Lazy Saturday Reads: Schadenfreude is So Much FunPosted: June 3, 2017
I’m having one of those days when I just don’t want to deal with the news, and now WordPress has made my day even worse. I was plugging along and had written quite a bit, when suddenly my entire post disappeared from the editor. I had been saving it, but there were no saved edits, no way to recover what I’d done. So now I’ll try again.
Recapping the breaking news from last night:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The special counsel investigating possible ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia’s government has taken over a separate criminal probe involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and may expand his inquiry to investigate the roles of the attorney general and deputy attorney general in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, The Associated Press has learned.
The Justice Department’s criminal investigation into Manafort, who was forced to resign as Trump campaign chairman in August amid questions over his business dealings years ago in Ukraine, predated the 2016 election and the counterintelligence probe that in July began investigating possible collusion between Moscow and associates of Trump.
The move to consolidate the matters, involving allegations of kleptocracy of Ukrainian government funds, indicates that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is assuming a broad mandate in his new role running the sensational investigation. The expansiveness of Mueller’s investigation was described to the AP. No one familiar with the matter has been willing to discuss the scope of his investigation on the record because it is just getting underway and because revealing details could complicate its progress.
In an interview separately Friday with the AP, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein acknowledged that Mueller could expand his inquiry to include Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ and Rosenstein’s own roles in the decision to fire Comey, who was investigating the Trump campaign. Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel to take over the investigation, wrote the memorandum intended to justify Trump’s decision to fire Comey. Sessions met with Trump and Rosenstein to discuss Trump’s decision to fire him despite Sessions’ pledge not to become involved in the Russia case.
Rosenstein told the AP that if he were to become a subject of Mueller’s investigation, he would recuse himself from any oversight of Mueller.
Reuters via CNBC: Special counsel Mueller to probe ex-Trump aide Flynn’s Turkey ties.
Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible ties between the Trump election campaign and Russia, is expanding his probe to include a grand jury investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, three sources told Reuters.
The move means Mueller’s politically charged inquiry will now look into Flynn’s paid work as a lobbyist for a Turkish businessman in 2016, in addition to contacts between Russian officials and Flynn and other Trump associates during and after the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Federal prosecutors in Virginia are investigating a deal between Flynn and Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin as part of a grand jury criminal probe, according to a subpoena seen by Reuters.Alptekin’s company, Netherlands-based Inovo BV, paid Flynn’s consultancy $530,000 between September and November to produce a documentary and research on Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric living in the United States. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan blames Gulen for a failed coup last July.
Alptekin, an ally of Erdogan, told Reuters he hired Flynn to provide research on how Gulen is “poisoning the atmosphere” between Turkey and the United States. Gulen has denied any role in the coup and dismisses Turkey’s allegations that he heads a terrorist organization.
The grand jury in Virginia has issued subpoenas to some of Flynn’s business associates involved in the work for Inovo, two people familiar with the probe say. The subpoena seen by Reuters seeks bank records, documents and communications related to Flynn, his company, Flynn Intel Group, Alptekin and Inovo.
Pete Williams at NBC News: Special Counsel Robert Mueller Taking Close Control of Russia Investigation.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is already closely managing the Russian election meddling investigation he was appointed to oversee, receiving daily briefings and weighing in on investigative tactics, a spokesman told NBC News Friday….
Because Mueller is only the second special counsel appointed under rules drawn up nearly two decades ago, there were few precedents to guide how he would oversee the investigation. He could have chosen to take a more removed role, instead of overseeing developments closely.
“Is he going to play a direct role? Yes, he’s very involved in supervising the investigation,” said Peter Carr, the spokesman for the special counsel.
Federal rules specify that a special counsel will have “the full power and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States attorney.”
Mueller will act much as a U.S. attorney would in supervising a local FBI investigation, Carr added.
Excellent! And to top off the schadenfreude, Trump toady Devin Nunes is in trouble again.
The Washington Post: Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee asked for ‘unmaskings’ of Americans.
The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee asked U.S. spy agencies late last year to reveal the names of U.S. individuals or organizations contained in classified intelligence on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, engaging in the same practice that President Trump has accused the Obama administration of abusing, current and former officials said.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), has since cast the practice of “unmasking” of U.S. individuals and organizations mentioned in classified reports as an abuse of surveillance powers by the outgoing Obama administration.
Trump has argued that investigators should focus their attention on former officials leaking names from intelligence reports, rather than whether the Kremlin coordinated its activities with the Trump campaign, an allegation he has denied. “The big story is the ‘unmasking and surveillance’ of people that took place during the Obama administration,” Trump tweeted Thursday.
So it seems Nunes is still *colluding* with Trump to derail the Russia investigation. A couple more Nunes stories to check out:
The Atlantic: The Unrecusal of Devin Nunes.
All of the above investigations are great, but I have to believe that the investigation of Jared Kushner is the one that will finally bring down Trump.
Here are the latest Kushner stories, along with one relevant old article.
In the middle of December last year, Jared Kushner, the smooth-skinned, impeccably tailored and inscrutable son-in-law of Donald Trump, was riding high. He was basking in the glow of having helped his father-in-law become the most powerful man on earth; was about to take up the role of senior adviser to the President of the United States, which would make him one of the most influential people in the administration; and on the home front he and his wife Ivanka Trump were sitting on a real estate pile worth up to $740m.
If he’d just let his elegantly thin-lapelled suits and pinstriped ties do the talking, he might still be atop that wave, lauded by some as the one voice of reason and calm in a wild and unpredictable White House. But he didn’t rest there.
Instead, he allowed himself to be lured by the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, to a meeting with a top Russian banker, an alumnus of the country’s top spy academy with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Details of the discussion with Sergey Gorkov remain sketchy, but according to Gorkov himself Kushner was present in his capacity as CEO of Kushner Companies, the family real estate empire from which he had yet to step aside in preparation for his move into the White House.
Gorkov’s description suggests that money matters may have been on the table between the two men. Even more incendiary was the alleged proposal that passed between the two men about setting up a back-channel between the Trump inner circle and the Kremlin, as revealed by the Washington Post.
With that one encounter, barely 30 minutes long, Kushner eviscerated his carefully cultivated image and propelled himself into the center of the inquiry into possible links between Trumpworld and the Russians. He now finds himself as a person of interest, though not a target, of the FBI investigation.
Savor the rest at the Guardian.
The New York Times Editorial Board: The Problem With Jared Kushner.
What are we supposed to make of the news that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, met with the Russian ambassador in December to discuss establishing a back channel between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities?
Start with the reactions from America’s intelligence community, whose job it is to monitor foreign actors’ attempts to steal the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.
Michael Hayden, the former C.I.A. director, said this: “What manner of ignorance, chaos, hubris, suspicion, contempt would you have to have to think that doing this with the Russian ambassador was a good or an appropriate idea?” Another former top intelligence official called it “extremely naïve or absolutely crazy.” [….]
Stupidity, paranoia, malevolence — it’s hard to distinguish among competing explanations for the behavior of people in this administration. In the case of Mr. Kushner’s meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the ambassador, and his meeting that month with Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker with close ties to the Kremlin and Russian intelligence, even the most benign of the various working theories suggests that Mr. Kushner, who had no experience in politics or diplomacy before Mr. Trump’s campaign, is in way over his head.
Click on the link to read the rest.
The old (March 29) but relevant story is by Trump biographer Timothy L. O’Brien at Bloomberg: Senators, Please Ask Jared Kushner About 666 Fifth Avenue.
In a happy moment in the otherwise cloudy world of the Trump family and the flood of financial conflicts they’ve carted into Washington, a major Chinese investor has decided not to pour billions of dollars into a Manhattan skyscraper owned by the Jared Kushner clan.
Had this deal gone forward — the effect would have been to bail Kushner out of a huge, misbegotten investment while letting his family take home at least $400 million and retain a minority ownership stake in the building — it would have compromised President Donald Trump’s diplomacy with China.
The background: Anbang, an insurer and prolific deal-maker close to China’s government, had considered investing $4 billion in 666 Fifth Avenue. Kushner had overpaid for the building in 2007, when he bought it with the help of bank loans for $1.8 billion. The financial crisis ensued, occupancy rates plummeted and Kushner had to be rescued by outside investors to keep the troubled building afloat. Anbang’s investment would have valued the building at a handsome $2.85 billion, and also refinanced about $1.15 billion in debt.
The possibility of a transaction brought scrutiny from two Bloomberg news reporters, Caleb Melby and David Kocieniewski, as well as from Congress and the New York Times. I discussed it in a column here two weeks ago. And for good reason: Kushner is a senior White House adviser who has Trump’s ear on foreign policy. The math of Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law being saved from a reckless investment by China presented all sorts of conflicts of interest and the potential for disastrous policy moves by the White House.
So Anbang is now gone and all has been made right? Well, no.
Kushner’s family still owns a building that needs a financial lifeline, so 666 Fifth Avenue presents something that Congress may want to examine more closely when Jared Kushner meets with the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of an inquiry into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
It seems pretty likely that Kushner’s meeting with that *sanctioned* Russian banker was about finding money for the Kusnher family business.
The Washington Post: Explanations for Kushner’s meeting with head of Kremlin-linked bank don’t match up.
The White House and a Russian state-owned bank have very different explanations for why the bank’s chief executive and Jared Kushner held a secret meeting during the presidential transition in December.
The bank maintained this week that the session was held as part of a new business strategy and was conducted with Kushner in his role as the head of his family’s real estate business. The White House says the meeting was unrelated to business and was one of many diplomatic encounters the soon-to-be presidential adviser was holding ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The contradiction is deepening confusion over Kushner’s interactions with the Russians as the president’s son-in-law emerges as a key figure in the FBI’s investigation into potential coordination between Moscow and the Trump team.
I’ll end there, because this post is getting way too long.
What stories are you following today?