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Art of the Get-Screwed-in-Your-Russian-Quid-Pro-Quo Deal

Donald J. Trump, self-proclaimed Master of the Deal, just got his ass handed to him in a high stakes nuclear negotiation by Kim Jong-Un, at a time when Trump had the full power of the United States and hundreds of experts available to help him.

And yet Russian conspiracy denialists believe that any conspiracy between said deal-maker and Vladimir Putin must show evidence that Trump came away with a big win over anything but the 2016 election. They believe this, even though Trump made any such deal at a time when he was desperate to avoid a humiliating loss, relying on negotiators like his feckless son Don Jr, his attention-craving personal lawyer Michael Cohen, and his financially exposed campaign manager Paul Manafort.

That’s what I learned last night when I walked Aaron Maté through the process of first claiming the Trump Tower deal went nowhere because Cohen and Felix Sater disagreed in December 2015, then admitting that Cohen and Sater were still at it in May and June 2016. By the end, Maté was dismissing Rudy Giuliani’s admission that the deal went through the election (which is itself a limited hangout designed to hide that a Trump Tower deal was pursued in two different forms after the election, as well as abundant evidence that other financial payoffs were dangled if not made) by pointing to Dmitry Peskov’s stories, which have changed right along with Michael Cohen’s evolving story.

Because there’s no shiny tower in Moscow with Trump’s name on it, Maté appears to believe, it is proof that when Don Jr took a meeting in June 2016 at which he (according to the sworn testimony of four people who attended) committed to revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad got elected, the possibility of a $300 million payoff didn’t factor in to Junior’s willingness to sign away American policy considerations on behalf of his father.

That’s not how criminal conspiracy law works.

If you sign up for a deal and take steps to make good on it — as Don Jr did on June 9, 2016 and Paul Manafort appears to have done on August 2, 2016 and Mike Flynn appears to have done, on Trump’s behalf, on December 29, 2016 — then it doesn’t matter if the partner to that deal fucks you over later in the process. And, after all, the Russians did continue to supply Trump with a steady supply of dirt on Hillary Clinton all through the election. They got Trump elected, or at least did what they could to help, even if that payoff wasn’t the one Trump was most interested in.

Do you think Oleg Deripaska, a key player in both the deal-making and likely in the cover-up of it, gives a shit if Paul Manafort — who had screwed Deripaska over years earlier — had his life ruined as part of the process of compromising a President and getting sanctions relief? My suspicion is we’ll learn that Deripaska actually magnified Manafort’s hurt, once he had gotten him to compromise himself and the campaign.

Do you think Putin really cares whether Trump — to say nothing of the United States — benefits from the stupid choices Trump made during the election? Putin — a far better “deal” maker than Trump — got a win-win either way: Either Trump succeeded in compromising America’s rule of law in an effort to squelch any investigation into what happened, robbing the United States of the claim to idealism that so irks the master kleptocrat, Putin, or Trump would spend his Administration desperately trying to find a way out, all the while Putin connives Trump into dismantling the alliances that keep Russia in check.

And, too, Putin’s election year operation exacerbated the polarization between Democrats and Republicans such that most Republicans and a goodly number of Democrats have been unable to step back and say, holy shit, this country got attacked and we need to come together to do something about it. Trump’s win got Republicans to fear Trump’s base so much that they care more about those fevered hordes than doing what is right for this country. And Democrats rightly want to punish Trump for cheating, but haven’t thought about what a least-damaging off-ramp for that cheater might look like.

Putin doesn’t care if Trump benefits from all this — though he is happy to keep toying with Trump like a cat plays before he eviscerates his mouse. He cares about whether he and his cronies win. And there are multiple ways for him to get a win out of this, whether or not Trump manages to eke out any kind of real payoff past the election.

And let’s be honest, Putin isn’t the only one playing this game. Certainly, Mohammed bin Salman feels the same way, even if his record of ruthless dealmaking is shorter and sloppier than Putin’s. The truth is that Donald Trump and Jared Kushner are easy marks for a whole range of skilled operators willing to stroke their egos and dangle loot, and over and over again they’ve let themselves be bested in foreign policy negotiations, to the detriment of the interests of the United States. That they are so bad at deal making in no way disproves their culpability.

There is no Trump Tower in Moscow. But there never had to be. All that was needed was the promise of a ridiculously lucrative narcissism-stroking deal for the Trump family to agree to shit that would hurt this country. And all the evidence suggests that they did, and continue to do so.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The WaPo Scoop on the DNC Hack (Temporarily) Killed the Trump Tower Deal

On June 14, 2016, Felix Sater was getting stressed about putting together Michael Cohen’s trip to St. Petersburg at which, on June 17, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer might meet Vladimir Putin, which would in turn lead to a $300 million real estate deal. He bugged Cohen in the morning to get back to him.

At 10:24 AM, Sater sent Cohen the invitation he would need to get a Russian visa in one day’s time.

At around 11:35 AM, the Washington Post reported that Russian hackers had hacked the DNC.

Things still seemed to be ready to go at 12:06 PM. Sater texted Cohen, “you are radio silent, please respond.” Cohen called him just after noon.

But by 2:41 PM, when Sater showed up at Trump Tower to get the paperwork, Cohen wouldn’t let him come upstairs. Instead, he met him downstairs in the snack bar.

Three days before Donald Trump’s personal lawyer would have met with Vladimir Putin to advance a $300 million Tower deal, he instead met his fixer in the lobby and told him, “he would not be traveling at that time.”

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Compromise: Sally Yates’ Warning about Vulnerability to Blackmail Applied to Trump Even More than Mike Flynn

Given the news that the FBI opened a Counterintelligence investigation into Trump in the week after he fired Jim Comey on May 9, 2017 (CNN’s account is actually far more useful than NYT’s), I want to look at part of what Sally Yates testified — the day before Trump fired Jim Comey — that she told Don McGahn when she let him know that Mike Flynn had lied to the public and the FBI about what he said to Sergei Kislyak on December 29, 2016.

Effectively, Yates laid out how, because the Russians would have known that Flynn had lied, it would be easy to blackmail him.

[W]e were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and additionally, that we weren’t the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done.

And the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others, because in the media accounts, it was clear from the vice president and others that they were repeating what General Flynn had told them, and that this was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information.

And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians. Finally, we told them that we were giving them all of this information so that they could take action, the action that they deemed appropriate.

At the time she delivered these comments to McGahn in January 2017, Yates would have known only that Flynn had lied.

Even at the time she testified about the exchange with McGahn in May, neither she nor the FBI would yet have had tangible evidence that Flynn had been acting on Trump’s orders when he told Kislyak to hold off on responding to sanctions. Likewise, neither she nor the FBI knew at the time that Trump’s spawn had, the summer before, agreed to consider lifting sanctions if his dad got elected. Neither Yates nor the FBI would have known that the Russians were offering a Trump Tower deal and dirt on Hillary Clinton to induce Don Jr to commit to revisit sanctions. And, neither Yates nor the FBI would have known that Don McGahn had written up a misleading report justifying the firing of Mike Flynn (who, after all, had only done what he had been ordered), that directly conflicted with Yates’ account of the conversation.

For all those reasons, Yates would not have known that this theory — that covering up the Tower-for-sanctions quid pro quo, the commitment to deliver on sanctions relief, and the bogus reason for firing Mike Flynn made a person susceptible to blackmail — actually applied to Trump, not (just) Flynn. Indeed, for a variety of reasons Trump was more susceptible to blackmail than Flynn, because Flynn had just been doing what he was told, didn’t have a prior bribe to hide, and might expect a pardon if he successfully protected the President.

Indeed, Yates would not know how, from the moment David Ignatius revealed that the FBI had discovered the transcripts of Flynn’s conversations with Sergei Kislyak, the Russians would have had Trump by the nuts. All the more so given that the FBI also had a transcript of Kislyak explicitly informing Flynn that Putin had based his response to Obama’s sanctions on December 30, 2016 on Flynn’s assurances about sanctions. Putin, that old KGB hand, made sure there was a record of the Russians making it clear that their response was entirely premised on whatever promises Flynn had made (at Trump’s direction).

From the moment the Russians learned the FBI had found those transcripts, Trump would have had to prevent the FBI from discovering that he had ordered Flynn to make those comments, and had ordered him to do so to pay off his election debt.

From that moment forward, Trump would be stuck committing one after another act of obstruction in an attempt to prevent the FBI from discovering the full truth. Each of those acts would put him deeper in the hole, because each time he engaged in obstruction, the Russians would measure his increasing vulnerability.

Almost a month before he took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, Donald Trump clandestinely took an action to undercut the official policy of America’s President. From that moment forward, he had as much at stake as the Russians in thwarting the investigation into the election year operation.

And Putin has capitalized on that compromise ever since.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The Moving Parts: The Walls Come Down around Trump

The other day (I forget which day it was, to be honest) I wondered aloud whether, as it became clear the walls were collapsing around Trump, he’d make a rash move to pay off his debts, perhaps to salvage something for his post-Presidenting life.

I’m not sure we’re quite at that point yet. But in recent days, a ton has happened it’s hard to make sense of.

This post doesn’t pretend to offer answers. I just want to write down everything I think is happening in one place — blogger’s prerogative, call it.

Mattis resigns, citing Trump’s fondness for authoritarians

The most alarming news is not that James Mattis resigned, but how he did so. In his resignation letter, he cited the importance of NATO, and China and Russia’s authoritarianism that leads them to promote their interest over that of their neighbors, America, and our allies, before he made it clear that Trump disagrees with Mattis in rejecting those authoritarian values.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America[,] and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. [my emphasis]

The precipitating event, though, was Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria.

Officials said Mr. Mattis went to the White House on Thursday afternoon in a last attempt to convince Mr. Trump to keep American troops in Syria, where they have been fighting the Islamic State. He was rebuffed, and told the president that he was resigning as a result.

One source says that Trump’s decision to close the Special Forces base in Syria is part of the problem.

The US is set to shut a special forces base in Syria that has been the subject of repeated Russian complaints, and that some US officials have cast as a key part of US efforts not just to defeat ISIS but to counter Iranian influence in the country.

Muhannad al-Talla, a rebel commander at al-Tanf, a US base near the Syrian border with Jordan, told BuzzFeed News that the base would see the withdrawal of the US troops who have trained and fought alongside rebels there.

I’m wondering if this base was involved in the shellacking of Putin ally Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s mercenaries.

Another is Erdogan’s threat (or promise) to massacre our longstanding Kurdish allies.

Defense officials tell me Mattis went to the White House to discuss Syria & that he was livid after reading reports that Turkey’s Defense Minister threatened to kill US-backed Kurds & put them in ditches once the US withdrew. He was incensed at this notion of betrayal of an ally.

Effectively, it seems, Mattis told Trump, “it’s me or Vladimir Putin” … and Trump chose Putin.

Erdogan exercises leverage — or is he the messenger boy?

But it wasn’t exactly — or just — Putin that finally got Trump to deliver on the payback he started delivering 14 hours after polls closed in 2016. It was Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As I noted, Trump met with Erdogan in Argentina but not — after the Michael Cohen allocution made it clear Putin was enticing Trump with a Tower deal in 2016 — Putin.

Multiple reports say a call Trump had with Erdogan on Friday was the precipitating factor. Here’s a really alarming account of that call.

That leads me to wonder what leverage Turkey, specifically, has over Trump, such that he’d pull out of Syria in response to a threat to massacre the Kurds, which will make it easy for Turkey to massacre the Kurds.

And I have to believe Turkey’s ploy with the Jamal Khashoggi execution is part of it. Erdogan never gave a shit that the Saudis lured a dissident to their soil to dismember alive. Erdogan himself pursues such repression, even if he conducts it with a bit more cover.

Indeed, whatever Erdogan has over Trump also has him considering extraditing Fethullah Gulen to Turkey for what would certainly be similar treatment — the payoff Turkey was requesting back in December 2016 when Trump’s chosen National Security Advisor was still hiding that he had been an unregistered agent for Turkey.

Perhaps Turkey has proof not just implicating Mohammed bin Salman in the execution, but Jared Kushner in green-lighting it, or possibly even Trump?

Mueller’s moves toward endgame

It’s hard — particularly given comments from people like Nancy Pelosi — to separate all this from what feels like an approaching Mueller (attempted) endgame. The lead-up to Flynn’s aborted sentencing featured the following:

  • Flynn makes an ill-considered attack on the legitimacy of the Mueller probe
  • Emmet Sullivan orders the release of the documents with which Flynn was attempting to undercut Mueller
  • Sullivan orders the far more damning Flynn 302 that, among other things, reveals that Turkey and Russia both had compromising information on Trump and Flynn
  • DOJ indicts Flynn’s business partners for hiding how Turkey angled to force DOJ to extradite Gulen
  • At Flynn’s sentencing hearing, Sullivan emphasizes that Flynn had been an agent of Turkey while ostensibly working for Trump and mentions the word treason

Plus there’s evidence that Jared Kushner — who has been the boy plaything for all these ruthless players — probably tried to attack Flynn even while he was having a grocery store tabloid pimp the Saudis.

And it was revealed that the Mystery Appellant refusing to provide information to Mueller is a foreign-owned corporation, probably a Russian or Middle Eastern bank or sovereign wealth fund funneling money to Trump or Jared. The company appears to have asked for an en banc review today.

Mueller also asked for and got the House Intelligence Committee to release its transcript of Roger Stone’s testimony. The timing of this is the interesting thing: Mueller chose to do this when Republicans had to (and did) vote to expose Trump’s top political advisor to indictment. He could have waited, but didn’t. That suggests either he wanted Republican buy-in, or he needs the transcripts now, to finalize his case against Stone before Democrats take over in a few weeks.

The day after SSCI released materials on James Wolfe, he was indicted.

So things are moving to a head in the Mueller probe, and in a way that both Russia and Turkey may be implicated.

Matt Whitaker performs a headfake before taking the corrupt step he was hired to take

Then there was the news today on big dick toilet salesman Matt Whitaker. This morning, multiple outlets reported that DOJ had told Whitaker he didn’t have to recuse from the Mueller probe. After that became the headline, however, multiple outlets revealed that the truth was the opposite: an ethics advisor had told Whitaker he should recuse, and having heard that, Whitaker consulted a hand-picked committee that predictably told him not to.

Within days of the president’s announcement in early November that he had put Whitaker in the role on a temporary basis, Whitaker tapped a veteran U.S. attorney to become part of a four-person team of advisers on his new job, according to a senior Justice Department official. Their guidance included the question of whether Whitaker should recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation because of his past statements regarding that probe and because of his friendship with one of its witnesses, the official said.

Whitaker never asked Justice Department ethics officials for a formal recommendation, nor did he receive one, this official said.

However, after Whitaker met repeatedly with Justice Department ethics officials to discuss the facts and the issues under consideration, a senior ethics official told the group of advisers on Tuesday that it was a “close call” but that Whitaker should recuse himself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the official said. Whitaker was not present at that meeting, they said.

Those four advisers, however, disagreed with the ethics determination and recommended to Whitaker the next day not to recuse, saying there was no precedent for that, and doing so now could create a bad precedent for future attorneys general.

That big dick toilet salesman Whitaker did this is not surprising.

That he chose to roll out this admission today is worth noting. One outlet reported that, up until today, Whitaker had not been briefed on the Mueller probe. Apparently, in the wake of a judge raising treason concerns after having reviewed Mike Flynn’s behavior, Whitaker has made the move to become Trump’s mole on the Mueller probe.

Update: BuzzFeed got a hold of the DOJ letter here. It makes it very clear Whitaker ignored advice to recuse.

Update: Marty Lederman notes that this letter fails to conduct a key part of the recusal analysis: why he would make a more appropriate supervisor for Mueller than Rod Rosenstein.

Trump prepares to shut down government

All this is happening as Trump prepares to shut down the government because Fox News laughed at him for getting pantsed by Nancy Pelosi.

Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said the Democrats had won the showdown, and Trump had lost.

He launched into a tirade saying the president “loses, and the Democrats will win everything” based on his apparent decision to compromise with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Doocy said Trump’s defeat would not only risk his campaign commitment to build the wall, but also bring into question his electoral promises to curb the rest of the government’s spending.

In response, over the course of today, Trump told Republicans he’d veto any continuing resolution that didn’t include $5 billion for his steel slat wall, making it much more likely we’ll have a shutdown as Trump skedaddles to Mar-a-Lago to take calls from his authoritarian buddies.

This may be entirely unrelated. After all, Fox and Friends is Trump’s bubble, that’s the only place where he considers losses to matter, and after the truth that Pelosi had bested him started to seep through, the narcissist-in-chief had no choice but to make a rash demand that Republican politicians sacrifice their careers in deference to his tantrum.

Which is to say that this behavior is precisely what we should expect when a narcissist’s mirror tells his he has been bested by someone he must demean.

Or maybe it is related?

Putin — or someone else — is calling in receipts

As I’m thinking about these things, I keep thinking back to an argument I made in August. I argued that Putin had compromised Trump not with a pee tape, but by ensuring his people kept receipts every time Trump got sucked deeper and deeper into a deal with Russia.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean. Mueller has provided hints, most obviously in that GRU indictment, that he knows what some of them are.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators  attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

But Mueller’s not telling whether he has obtained the actual receipts.

And that’s the kompromat. Trump knows that if Mueller can present those receipts, he’s sunk, unless he so discredits the Mueller investigation before that time as to convince voters not to give Democrats a majority in Congress, and convince Congress not to oust him as the sell-out to the country those receipts show him to be. He also knows that, on the off-chance Mueller hasn’t figured this all out yet, Putin can at any time make those receipts plain. Therein lies Trump’s uncertainty: It’s not that he has any doubt what Putin has on him. It’s that he’s not sure which path before him — placating Putin, even if it provides more evidence he’s paying off his campaign debt, or trying to end the Mueller inquiry before repaying that campaign debt, at the risk of Putin losing patience with him — holds more risk.

Trump knows he’s screwed. He’s just not sure whether Putin or Mueller presents the bigger threat.

It has since become clear that not just Russia, but at least also Turkey and whatever bank is fighting a demand from Mueller that it turn over evidence of Trump’s graft, also have receipts.

Nevertheless, at the moment where it has become increasingly clear that Mueller knows much of whatever blackmail these partners have over Trump, Trump has chosen, instead, to alienate the Senators who might keep him from being impeached by evacuating from Syria and, later reports make clear, Afghanistan.

Trump is, on a dime and without warning to our closest allies, rolling up the American Empire. And he’s doing it not because he’s a peacenik — as far too many self-described progressives are trying to claim — but because ruthless, committed authoritarians have convinced him he needs their continued approval more than he needs the approval of even the Republican hawks in the Senate.

Update: I forgot to mention that the stock market is crashing. It started in response to Trump’s trade wars and bullying of the Fed, but accelerated given his threats to shut down the government.

Trump Won’t Hand in His Open Book Test Until He Checks His Answers with Matt Whitaker and Putin

Rudy is working the press today (CNN, Politico), describing how the President’s advisors are trying to decide whether to hand in the open book test Mueller gave him back in October. He says he’s pretty sure that his client will get a 90% grade on his open book test.

“The questions they gave us, if they don’t know the answer to 90 percent of them now, I’d be shocked,” Giuliani said. “I guess the only thing I can do is, if they get his answers — if that’s what happens — is they’re going to check it against what they thought his answers were going to be, and I think it’s going to come out almost 100 percent.”

But his client is not going to turn in his open book test until he returns from Paris and thinks about it for a day.

A meeting with Trump to make a final decision on the first round of questions is expected soon after the president returns Sunday night from his trip to Paris for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, Guiliani said.

“We’re close,” Giuliani said. “I think the only thing that throws us off a little, which we explained to [Mueller], is that the president’s going to be away for about three, four days.”

“So, before we make a final decision — which I’m not sure I could tell you what that is, although I think we have an idea right now — but before we can make it, we really want the president to have a day home where he can just think about it, make sure he’s comfortable with it and then we’ll tell [Mueller] what the decision is,” the president’s lawyer added.

Of course, by the time this happens, Matt Whitaker will presumably have been briefed on the investigation — a briefing the contents of which he can share with Trump. And, depending on whether you think the Kremlin or the White House is a better source on these things, Trump will also have met with Vladimir Putin for lunch on Sunday.

As a reminder: The Watergate special prosecutor did not have to, and did not, wait for Nixon’s answers before he dropped the big conspiracy indictment. I’m not sure Mueller will, either. Indeed, I think it at least possible that this year long process of negotiating with Rudy and others about Trump questions has been a ploy to buy time, working Rudy’s mistaken assumption that Mueller thinks he needs Trump’s answers.

So all Rudy’s spinning about this open book test may actually be hurting his client.

Just before Mike Flynn Was Interviewed by the FBI, Putin Increased His Participation in the National Prayer Breakfast

There are twin filings (gag, bail) in the Mariia Butina case that I will write up separately. For the moment, I wanted to point to this passage of the government’s motion opposing Butina being released.

On January 26, 2017, [Paul Erickson] asked an acquaintance for National Prayer Breakfast tickets, noting that tickets could “advance the cause of US/Russian reset (on our terms).” [Erickson] later noted, “I was ahead of this in December, but last weekend Putin decided to up his official delegation – if we can accommodate them, we can empower rational insiders that have been cultivated for three years.”

I note it solely for the timing: it shows that the weekend of January 21-22, 2017, Putin decided to increase the seniority of his representatives attending the National Prayer Breakfast, which took place on February 2, and that decision filtered down to Erickson and Butina.

At the time, Trump had plans to meet with Aleksandr Torshin, plans which were scrapped at the last minute.

The event had been planned as a meet and greet with President Trump and Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, in a waiting room at the Washington Hilton before the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2. Torshin, a top official in his country’s central bank, headed a Russian delegation to the annual event and was among a small number of guests who had been invited by Prayer Breakfast leaders to meet with Trump before it began.

But while reviewing the list of guests, a White House national security aide responsible for European affairs noticed Torshin’s name and flagged him as a figure who had “baggage,” a reference to his suspected ties to organized crime, an administration official told Yahoo News. Around the same time, a former campaign adviser alerted the White House that the meeting could exacerbate the political controversy over contacts between Trump associates and the Kremlin, another source familiar with the matter said.

It’s remarkable how many events relevant to the Mueller inquiry happened during those few weeks (and remember — Butina’s prosecution is being handled separately).

Update: This seems to suggest Butina believed there was a letter behind the earliest 2017 coverage of her (probably this Tim Mak story).

In early 2017, in response to the Russian Official’s comment to her that a reporter had contacted him about his relationship to the defendant, President Putin, and U.S. Person 1, among others, the defendant told the Russian Official that she had received inquiries from the same reporter. She told the Russian Official, “under no circumstances should you contact him. You didn’t even see the letter at all.”

Trump Tweets a Confession, Then Sekulow Admits His Client Has Been Lying about His Involvement

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Maybe the President and his lawyers think the best way to avoid an interview with Robert Mueller is to confess to everything before noon on Sunday morning?

Amid a series of batshit tweets just now, in an attempt to rebut reporting in this story, Trump admitted that his spawn took a meeting with people described as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for his father to obtain dirt on his opponent.

Set aside, for the moment, Trump’s claims that the meeting went nowhere (for which there’s abundant contrary evidence) and that he didn’t know about it. Consider simply that this means Trump sat down with Vladimir Putin last July at the G-20, and came up with a lie to avoid admitting the fact Pops just admitted, the lie that Junior took a meeting to learn about Russian adoptions.

That’s some pretty damning admission of a conspiracy right there.

Even as the President was admitting to entering into a conspiracy with the Russian President and his envoys, his less incompetent lawyer, Jay Sekulow, went on ABC news and said,

I had bad information at that time and made a mistake in my statement, I talked about that before, that happens when you have cases like this … in a situation like this, over time facts develop.

What he means by “cases like this” and “a situation like this” are “cases and situations where your client is a pathological liar.”

Sure, Sekulow didn’t use the word liar, but he made it clear that Trump lied to him at the start, but that it was only after time (and the realization they couldn’t pull off the lie) that the White House settled on some version of the truth (stopping short, of course, of admitting that Putin helped to craft the statement).

So, at almost the same time the President’s less incompetent lawyer was on TV admitting his client lies, the President was tweeting that he did not know about the June 9 meeting.

This conspiracy trial is going to be awesome.

 

 

Twenty Comey Questions Do Not Eliminate Trump’s Obstruction Exposure

As I laid out a few weeks ago, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post.

As Trump’s legal teams shift their efforts to stall Mueller’s investigation, the press is shifting their problematic reporting on what legal exposure Trump has. As part of its report that Trump’s legal team has made a “counteroffer” to have Trump sit for an interview covering just collusion, the WSJ repeats Rudy Giuliani’s bullshit that Trump’s obstruction only covers the Comey firing.

The president’s legal team is open to him answering questions about possible collusion with Moscow, Mr. Giuliani said, but is less willing to have Mr. Trump discuss questions about obstruction of justice. “We think the obstruction of it is handled by Article 2 of the Constitution,” Mr. Giuliani said, referring to the provision that gives the president executive authority to appoint and dismiss members of his administration.

Mr. Mueller is investigating whether Trump associates colluded with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, and whether Mr. Trump sought to obstruct justice in the firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey in May 2017, while the FBI’s Russia probe was under way. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied collusion and obstruction, and Moscow has denied election interference.

[snip]

Mr. Giuliani said in an interview Monday that the reasons Mr. Trump has given for firing the former FBI director are “more than sufficient” and that as president, he had the power to fire any member of his administration.

This is just more parroting of Rudy’s spin, just as the old line that Trump was primarily at risk for obstruction.

Here’s the list of questions Jay Sekulow understood Mueller wanting to ask sometime in March, as presented by the NYT. I’ve bolded what I consider collusion questions (including the June 9 statement, as abundant evidence suggests that reflects direct collusion with Putin on the framing of their quid pro quo). I’ve italicized the questions that exclusive address Comey.

  1. What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?
  2. What was your reaction to news reports on Jan. 12, 2017, and Feb. 8-9, 2017?
  3. What did you know about Sally Yates’s meetings about Mr. Flynn?
  4. How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?
  5. After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?
  6. What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition?
  7. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s intelligence briefing on Jan. 6, 2017, about Russian election interference?
  8. What was your reaction to Mr. Comey’s briefing that day about other intelligence matters?
  9. What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  10. What was the purpose of your Feb. 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  11. What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017?
  12. What did you do in reaction to the March 20 testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.
  13. What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats?
  14. What was the purpose of your calls to Mr. Comey on March 30 and April 11, 2017?
  15. What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?
  16. What did you think and do about Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony?
  17. Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?
  18. What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?
  19. What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?
  20. What was the purpose of your May 12, 2017, tweet?
  21. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s June 8, 2017, testimony regarding Mr. Flynn, and what did you do about it?
  22. What was the purpose of the September and October 2017 statements, including tweets, regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey?
  23. What is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe?
  24. What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?
  25. What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?
  26. Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?
  27. What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?
  28. Why did you hold Mr. Sessions’s resignation until May 31, 2017, and with whom did you discuss it?
  29. What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it?
  30. What discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?
  31. What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?
  32. When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
  33. What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?
  34. During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?
  35. What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?
  36. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?
  37. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  38. What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?
  39. During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  40. What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?
  41. What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?
  42. What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?
  43. What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?
  44. What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

By my count there are:

Comey obstruction: 17

Other obstruction: 13

Collusion: 14

There aren’t quite 20 Comey questions, but it’s close.

By getting a journalist to uncritically parrot Rudy’s claim that all the obstruction questions pertain to Comey, the White House has buried some of the more egregious examples of obstruction, including (offering pre-emptive pardons to Flynn and Manafort, and whoever else) the gross abuse of the pardon power, and threatening the Attorney General. It also obscures the obstruction for which there are now cooperating witnesses (including, but not limited to, Flynn).

Probably, Trump is trying this ploy because a range of things — Manafort’s imminent trial, Cohen’s likely imminent cooperation, Mueller’s acute focus on Stone, and whatever else Putin told him — give him an incentive to have an up-to-date understanding of the current status of the collusion investigation. If he can do that in a way that makes it harder to charge some of the egregious obstruction Trump has been engaged in, all the better.

Whatever it is, it is malpractice to credulously repeat Rudy’s claim that Trump is only on the hook for obstruction for firing Comey.

Three Things: Still Active Measures

[Note the byline. This post contains some speculative content. / ~Rayne]

Whether counter-arguments or conspiracy theories, it’s interesting how certain narratives are pushed when tensions rise. But are they really theories or conditioning? And if conditioning, could other media infrastructure changes create more successful conditioning?

~ 3 ~

In an interview with Fox News post-Helsinki summit, Vladmir Putin made a point of blaming the Democratic Party for “manipulations of their party.”

…“The idea was about hacking an email account of a Democratic candidate. Was it some rigging of facts? Was it some forgery of facts? That’s the important thing that I am trying to — point that I’m trying to make. Was this — any false information planted? No. It wasn’t.”

The hackers, he said, entered “a certain email account and there was information about manipulations conducted within the Democratic Party to incline the process in favor of one candidate.” …

Have to give Putin props for sticking with a game plan — increase friction within the American left and fragment Democratic Party support to the benefit of Trump and the Republican Party at the polls and ultimately Putin himself if sanctions are lifted. Christopher Steele indicated in the Trump-Russia dossier that the Kremlin was using active measures to this effect in 2016 to widen the divide between Sanders and Clinton supporters; apparently left-splitting active measures continue.

But this is only part of an attack on the Democratic Party; another narrative undermines both the DNC and the FBI by questioning the investigation into the DNC’s hacking. Why didn’t the FBI take possession of the server itself rather than settle for an image of the system? A key technical reason is that any RAM-resident malware used by hackers will disappear into the ether if the machine is turned off; other digital footprints found only in RAM memory would likewise disappear. “The server” isn’t one machine with a single hard drive, either, but 140 devices — some of which were cloud-based. Not exactly something the FBI can power down and take back to a forensic lab with ease, especially during the hottest part of a campaign season.

But these points are never effectively made as a counter narrative, though some have tried with explainers, and certainly not featured in broadcast or cable news programs. The doubt is left to hang in the public’s consciousness, conditioning them to question FBI’s competence and the validity of their investigative work.

If Putin is still using active measures to divide Democratic Party voters, is it possible this narrative about the hacked DNC server is also an ongoing active measure? What if the active measure isn’t meant to undermine the FBI by questioning its actions? What if instead the lingering doubt is intended to shape future investigations into hacked materials which may also rely on server images rather than physical possession of the hardware? What if this active measure is pre-crime, intended to tamper with future evidence collection?

~ 2 ~

I’d begun drafting this post more than a week ago, but came to a halt when FCC chair Ajit Pai did something surprisingly uncorrupt by putting the brakes on the Sinclair-Tribune merger.

Sinclair Broadcast Group is a propaganda outlet masquerading as a broadcast media company. The mandatory airing of Boris Epsteyn’s program across all Sinclair stations offers evidence of Sinclair’s true raison d’etre; Epsteyn is a Russian-born former GOP political strategist who has been responsible for messaging in both the McCain-Palin campaign and the Trump administration, including the egregious 2017 Holocaust Remembrance Day statement which omitted any mention of Jews. The mandatory statement Sinclair management forced its TV stations to air earlier this year about “fake news” is yet another. The forced ubiquity and uniformity of messaging is a new element at Sinclair, which already had a history of right-wing messaging including the attempt to run a Kerry-bashing political movie to “swiftboat” the candidate just before the 2004 elections.

Sinclair and Tribune Media announced a proposed acquisition deal last May. If approved, the completed acquisition would give Sinclair access to 72% of U.S. homes — an insanely large percentage of the local broadcast TV market effectively creating a monopoly. There was bipartisan Congressional pushback about this deal because of this perceived potential monopoly.

FCC’s Ajit Pai wanted to relax regulations covering UHF stations — they would be counted as less than a full VHF station and therefore appear to reduce ownership of marketshare. Democrats protested this move as it offered Sinclair unfavorable advantage when evaluating stations it would acquire or be forced to sell during its Tribune acquisition.

Fortunately, Pai had “serious concerns” about the Sinclair-Tribune deal:

We have no idea to which administrative judge this deal may be handed, let alone their sentiments on media consolidation. We don’t know if this judge might be Trump-friendly and rule in favor of Sinclair, taking this horror off Ajit Pai’s back — which might be the real reason Pai punted after his egregious handling of net neutrality and the pummeling he’s received for it, including the hacking of the FCC’s comments leading up to his decision to end Obama-era net neutrality regulations and subsequent “misleading” statements to the media about the hack. New York State is currently investigating misuse of NY residents’ identities in the hack; one might wonder if Pai is worried about any personal exposure arising from this investigation.

BUT WAIT…the reason I started this post began not in New York but in the UK, after reading that Remain turnout may have been suppressed by news reports about “travel chaos,” bad weather, and long lines at the polls. Had the traditional media played a role in shaping turnout with its reporting?

I went looking for similar reports in the U.S. — and yes, news reports of long lines may have discouraged hundreds of thousands of voters in Florida in 2012. This wasn’t the only location with such reports in the U.S. during the last three general elections; minority voters are also far more likely to experience these waits than voters in majority white areas.

Probabilistic reports about a candidate’s win/loss may also suppress turnout, according to a Pew Research study.

Think about low-income voters who can’t afford cable TV or broadband internet, or live in a rural location where cable TV and broadband internet isn’t available. What news source are they likely to rely upon for news about candidates and voting, especially local polling places?

Hello, local broadcast network television station.

Imagine how voter turnout could be manipulated with reports of long lines and not-quite-accurate probabilistic reports about candidates and initiatives.

Imagine how a nationwide vote could be manipulated by a mandatory company-wide series of reports across a system of broadcast TV stations accessing 72% of U.S. homes.

How else might a media company with monopolistic access to American households condition the public’s response to issues?

~ 1 ~

There was all kinds of hullabaloo about the intersection of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, his son Justin, and Justin’s employment at Deutsche Bank at the same time DB extended financing to Donald Trump. It looks bad on the face of it.

And of course one prominent defense-cum-fact-check portrays Justin’s relationship to DB’s loans to Trump as merely administrative:

The extent to which Kennedy worked with Trump on this loan, or possibly on other Deutsche Bank matters, is unclear. “In that role, as the trader, he would have no contact with Trump … unless Eric [Schwartz] was trying to get Justin in front of Trump for schmoozing reasons,” Offit said, adding that he had recently spoken with former colleagues at the bank about Kennedy’s work.

Seems odd there has been little note made of Jared Kushner’s relationship with LNR Partners LLC — a company which Manta says has only 17 employees — and its subsidiary LNR Property which financed the Kushner 666 Fifth Avenue property in 2012. There was a report in Medium and another on DailyKos but little note made in mainstream news media.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that along with his business partner, Justin Kennedy was named 26th on the 50 Most Important People in Commercial Real Estate Finance in 2013 by the Commercial Observer — a publication of Observer Media, then owned by Jared Kushner.

I wonder what Justin’s rank was on this list while he worked at Deutsche Bank (also with current business partner Toby Cobb).

How odd this deal and the relationship wasn’t defended. I guess it’s just coincidence all the amphibians and reptiles know each other well in the swamp.

~ 0 ~

Let’s not forget:

587 Puerto Rican homes still don’t have electricity.

All asylum seeking families haven’t been reunited. Children may still be in danger due to poor care and lack of adequate tracking. As of yesterday only 364 children of more than 2500 torn from their families were reunited.

Treat this as an open thread.

At Helsinki Summit, Putin Re-enacts the June 9 Trump Tower Meeting

As I laid out last week, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

I know there are a lot of people who aren’t as convinced as I am that a clear agreement was reached between Trump’s top aides and Putin’s emissaries at the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. For doubters, however, Vladimir Putin just re-enacted the meeting on the world stage at the Helsinki summit.

On top of the denials, from both sides, of Russian tampering in the election (and both sides’ embrace of a joint cybersecurity working group), that re-enactment came in three ways.

First, when asked whether Russia tampered in our election, Putin issued a line that was sort of a non-sequitur, asserting that, “I was an intelligence officer myself. And I do know how dossiers are made of.” The line — a reference both to the Steele dossier and Putin’s more damaging kompromat on Trump — is pregnant with meaning (and probably was planned). When asked, later, whether he had any compromising information on Trump or his family, Putin said, “Now to kompromat. I did hear these allegations that we collected kompromat when he was in Moscow. I didn’t even know he was in Moscow.”

This is a reference to the pee tape, allegedly taped when he put on Miss Universe in Russia in 2013. But it’s premised on a claim about which there is sworn counter-evidence in the US. Rob Goldstone — the guy who set up the June 9 meeting — described how Putin not only knew Trump was in Moscow, but was still trying to fit in a meeting with him.

And it went down to the wire. It was on the day of the contest itself that maybe around 4:00 in the afternoon Emin called a few of us into a conference room at Crocus, and his Dad, Aras, was there. And we were told that a call was coming in through from a Mr. Peskov, who I know to be Dmitry Peskov, who I believe is a spokesman for Mr . Putin, and there’d be an answer. And the answer I think, as I may have stated the last time I saw you, was that due to the lateness o f the newly crowned King of Holland who’d been delayed in traffic, whether air or road traffic, Mr. Putin would not be able to meet with Mr. Trump. However, he invited him to Sochi, to the Olympics, and said he’d be happy to meet him here or at any future time. And that’s how it was left, so there would be not meeting taking place.

So not only did Putin lie about whether there could be a pee tape (I don’t think there is one, but I think the 2013 involves compromise in another way), but did so in a way that invoked the Agalrovs as Trump’s handlers going back years.

And did you notice that he never denied having kompromat?

Then, in a response to one of the questions about Putin’s tampering in the election, after he suggested that he’d be willing to have Mueller come to Russia to question the GRU officers who hacked Hillary, he demanded similar cooperation on his legal issues. He then raised Bill Browder (who is no longer a US citizen), complaining that

For instance, we can bring up Mr. Browder in this particular case. Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 million [sic] in Russia. They never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor in the United States. And yet the money escaped the country, they [sic] were transferred to the United States. They sent huge amount of money, $400 million, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Aside from being muddled, both in Putin’s delivery and the translation, this is precisely the dangle that Natalia Veselnitskaya used to get into Trump’s campaign back in 2016 to ask to have the Magnitsky sanctions overturned.

This was simply Putin laying out his receipts of Trump’s compromise on the world stage.

There’s one other area where Putin simply showed off how badly he has compromised the President. His prepared talks emphasized cooperation on Syria, claiming it “could be first showcase example of joint work.” As I have noted, that has been the operative plan since less than 15 hours after polls closed in November 2016. And it was known by someone who played a significant role in the Russian attack.

This meeting, then, is just Putin collecting on the receipts collected back on June 9, 2016.