Lazy Caturday Reads: Putin’s PuppetPosted: January 12, 2019
I assume everyone has heard about the blockbuster story in The New York Times last night about an FBI investigation into whether Trump was working with Russia and against the U.S.: F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia.
In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.
The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.
The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.
Two well-known instances of Trump’s public behavior helped trigger the counterintelligence investigation of Trump: a draft of a letter explaining the firing James Comey and Trump’s interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in which he tied the firing of Comey to the Russia investigation. The investigations were passed on to Robert Mueller after he was appointed Special Counsel.
The criminal and counterintelligence elements were coupled together into one investigation, former law enforcement officials said in interviews in recent weeks, because if Mr. Trump had ousted the head of the F.B.I. to impede or even end the Russia investigation, that was both a possible crime and a national security concern. The F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division handles national security matters.
If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017. He privately testified in October before House investigators who were examining the F.B.I.’s handling of the full Russia inquiry.
“Not only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,” Mr. Baker said in his testimony, portions of which were read to The New York Times. Mr. Baker did not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the investigation of Mr. Trump to congressional investigators.
F.B.I. officials viewed their decision to move quickly as validated when a comment the president made to visiting Russian officials in the Oval Office shortly after he fired Mr. Comey was revealed days later.
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to a document summarizing the meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
This should be mind-blowing; but after all we’ve learned over the past three years it’s really not that big of a surprise. After all, Hillary warned us back in 2016.
After the NYT story broke last night, Sarah Sanders released an idiotic statement that contained no denial of the substance.
Trump also tweeted and failed to deny anything substantive in the story.
Susan Glasser reupped her May 2017 Politico story about Trump’s meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office: Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance. The cozy meeting between President Trump and Russia’s foreign minister came at Vladimir Putin’s insistence.
When President Donald Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday just hours after firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded with the Russians, he was breaking with recent precedent at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The chummy White House visit—photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit—had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, and indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”
The meeting was Lavrov’s first in the White House since 2013—and came after several years of the Obama administration’s flat-out refusal to grant him an Oval Office audience, two former senior White House officials told me. “The Russians were begging us for years to do that,” one of the former officials said. “They were constantly pushing for it and we were constantly saying no.”
The images of Trump putting his arm genially on Lavrov’s back—and a later White House official readout of the meeting that said Trump “emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia”—couldn’t have come at a more fraught political moment for Trump, amid a barrage of bipartisan criticism of his firing of FBI Director James Comey. On Wednesday morning before meeting with Trump, Lavrov even cracked a joke about his hosts’ political predicament, laughingly claiming not to have heard of the Comey firing while standing alongside Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
In other words, Lavrov was right where he has always wanted to be Wednesday: mocking the United States while being welcomed in the Oval Office by the president himself.
How many conversations has Trump had with Putin on his unsecured cell phone? My guess is the NSA and Robert Mueller know the answer and they also know what the two pals discussed.
Late last night The Hoarse Whisperer posted a long Twitter thread, at the end of which he noted that on his way out Obama issued an executive order to make information sharing between the NSA and the FBI easier.
Read the whole thread on Twitter.
From the January 2017 New York Times Story by Charlie Savage:
In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.
The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.
The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.
Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.
Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions.
Obama must have suspected that FBI investigators would need to access the NSA data.
More stories to check out:
I know there’s plenty of other news, but I can’t focus on anything but the Russian agent in the White House. But please share your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.