What We’re Watching: Mar-a-Lago  "under siege," US pitches Africa, Italy’s left falters, Greek spy scandal

Former US President Donald Trump

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Trump claims FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago

Former US President Donald Trump said Monday that the Feds were searching his sprawling residence in Palm Beach, Florida. In a statement, Trump complained that his swanky Mar-a-Lago estate is "currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents." If his claim is true, the raid would be a big escalation in efforts by the Department of Justice to investigate the former president for trying to overturn the 2020 election result and inciting the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol building in Washington, DC that resulted in several deaths. It could also be related to a separate DOJ probe into 15 boxes of classified documents that Trump took with him to Mar-a-Lago after leaving office. Although federal law prohibits moving classified material to unauthorized locations, Trump might argue that, in his final days as president, he got to make the final call on declassifying the files. Either way, the raid — which has not yet been confirmed by the DOJ — will surely cause political ripples in the coming days: the former president and his fans will cite the search as proof that the so-called "deep state" is trying to stop him from running again in 2024, while Democrats and never-Trump Republicans likely hope that the FBI was indeed looking for evidence linked to the Jan. 6 committee hearings that could help indict Trump.


Blinken goes to Africa

The battle for Africa continues. This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on a three-nation tour of the continent. Currently in South Africa, Blinken will soon head to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, where he’ll seek to shore up support for the West’s position amid the ongoing war in Ukraine. Blinken’s tour comes just weeks after his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, wrapped up a multination African tour focused on reassuring African allies – many of whom rely on Russian arms exports – of Moscow’s commitment to alleviating the global food crisis. Indeed, US-South Africa relations have been somewhat rocky in recent years, in part due to former President Donald Trump reneged on Washington’s commitment to helping developing countries meet their climate goals. In recent years, China became Pretoria’s largest trade partner, something else Washington is keen to address. Blinken is also expected to try and bolster regional efforts to enforce a truce between the DRC and Rwanda amid ongoing clashes on the border. The US wants to present itself as a more reliable and valuable partner at a time when both Russia and China have made significant inroads throughout the continent. The problem? Many African states don't want to have to choose.

Italy’s left in turmoil

Italy’s far-right was dealt another boon after a centrist party pulled its support for its rival left-wing coalition. Carlo Calenda, leader of the Azione (Action) Party and Italy’s former permanent representative to the EU, ditched the left-leaning bloc led by the Democratic Party after its leader, Enrico Letta, signed a parallel deal with the Sinistra Italiana and Europa Verde parties (two anti-establishment leftist groups) in a bid to build a bulwark against the right ahead of general elections on September 25. The far-right – made up of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy Party, Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant Lega Party, and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – would now win a combined vote share of 46%, compared with the left’s 30%, according to recent polls. Calenda said he refused to run with the two parties that had long sought to destabilize outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government, leading to his eventual resignation last month. (Sinistra Italiana and Europa Verde notably both voted against Finland and Sweden joining NATO.) If the far-right prevails next month as expected, it could stonewall efforts to make the structural reforms needed to unlock billions of euros in pandemic relief that Italy’s inflation-hit economy desperately needs.

Watergateopoulos in Athens

The Greek government is reeling from a spying scandal that has already seen two high-level resignations from the center-right government of PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis. It appears that the spy agency, which reports directly to Mitsotakis’s office, used spyware to tap the cellphone of his most prominent political rival, Nikos Androulakis, who heads the social democrat Pasok Party. Androulakis evidently discovered the breach during a routine scrub of his devices by the European Parliament, of which he is a member. Mitsotakis says the eavesdropping was an unforgivable mistake that he didn’t know anything about and wouldn’t have allowed. So far his spy chief and his nephew, a trusted aide, have both stepped down in a bid to keep the scandal from ensnaring their boss directly. The news comes after revelations that the state may also have spied on two journalists, reviving bad memories of the country’s 20th century military dictatorship.
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