Germany hunts for ‘Russian spies’ in government – Zeit

Economic Ministry officials are suspected of Kremlin sympathies over documents “deviating” from the government line

Germany’s counter-intelligence has been investigating two senior officials at the Ministry of Economic Affairs because Minister Robert Habeck suspected them of being Russian spies, the weekly Zeit reported on Wednesday. The outlet described the revelation as “explosive” and having the “makings of a political scandal.”

Habeck and his aides contacted the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz, also known as BfV) sometime this spring, citing “inconsistencies in internal documents” related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, natural gas in storage facilities, and the report on Germany’s energy security, Zeit wrote.

The documents reportedly “oozed understanding” for the Russian point of view and the arguments stated in them “often did not match the government’s official line,” according to the weekly. The officials allegedly “deviated” from Habeck’s position on halting the certification of Nord Stream 2, the status of Gazprom Germany, as well as the bailout of the gas supplier Uniper. 

Checking into the officials, BfV reportedly found “biographical anomalies,” such as a study trip to Russia in one case and “emotional closeness to Russia” – but nothing more substantial. According to Zeit, “no solid evidence has been found” of either espionage or corruption. There wasn’t even probable cause to wiretap their phones, read their emails, or put the two officials under surveillance. 

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Neither the BfV nor Zeit named the officials, mindful of the “nightmare” underwent by diplomat Gerhard Sabathil in 2020. Accused of being a spy for China, he has never been able to recover his reputation even though the charges were dropped.

Germany has long relied on imports of cheap energy from Russia to power its industry. In a speech announcing a special gas tax on August 15, Habeck declared that this model had “failed and is not coming back.”

With top ministry officials being civil servants set in their ways, and many of those dealing with energy described as “east-leaning,” it is possible one or two of them have not yet “completed the mental turn,” Zeit speculated.

The investigation is apparently still ongoing, but both potential outcomes spell trouble for the government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz. If Habeck was right and the two men are “Kremlin moles,” then Russia will have succeeded in infiltrating one of the most important ministries in Berlin. If he was wrong, the influential Green Party politician will have to explain how he was fooled into launching a witch-hunt against the civil servants. Either way, Zeit noted, the investigation is “likely to alienate” the bureaucracy.

White House deems Trump supporters ‘extremist threat’

Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, declared the “MAGA Republicans” a threat to democracy and freedom

Republicans who support the Donald Trump campaign’s “Make America Great Again” slogan pose an existential threat to American democracy, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday. 

The president thinks that there is an extremist threat to our democracy,” Jean-Pierre began, arguing US President Joe Biden had been “as clear as he can be on that particular piece.” 

Implying her words had come directly from Biden, she explained, “The way that he sees it is the MAGA Republicans are the most energized part of the Republican Party … This is an extreme threat to our democracy, to our freedom, to our rights.” 

Karine Jean-Pierre says that people who voted for Donald Trump are “a threat to our democracy, to our freedom, to our rights.”

— John Cooper (@thejcoop) August 31, 2022

While she did not elaborate on the president’s plans to address that threat, she cautioned that “violence or threats of violence have absolutely no place in our society” no matter “which side of the aisle that you’re sitting on.

It wasn’t the first time the Biden administration has characterized supporters of the former president as an existential threat to the American way. Biden previously bashed “MAGA Republicans” at a donor event last week, likening their “philosophy” to “semi-fascism” and insisting they “don’t just threaten our personal rights and economic security” but “refuse to accept the will of the people” and “embrace … political violence,” posing a “threat to our very democracy.

It’s not hyperbole, now you need to vote to literally save democracy again,” he urged his supporters.

READ MORE: Trump demands election rerun ‘immediately’

Jean-Pierre subsequently defended the controversial remarks, urging doubters to “look at the definition of fascism” and “think about what [MAGA Republicans are] doing in attacking our democracy, what they are doing in taking away our freedoms … our voting rights.” However, she denied it was an attack on all Trump voters, insisting the president was referring only to “the extreme ultra wing of Republicans.” 

Critics claim Biden has made demonizing the opposition party a centerpiece of his reelection campaign, marking a hard shift from the start of his presidency. The Democrat career politician had initially pleaded for unity among a deeply-divided electorate as accusations of election fraud and the aftermath of the January 6 Capitol riot cast a long shadow over his inauguration. 

The tactic has reminded many of former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s infamous denunciation of half of Trump’s voters as a “basket of deplorables” riddled with racism, sexism, and other unwholesome attributes. Despite what she seemed to believe was a certain win, Clinton lost to Trump in 2016, having failed to win over the “other” half of his supporters.

Trump received over 74 million votes in 2020 and 63 million in 2016, according to official figures.

Restricting access to abortion is ‘sinful,’ top Democrat says

Nancy Pelosi has attempted to make a religious argument against blocking women from terminating pregnancies

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, has marked Women’s Equality Day by arguing that restricting access to abortions is “sinful,” a position that doesn’t appear to align with her professed Catholic faith.

Speaking last week at the Roundtable on Women’s Reproductive Health in San Francisco, Pelosi condemned bans or restrictions on abortion in Republican-led states as “unjust.” She added, “The fact that this is such an assault on women of color and women – lower-income families – is just sinful. It’s sinful. It’s wrong that they would be able to say to women what they think women should be doing with their lives and their bodies.”

Heading into November’s congressional midterm elections, which will likely determine whether President Joe Biden can continue forcing through his policy agenda, Democrats have turned to abortion as a key campaign issue. The contentious topic came to the forefront after the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade court ruling in June, finding that abortion isn’t a constitutionally protected right.

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Pelosi warned that if Republicans take back control of Congress, they will enact a national ban on abortion – perhaps an unlikely scenario, given that Biden has vowed to veto any such bill. “It’s sinful, the injustice of it all,” she said.

The 82-year-old lawmaker said Republicans were disregarding the health needs of women, diminishing opportunities for the children they may already have and potentially preventing them from being able to have children in the future. “Let us understand the assault that this is on women, women of color . . . lower-income women. And it’s an injustice, an injustice that we will not tolerate and cannot stand.”

Pelosi, who has repeatedly touted her Catholic faith, has clashed with the Catholic church over her support for abortion rights. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has said that he will no longer allow the politician to receive Holy Communion, saying she was perpetrating a “grave evil.”

READ MORE: US senators battle over who can get pregnant

However, she wasn’t the only self-described Catholic congresswoman to speak out against abortion restrictions at the roundtable in San Francisco. “The fact that we have a government now on a federal level that is mandating pregnancy – government-mandated pregnancy – flies in the face of every personal freedom on which our country is founded,” Representative Jackie Speier, also a California Democrat, said at the event.

READ MORE: White House condemns ‘devastating’ abortion ban

The US has no federal ban on abortion. None of the state-level restrictions vary by skin color.