Tuesday Reads: Russia Russia RussiaPosted: June 5, 2018
There has quite a bit of breaking news on the Russia investigation front this week, and it’s only Tuesday. We learned last night that Paul Manafort tried to suborn perjury from witnesses in his case. Perhaps that’s why Trump has been madly tweeting about Manafort and the investigation generally.
The Washington Post: Mueller accuses Paul Manafort of witness tampering.
Federal prosecutors accused former Trump presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort of witness tampering late Monday in his criminal case and asked a federal judge to consider revoking or revising his release.
Prosecutors accused Manafort and a longtime associate they linked to Russian intelligence of repeatedly contacting two members of a public relations firm and asking them to falsely testify about secret lobbying they did at Manafort’s behest.
The firm of former senior European officials, informally called the “Hapsburg group,” was secretly retained in 2012 by Manafort to advocate for Ukraine, where Manafort had clients, prosecutors charged.
In court documents, prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III allege that Manafort and his associate — referred to only as Person A — tried to contact the two witnesses by phone and through encrypted messaging apps. The description of Person A matches his longtime business colleague in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik.
So Manafort could soon be headed for jail unless he decides to cooperate with Mueller. Read the rest at the WaPo. Some commentary:
John Cassidy at The New Yorker: More Legal Trouble for Paul Manafort—and Donald Trump.
Coincidences do happen, but this seems to be an unlikely one. On Sunday morning, seemingly apropos of nothing, Donald Trump posted a messageon Twitter that stated the following: “As only one of two people left who could become President, why wouldn’t the FBI or Department of ‘Justice’ have told me that they were secretly investigating Paul Manafort (on charges that were 10 years old and had been previously dropped) during my campaign? Should have told me!”
Even by Trump’s standards, this message seemed a bit weird. A few minutes later, the President posted another one, which said, Paul Manafort came into the campaign very late and was with us for a short period of time (he represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole & many others over the years), but we should have been told that Comey and the boys were doing a number on him, and he wouldn’t have been hired!”
Trump says a lot of things on Twitter, of course. But prior to this outburst, he hadn’t talked much recently about Manafort, who made millions of dollars working as a political consultant for despots around the world and is facing trial in two federal courts on charges that include money laundering, bank fraud, and failing to disclose his U.S. lobbying work for a foreign government—all of which were brought by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Why Trump’s sudden interest? One possible inference was that the President had somehow heard that there was more bad news coming about Manafort, and he was trying to limit some of the damage in advance of its release. If that was indeed the case, we now know the source of Trump’s concern.
In a filing made in U.S. district court, in Washington, on Monday night, Mueller’s office accused Manafort, who is out on bail, of trying to tamper with potential witnesses earlier this year, and asked a judge to consider jailing him before his trial. At this stage, obviously, we don’t know how the court will rule. But Manafort is already facing considerable pressure to coöperate with the special counsel’s investigation. If the court were to revoke his freedom, this pressure would sharply increase.
Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: Paul Manafort Loses His Cool.
At the height of his powers as a political consultant, Paul Manafort was known for his cool. In fact, the value of his counsel increased at moments of crisis. While others panicked, Manafort rarely evinced a hint of frazzle. He could still think strategically, detach himself from emotion, and issue clearheaded guidance. But he could afford to keep his head at such moments, because the problems he was called on to solve belonged to others.
Robert Mueller’s allegation that Manafort attempted to tamper with a witness permits us to peer inside Manafort’s mind as it has functioned in a very different set of circumstances. When it comes to Manafort’s own deep problems—his moment of legal peril—he seems unable to muster strategic thinking. He has shown himself capable of profoundly dunderheaded miscalculations.
It’s hard to understand how he could have attempted the scheme described by Mueller in the midst of the highest-profile, most scrutinized criminal inquiry of the century. But that alone fails to capture the depths of his blundering.
Foer describes how each of Mueller’s filings in Manafort’s case has made it clear that Manafort’s every move is being closely watched by federal investigators, and yet Manafort apparently thought he could get away with contacting witnesses.
Each of Mueller’s new filings has further revealed the extent to which he is surveilling Manafort and his closest associates. A week before Manafort apparently attempted to tamper with the witness, Mueller stated plainly that he was watching their encrypted communication channels. And before that, Mueller showed that he was keeping tabs on Manafort’s email when he exposed an op-ed that Manafort had ghostwritten in his own defense, in violation of a judge’s gag order.
If we look back on Robert Mueller’s strategy over the past few months, the special prosecutor seems to repeatedly signal to Manafort: Look, I know everything; you have no choice but cooperation. It’s a pattern that continues with this filing, the first instance in which Mueller has deployed material supplied by Manafort’s old alter ego, Rick Gates. When Gates agreed to cooperate with Mueller, he handed over a raft of emails. We can see in the exhibits that Mueller attached to this filing that Gates possesses a comprehensive archive of Manafort’s dealings, a blueprint of his operation. There will be no ellipses in the Manafort trial. Gates can fill all the gaps.
There is another suggestive fact that Mueller posits in passing. Manafort’s witness-tampering scheme featured a co-conspirator. Mueller doesn’t name the accomplice, but his identity is not hard to discern from Mueller’s description. Manafort tried to contact his Hapsburg Group collaborators through his old Russo-Ukrainian aide, Konstantin Kilimnik.
Why did Manafort think he could get away with continuing to communicate with Kilimnik? Mueller is slowly but surely ensuring that Manafort will either cooperate or spend the rest of his life in prison.
Meanwhile, at Mother Jones, David Corn warns that the simple narrative of Russia’s attack on our democracy is getting lost in the details as Trump, Fox News, and Devin Nunes work constantly to obfuscate the truth with big lies: Donald Trump Is Getting Away With the Biggest Scandal In American History.
The other evening I was on a cable news show to cover the latest Russia news of the day—and I had an epiphany.
We were talking about a recent scoop from Michael Isikoff, the co-author of my latest book, Russian Roulette. He had reported that a Spanish prosecutor had handed the FBI wiretapped transcripts of a Russian official who was suspected of money laundering and for years had been trying to gain influence within the American conservative movement and the National Rifle Association. We then discussed a New York Times article revealing that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s longtime fixer, had met with a Russian oligarch in January 2017, around the time a US company affiliated with this tycoon began making $500,000 in payments to Cohen. Next we turned to the latest in the so-called Spygate nonscandal—the false claim, championed by Trump and his defenders, that the FBI infiltrated a spy into his presidential campaign for political purposes.
Then the show moved on. We had spent 15 or so minutes on these important developments, delving into the details—but without referring to the essence of the story. And it hit me: Though it’s clear Trump’s presidency has been hobbled by the Russia scandal, the manner in which this matter plays out in the media has helped Trump.
Meanwhile Trump, backed up by Fox News, keeps pushing out his propaganda.
The other side—the accurate perspective—isn’t that complicated. In 2016, Vladimir Putin’s regime mounted information warfare against the United States, in part to help Trump become president. While this attack was underway, the Trump crew tried to collude covertly with Moscow, sought to set up a secret communications channel with Putin’s office, and repeatedly denied in public that this assault was happening, providing cover to the Russian operation. Trump and his lieutenants aligned themselves with and assisted a foreign adversary, as it was attacking the United States. The evidence is rock-solid: They committed a profound act of betrayal. That is the scandal.
But how often do you hear or see this fundamental point being made? The media coverage of the Trump-Russia scandal—which has merged with Cohen’s pay-to-play scandal, the Stormy Daniels scandal, and a wider foreign-intervention-in-the-2016-campaign scandal—has yielded a flood of revelations. Yet the news reporting tends to focus on specific components of an unwieldy and ever-expanding story: a Trump Tower meeting between Trump aides and a Kremlin emissary; what special counsel Robert Mueller may or may not be doing; the alleged money-laundering and tax-evasion skullduggery of Paul Manafort; a secret get-together in the Seychelles between former Blackwater owner Erik Prince and a Russian financier; the Kremlin’s clandestine exploitation of social media; Russian hackers penetrating state election systems; Michael Flynn’s shady lobbying activities; Trump’s attempted interference in the investigation; and so much more. It is hard to hold on to all these pieces and place them into one big picture.
Please go read the rest–it’s fairly lengthy. I’m not sure what the solution to this is; It’s not likely that non-Fox news sources are going to start hammering a simple narrative to push back on the Trump big lies. I can only hope that when Mueller issues his report, it will pull all the complex details together into a coherent and understandable story.
Finally, get this–Vladimir Putin is now bragging publicly about his “close relationship” with Trump. Axios reports:
Russian President Vladimir Putin tells Austrian TV that he and President Trump have a close working relationship, although it’s complicated by U.S. politics.
“You should ask our colleagues in the United States. In my opinion, this is the result of the ongoing acute political struggle in the United States. Indeed, Donald Trump and I have, firstly, met more than once at various international venues and secondly, we regularly talk over the phone.”
Interviewer: “You and Donald Trump talk so nicely over the telephone, but Trump has been President for a year and a half and there still has not been a bilateral summit between you, in contrast to Bush and Obama with whom you met within the first six months of their presidencies. Why is it taking so long?”
“Our foreign affairs departments and special services are working fairly well together in areas of mutual interest, above all in the fight against international terrorism. This work is ongoing.”
“As for personal meetings, I think that the possibility of these meetings depends to a large extent on the internal political situation in the United States….”
“In a recent telephone conversation, Donald said he was worried about the possibility of a new arms race. I fully agree with him.”
“[W]e will do all we can to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. So of course we pin great hopes on the personal meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, because mutual claims have gone way too far.”
Putin calls the “president” *Donald.* And I guess if “Donald” does achieve any success with North Korea, Putin expects to share the glory.
So . . . what stories are you following today?