Hacked emails Reveal Clinton Team was Coordinating Secret Off-the-Books Operations in Libya

Via ProPublica:

his story was co-published with Gawker.

Update, March 27, 6:48 p.m.: This story has been updated to include responses from the FBI and the State Department.

Starting weeks before Islamic militants attacked the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, longtime Clinton family confidante Sidney Blumenthal supplied intelligence to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gathered by  a secret network that included a former CIA clandestine service officer, according to hacked emails from Blumenthal’s account.

The emails, which were posted on the internet in 2013, also show that Blumenthal and another close Clinton associate discussed contracting with a retired Army special operations commander to put operatives on the ground near the Libya-Tunisia border while Libya’s civil war raged in 2011.

Blumenthal’s emails to Clinton, which were directed to her private email account, include at least a dozen detailed reports on events on the deteriorating political and security climate in Libya as well as events in other nations. They came to light after a hacker broke into Blumenthal’s account and have taken on new significance in light of the disclosure that she conducted State Department and personal business exclusively over an email server that she controlled and kept secret from State Department officials and which only recently was discovered by congressional investigators.

The contents of that account are now being sought by a congressional inquiry into the Benghazi attacks. Clinton has handed over more than 30,000 pages of her emails to the State Department, after unilaterally deciding which ones involved government business; the State Department has so far handed almost 900 pages of those over to the committee. A Clinton spokesman told Gawker and ProPublica (which are collaborating on this story) that she has turned over all the emails Blumenthal sent to Clinton.

The dispatches from Blumenthal to Clinton’s private email address were posted online after Blumenthal’s account was hacked in 2013 by Romanian hacker Marcel-Lehel Lazar, who went by the name Guccifer. Lazar also broke into accounts belonging to George W. Bush’s sister, Colin Powell, and others. He’s now serving a seven-year sentence in his home country and was charged in a U.S. indictment last year.

The contents of the memos, which have recently become the subject of speculation in the right-wing media, raise new questions about how Clinton used her private email account and whether she tapped into an undisclosed back channel for information on Libya’s crisis and other foreign policy matters.

Blumenthal, a New Yorker staff writer in the 1990s, became a top aide to President Bill Clinton and worked closely with Hillary Clinton during the fallout from the Whitewater investigation into the Clinton family.  She tried to hire him when she joined President Obama’s cabinet in 2009, but White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel reportedly nixed the idea on the grounds Blumenthal was a divisive figure whose attacks on Obama during the Democratic primary had poisoned his relationship with the new administration.

It’s unclear who tasked Blumenthal, known for his fierce loyalty to the Clintons, with preparing detailed intelligence briefs. It’s also not known who was paying him, or where the operation got its money. The memos were marked “confidential” and relied in many cases on “sensitive” sources in the Libyan opposition and Western intelligence and security services. Other reports focused on Egypt, Germany, and Turkey.

Indeed, though they were sent under Blumenthal’s name, the reports appear to have been gathered and prepared by Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of the CIA’s clandestine service in Europe who left the agency in 2005. Since then, he has established a consulting firm called Tyler Drumheller, LLC. He has also been affiliated with a firm called DMC Worldwide, which he co-founded with Washington, D.C., attorney Danny Murray and former general counsel to the U.S. Capitol Police John Caulfield. DMC Worldwide’s now-defunct website describes it at as offering “innovative security and intelligence solutions to global risks in a changing world.”

In one exchange in March 2013, Blumenthal emailed Drumheller, “Thanks. Can you send Libya report.” Drumheller replied, “Here it is, pls do not share it with Cody. I don’t want moin speculating on sources. It is on the Maghreb and Libya.” Cody is Cody Shearer, a longtime Clinton family operative—his brother was an ambassador under Bill Clinton and his now-deceased sister was married to Clinton State Department official Strobe Talbott—who was in close contact with Blumenthal. While it’s not entirely clear from the documents, “Moin” may refer to the nickname of Mohamed Mansour El Kikhia, a member of the Kikhia family, a prominent Libyan clan with ties to the Libyan National Transition Council. (An email address in Blumenthal’s address book, which was also leaked, was associated with his Facebook page.)

There’s no indication in Blumenthal’s emails whether Clinton read or replied to them before she left State on February 1, 2013, but he was clearly part of a select group with knowledge of the private clintonemail.com address, which was unknown to the public until

Gawker published it this year. They do suggest that she interacted with Blumenthal using the account after she stepped down. “H: got your message a few days ago,” reads the subject line of one email from Blumenthal to Clinton on February 8, 2013; “H: fyi, will continue to send relevant intel,” reads another.

The memos cover a wide array of subjects in extreme detail, from German Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s conversations with her finance minister about French president Francois Hollande–marked “THIS INFORMATION COMES FROM AN EXTREMELY SENSITIVE SOURCE”—to the composition of the newly elected South Korean president’s transition team. At least 10 of the memos deal in whole or in part with internal Libyan politics and the government’s fight against militants, including the status of the Libyan oil industry and the prospects for Western companies to participate.

One memo was sent on August 23, 2012, less than three weeks before Islamic militants stormed the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. It cites “an extremely sensitive source” who highlighted a string of bombings and kidnappings of foreign diplomats and aid workers in Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata, suggesting they were the work of people loyal to late Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi.

While the memo doesn’t rise to the level of a warning about the safety of U.S. diplomats, it portrays a deteriorating security climate. Clinton noted a few days after the Benghazi attack, which left four dead and 10 people injured, that U.S. intelligence officials didn’t have advance knowledge of the threat.

On September 12, 2012, the day after the Benghazi attack, Blumenthal sent a memo that cited a “sensitive source” saying that the interim Libyan president, Mohammed Yussef el Magariaf, was told by a senior security officer that the assault was inspired by an anti-Muslim video made in the U.S., as well as by allegations from  Magariaf’s political opponents that he had CIA ties.

Blumenthal followed up the next day with an email titled “Re: More Magariaf private reax.” It said Libyan security officials believed an Islamist radical group called the Ansa al Sharia brigade had prepared the attack a month in advance and “took advantage of the cover” provided by the demonstrations against the video.

An October 25, 2012 memo says that Magariaf and the Libyan army chief of staff agree that the “situation in the country is becoming increasingly dangerous and unmanageable” and “far worse” than Western leaders realize.

Blumenthal’s email warnings, of course, followed a year of Libyan hawkishness on the part of Clinton. In February of 2011, she told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that “it is time for Gaddafi to go.” The next month, after having described Russian reluctance over military intervention as “despicable,” Clinton met with rebel leaders in Paris and drummed up support for a no-fly zone while in Cairo. On March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council voted to back Libyan rebels against Gaddafi.

It’s this buildup, which Clinton still proudly recalled in her 2014 memoir, that Blumenthal appears to join in on 2011. In addition to the intel memos, his emails also disclose that he and his associates worked to help the Libyan opposition, and even plotted to insert operatives on the ground using a private contractor.

A May 14, 2011 email exchange between Blumenthal and Shearer shows that they were negotiating with Drumheller to contract with someone referred to as “Grange” and “the general” to place send four operatives on a week-long mission to Tunis, Tunisia, and “to the border and back.” Tunisia borders Libya and Algeria.

“Sid, you are doing great work on this,” Drumheller wrote to Blumenthal. “It is going to be around $60,000, coverting r/t business class airfare to Tunis, travel in country to the border and back, and other expenses for 7–10 days for 4 guys.”

After Blumenthal forwarded that note to Shearer, he wrote back questioning the cost of the operation. “Sid, do you think the general has to send four guys. He told us three guys yesterday, a translator and two other guys. I understand the difficulty of the mission and realize that K will be repaid but I am going to need an itemized budget for these guys.”

“The general” and “Grange” appear to refer to David L. Grange, a major general in the Army who ran a secret Pentagon special operations unit before retiring in 1999. Grange subsequently founded Osprey Global Solutions, a consulting firm and government contractor that offers logistics, intelligence, security training, armament sales, and other services. The Osprey Foundation, which is a nonprofit arm of Osprey Global Solutions, is listed as one of the State Department’s “global partners” in a 2014 report from the Office of Global Partnerships.’

Among the documents in the cache released by Lazar is an August 24, 2011, memorandum of understanding between Osprey Global Solutions and the Libyan National Transition Council—the entity that took control in the wake of Qadaffi’s execution—agreeing that Osprey will contract with the NTC to “assist in the resumption of access to its assets and operations in country” and train Libyan forces in intelligence, weaponry, and “rule-of-land warfare.” The document refers to meetings held in Amman, Jordan between representatives of Osprey and a Mohammad Kikhia, who represented the National Transition Council.

Five months later, according to a document in the leak, Grange wrote on Osprey Global letterhead to Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro, introducing Osprey as a contractor eager to provide humanitarian and other assistance in Libya. “We are keen to support the people of Libya under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Finance and the Libyan Stock Exchange,” Grange wrote. Shapiro is a longtime Clinton loyalist; he served on her Senate staff as foreign policy advisor.

Another document in the cache, titled “Letter_for_Moin,” is an appeal from Drumheller to then-Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan offering the services of Tyler Drumheller LLC, “to develop a program that will provide discreet confidential information allowing the appropriate entities in Libya to address any regional and international challenges.”

The “K” who was, according to Shearer’s email, to be “repaid” for his role in the Tunisia operation appears to be someone named Khalifa al Sherif, who sent Blumenthal several emails containing up-to-the-minute information on the civil war in Libya, and appears to have been cited as a source in several of the reports.

Contacted by ProPublica and Gawker, Drumheller’s attorney and business partner Danny Murray confirmed that Drumheller “worked” with Blumenthal and was aware of the hacked emails, but declined to comment further.

Shearer said only that “the FBI is involved and told me not to talk. There is a massive investigation of the hack and all the resulting information.” The FBI declined to comment.

Blumenthal, Grange, and Kikhia all did not respond to repeated attempts to reach them. Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Clinton had no comment on Blumenthal’s activities with Drumheller.

Whatever Blumenthal, Shearer, Drumheller, and Grange were up to in 2011, 2012, and 2013 on Clinton’s behalf, it appears that she could have used the help: According to State Department personnel directories, in 2011 and 2012—the height of the Libya crisis—State didn’t have a Libyan desk officer, and the entire Near Eastern Magreb Bureau, which which covers Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, had just two staffers. Today, State has three Libyan desk officers and 11 people in the Near Eastern Magreb Bureau. A State Department official wouldn’t say how many officers were on the desk in 2011, but said there was always “at least one” officer and “sometimes many more, working on Libya.”

Reached for comment, a State Department public affairs official who would only speak on background declined to address questions about Blumenthal’s relationship to Clinton, whether she was aware of the intelligence network, and who if anyone was paying Blumenthal. Asked about the Tunisia-Libya mission, the official replied, “There was a trip with the secretary in October of 2011, but there was also a congressional delegation in April, 2011. There were media reports about both of these at the time.” Neither trip involved travelling via Tunis.

Report: top democrats expedited immigration applications for companies owned by top donors, cronies

Via the Washington Free Beacon:

A legal watchdog group on Thursday asked the Department of Justice to investigate allegations that two senior Democratic officeholders illegally pushed federal officials to reward investors in companies to which they had personal, financial, or political ties.

Investors in those companies eventually received U.S. visas through a federal program despite concerns that they were involved in illegal activities or had tried to hide sources of their income from U.S. immigration officials.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Gov.  Terry McAuliffe (D) of Virginia may have illegally facilitated that process at the expense of less politically connected applicants for the same program, according to Cause of Action, a conservative legal watchdog group.

In a letter to the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, Cause of Action alleges that Reid and McAuliffe used their considerable political clout to expedite consideration of visas for investors in the SLS Las Vegas Hotel and Casino and GreenTech Automotive.

McAuliffe founded GreenTech; he resigned from the company before running for governor. The former’s parent company hired Reid’s son Rory in 2012 to help it obtain government incentives. Its executives donated thousands to Sen. Reid after its Chinese investors obtained U.S. visas.

Cause of Action’s letter comes on the heels of, and relies in large part on, a report from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general released on Tuesday.

That report revealed additional details about Reid’s and McAuliffe’s communications with Alejandro Mayorkas, then the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the EB-5 visa program, as it is known.

Cause of Action is asking DOJ to investigate potential criminal conduct by Mayorkas in addition to McAulfife and Reid.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Spokesmen for Reid and USCIS referred to their previous statements regarding the report when asked for comment.

Career USCIS officials described Mayorkas’ work on GreenTech’s behalf as “politically motivated,” according to the report. The IG found that Mayorkas “created an appearance of favoritism and special access” by pushing for USCIS to expedite its EB-5 applications.

The report also exposed previously unknown details of Reid’s advocacy on behalf of SLS’ EB-5 investor petitions. Reid requested and received regular updates from Mayorkas and other USCIS officials on those petitions and requests to expedite them.

The report suggests that Reid’s advocacy on SLS’ behalf was “substantially beyond what is legally compliant behavior,” according to Dan Epstein, Cause of Action’s executive director.

The IG report noted that other applicants for EB-5 visas complained to USCIS that SLS was receiving preferential treatment. One called the process “blatantly unfair” and asked USCIS officials to  “look into who is getting favorable treatment before it becomes an extreme political football.”

Epstein said that such complaints suggest that Reid and McAuliffe advantaged EB-5 applications from SLS and GreenTech at the expense of other applicants, who were forced to wait in line while those companies saw their applications expedited.

“Senator Reid and then-candidate McAuliffe may have sued their political power to … pressure USCIS employees in a way that impeded USCIS functioning as a neutral adjudicator of USCIS visas,” Epstein told reporters during a conference call on Thursday.

Cause of Action is asking the Justice Department to investigate whether there is probable cause to believe that criminal conduct took place.

“Given the individuals involved, the pattern of malfeasance and the importance of public oversight, it is incumbent your division immediately investigate these matters,” the group’s letter said.

If its Public Integrity Section finds reason to believe that legal violations took place, U.S. Attorneys in the relevant states will decide whether to request an indictment.

The U.S. Attorney for the state of Nevada, Daniel Bogden, owes his position to Reid’s advocacy, but Epstein said he hopes the process will be free from the type of meddling that Cause of Action has criticized at USCIS.

“We hope [DOJ officials] are pursuing things based off the facts … and that those kinds of political considerations will not taint the proceedings of a fair investigation.”

Obama Admin Leaks Israeli Nuclear Secrets in Revenge

Via Arutz Sheva:

In a development that has largely been missed by mainstream media, the Pentagon early last month quietly declassified a Department of Defense top-secret document detailing Israel’s nuclear program, a highly covert topic that Israel has never formally announced to avoid a regional nuclear arms race, and which the US until now has respected by remaining silent.

But by publishing the declassified document from 1987, the US reportedly breached the silent agreement to keep quiet on Israel’s nuclear powers for the first time ever, detailing the nuclear program in great depth.

The timing of the revelation is highly suspect, given that it came as tensions spiraled out of control between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama ahead of Netanyahu’s March 3 address in Congress, in which he warned against the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program and how the deal being formed on that program leaves the Islamic regime with nuclear breakout capabilities.

Another highly suspicious aspect of the document is that while the Pentagon saw fit to declassify sections on Israel’s sensitive nuclear program, it kept sections on Italy, France, West Germany and other NATO countries classified, with those sections blocked out in the document.

The 386-page report entitled “Critical Technological Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations” gives a detailed description of how Israel advanced its military technology and developed its nuclear infrastructure and research in the 1970s and 1980s.

Israel is “developing the kind of codes which will enable them to make hydrogen bombs. That is, codes which detail fission and fusion processes on a microscopic and macroscopic level,” reveals the report, stating that in the 1980s Israelis were reaching the ability to create bombs considered a thousand times more powerful than atom bombs.

The revelation marks a first in which the US published in a document a description of how Israel attained hydrogen bombs.

The report also notes research laboratories in Israel “are equivalent to our Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories,” the key labs in developing America’s nuclear arsenal.

Israel’s nuclear infrastructure is “an almost exact parallel of the capability currently existing at our National Laboratories,” it adds.

“As far as nuclear technology is concerned the Israelis are roughly where the U.S. was in the fission weapon field in about 1955 to 1960,” the report reveals, noting a time frame just after America tested its first hydrogen bomb.

Institute for Defense Analysis, a federally funded agency operating under the Pentagon, penned the report back in 1987.

Aside from nuclear capabilities, the report revealed Israel at the time had “a totally integrated effort in systems development throughout the nation,” with electronic combat all in one “integrated system, not separated systems for the Army, Navy and Air Force.” It even acknowledged that in some cases, Israeli military technology “is more advanced than in the U.S.”

Declassifying the report comes at a sensitive timing as noted above, and given that the process to have it published was started three years ago, that timing is seen as having been the choice of the American government.

US journalist Grant Smith petitioned to have the report published based on the Freedom of Information Act. Initially the Pentagon took its time answering, leading Smith to sue, and a District Court judge to order the Pentagon to respond to the request.

Smith, who heads the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy, reportedly said he thinks this is the first time the US government has officially confirmed that Israel is a nuclear power, a status that Israel has long been widely known to have despite being undeclared.

‘exclusively for white people’ stickers was a hoax intended to perpetuate racial tension

Via Business Insider:

An activist lawyer in Austin admitted in a Facebook rant that he was behind the “exclusively for white people” stickers that appeared on store windows across the city last week, Mediaite reported.

Adam Reposa, who calls himself the ‘DWI Badass’ on his website, wrote on his Facebook page that he vandalized storefronts in an attempt to get people to care about gentrification.

“I never imagined it would be this easy,” he wrote on March 19. “Remember it is valuable to see just what giving a f*ck does to people as well as what not giving a f*ck does for people.”

Adam and his friends posted on his Facebook wall mocking Austin authorities, saying the prank’s cultural statement went “way over their heads.”

[…]

FEMA to deny funds to governors who question human-caused climate change

Via Philly.com:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is making it tougher for governors to deny man-made climate change. Starting next year, the agency will approve disaster-preparedness funds only for states whose governors approve hazard-mitigation plans that address climate change.

This may put several Republican governors who maintain that the Earth isn’t warming due to human activities, or prefer to take no action, in a political bind. Their position may block their states’ access to hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA funds. In the last five years, the agency has awarded an average $1 billion a year in grants to states and territories for taking steps to mitigate the effects of disasters.

“If a state has a climate denier governor that doesn’t want to accept a plan, that would risk mitigation work not getting done because of politics,” said Becky Hammer, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program. “The governor would be increasing the risk to citizens in that state” because of his climate beliefs.

[…]

Obamacare has increased cost of health insurance by an average of 49%

Via Forbes:

There are hundreds of aspects of Obamacare that people argue over. But there’s one question that matters above all others: does the Affordable Care Act live up to its name? Does it make health insurance less expensive? Last November, our team at the Manhattan Institute published a study indicating that Obamacare had increased the underlying cost of individually-purchased health insurance in the average state by 41 percent in 2014, relative to 2013. We’ve now redone the study on a county-by-county basis, complete with a brand-new interactive map. Depending on where you live, the results may surprise you.

[…]

Continue Reading

 

Over 167,000 convicted criminal illegal aliens loose in US

Via CNS News:

CNSNews.com) – According to weekly detention and departure reports from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, there were 167,527 non-detained convicted criminal aliens in the United States as of Jan. 26 of this year, a congressional hearing revealed Thursday.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah.) read the statistic aloud Thursday durin a hearing examining ICE’s priorities and procedures for removing criminal aliens currently living in the United States.

“In that report, it said that there are 167,527 non-detained, final-order convicted criminals on the loose in the United States,” Chaffetz pointed out while questioning ICE Director Sarah Saldana.

“These are people that are here illegally, get caught, convicted, and you release back out into the public,” he said, adding that some of the crimes committed by those who have been released include homicide, sex crimes, child pornography, drunk driving, robbery and kidnapping.

[…]

Continue Reading

 

 

Dozens of ‘Dreamers’ snagged in criminal drag net

Just here to commit the crimes Americans aren’t willing to, I guess…

Via the Washington Times:

Nearly two dozen of the illegal immigrants picked up in a nationwide sweep for criminal aliens earlier this month had previously been approved for President Obama’s deportation amnesty, the Homeland Security Department said Wednesday.

All 23 were part of Mr. Obama’s original program for so-called Dreamers, which began in 2012 and which had granted tentative legal legal status to nearly 640,000 as of the end of last year.

Of the 23, 15 were still actively part of the amnesty, while eight had been approved once but had not gotten their status renewed after the first two-year period expired.

[…]

Leaked nuke deal draft would give Iran capacity to enrich weapons-grade uranium, but would be inadequate for power

Via the AP:

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A draft nuclear accord now being negotiated between the United States and Iran would force Iran to cut hardware it could use to make an atomic bomb by about 40 percent for at least a decade, while offering the Iranians immediate relief from sanctions that have crippled their economy, officials told The Associated Press on Thursday.

As an added enticement, elements of a U.N. arms embargo against Iran could be rolled back.

The very existence of a draft provided perhaps the clearest indication the sides were nearing a written agreement as they raced to meet a March 31 deadline for a framework pact. The deadline for a full agreement is the end of June.

Officials said the tentative deal imposes new limits on the number of centrifuges Iran can operate to enrich uranium, a process that can lead to nuclear weapons-grade material. The sides are zeroing in on a cap of 6,000 centrifuges, officials said, down from the 6,500 they spoke of in recent weeks.

That’s also less than the 10,000 such machines Tehran now runs, yet substantially more than the 500 to 1,500 that Washington originally wanted as a ceiling. Only a year ago, U.S. officials floated 4,000 as a possible compromise.

But U.S. officials insist the focus on centrifuge numbers alone misses the point. Combined with other restrictions on enrichment levels and the types of centrifuges Iran can use, Washington believes it can extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear weapon to at least a year for the 10 years it is under the moratorium. Right now, Iran would require only two to three months to amass enough material if it covertly seeks to “break out” toward the bomb.

The one-year breakout time has become a point the Obama administration is reluctant to cross in the set of highly technical talks, and that bare minimum would be maintained for 10 years as part of the draft deal. After that, the restrictions would be slowly eased. The total length of the deal would be at least 15 years, possibly even 20.

Among U.S. allies, France is the most adamant about stretching out the duration of the deal. A European official familiar with the French position said it wants a 25-year time-span.

As part of the agreement, punitive U.S. economic sanctions would be phased out over time. President Barack Obama has the authority to eliminate some measures immediately, and others would be suspended as Iran confirms its compliance over time. Some sanctions would be held to the later years of the deal, while a last set would require a highly skeptical U.S. Congress to change laws.

Although time periods and sanctions schedules have previously been discussed, it is only in recent days that officials confirmed these understandings have been put down in a formal draft. The officials demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the confidential talks.

Iran insists its program is solely for peaceful energy, medical and research purposes, though many governments believe it has nuclear weapons ambitions.

It’s unclear how complete the draft agreement is. Iran’s deeply buried underground enrichment plant remains a problem, officials said, with Washington demanding the facility be repurposed and Tehran insisting it be able to run hundreds of centrifuges there. Iran says it wants to use the machines for scientific research; the Americans fear they could be quickly retooled for enrichment.

A planned heavy water reactor will be re-engineered to produce much less plutonium than originally envisioned, relieving concerns that it could be an alternative pathway to a bomb.

Iran’s atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, told reporters this week almost all the technical work was done, but other officials said several obstacles still stood in the way of the framework.

Any March framework agreement is unlikely to constrain Iran’s missile program, which the United States believes may ultimately be aimed at creating delivery systems for nuclear warheads. Diplomats say that as the talks move to deadline, the Iranians continue to insist that missile curbs are not up for discussion.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met for the fourth straight day Thursday. Much of the nitty-gritty negotiating was being handled by U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Salehi, both nuclear physicists.

“We are pushing some tough issues,” Kerry said after a morning meeting. “But we made progress.”

The talks formally remain between the Iran and six powers, but Kerry and Zarif have done most of the heavy lifting in recent months. If they make enough progress over the next days, foreign ministers representing the other nations at the negotiating table will be invited to put the finishing touches on the agreement. That may not happen until next week.

If a deal is reached, officials say various layers of U.N. sanctions on Iran will be eased. That will include parts of the U.N. arms embargo, with Russia and China, in particular, more forward-leaning on that front and talking about acting within weeks of a full accord. Some restrictions will stay in place, however, such as on the transfer of missile technology.

Any agreement faces fierce opposition from the U.S. Congress as well as close American allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, which believe the Obama administration has conceded too much.

Senate Republicans and even some Democrats are threatening to upend the diplomacy, demanding congressional approval and threatening further sanctions against Iran. If they can’t stop an accord, their interference can make it harder for Obama to live up to his side of the bargain.

After the deal expires, Iran could theoretically ramp up enrichment to whatever level or volume it wants.

Iran already can produce the equivalent of one weapon’s worth of enriched uranium with the centrifuges it now runs. However, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke of eventually operating enough centrifuges to produce what 190,000 of its current models churn out.