There’s a Rumor That ISIS Leader al-Baghdadi Is Dead . . . Again

by Jim Geraghty

Here’s hoping.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters on Tuesday that it had “confirmed information” that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed.

“(We have) confirmed information from leaders, including one of the first rank, in the Islamic State in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor,” the director of the British-based war monitoring group Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters.

Baghdadi’s death had been announced many times before but the Observatory has a track record of credible reporting on Syria’s civil war.

Abdulrahman said Observatory sources in Syria’s eastern town of Deir al-Zor had been told by Islamic State sources that Baghdadi had died “but they did not specify when”.

Yes, a lot of times, these rumors about an enemy leader’s death turn out to be wishful thinking or mistaken identity, but, every once in a while, they pan out. The Taliban covered up the death of Mullah Omar for two years.

We’ve learned better than to get our hopes up from rumors like this, but . . . assume for a moment it’s true: ISIS loses Mosul, is getting squeezed in Raqqa, and then al-Baghdadi bites the dust?

And while it’s not like these latest victories against ISIS have accumulated overnight . . .  doesn’t it seem like the momentum in the fight against these terrorists in 2017 is considerably stronger than in previous years?

Just What Did Donald Trump Jr. Know Going into That Meeting?

On yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, Greg and I wondered just how loose the requirements were to get a face-to-face meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner last year. Could just anybody get in the door and get a sit-down meeting at the height of the campaign just by promising they knew damaging information about the Clintons? I mean, didn’t we all know some (already-disclosed) damaging information about the Clintons?

This morning, the New York Times reveals that mutual friend who arranged the meeting, and quotes unnamed sources claiming the origin of the alleged damaging information wasn’t so vague after all:

Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting.

At any point did anyone ask, “Hey, why would a publicist and former British tabloid reporter have access to Russian government information?” Most of the media world is jumping up and down, excited that this is the long-desired evidence of collusion that they’ve sought. I find the bigger, more troubling question to be the performance of Donald Trump Jr.’s BS detector.

The Guardian offers a bit of background on Mr. Goldstone:

The music publicist has for several years shuttled between the US and Russia while representing Agalarov. According to his Instagram account, Goldstone has made at least 19 visits to Russia since the spring of 2013. In one post he described Moscow as his second home.

He has also made at least eight trips to Baku, the capital of the former Soviet state Azerbaijan, where his client Agalarov was born and retains a large fan base. Donald Trump appeared in a music video with Agalarov in 2013 that featured several Miss Universe contestants, a pageant he owned at that time. In November that year, Trump tweeted to Agalarov: “I had a great weekend with you and your family. You have done a FANTASTIC job. TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next. EMIN was WOW!”

Over at PJ Media, Liz Sheld points out that the Times article appears to contradict itself. First . . . 

Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

But then a few paragraphs later . . . 

It is unclear whether Mr. Goldstone had direct knowledge of the origin of the damaging material. One person who was briefed on the emails said it appeared that he was passing along information that had been passed through several others.

Wait, if he may not have known the “direct origin” of the material, how did he know it was “part of a Russian government effort”?

Oddly, the Times appears to have interviewed Goldstone, but can’t clear up that question of if or how he knew the information was from the Russian government.

Mr. Goldstone said Ms. Veselnitskaya offered “just a vague, generic statement about the campaign’s funding and how people, including Russian people, living all over the world donate when they shouldn’t donate” before turning to her anti-Magnitsky Act arguments.

“It was the most inane nonsense I’ve ever heard,” he said. “And I was actually feeling agitated by it. Had I, you know, actually taken up what is a huge amount of their busy time with this nonsense?”

This morning, Natalia Veselnitskaya offered her side of the story to NBC News.

“I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that,” Natalia Veselnitskaya said.

When asked how Trump Jr. seemed to have the impression that she had information about the Democratic National Committee, she responded:

“It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted.”

She also appears to want to get Kushner and Manafort off the hook:

“I could recognize the young gentleman who was only present in the meeting for probably the first seven to 10 minutes, and then he stood up and left the room,” she said. “It was Mr. Jared Kushner. And he never came back, by the way.

“And the other individual who was always in the same meeting, but all the time he was looking at his phone. He was reading something. He never took any active part in the conversation. That was Mr. Manafort.”

I wonder if Manafort was texting someone, “Remind me never to accept an invitation to a meeting from Donald Jr. again.”

Will West Virginia Republicans Unite after Their 2018 Senate Primary?

The good news for Republicans is that they’ll probably have a good shot at knocking off West Virginia Democatic Senator Joe Manchin next year. The bad news is that state attorney general Patrick Morrisey and Congressman Evan Jenkins both want to be the Republican Senate nominee very badly, and they’re likely to fight hammer and tongs in the primary — and that’s not even mentioning former coal miner Bo Copley.

Yesterday I broke the news that Morrisey was making his Senate bid official; he had been strongly rumored to be likely to run in recent months. In fact, the 35th PAC is already hitting Jenkins as being one of “two peas in a pod with Manchin.”

Right now, the primary is scheduled for May 8, 2018, although legislation could possibly move it to February. But at minimum, we’re looking at seven and a half months of primary fighting between the GOP candidates . . . or maybe it will be ten and a half months of primary fighting. Better hope everyone’s in a mood to unite when all is said and done.

You can read my February profile of Morrisey here . . . and I notice my words have become one of those floating-headline blurbs in his first campaign video.

ADDENDA: Representative Trent Franks, asking the most disturbing question in the controversy surrounding the lack of treatment for British infant Charlie Gard:

I am Charlie Gard. You are Charlie Gard. Theresa May is Charlie Gard. Every person on the European Court of Human Rights — each one who has sentenced him to death — is Charlie Gard.

If this ruling stands, how long before each of us is just one bad accident, one disease, one diagnosis away from being too old, too fragile, too disabled, too “unfit,” to be worth keeping alive?

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty