Tuesday ReadsPosted: May 30, 2017
There was a big, damaging leak in the Trump/Russia case this morning. You’ve probably already seen it or heard about it.
Russian government officials discussed having potentially “derogatory” information about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his top aides in conversations intercepted by US intelligence during the 2016 election, according to two former intelligence officials and a congressional source.
One source described the information as financial in nature and said the discussion centered on whether the Russians had leverage over Trump’s inner circle. The source said the intercepted communications suggested to US intelligence that Russians believed “they had the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information.”
The “sources” said this talk could itself have been disinformation, but it sure sounds credible considering what we know about Trump’s troubled financial history.
The contents of the conversations made clear to US officials that Russia was considering ways to influence the election — even if their claims turned out to be false.
None of the sources would say which specific Trump aides were discussed. One of the officials said the intelligence report masked the American names but it was clear the conversations revolved around the Trump campaign team. Another source would not give more specifics, citing the classified nature of the information.
“The Russians could be overstating their belief to influence,” said one of the sources.
As CNN first reported, the US intercepted discussions of Russian officials bragging about cultivating relationships with Trump campaign aides during the campaign, including Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to influence Trump. Following CNN’s report, The New York Times said Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort was also discussed.
Yesterday John Schindler posted a new piece at The Observer suggesting that people at NSA are determined to get the goods on Trump: NSA in Unprecedented Hunt for KremlinGate Evidence. (Previously, Schindler had written that NSA Director has stated internally that there is evidence of coordination between Trump associates and Russia). From yesterday’s story:
…now that the Justice Department has appointed Robert Mueller special counsel charged with running the Russia investigation, NSA is apparently pulling out all the stops to track down any additional evidence which might be relevant to the expanded inquiry into KremlinGate.
Specifically, last week NSA is believed to have sent out an unprecedented order to the Directorate of Operations, the agency’s largest unit. The DO, as insiders term it, manages all of NSA’s SIGINT assets worldwide, making it the most important spy operation on earth. The email sent to every person assigned to the DO came from the Office of General Counsel, the NSA’s in-house lawyers, and it was something seldom seen at the agency—a preservation order.
Such an order would have charged every DO official, from junior analysts to senior managers, with finding any references to individuals involved in KremlinGate, especially high-ranking Americans—and preserving those records for Federal investigators. This would include intercepted phone calls and any transcripts of them, emails, online chats, faxes—anything the agency might have picked up last year.
At the request of NSA officials, I will not name the specific individuals that DO personnel have been told to be on the lookout for in SIGINT intercepts, but one could fairly surmise that the list includes virtually all key members of Team Trump.
Read more at the Observer link. Schindler tweeted this morning that more leaks will be coming. More tweets from this morning:
Two other spy types on Twitter say it looks like Russian hackers are planning to help Trump out.
Early this morning, Trump responded with one of his idiotic tweets.
Trump also tweeted out a Fox News story that claims Kushner wasn’t the one who suggested a secure back channel with Russia.
A December meeting between Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of the senior advisers in the Trump administration, and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at Trump Tower focused on Syria, a source familiar with the matter told Fox News Monday.
During the meeting the Russians broached the idea of using a secure line between the Trump administration and Russia, not Kushner, a source familiar with the matter told Fox News. That follows a recent report from The Washington Post alleging that Kushner wanted to develop a secure, private line with Russia.
The idea of a permanent back channel was never discussed, according to the source. Instead, only a one-off for a call about Syria was raised in the conversation.
In addition, the source told Fox News the December meeting focused on Russia’s contention that the Obama administration’s policy on Syria was deeply flawed.
In tweeting the story approvingly, Trump seems to be confirming that the meeting took place and that it focused on civilians interfering with the foreign policy of a sitting president, Barack Obama.
I guess those plans for controlling Trump’s self-destructive tweets isn’t working.
More Russia news breaking from ABC News, as I write this: Russia investigation expands to include Donald Trump’s personal attorney.
One of President Donald Trump’s closest confidants, his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, has now become a focus of the expanding Congressional investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 campaign.
Cohen confirmed to ABC News that House and Senate investigators have asked him “to provide information and testimony” about any contacts he had with people connected to the Russian government, but he said he has turned down the invitation.
“I declined the invitation to participate as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen told ABC News in an email Tuesday.
After Cohen rejected the Congressional requests for cooperation, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to grant the chairman, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, and ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, blanket authority to issue subpoenas as they deem necessary.
The rest of the story mostly recaps what we already know about Cohen and other Trump associates who are being investigated.
The long-predicted White House reorganization may have begun.
The Washington Post: Dubke resigns as White House communications director.
Mike Dubke has resigned as White House communications director in the first of what could be a series of changes to President Trump’s senior staff amid the growing Russia scandal.
Dubke, who served in the post for three months, tendered his resignation May 18. He offered to stay on to help manage communications in Washington during Trump’s foreign trip, and the president accepted.
Dubke’s last day on the job has not been determined. But it could be as early as Tuesday, when he was expected to meet with his staff at the White House, said a senior administration official, who required anonymity to discuss a personnel move that has not yet been formally announced….
Dubke, 47, who has worked closely with White House press secretary Sean Spicer, served as a behind-the-scenes player helping manage communications strategy and responses to crises such as the firing of James B. Comey as FBI director, as well as rollout plans for policy and other initiatives.
The communications operation — and Dubke and Spicer specifically — have come under sharp criticism from Trump and many senior officials in the West Wing, who believe the president has been poorly served by his staff, in particular in the aftermath of the Comey firing.
Will Spicer be next? From Politico:
Spicer, the press secretary, is expected to take on a reduced public role, though he is conducting the briefing later on Tuesday. Dubke, who was only on the job for a little over three months, had generally been seen as a Spicer ally in the White House.
Trump has also been in talks with former campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie about taking on more formal roles, possibly in a crisis management function. Trump met with Lewandowski and Bossie in the White House on Monday, and the discussion centered on what role they could play, said one person briefed on the matter.
Trump is also said to have become more frustrated with Kushner, a top adviser who has become the subject of damaging reports alleging that he tried to set up secret communications with the Russians during the transition and failed to disclose multiple meetings with Russian officials.
However, it’s not clear that Trump would remove a family member, and Kushner’s lawyer said he is willing to cooperate with the various investigations into the matter.
More insider stuff at the link.
One more interesting article on a Trump favorite from Vanity Fair: How Stephen Miller Rode White Rage from Duke’s Campus to Trump’s West Wing. It seems that as a writer for the Duke student newspaper, Miller got involved in the Duke Lacrosse rape allegations.
A columnist for The Chronicle, the Duke student newspaper, Miller defended the lacrosse players in print, despite nearly universal condemnation of them by others on campus and in the media. His outspoken support for the players—even before the indictments were handed up—got him plenty of national media attention, which he enthusiastically embraced. As he expounded nightly on CNN and on The O’Reilly Factor, among other television shows, it became apparent that the sordid allegations surrounding the case gave Miller the perfect opportunity to hone the right-wing political views he had espoused since adolescence. His passion for American exceptionalism and racial superiority eventually led him to jobs in Washington, D.C., first as a spokesperson for two right-wing members of Congress, Michele Bachmann and John Shadegg, and then as a policy adviser and communications director for conservative Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. attorney general. Sessions, with Miller at his side, almost single-handedly killed the 2013 bipartisan immigration-reform bill that would have created a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Now, at 31, the still-single Miller is President Trump’s youngest senior policy adviser, with his own office in the West Wing and a seat at the table during crucial decisions. His most visible act in that job so far was helping his friend Steve Bannon, for the moment Trump’s chief strategist, to craft and roll out the Trump administration’s first try at instituting a travel ban on the citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Check out the rest at Vanity Fair.
I’m getting the feeling that this may turn out to be another big news day. Who knows what shoes are about to drop? I plan to keep my eyes and ears open.
Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.