Tuesday Reads: Too Much News!Posted: December 5, 2017
Today is another day when there is so much news that my head is spinning. Even though so much is happening, I’m going to focus on Trump Russia news. I’ll add more news links in the comment thread.
Breaking last night:
Robert Mueller’s team withdrew their support for a bail agreement that had been reached with Paul Manafort:
Federal prosecutors asserted Monday that a longtime associate of Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Trump’s campaign, has been “assessed to have ties” to Russian intelligence — the first time the special counsel has alleged a Trump official had such contacts.
The statement came as prosecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III withdrew their support for a joint bail deal filed last week that would have released Manafort from home detention and GPS monitoring while he awaits trial on charges including money laundering and fraud.
In the four-page filing Monday, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann urged the judge to reject the bail deal, arguing that Manafort and a Russian colleague have been secretly ghostwriting an English-language editorial that appeared to defend Manafort’s work advising a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.
They said Manafort worked on the draft as recently as last week with “a long-time Russian colleague . . . who is currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service.” They indicated they would file further supporting evidence under seal….
The Russian colleague was not identified in court papers. However, Manafort has had a long-standing Russian employee named Konstantin Kilimnik who ran Manafort’s office in Kiev during the 10 years he did consulting work there.
You can read the full court filing here.
K.T. McFarland, who worked closely with Michael Flynn during the Trump transition and became his deputy national security adviser may have lied during her confirmation hearing. The New York Times: McFarland’s Testimony About Russia Contacts Is Questioned.
A leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee questioned on Monday whether a high-ranking official in Donald J. Trump’s transition team had been deceptive over the summer about her knowledge of discussions between Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, and a former Russian ambassador.
K. T. McFarland served on the presidential transition team before becoming the White House deputy national security adviser. In July, she was questioned in writing by Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, on whether she had ever spoken to Mr. Flynn about his contacts with Sergey I. Kislyak, who was then the Russian ambassador to Washington, before Mr. Trump took office.
“I am not aware of any of the issues or events described above,” Ms. McFarland wrote in response, sidestepping a direct answer to the question.
An email exchange obtained by The New York Times indicates that Ms. McFarland was aware at the time of a crucial Dec. 29 phone call between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak that was intercepted by American intelligence. During that call, Mr. Flynn urged Moscow to respond cautiously to sanctions just imposed by the Obama administration for Russia’s interference in the presidential election.
Read more at the NYT.
Diana Denman, a Republican delegate who supported arming U.S. allies in Ukraine, has told people that Trump aide J.D. Gordon said at the Republican Convention in 2016 that Trump directed him to support weakening that position in the official platform….
Denman is scheduled to meet this week with the House and Senate Intelligence committees to discuss what she saw, said two sources familiar with the briefings.
The revision to Denman’s proposed amendment to the Republican platform scaled back the party’s position on pro-Western elements in Ukraine — from supporting supplying weapons for fighters there to a more general assistance.
The issue is of interest to investigators in Congress and the team working for Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller because the idea of arming Ukrainians in the fight against pro-Russian separatist forces was staunchly opposed by the Russian government — and, it seems, the Trump campaign as well.
The fallout from Trump’s weekend tweet about Michael Flynn continues. The Washington Post: Trump lawyer says president knew Flynn had given FBI the same account he gave to vice president.
President Trump’s personal lawyer said Sunday that the president knew in late January that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had probably given FBI agents the same inaccurate account he provided to Vice President Pence about a call with the Russian ambassador.
Trump lawyer John Dowd said the information was passed to Trump by White House counsel Donald McGahn, who had been warned about Flynn’s statement to the vice president by a senior Justice Department official. The vice president said publicly at the time that Flynn had told him he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian diplomat — a statement disproved by a U.S. intelligence intercept of a phone call between Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Trump was aware of the issue a couple of weeks before a conversation with then-FBI Director James B. Comey in which Comey said the president asked him if he could be lenient while investigating Flynn, whom Trump had just fired for misleading Pence about the nature of his conversations with the Russian.
According to notes kept by Comey, Trump asked if he could see “his way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Trump fired Comey in May.
In a pre-dawn tweet Sunday, Trump issued a fresh rebuttal to Comey, writing: “I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!” The tweet was part of a running commentary from Trump that began Saturday, a day after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and indicated he would cooperate with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Now Dowd is trying to argue that the president cannot commit obstruction of justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer of the government. I don’t think that will fly, since both Nixon and Bill Clinton were charged with obstruction in impeachment hearings.
Breaking this morning:
Bloomberg: Mueller Subpoenas Trump Deutsche Bank Records.
Mueller issued a subpoena to Germany’s largest lender several weeks ago, forcing the bank to submit documents on its relationship with Trump and his family, according to a person briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the action has not been announced.
“Deutsche Bank always cooperates with investigating authorities in all countries,” the lender said in a statement to Bloomberg Tuesday, declining to provide additional information.
Deutsche Bank for months has rebuffed calls by Democratic lawmakers to provide more transparency over the roughly $300 million Trump owed to the bank for his real estate dealings prior to becoming president. Representative Maxine Waters of California and other Democrats have asked whether the bank’s loans to Trump, made years before he ran for president, were in any way connected to Russia. The bank previously rejected those demands, saying sharing client data would be illegal unless it received a formal request to do so. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
Donald Trump’s banking information has formally been turned over to Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating whether the president’s campaign conspired with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election.
Deutsche Bank, the German bank that serves as Trump’s biggest lender, was forced to submit documents about its client relationship with the president and some of his family members, who are also Deutsche clients, after Mueller issued the bank with a subpoena for information, according to multiple media reports. The news was first reported by Handelsblatt, the German newspaper.
The revelation makes it clear that Mueller and his team are investigating the president’s finances. Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, is also a client….
It also indicated that any investigation into Trump personally may not be limited to the question of whether or not the president sought to obstruct justice when he fired the former FBI chief James Comey.
Instead, said Ryan Goodman, a New York law professor and former Pentagon counsel, it showed that Mueller was possibly examining whether the president could be compromised by Russian interests.
Jared Kushner is also involved with Deutsche Bank, and he apparently “forgot” to report a huge loan he got from them shortly before the election. Vox: Mueller appears to be looking deep into Trump’s finances.
The real estate company owned by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top White House adviser, finalized a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank one month before election day as part of a refinancing package for one of Kushner’s company’s properties in Times Square.
The bank has also been linked to criminal activity. In January 2017, Deutsche Bank received $630 million in penalties because it was involved in a $10 billion Russian money-laundering scheme that involved the bank’s Moscow, New York, and London branches, CNN reports.
One last scary story:
It’s from The Intercept, but it was also covered by Buzzfeed recently.
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency.
The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.
“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”
Oliver North, who appears frequently on Trump’s favorite TV network, Fox News, was enlisted to help sell the effort to the administration. He was the “ideological leader” brought in to lend credibility, said the former senior intelligence official.
Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed.
The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world, as well as a propaganda campaign in the Middle East and Europe to combat Islamic extremism and Iran.
This is another boondoggle proposed by a company located in Whitefish, Montana. Read the rest at the link.
What stories are you following today?