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FBI Probes Into Donald Trump’s Relationship With Russia

Comey’s firing, rather than ending the Russia investigation, led directly to the appointment, over Trump’s objections, of Mueller

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A combination of file photos show U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House in Washington, April 9, 2018, and former FBI Director James Comey on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 8, 2017. VOA

The New York Times is reporting that FBI officials were so alarmed by President Donald Trump’s behavior after he fired former FBI Director James Comey that they started investigating whether he was working against American interests.

The Times cited anonymous former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation Friday who said counterintelligence investigators looked into whether “Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.”

The officials told the newspaper that after Comey was fired in May 2107, they become concerned when Trump tied the firing of Comey to the Russia investigation.

Trump actions questioned

Law enforcement officials have previously confirmed that after the firing the FBI opened an investigation into whether the action constituted obstruction of justice. However, what has not been made public is that law enforcement officials also sought to determine whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security, according to the Times.

USA, Trump, senate, FBI
Special counsel Robert Mueller, in charge of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, departs Capitol Hill, in Washington, June 21, 2017. VOA

The entire investigation was taken over several days later when special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to investigate Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election as well as possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Trump reacted to the New York Times report in a post on Twitter early Saturday: “Wow, just learned in the Failing New York Times that the corrupt former leaders of the FBI, almost all fired or forced to leave the agency for some very bad reasons, opened up an investigation on me, for no reason & with no proof, after I fired Lyin’ James Comey, a total sleaze!”

There has been no public evidence that Trump was in contact with Russia during the election campaign and Trump has long denied any illicit connection. Russia has also denied the allegations.

Giuliani: Nothing found

A lawyer for Trump, Rudolph Giuliani, told the Times that if FBI officials had concluded Trump was working against American interests, the public would have heard about it.

Fbi, Prosecutors
Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn in during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOAA combination of file photos show U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House in Washington, April 9, 2018, and former FBI Director James Comey on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 8, 2017.

“The fact that it goes back a year and a half and nothing came of it that showed a breach of national security means they found nothing,” Giuliani told the paper.

Two days after Trump dismissed Comey in May 2017, he told NBC News anchor Lester Holt that he was going to fire Comey regardless, “knowing there was no good time to do it,” but was thinking of the Russia investigation when he decided to dismiss him.

Also Read: The Senate Judiciary Committee is Renewing Its Attempt To Protect Special Counselor Robert Muller

“When I did this, now I said to myself, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,’” Trump said.

Comey’s firing, rather than ending the Russia investigation, led directly to the appointment, over Trump’s objections, of Mueller, another former FBI director, to take over the Russia probe. Trump has repeatedly called the Russia probe a “witch hunt.” (VOA)

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“They Don’t Make Prayerful Offerings When They Harvest,” Story Of The Native American Church

“The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

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Church
The sun sets over the gateway of peyotera Amada Cardenas's house in Mirando City, Texas. Ironwork reflects core Native American Church values of faith, hope, love and charity. VOA

Back in the day, when the “grandmas and grandpas” of the Native American Church (NAC) needed peyote, they would make a 2,000-kilometer pilgrimage from the reservations of South Dakota to the tiny town of Mirando City, Texas, close to the U.S. border with Mexico. That’s where they could find Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman who at the time was the only peyote dealer in Texas.

Cardenas was not Native American, nor was she a member of the NAC. But she understood how sacred the medicine was to church members and defended its use as a religious sacrament to those who sought to ban it.

Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994.
Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994. VOA

“After Amada’s passing, the peyote distribution system lost heart and seemed to be about monetary compensation,” said Iron Rope, former chairman of the Native American Church of North America (NACNA) and today chairman of the NAC of South Dakota. He is concerned that the remaining three or four peyote dealers in Texas — all non-Native — don’t give “the medicine” the reverence they should.

“They don’t make prayerful offerings when they harvest,” Iron Rope said. “We’ve heard reports about intoxicated harvesters. Sometimes, the medicine that comes to us was mushy or small, and the harvesting technique was not one that would allow regrowth.”

Careless and sometimes illegal harvesting, along with increased land and resource development in Texas, has led to a decline in peyote’s quality and availability. Prices have gone up, and church members worry the cactus, now listed as a vulnerable species, could become endangered.

In 2013, NACNA began researching ways to conserve peyote and its natural habitat.

Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico.
Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico. VOA

Pan-Native religion

Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a succulent that contains psychoactive alkaloids and only grows in southern Texas and a handful of states in northern Mexico.

Indigenous people have used it ceremonially and medicinally for centuries, as noted by 16th century Spanish missionaries, who condemned it as an evil. Peyote use persisted, however, and by the late 1800s, had spread to present-day Oklahoma, where tribes adapted it to suit their individual spiritual traditions.

In the face of government efforts to ban peyote, peyotists in the early 20th century sought to incorporate as a formal religion. In 1918, an intertribal group established the NAC, which has evolved to include tens of thousands of members across dozens of tribal nations. Members view the church as an important component of healing from historic trauma and reconnecting to tradition.

Peyote was banned in the United States in 1970, but the law was later amended to allow peyote to be used in “bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church.”

Texas allows several peyoteros registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to harvest and sell peyote, but only to card-carrying NAC members with proven Native American ancestry.

Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007.
Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007. VOA

‘A beautiful ceremony’

Unlike other religious denominations, said Iron Rope, the NAC is not a unified theology.

“Different variations of the ceremony have come into play,” he said. “There are Christian aspects to the NAC today and traditional aspects, as well.”

Wynema Morris, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and an NAC member, grew up with an understanding of the sacredness of peyote and the religious etiquette surrounding its use.

“It was my own grandfather, Samuel Thomas Gilpin, who actually received peyote early on from the Winnebagos, a neighboring tribe, and passed it on to his sons, my uncles,” she said.

This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled "Cheyenne Peyote Leader." Courtesy: Library of Congress.
This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled “Cheyenne Peyote Leader.” Courtesy: Library of Congress. VOA

Peyote is much misunderstood and maligned, she said, viewed by many anthropologists through the lens of colonial prejudice.

“I don’t like their use of the word ‘hallucinations,’” she said. “You don’t use peyote to get high. You use it to pray and communicate with God — the same God everyone else talks to.”

She described all-night services of prayer, song and meditation.

“The ceremony is beautiful,” she said. “The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

Sacred gardens

In 2013, NACNA began looking at ways to conserve and sustain peyote for future generations of indigenous Americans, Mexicans and Canadians.

“It was our intent to eventually have our own land and be able to have our own peyote dealer who could understand our concerns as the Native American Church,” said Iron Rope.

The sun sets over "the 605," acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church.
The sun sets over “the 605,” acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church. VOA

In 2017, NACNA and partner organizations formally launched the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI). With funding from the Riverstyx Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research of medicinal uses of psychoactive plants, IPCI purchased 245 hectares (605 acres) of land in Thompsonville, Texas, to serve as “Sacred Peyote Gardens.”

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It is their hope that by 2021, “the 605” will house a nursery, residential and guest housing, and youth training, all supported by peyote sales.

“It’s about generations to come,” said Iron Rope. “To reconnect them to the land and to the medicine. And that’s the healing process that we’ve been missing.” (VOA)