our soldiers and diplomats, yes, but to our president as well.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Sarah Palin's oldest son, Track, arraigned on domestic violence charges

Dec 17, 2017 17

Track Palin, the oldest son of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was arraigned Sunday after being arrested a day earlier on charges of domestic violence.

Palin, 28, was charged with first-degree burglary, one charge of fourth-degree assault and one charge of fourth-degree criminal mischief, KTUU reported. The news station also reported Palin is in custody at the Mat-Su Pre-Trial Facility in Palmer, about 20 miles northeast of Wasilla.

He was charged with misdemeanor mischief for allegedly causing up to $500 in property damage, according to the Los Angeles Times.

SARAH PALIN’S OLDEST SON ARRESTED IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASE

Palin’s arrest on charges of domestic violence isn’t his first. In January 2016, he was charged with assault, interfering with the report of a domestic violence crime and possessing a weapon while intoxicated in connection with the incident.

At the time, Palin’s girlfriend told law enforcement he punched her in the face, and said she was scared he would shoot himself with an AR-15.

The girlfriend reportedly had bruising and swelling around her left eye, and she said her right knee hurt after Palin kicked her there.

Sarah Palin, the vice presidential candidate alongside Sen. John McCain in 2008, took heat after the arrest for seemingly saying President Obama was at fault for her son’s issues following his service in the Iraq War.

“My son, like so many others, they come back a bit different. They come back hardened,” Sarah Palin said. “They come back wondering if there is that respect for what it is that their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military have sacrificially given to this country and that starts at the top.”

She added that military members look to Obama and question whether he knows the sacrifices they make to “secure America and to secure freedoms.”

‘ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM’: PALIN DEFENDS SON AFTER DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ARREST

Track Palin served in Iraq for one year in 2008 as part of the Alaska-based 25th Infantry Division’s 1st Stryker Brigade, according to KTUU.

He also made headlines in Sept. 2014 after reports circulated that the well-known family got into a brawl at a house party in Anchorage in which Track, who had blood near his hands and mouth, initially appeared “belligerent” when speaking to a police officer. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nicole Darrah covers breaking and trending news for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @nicoledarrah.

Obama administration undermined anti-Hezbollah task force to help secure Iran nuke deal, report says

Dec 17, 2017 19

The Obama administration gave a free pass to Hezbollah’s drug-trafficking and money-laundering operations — some of which were unfolding inside the U.S. — to help ensure the Iran nuclear deal would stay on track, according to a bombshell exposé in Politico Sunday.

An elaborate campaign led by the Drug Enforcement Administration, known as Project Cassandra, reportedly targeted the Lebanese militant group’s criminal activities. But by tossing a string of roadblocks holding back the project, Obama administration officials helped allow the 35-year-old anti-Israel criminal enterprise to evolve into a major global security threat bankrolling terrorist and military operations, the report added.

“This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision,” David Asher, who helped establish Project Cassandra as a Defense Department illicit finance analyst in 2008, told Politico. “They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”

When Project Cassandra leaders, who were working out of a DEA’s Counter facility in Chantilly, Virginia, sought an OK for some significant investigations, prosecutions, arrests and financial sanctions, Justice and Treasury Department officials delayed, hindered or rejected their requests, according to Politico.

The red tape halted Project Cassandra’s efforts to curtail top Hezbollah operatives, including one of the world’s biggest cocaine traffickers who was also supplying conventional and chemical weapons used by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad against his own citizens. That operative’s code name: the “Ghost.”

Former Obama administration officials told Politico anonymously that their decisions were guided by improving relations with Iran, stalling its nuclear weapons program and freeing four Americans prisoners held by the country. They also denied they “derailed” actions against Hezbollah out of politics.

“There has been a consistent pattern of actions taken against Hezbollah, both through tough sanctions and law enforcement actions before and after the Iran deal,” Kevin Lewis who worked at both the White House and Justice Department during the Obama administration, responded.

Asher said the closer the U.S. got to finalizing the Iran nuclear deal, the more difficult it was to conduct Hezbollah investigations. After President Obama announced the deal in January 2016, Project Cassandra officials were transferred to other assignments.

“The closer we got to the [Iran deal], the more these activities went away,” Asher 49, who speaks fluent Japanese and earned his Ph.D. in international relations from Oxford University, told Politico. “So much of the capability, whether it was special operations, whether it was law enforcement, whether it was [Treasury] designations — even the capacity, the personnel assigned to this mission — it was assiduously drained, almost to the last drop, by the end of the Obama administration.”

Hezbollah was formed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in 1982 to fight Israel’s invasion of Beirut. Under the leadership of Hassan Nasrallah, who took over in 1992 after his predecessor, Abbas Mussawi, was killed in an Israeli airstrike, the group moved from seeking to implement an Iranian-style Islamic republic in Lebanon to focusing on fighting Israel and integration into Lebanon’s sectarian-based politics.

Nasrallah, now 57, has played a key role in ending a feud among Shiites, focusing attention toward fighting Israel and later expanding the group’s regional reach.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.