Posted: October 10, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: corruption, Donald Trump, impeachment, John Bauer, Kurds, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Rex Tillerson, Reza Zarrab, Rudy Giuliani, Stefan Spjut, Syria, trolls, Turkey
Painting by John Bauer, 1915
My latest escape from Trump world has been reading a Swedish horror/crime novel, The Shapeshifters, by Stefan Spjut. It’s not really that scary; it involves people investigating crimes by trolls and other creatures from Swedish folklore. A prominent character in the story is the famous Swedish artist John Bauer, whose painting illustrated books of Swedish fairy tales. I’m using some of his paintings in this post.
Trolls are huge in all Scandinavian folklore, but my sister-in-law, who is Danish, informed me that Swedish trolls are big, ugly, and frightening while Danish trolls are small and cute. I don’t know about Norwegian, Finnish, and Icelandic trolls. It would be fun to find out about those.
Now on to the news. Breaking this morning from The Wall Street Journal: Two Foreign-Born Men Who Helped Giuliani on Ukraine Arrested on Campaign-Finance Charges.
Two foreign-born donors to a pro- Trump fundraising committee who helped Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Democrat Joe Biden were arrested late Wednesday on criminal charges of violating campaign finance rules and are expected to appear in court on Thursday, according to people familiar with the matter.
Troll mother and child, by John Bauer
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida businessmen, have been under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan, and are expected to appear in federal court in Virginia later on Thursday, the people said. The men’s nationalities were unclear, though both were believed to have been born in former Soviet republics.
Mr. Giuliani, President Trump’s private lawyer, identified the two men in May as his clients. Both men have donated to Republican campaigns including Mr. Trump’s, and in May 2018 gave $325,000 to the primary pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, through an LLC called Global Energy Producers, according to Federal Election Commission records.
I wonder if Cover-Up General Barr with allow this to continue? A bit more:
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman had a dinner with the president in early May 2018, according to since-deleted Facebook posts captured in a report published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. They also met with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. , later that month at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills, Calif., along with Tommy Hicks Jr. , a close friend of the younger Mr. Trump who at the time was heading America First Action. Mr. Parnas posted a photo of their breakfast four days after his LLC donated to the super PAC.
If you saw Rachel Maddow’s show last night you heard about another new Trump corruption story that broke at Bloomberg News: Trump Urged Top Aide to Help Giuliani Client Facing DOJ Charges.
President Donald Trump pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help persuade the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was a client of Rudy Giuliani, according to three people familiar with the 2017 meeting in the Oval Office.
From the story The Trolls and the Youngest Tomte
Tillerson refused, arguing it would constitute interference in an ongoing investigation of the trader, Reza Zarrab, according to the people. They said other participants in the Oval Office were shocked by the request.
Tillerson immediately repeated his objections to then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in a hallway conversation just outside the Oval Office, emphasizing that the request would be illegal. Neither episode has been previously reported, and all of the people spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the conversations….
The Turkish attacks continue in Syria.
Zarrab was being prosecuted in federal court in New York at the time on charges of evading U.S. sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. He had hired former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Giuliani, who has said he reached out repeatedly to U.S. officials to seek a diplomatic solution for his client outside the courts.
The president’s request to Tillerson — which included asking him to speak with Giuliani — bears the hallmarks of Trump’s governing style, defined by his willingness to sweep aside the customary procedures and constraints of government to pursue matters outside normal channels. Tillerson’s objection came to light as Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders face intense scrutiny following the July 25 call with Ukraine’s president that has sparked an impeachment inquiry in the House.
Read the rest at the link.
More corruption news from the Financial Times: Trump adviser says China provided information about Hunter Biden.
Michael Pillsbury, an informal White House adviser on China, said he received information about the business activities of Hunter Biden during a visit to Beijing in the same week Donald Trump urged China to probe the son of Joe Biden.
“I got a quite a bit of background on Hunter Biden from the Chinese,” Mr Pillsbury told the Financial Times.
By John Bauer
Mr Trump came under heavy criticism last week after publicly urging China to investigate the Bidens in a move that mirrored his request to the Ukraine’s president in a July phone call that has sparked an impeachment inquiry.
Mr Pillsbury’s comments to the FT came after he revealed on Fox Business that he had raised the issue of the Bidens during a visit to China a week ago.
“I tried to bring up the topic in Beijing,” Mr Pillsbury told the television channel. “I’ve never seen them get so secretive in my entire life. They would discuss ICBM warheads sooner than talk about what Hunter Biden was doing in China with [former] vice-president Biden.” Mr Pillsbury, a China hawk who was widely seen as far from the mainstream before the Trump administration came to power, shares a similar stance on China to Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to Mr Trump.
But Trump was just “joking” when he publicly asked China for help for his reelection campaign, according to Republicans.
The Turkish assault on the Kurds and others in northern Syria, enabled by Trump, continues. The latest:
The New York Times: Death Toll Climbs as Turkish Offensive in Syria Enters 2nd Day.
SANLIURFA, Turkey — Fighting lit up the sky early Thursday as Turkish troops pressed their air and ground offensive against United States-allied Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. At least 16 Kurds were reported to have been killed, one monitoring group said.
Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in the Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain areas of northeastern Syria, along with six attackers of unknown identity, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a conflict monitor based in Britain. American troops had withdrawn from both areas on Monday.
An additional 33 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces were wounded, the monitoring group said.
The Turkish military’s move into Syria began on Wednesday, following President Trump’s decision on Sunday to pull American troops out of Turkey’s way, despite disagreement from his own military officers and State Department.
Even Fox News is publishing stories condemning Trump’s actions: Turkey’s Syria invasion: Member of US Special Forces says, ‘I am ashamed for the first time in my career.’
PENTAGON – A member of U.S. Special Forces serving alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria told Fox News on Wednesday they were witnessing Turkish atrocities on the frontlines.
“I am ashamed for the first time in my career,” said the distraught soldier, who has been involved in the training of indigenous forces on multiple continents. The hardened service member is among the 1,000 or so U.S. troops who remain in Syria.
Forest Troll, John Bauer
“Turkey is not doing what it agreed to. It’s horrible,” the military source on the ground said. “We met every single security agreement. The Kurds met every single agreement [with the Turks]. There was no threat to the Turks — none — from this side of the border.” [….]
At least seven civilians have been killed in strikes in northeastern Syria since the assault began on Wednesday, according to activists and a war monitor. Turkey later announced that its ground forces had invaded the region to fight the Kurds.
“This is insanity,” the concerned U.S. service member said. “I don’t know what they call atrocities, but they are happening.”
The New Yorker: Defying the World, Turkey Launches a War Against a U.S. Ally in Syria.
Two of America’s closest allies in the Middle East went to war on Wednesday—and Donald Trump didn’t seem to care. In what may have been the first declaration of hostilities on Twitter, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced that Turkey, a nato ally, had launched an invasion of Syria, to clear out a Kurdish-led militia that controls about a third of the country. The militia, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, has been allied with the United States for the past five years in the war against isis. Both sides have been equipped by the United States, albeit in vastly different ways.
Erdoğan dubbed the invasion “Operation Peace Spring.” It is anything but. Panic swept across northern Syria as Turkey’s warplanes pounded Kurdish towns and artillery fired across the border, in order to—in ironic military jargon—“soften up” the terrain for a ground offensive. The S.D.F. posted videos on social media of the aftermath, showing fires, destruction, and bodies on the ground.
John Bauer painting from The Boy Who Was Never Afraid
The region’s latest war is a deeply uneven match—and has the potential to be a slaughter of the Kurds. Turkey, which contributes the second largest force to nato, is considered the ninth most powerful military in the world. It has more than three hundred and fifty thousand active-duty soldiers—and twice that with reserves. The S.D.F. militia has about sixty-thousand men and women in uniform, including reserves; they have only rudimentary training.
Click the link to read the rest.
Trump has been busy making ludicrous excuses for his insane behavior. The Washington Post: Trump downplays U.S. alliance with Syrian Kurds, saying ‘they didn’t help us in the Second World War.’
President Trump said Wednesday that it would be “easy” for the United States to form new alliances if Syrian Kurds leave the fight against the Islamic State to fend off a Turkish attack, noting that “they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us in Normandy” and were only interested in fighting for “their land.”
“With all of that being said, we like the Kurds,” he said in response to questions about Turkey’s incursion into Syria.
Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks, following a White House ceremony where he signed unrelated executive orders, came as the administration continued an effort to correct what it has called the misimpression that Trump enabled the offensive against the U.S.-allied Kurds that Turkey launched Wednesday.
In his impromptu news conference, Trump said he expected Erdogan to conduct the offensive “in as humane a way as possible.”
“We’ll have to define that as we go along,” he said. “He can do it in a soft manner, he can do it in a very tough manner. If he doesn’t do it fairly, he’s going to [pay] a very big economic price.”
Yeah sure, asshole. Unfortunately, the rest of the world won’t just blame Trump for this outrage. They’ll hold all Americans responsible. Trump is making all of Putin’s dreams come true. More Syria stories:
The New York Times: Military Leaders Fear They’ve Seen This Before. It Ended in the Iraq War.
NBC News: Intel officials say ISIS could regroup after U.S. ‘betrayal’ of Kurds in Syria.
Wolves circle a troll, John Bauer
I’ll end with this piece at Just Security by Frank O. Bowman III, who wrote High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump. White House Letter Distorts Both Law and History on Impeachment.
The White House letter of October 8 refusing all executive branch cooperation with the ongoing House impeachment inquiry is, simply put, a public relations exercise. The legal arguments it intersperses between insults to members of the House Democratic leadership and appeals to the President’s base voters are without foundation. The errors and mischaracterizations are so numerous that they cannot all be addressed in this space. Instead, I will consider only the fundamental misconceptions at the heart of the White House argument, as well as a single illustrative historical incident – the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson.
The White House justifies its refusal to respond to the House’s investigative demands on three basic grounds: First, it claims that the House impeachment inquiry is “constitutionally invalid” because the full House has not passed a resolution specifically authorizing an impeachment inquiry of this president. Second, it maintains that the House inquiry now underway is illegitimate because it does not afford the president “due process” rights the letter suggests are required under the Constitution. Third, it asserts that the first two points are established by “every past precedent.” All these assertions are wrong.
Read Bowman’s critique at the link.
What do you think? What stories are you following today?
Posted: April 11, 2019 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Adam Schiff, Chelsea Manning, computer crimes, conspiracy theories, corruption, Fox News, Julian Assange, Maryanne Trump Barry, Richard Neal, Steven Mnuchin, Trump tax returns, William Barr
Painting by Karen Kinser
There’s way too much news this morning, but this is how we live now. Day after day the shocks come and it becomes more and more difficult to keep track of the corruption, the lawlessness, and the lack of ethics of this of this monstrous administration.
This morning Julian Assange was arrested and dragged kicking and screaming out the Equadorian embassy in London. The British courts will decide whether to extradite him to the U.S. to face charges of computer hacking and conspiracy. He is not charged in the U.S. with publishing stolen information, but for actively helping Chelsea Manning to discover the password that allowed him to break into U.S. State Department computers. More charges may be added in the future. Tweets from a British journalist.
The New York Times: Julian Assange Arrested on U.S. Extradition Warrant, London Police Say.
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who released reams of secret documents that embarrassed the United States government, was arrested by the British police on Thursday at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he had lived since 2012, after Ecuador withdrew the asylum it had granted him.
The Metropolitan Police said that Mr. Assange had been detained partly in connection with an extradition warrant filed by the authorities in the United States, where he could face of a charge of computer hacking, according to an American official, if he is extradited.
President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador said on Twitter that his country had decided to stop sheltering Mr. Assange after “his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols,” a decision that cleared the way for the British authorities to detain him.
The relationship between Mr. Assange and Ecuador has been a rocky one, even as it offered him refuge and even citizenship, and WikiLeaks said last Friday that Ecuador “already has an agreement with the UK for his arrest” and predicted that Mr. Assange would be expelled from the embassy “within ‘hours to days.’ ”
Yesterday was also a huge news day. Cover-Up General Barr appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee and revealed himself to be not only a political hack and Trump lackey but also a Fox News-style conspiracy theorist when he announced that he thinks U.S. intelligence agencies “spied” on Trump’s campaign. I wonder if he thinks Seth Rich hacked the DNC too? In his testimony Barr never expressed any concern about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to help Trump. The New York Times reports:
With the Russia investigation complete, Mr. Barr said he was preparing to review “both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign,” including possible improper “spying” by American intelligence agencies.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Mr. Barr said, adding that he believed “spying did occur.” Mr. Trump and his allies have accused the F.B.I. and other government officials of abusing their power and cooking up the Russia investigation to sabotage the president.
“I am not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at them,” Mr. Barr said. Later he said he wanted to ensure that there was no “improper surveillance” — not suggesting there had been, but that the possibility warranted review.
It was not immediately clear what Mr. Barr was referring to, and he did not present evidence to back up his statement. The F.B.I. obtained a secret surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, after he left the campaign, and reports have suggested it used at least one confidential informer to collect information on campaign associates.
Mr. Barr said that he will work with the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, to examine the origins of the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign, and that he would soon set up a team for that effort. He noted that Congress and the Justice Department’s inspector general have already completed investigations of that matter, and that after reviewing those investigations he would be able to see whether there were any “remaining questions to be addressed.”
It’s pretty clear no to anyone with half a brain that Barr sees his job as acting as Trump’s personal lawyer and not the top law enforcement officer in the U.S. representing the American people.
Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Adam Schiff just issued a stark warning about William Barr.
“I’m shocked to hear the attorney general of the United States casually make the suggestion that the FBI or intelligence community was spying on the president’s campaign,” Schiff told me. “I’m sure it was very gratifying to Donald Trump.” [….]
Schiff pointed out that the bipartisan Gang of Eight — the leaders and intelligence committee chairs in both parties — were already briefed by the Justice Department after Trump made yet another version of the assertion. At the time, the Democrats issued a joint statement saying nothing they had been told supported the notion of untoward conduct.
“It’s unclear to me what Barr was referring to,” Schiff said. He noted that he was unaware that the statement he and other Democrats put out had ever been “contested by anyone on either side of the aisle.”
“All I can make of it is that he wanted to say something pleasing to the boss, and did so at the cost of our institutions,” Schiff said.
Asked if Schiff would seek another briefing from the Justice Department on Barr’s latest claim, Schiff said: “We’ll certainly try to get to the bottom of many of the things he has been saying over the last two days — his references to investigation into the president’s political opponents.”
“His testimony raises profound concern that the attorney general is doing what we urge emerging democracies not to do, and that is, seek to prosecute your political opponents after you win an election,” Schiff continued, in an apparent reference to Barr’s vow to examine the beginnings of the investigation, precisely as Trump has long demanded….
“The big picture is this,” Schiff said. “The post-Watergate reforms are being dismantled, one by one. The Trump precedent after only two years is that you can fire the FBI director who is running an investigation in which you may be implicated as president.”
Last night, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin intervened in House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal’s demand that the IRS turn over Trump’s personal and business tax returns. The law says that the decision to turn over tax returns fall on the head of the IRS and that Mnuchin must give 30 days notice before he can get involved. But no one in the Trump administration seems to care about those silly things called laws. Axios:
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to meet House Democrats’ request to hand over 6 years of President Trump’s tax returns by the Wednesday’s deadline, stating he needs more time for review, but providing no details as to whether he will comply.
Details: Mnuchin said in a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) that his agency has consulted with the Justice Department to review the lawfulness of the request. He said it “raises serious issues concerning the constitutional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose and the constitutional rights of American citizens.”
Also last night, we got a timely reminder of why we need to see Trump’s taxes.
The New York Times: Retiring as a Judge, Trump’s Sister Ends Court Inquiry Into Her Role in Tax Dodges.
President Trump’s older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, has retired as a federal appellate judge, ending an investigation into whether she violated judicial conduct rules by participating in fraudulent tax schemes with her siblings.
The court inquiry stemmed from complaints filed last October, after an investigation by The New York Times found that the Trumps had engaged in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the inherited wealth of Mr. Trump and his siblings. Judge Barry not only benefited financially from most of those tax schemes, The Times found; she was also in a position to influence the actions taken by her family.
Judge Barry, now 82, has not heard cases in more than two years but was still listed as an inactive senior judge, one step short of full retirement. In a letter dated Feb. 1, a court official notified the four individuals who had filed the complaints that the investigation was “receiving the full attention” of a judicial conduct council. Ten days later, Judge Barry filed her retirement papers.
The status change rendered the investigation moot, since retired judges are not subject to the conduct rules. The people who filed the complaints were notified last week that the matter had been dropped without a finding on the merits of the allegations. The decision has not yet been made public, but copies were provided to The Times by two of the complainants. Both are involved in the legal profession.
The Trump crime family is so corrupt that it’s impossible to keep up with the daily revelations about them.
I’ll post some more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?
Posted: March 9, 2019 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Asian day spas, Bill Shine, corruption, Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr, Erik Prince, GY US Investments, human trafficking, iran, Li Yang, Mar-a-Lago, Saudi Arabia, Sean Hannity, sex trafficking, Tokyo Day Spas, United Arab Emirates
Sir Eli, Los Robles Elementary School Library, Porterville, CA
Yesterday I called Dakinikat early in the morning to tell her about a long investigative piece at The Miami Herald: Trump cheered Patriots to Super Bowl victory with founder of spa where Kraft was busted. She posted a brief excerpt from it in her Friday post. It was just one more example of the corruption Trumph has enabled since becoming “president,” right? Well it looks like there’s a lot more to this story and it could blow up into a huge scandal.
Yesterday multiple photos of prominent Republicans posing with Li “Cindy” Yang, the subject of the Miami Herald story, were posted on Twitter.
Yang founded a chain of “Asian day spas” in Florida, including Orchids of Asia Day Spa, which was recently busted for sex trafficking. Yang is no longer the owner of Orchids, but she and her family members still own numerous such “massage parlors” called Tokyo Day Spas, which are known for providing “sexual services.”
From the Miami Herald story linked above:
Bradford Public Library in Bradford, Pennsylvania, has a cat named Miss Whispurr
Before the 2016 general election, Yang offered no evidence of political engagement. She hadn’t voted in 10 years, records showed. But she has now become a fixture at Republican political events up and down the East Coast. Her Facebook is covered in photos of herself standing with President Trump, his two sons, Eric and Donald Jr., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott, Sarah Palin, the president’s campaign manager and an assortment of other high-level Republican operators she has met at charity events, political fundraisers and galas, many of which require hefty donations to attend. She sometimes carries a rhinestone encrusted MAGA clutch purse.
Yang has shown considerable political largesse. Since 2017, she and her close relatives have contributed more than $42,000 to Trump Victory, a political action committee, and more than $16,000 to the president’s campaign.
In February 2018, Yang was invited by the White House to participate in an event hosted by the Asian American and Pacific Islander Initiative, an advisory commission Trump established by executive order the year before. Later in the year, she attended at least two more AAPI events in Washington, D.C., according to her Facebook page.
The article says that Yang is planning to get out of the day spa business and plans to move to Washington, DC. More on Yang from the Herald piece:
Catniss Evergreen, Akron Carnegie Public Library, Akron, Indiana
When Donald Trump became a serious candidate for president, politics began to dominate her social media presence.
In January 2017, she was in the crowd at Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. Later that year, she snapped a photo with Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. In December, she attended her first elite event at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, a poolside steak lunch.
In September 2018, Yang received a personalized note from the president and first lady. It read: “Thank you for your friendship and dedication to our cause. Leaders like you in Florida are the key to fulfilling our bold agenda to Make America Great Again!” [….]
Over the past two years, Yang has racked up a who’s who of photos with politicians at more than a dozen political events. She has enough pictures of the president’s private clubs to fill an album.
In 2018, she attended a Safari Night at Mar-a-Lago hosted by the president’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, as well as the White House’s celebration of the Lunar New Year at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. She took photos with Florida’s soon-to-be-governor, Ron DeSantis, at a pro-Israel gala held at Mar-a-Lago, met U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in Washington, D.C., and posed with Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz and former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. She also posted a photograph of herself with DeSantis at a restaurant, saying she was having “brunch this morning with Florida’s next Governor.”
She was photographed with Donald Trump Jr. at a winter Mar-a-Lago gala for Turning Points USA, the conservative college organization, and met Eric Trump last month.
Kuzya, Novorossiysk Library, Russia
Yang claims she doesn’t know Trump personally and is just a volunteer at campaign events. But it turns out there’s a lot more to this story. David Corn at Mother Jones this morning: A Florida Massage Parlor Owner Has Been Selling Chinese Execs Access to Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
…there is another angle to the strange story of Yang: She runs an investment business that has offered to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family. And a website for the business—which includes numerous photos of Yang and her purported clients hobnobbing at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach—suggests she had some success in doing so.
Yang, who goes by Cindy, and her husband, Zubin Gong, started GY US Investments LLC in 2017. The company describes itself on its website, which is mostly in Chinese, as an “international business consulting firm that provides public relations services to assist businesses in America to establish and expand their brand image in the modern Chinese marketplace.” But the firm notes that its services also address clients looking to make high-level connections in the United States. On a page displaying a photo of Mar-a-Lago, Yang’s company says its “activities for clients” have included providing them “the opportunity to interact with the president, the [American] Minister of Commerce and other political figures.” The company boasts it has “arranged taking photos with the President” and suggests it can set up a “White House and Capitol Hill Dinner.” (The same day the Herald story about Yang broke, the website stopped functioning.) [….]
Ernie, Bealton Librrary, Bealton, VA
The GY US Investments website lists upcoming events at Mar-a-Lago at which Yang’s clients presumably can mingle with Trump or members of his family. This includes something called the International Leaders Elite Forum, where Trump’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, will supposedly be the featured speaker. Attendees, the site says, will include “Chinese elites from various countries, including the US states, as well as elite leaders from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, Europe and other countries and regions.” Another event for which Yang’s firm says it can provide access is Trump’s annual New Year’s celebration at Mar-a-Lago. Elsewhere on the website, the firm boasts that “GY Company arranged a number of guests to attend the 2019 New Year’s Eve dinner. All the guests took photos with” members of Trump’s family. This page displays photos of Chinese executives and a Chinese movie star with Donald Trump Jr., suggesting that these pics were arranged by the company, and also includes a photo of Yang with Elizabeth Trump Grau.
I wonder if Yang has anything to do with all those Chinese licensing agreements and trademarks Ivanka keeps getting? Honestly, there is no bottom to the Trump family’s corruption, and there are probably more grifters like Yang picking up the scraps.
In other news, Gabriel Sherman has background on why former Fox News exec Bill Shine is no longer in charge of the White House communications shop: “Trump has been calling him Bill “no shine”: Why Roger Ailes’s Former Right Hand is Leaving the West Wing.
“Bill was iced out,” a Republican close to the White House told me, echoing the view of multiple sources that the president had been souring on the former Fox News co-president for months. “Trump has been calling him Bill ‘No Shine,’” one source briefed on the conversations told me.
Mimi the Blueskin Bay library cat, Dunedin, New Zealand
Trump’s decision to hire Shine last July completed the Fox-ification of the West Wing. Shine got the job after his close friend Sean Hannity lobbied Trump to name Shine chief of staff. “The relationship was always Hannity based,” a former West Wing official explained. “When Trump hired him it was like he thought, ‘I’m getting Hannity.’ I’m like, no you’re getting the guy who produced Hannity.” Trump put Shine in charge of the beleaguered White House press operation with a mandate to plug leaks and improve his image. Shine accomplished neither. In Shine’s defense, the brief was impossible given Trump’s destructive Twitter habits. “Trump needs someone to blame for his bad press,” another former West Wing official said.
Shine was in over his head from the beginning. As Roger Ailes’s right hand, he had virtually no direct contacts with reporters and no involvement in Fox’s P.R. department. “Bill’s not a strategist,” a former Fox executive told me. That lack of experience was evident last September when Shine was caught flat-footed during the rollout of Bob Woodward’s book Fear. “Trump started complaining to people there was no advance prep on Woodward’s book,” the Republican close to the White House said. “Trump let Shine know he wasn’t happy.”
Trump should just hire Hannity as chief of staff and be done with it.
Medhi Hasan of The Intercept did a hard-hitting interview with Erik Prince and got him to admit to attending a high-level meeting at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. (The New York Times reported on the meeting in May 2018). Here’s a summary of the story at HuffPost: Ex-Mercenary CEO Erik Prince Admits To Trump Tower Meet With Donald Jr. And Saudi Emissary.
Shadow, Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Erik Prince, former head of mercenary business Blackwater, revealed in a bombshell interview Friday that he attended a meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and a representative of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss “Iran policy” during the presidential campaign.
The interview marked the first time Prince has publicly acknowledged such a meeting. Prince said in congressional testimony in 2017 that he had no “official” or “unofficial” role in the campaign — other than a “yard sign” and writing “papers” — according to the transcript of his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Nor did he mention the meeting in his testimony, according to transcripts.
The New York Times reported last year that Prince organized the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with President Donald Trump’s eldest son and Lebanese-American businessman George Nader. Nader revealed at the meeting that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wanted to aid Trump in his bid for the presidency, according to the newspaper.
The meeting also reportedly included now-top White House aide Stephen Miller and Israeli social media expert Joel Zamel.
Posted: February 14, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: abortion, Andrew McCabe, corruption, Donald Trump, ethics, FBI, FinCEN, Fox News, Jamal Kashoggi, James Comey, Jeff Sessions, Maria Ressa, Mary Daly, narcissists, Nazis, obstruction of justice, Paul Manafort, rape, Richard Burr, Richard Nixon, Robert Mueller, Rod Rosenstein, Ryan Adams, Saudi Arabia, Spiro Agnew, Tom Barrack, Tyler McGaughey, Walter Shaub, White House Counsel's office, William Barr
Les Pivoines 1907 par Henri Matisse
Happy Valentine’s Day, Sky Dancers!!
Andrew McCabe’s book The Threat: on Tuesday, and he will be interviewed on 60 Minutes on Sunday night. This might be one 60 Minutes I decide to watch.
McCabe was deputy director of the FBI under James Comey and he became acting director after Trump fired Comey. Trump attacked McCabe repeatedly, and eventually succeeded in driving him out of office. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe one day before he could have retired with his full pension.
Today The Atlantic published an article adapted from McCabe’s book: Every Day Is a New Low in Trump’s White House.
On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, my first full day on the job as acting director of the FBI, I sat down with senior staff involved in the Russia case—the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. As the meeting began, my secretary relayed a message that the White House was calling. The president himself was on the line. I had spoken with him the night before, in the Oval Office, when he told me he had fired James Comey.
Bouquet on a Bamboo Table (1903) Henri Matisse
A call like this was highly unusual. Presidents do not, typically, call FBI directors. There should be no direct contact between the president and the director, except for national-security purposes. The reason is simple. Investigations and prosecutions need to be pursued without a hint of suspicion that someone who wields power has put a thumb on the scale.
The Russia team was in my office. I took the call on an unclassified line. That was another strange thing—the president was calling on a phone that was not secure. The voice on the other end said, It’s Don Trump calling. I said, Hello, Mr. President, how are you? Apart from my surprise that he was calling at all, I was surprised that he referred to himself as “Don.”
The president said, I’m good. You know—boy, it’s incredible, it’s such a great thing, people are really happy about the fact that the director’s gone, and it’s just remarkable what people are saying. Have you seen that? Are you seeing that, too?
He went on: I received hundreds of messages from FBI people—how happy they are that I fired him. There are people saying things on the media, have you seen that? What’s it like there in the building?
McCabe describes the reaction of FBI employees as one of shock and dismay. Trump then said he wanted to come to the FBI and “show all my FBI people how much I love them.” McCabe thought that was a terrible idea, but agreed to meet with Trump about it. Next, Trump:
Flowers and Fruit by Henri Matisse
…began to talk about how upset he was that Comey had flown home on his government plane from Los Angeles—Comey had been giving a speech there when he learned he was fired. The president wanted to know how that had happened.
I told him that bureau lawyers had assured me there was no legal issue with Comey coming home on the plane. I decided that he should do so. The existing threat assessment indicated he was still at risk, so he needed a protection detail. Since the members of the protection detail would all be coming home, it made sense to bring everybody back on the same plane they had used to fly out there. It was coming back anyway. The president flew off the handle: That’s not right! I don’t approve of that! That’s wrong! He reiterated his point five or seven times.
I said, I’m sorry that you disagree, sir. But it was my decision, and that’s how I decided. The president said, I want you to look into that! I thought to myself: What am I going to look into? I just told you I made that decision.
The ranting against Comey spiraled. I waited until he had talked himself out.
After that Trump taunted McCabe about his wife’s losing campaign for the Virginia Senate, asking McCabe, “How did she handle losing? Is it tough to lose?” and later saying “Yeah, that must’ve been really tough. To lose. To be a loser.”
I once had a boss who was a monstrous whack job like Trump. It was crazy-making. The entire department under this man functioned like an alcoholic family with an unpredictable, out-of-control father. You never knew what horrible thing would happen next. It was total chaos, as the White House seems to be. I’m glad McCabe is telling the truth about what he experienced.
Two more articles based on the McCabe book:
CBS News 60 Minutes: McCabe Says He Ordered the Obstruction of Justice Probe of President Trump.
The New York Times: McCabe Says Justice Officials Discussed Recruiting Cabinet Members to Push Trump Out of Office.
Bouquet of Flowers in a White Vase, 1909, by Henri Matisse
I expect Trump will be ranting about McCabe on Twitter and in the Oval Office, but he can’t do anything to shut McCabe up anymore.
Soon we’ll have a new U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, and already the corruption surrounding him has a very bad odor. CNN reports that Barr’s daughter and son-in-law are leaving the Justice Department for new jobs at FinCEN and the White House Counsel’s office respectively.
Mary Daly, Barr’s oldest daughter and the director of Opioid Enforcement and Prevention Efforts in the deputy attorney general’s office, is leaving for a position at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit, a Justice official said.
Tyler McGaughey, the husband of Barr’s youngest daughter, has been detailed from the powerful US attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, to the White House counsel’s office, two officials said.
It’s not clear if McGaughey’s switch is a result of Barr’s pending new role, and the kind of work he’ll be handling at the White House is not public knowledge.
Daly’s husband will remain in his position in the Justice Department’s National Security Division for now.
Henri Matisse: Les Anemones
The moves were by choice and are not required under federal nepotism laws, but Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, called them “a good idea” to “avoid the bad optics that could come from the appearance of them working for him.”
However, Shaub added that McGaughey’s detail to the White House counsel’s office was “concerning.”
“That’s troubling because it raises further questions about Barr’s independence,” Shaub said.
Read more at the CNN link.
If you listened to Rachel Maddow’s podcast about Spiro Agnew (or even if you didn’t) you should read this op-ed at The Washington Post by three attorneys who were involved in that corruption case: We should demand high standards from William Barr. Spiro Agnew’s case shows why, by Barnet D. Skolnik, Russell T. Baker Jr., and Ronald S. Liebman.
In the winter of 1973, 46 years ago, the three of us were assistant U.S. attorneys in Baltimore starting a federal grand jury investigation of a corrupt Democratic county chief executive in Maryland. That investigation ultimately led to the prosecution of his corrupt Republican predecessor — the man who went on to become the state’s governor and then President Richard M. Nixon’s vice president, Spiro T. Agnew.
On Oct. 10, 1973, Agnew entered a plea to a criminal tax felony for failure to report the hundreds of thousands of dollars he’d received in bribes and kickbacks as county executive, governor and even vice president. All paid in cash, $100 bills delivered in white envelopes.
And he resigned.
Henri Matisse. Vase of Irises. 1912
From the beginning of our investigation, months before we had seen any indication that he had taken kickbacks, Agnew, along with top White House and administration officials and even Nixon himself, repeatedly tried to impede, obstruct and terminate the investigation in nefarious ways. Some of those efforts were unknown to us then and have come to light only now thanks to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and her “Bagman” podcast.
When newspapers began to report that he was under criminal investigation in the summer of 1973, Agnew aroused his base by screaming “witch hunt” and launching a vicious assault on the “lying” press, the “partisan” Justice Department, and the “biased” and “liberal Democrat” prosecutors in Baltimore.
If Agnew and Nixon had succeeded in derailing our investigation, the most corrupt man ever to sit a heartbeat away might have become the president of our country when Nixon was forced to resign less than a year later. But our investigation was protected — first, by our staunch and courageous boss, the late George Beall, the U.S. attorney for Maryland and a prominent Maryland Republican, and second, by the man who had become the new U.S. attorney general that spring, Elliot L. Richardson.
The authors then go on to explain why Barr should not be confirmed unless he commits to releasing Robert Mueller’s findings to the public. Read the whole thing at the WaPo.
There is so much more news! Here are some links to check out:
Flowers by Henri Matisse
Just Security: Who is Richard Burr, Really? Why the public can’t trust his voice in the Russia probe. (This is an incredibly important story. Corruption is all around us.)
NBC News: ‘Whistleblower’ seeks protection after sounding alarm over White House security clearances.
Politico: Judge rules Manafort lied to Mueller about contacts with Russian.
The New York Times: House Votes to Halt Aid for Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen.
Gulf News: Trump backer Tom Barrack defends Saudi Arabia.
The Washington Post: Trump confidant Thomas Barrack apologizes for saying U.S. has committed ‘equal or worse’ atrocities to killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The New York Times: Maria Ressa, Philippine Journalist Critical of Rodrigo Duterte, Is Released After Arrest.
HuffPost: I Wish I’d Had A ‘Late-Term Abortion’ Instead Of Having My Daughter. (Trigger warning for rape description)
Vice: Being Raised by Two Narcissists Taught Me How to Deal with Trump.
The New York Times: Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price.
Contemptor: Fox News Rejects Commercial for Documentary that Says Nazis are Bad.
So . . . what stories have you been following?
Posted: August 18, 2018 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: abuse of power, corruption, Donald Trump, John Brennan, obstruction of justice, Robert Mueller, Russia investigation, security clearances, Vian Risanto, witness tampering
Blue Iris, Vian Risanto
It has been another disastrous week in Trumpland. The “president” seems to be losing what control he ever had. He spends his days watching TV, throwing tantrums on Twitter, and dreaming up ways to punish his many “enemies.” He’s Nixon on steroids, and the Republicans continue to refuse to do anything to check his corruption and abuses of power.
On Wednesday, Trump unilaterally revoked the security clearance of former CIA chief John Brennan, and despite condemnations by former members of the intelligence community, he plans to keep revoking the clearances of anyone who dares to criticize him or who may have been in some way involved with the Russia investigation.
The Washington Post: White House drafts more clearance cancellations demanded by Trump.
The White House has drafted documents revoking the security clearances of current and former officials whom President Trump has demanded be punished for criticizing him or playing a role in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to senior administration officials.
Trump wants to sign “most if not all” of them, said one senior White House official, who indicated that communications aides, including press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Bill Shine, the newly named deputy chief of staff, have discussed the optimum times to release them as a distraction during unfavorable news cycles.
Cocktail dress, Vian Risanto
Yes, they admit these will be used to distract the public on bad news days for Trump!
Some presidential aides echoed concerns raised by outside critics that the threatened revocations smack of a Nixonian enemies list, with little or no substantive national security justification. Particular worry has been expressed inside the White House about Trump’s statement Friday that he intends “very quickly” to strip the clearance of current Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations….
It was unclear what the argument would be for revoking Ohr’s clearance, since Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, while not specifying Ohr’s current job, has said he has had no involvement in the Mueller investigation, begun last year.
But Ohr knew Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who was hired in 2016 by Fusion GPS, then working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia. Ohr’s wife also worked for Fusion GPS. According to news reports and congressional testimony, the two men discussed Trump before the election. Ohr later reported the conversation to the FBI.
Ohr is the only current official on the White House list of clearances Trump wants to lift. The others are former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.; former CIA director Michael V. Hayden; former FBI director James B. Comey; Obama national security adviser Susan E. Rice; former FBI officials Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok; and former acting attorney general Sally Yates. Several of them have said they no longer have clearances.
It’s difficult to believe that Trump’s actions could not be seen as obstruction of justice and witness tampering, since many of those on the “enemies list” are potential witnesses in Robert Mueller’s investigation. Yesterday, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake addressed the issue: How Trump’s security-clearance gambit could actually get him in deeper trouble with Mueller.
Green chair, Vian Risanto
I was on an MSNBC panel Thursday night with Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, who suggested Trump’s revocation of security clearances could be construed as retaliation against witnesses. “It’s a federal crime — §1513 if anyone wants to look it up — to retaliate against someone for providing truthful information to law enforcement,” he said. “So he’s getting closer and closer to really dangerous ground here.”
Here’s the text of Section 1513(e):
Whoever knowingly, with the intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.
Honig explained to me Friday that he didn’t necessarily think Trump’s revocation of Brennan’s security clearance would be a violation, given Brennan isn’t a major figure on the probe’s key events. But if he presses on and does it with others, Honig argued, it could.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
Last night Rachel Maddow interviewed John Brennan. Talking Point Memo: Brennan On Revoked Clearance: ‘This Country Is More Important Than Mr. Trump.’
Former CIA Director John Brennan was defiant Friday night in response to President Donald Trump’s revocation of his security clearance, and to Trump’s threatening to revoke the clearances of several other former intelligence and national security officials who’ve become harsh critics of his.
“I think this is an egregious act that it flies in the face of traditional practice, as well as common sense, as well as national security,” Brennan told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “I think that’s why there’s been such an outcry from many intelligence professionals.”
Brennan told Maddow that he is thinking about taking legal action.
“A number of lawyers have reached out to say that there is a very strong case here, not so much to reclaim [my clearance] but to prevent this from happening in the future,” Brennan told Maddow, asked if he was considering legal action against the administration.
Some groups, including the ACLU, have alleged that revoking Brennan’s clearance in retaliation for his criticism of Trump, as the White House said was the case, was a violation of the former CIA director’s First Amendment rights.
Brennan repeated his accusation that Trump’s Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir was “nothing short of treasonous.”
And he said a Washington Post report that his clearance revocation had been timed “to divert attention from nonstop coverage of a critical book released by fired Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman” was “just another demonstration of [Trump’s] irresponsibility.”
“The fact that he’s using a security clearance of a former CIA director as a pawn in his public relations strategy, I think, is just so reflective of somebody who, quite frankly — I don’t want to use this term, maybe — but he’s drunk on power.”
Three reactions to Trump’s latest power grab to check out:
A night out, Vian Risanto
Tim Weiner at The New York Times: Trump Is Not a King.
In times of crisis, the leaders of the military and intelligence communities try to put aside their differences, often many and sundry, and work together for the good of the country. That’s what’s happening today with a remarkable group of retired generals, admirals and spymasters who have signed up for the resistance, telling the president of the United States, in so many words, that he is not a king.
Thirteen former leaders of the Pentagon, the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. have signed an open letter standing foursquare against President Trump, in favor of freedom of speech and, crucially, for the administration of justice. They have served presidents going back to Richard M. Nixon mostly without publicly criticizing the political conduct of a sitting commander in chief — until now.
They rebuked Mr. Trump for revoking the security clearance of John Brennan, the C.I.A. director under President Obama, in retaliation for his scalding condemnations and, ominously, for his role in “the rigged witch hunt” — the investigation into Russia’s attempt to fix the 2016 election, now in the hands of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. The president’s latest attempt to punish or silence everyone connected with the case, along with his fiercest critics in political life, will not be his last….
The president aims to rid the government and the airwaves of his real and imagined enemies, especially anyone connected with the Russia investigation. Somewhere Richard Nixon may be looking up and smiling. But aboveground, the special counsel is taking notes.
Lily, Vian Risanto
The list of the signatories to the open letter defending Mr. Brennan is striking for the length and breadth of their experience. I never expected to see William H. Webster — he’s 95 years old, served nine years as F. B.I. director under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, then four more as C.I.A. director under Reagan and President George H. W. Bush — sign a political petition like this. The same with Robert M. Gates, who entered the C.I.A. under President Lyndon Johnson, ran it under George H. W. Bush and served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. These are not the kind of men who march on Washington. These are men who were marched upon.
Read more at the NYT.
Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Trump Is Making the Department of Justice Into His Own Private Goon Squad.
One morning earlier this week during executive time, President Trump tweeted out his assessment of the Russia investigation. “The Rigged Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on as the ‘originators and founders’ of this scam continue to be fired and demoted for their corrupt and illegal activity,” he raged. “All credibility is gone from this terrible Hoax, and much more will be lost as it proceeds. No Collusion!”
Amid this torrent of lies, the president had identified one important truth. There has in fact been a series of firings and demotions of law-enforcement officials. The casualties include FBI director James Comey, deputy director Andrew McCabe, general counsel James Baker, and, most recently, agent Peter Strzok. Robert Mueller is probing the circumstances surrounding Trump’s firing of Comey for a possible obstruction-of-justice charge. But for Trump, obstruction of justice is not so much a discrete act as a way of life.
The slowly unfolding purge, one of the most vivid expressions of Trump’s governing ethos, has served several purposes for the president. First, it has removed from direct authority a number of figures Trump suspects would fail to provide him the personal loyalty he demanded from Comey and expects from all officials in the federal government. Second, it supplies evidence for Trump’s claim that he is being hounded by trumped-up charges — just look at all the crooked officials who have been fired! Third, it intimidates remaining officials with the threat of firing and public humiliation if they take any actions contrary to Trump’s interests. Simply carrying out the law now requires a measure of personal bravery.
Trump has driven home this last factor through a series of taunts directed at his vanquished foes. After McCabe enraged Trump by approving a flight home for Comey after his firing last May, the president told him to ask his wife (who had run for state legislature, unsuccessfully) how it felt to be a loser. This March, Trump fired McCabe and has since tweeted that Comey and McCabe are “clowns and losers.” The delight Trump takes in tormenting his victims, frequently calling attention to Strzok’s extramarital affair — as if Trump actually cared about fidelity! — underscores his determination to strip his targets of their dignity.
Click on the link to read the rest.
Bob Bauer at Lawfare: Richard Nixon, Donald Trump and the ‘Breach of Faith.’
Red couch, Vian Risanto
Journalist and presidential historian Theodore H. White thought of Richard Nixon’s downfall as the consequence of a “breach of faith.” Perhaps it was a “myth,” but an important one, that “is responsibility,” White wrote. But it was important nonetheless that Americans believe that this office, conferring extraordinary power, would “burn the dross from [the president’s] character; his duties would, by their very weight, make him a superior man, fit to sustain the burden of the law, wise and enduring enough to resist the clash of all selfish interests.”
A president who frustrates this expectation, failing to exhibit the transformative effects of oath and office, will have broken faith with the American public. And yet, White believed that Nixon’s presidency had been an aberration. “[M]any stupid, hypocritical and limited men had reached that office,” he wrote. “But all, when publicly summoned to give witness, chose to honor the legends” of what the office required of a president’s behavior in office.
White’s understanding of what constitutes a “breach of faith” is well worth recalling in considering the presidency of Donald Trump. As White understood it, the term encompassed more than illegal conduct or participation in its cover-up. It was a quality of leadership—or more to the point, the absence of critical qualities—that defined a president’s “betrayal” of his office. What elevated Nixon’s misdeeds to a fatal constitutional flaw, forcing him to surrender his presidency, was the breaking of faith with the American people. Nixon brushed the legal and ethical limits on pursuing his own political and personal welfare. He held grudges and was vindictive; he looked to destroy his enemies rather than simply prevailing over them in hard, clean fights. He lied repeatedly to spare himself the costs of truth-telling.
All of this may be said of Donald Trump, but for a key difference: Nixon was anxious to conceal much of this behavior from public view.
Much has been said and written about Trump’s leadership style: the chronic resort to false claims; the incessant tweeting of taunts and personal attacks on his adversaries; the open undermining of members of his own administration; the abandonment of norms; the refusal to credit, respect or support the impartial administration of justice where his personal or political interests are stake; and the use of office to promote his personal business enterprises. By now, almost two years into his administration, it is clear that this is who he is.
Like Nixon, Trump seems to believe that his behavior is justified by the extraordinary and ruthless opposition of an “establishment”—comprised mainly of the media, the opposition party, and intellectuals—to his election and his politics.
Please go read the rest at Lawfare.
That’s all I have for you today. Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.
Posted: August 11, 2018 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: American institutions, corruption, Donald Trump, Emails, Hillary Clinton, Julia Davis, Matt Tait, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Peter Smith, Robert Mueller, Russia investigation, Russian state TV, Suicide, Vitaly Tretyakov
The Athenaeum – Thérèse Reading in the Park at Meric (Jean Frederic Bazille)
Remember Peter Smith, the guy who was trying to help the Trump campaign get Hillary Clinton’s emails? He ended up supposedly committing suicide in a Minnesota hotel room in July, 2017, shortly after he was interviewed by Shane Harris of The Wall Street Journal. After the story broke, Matt Tait published an article at Lawfare about his involvement in the story. Today Buzzfeed News reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier have a new story on Smith: GOP Operative Made “Suspicious” Cash Withdrawals During Pursuit Of Clinton Emails.
In one of the most intriguing episodes of the 2016 presidential campaign, Republican activist Peter W. Smith launched an independent effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails to help defeat her and elect Donald Trump. His quest, which reportedly brought him into contact with at least two sets of hackers that he himself believed were Russian, remains a key focus of investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
Now, BuzzFeed News has reviewed documents showing that FBI agents and congressional investigators have zeroed in on transactions Smith made right as his effort to procure Clinton’s emails heated up. Just a day after he finished a report suggesting he was working with Trump campaign officials, for example, he transferred $9,500 from an account he had set up to fund the email project to his personal account, later taking out more than $4,900 in cash. According to a person with direct knowledge of Smith’s project, the Republican operative stated that he was prepared to pay hackers “many thousands of dollars” for Clinton’s emails — and ultimately did so….
The money trail, made public here for the first time, sheds new light on Smith’s effort, in which he told people he was in touch with both Russians on the dark web and Trump campaign officials — particularly Michael Flynn, who was then a top adviser to the Trump campaign and later served as national security adviser before having to resign after misleading White House officials about his meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Intelligence agencies have given the FBI information that Russian hackers talked about passing Clinton’s emails to Flynn through a cutout, according to two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the matter. It is not known if that cutout was in any way connected to Smith.
Smith claimed that the Russians had hacked Hillary’s private server and he was determined to get his hands on the emails.
Smith assembled a group of people including experts in technology, lawyers, and even a Russian-speaking investigator to figure out how to obtain Clinton’s emails, according to the Journal. On the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, Smith incorporated a company called KLS Research. In a proposal Smith put together describing the effort to obtain the emails, he named the company as the “preferred vehicle” for the research into Clinton’s email, and Smith would tell Tait that KLS Research would also help “avoid campaign reporting.”
Smith and his longtime business partner, John Szobocsan, were the two signers for a bank account linked to KLS Research….
Soon after Labor Day, Smith appears to have finished an operational plan, which included the names of top Trump campaign officials, some of whom have denied speaking with Smith anytime during the campaign. Smith’s report is dated Sept. 7.
Girl in Green by Sara Hayden (1862–1939), American
The next day, Smith withdrew $9,500 from the KLS Research account and deposited it into his personal bank account, both held at Northern Trust. From there, Smith took out a little more than $4,900 in cash and sent checks to an accountant and an LLC controlled by a private real estate company. Later in September, Smith made withdrawals of $500 and $700 from KLS Research.
These transactions came to light after Northern Trust received a subpoena from the FBI for Smith’s records last December. The subpoena specifically sought information about the $9,500 withdrawal from KLS Research’s account.
After scouring nine accounts that Smith controlled, Northern Trust turned over documents showing 88 suspicious cash withdrawals totaling about $140,000 between January 2016 and April 2017, including a $3,000 withdrawal six days after the election. Northern Trust found these transactions suspicious because officials could not determine the purpose of the withdrawals and because some of them took place over the time Smith was engaged in his project to obtain Clinton’s emails. Many of the cash transactions, the bank noted, were less than $10,000, small enough not to trigger an automatic alert to the government. After receiving the subpoena, the bank sent a report to Treasury’s financial crimes unit, which shared its findings with the FBI, special counsel Robert Mueller, and Senate Intelligence Committee investigators.
The story reports that “three US law enforcement officials” confirmed that Smith is still “an important figure” in the investigation and that Mueller’s investigators have interviewed people involved with Smith. I wonder if Mike Flynn is helping out with this aspect of the investigation?
Head over to Buzzfeed News to read the rest of the story.
Lawfare has a lengthy post up about the Buzzfeed story: Peter Smith’s Search for Hillary Clinton’s Emails: The Subplot Thickens. Here’s just a taste:
On its own, the Buzzfeed story might not be a groundbreaking development. But the article doesn’t stand alone. It comes in the wake of Mueller’s indictments of Russians involved in the Kremlin’s social media manipulation operation and, more importantly for present purposes, the hacking and leaking of Democratic Party materials during the 2016 campaign. In that context, it is highly significant that Buzzfeed reports that Smith’s efforts are actively being investigated by the special counsel’s team. Not only has Mueller’s team interviewed “people who Smith tried to recruit and others who worked on his operation to obtain Clinton’s emails,” it has also “tried to determine if [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn assisted Smith in his operation”—a question that Smith’s possible payments to hackers are “key” to answering, Buzzfeed writes.
Louis Buisseret (1888-1956, Belgian) Contemplation 1938
So how do the facts reported in the Peter Smith stories, particularly Buzzfeed’s latest, line up with Mueller’s indictments? Mueller’s allegations describe, in detail, a complex Russian conspiracy to shape the 2016 U.S. elections—a conspiracy that involved an influence operation conducted on social media, the publication of hacked information, and outreach to a person in contact with the Trump campaign, reportedly Roger Stone.
The Peter Smith stories—between the Journal’s reporting, Tait’s Lawfare account and the latest report from Buzzfeed—describe another plot, one that took shape on this side of the Atlantic. Whether this second plot amounts to a conspiracy is a legal question beyond the scope of this post, but it appears to have involved, at a minimum, an agreement among a number of actors to obtain illegally hacked emails, perhaps by buying them. Tait wrote that he specifically warned Smith that the person purporting to have Clinton’s emails was likely part of Russia’s campaign against the United States and that Smith didn’t care about the source, as long as he got the emails. So it’s certainly plausible that the Smith operation also involved a conspiracy of some sort.
Meanwhile, Russian state TV is getting more and more blatant about Putin’s influence on Trump. Raw Story: Russian state TV warns Trump to ‘do what we say’ if you want ‘support in the elections.’
Julia Davis, who runs the Russian Media Monitor website, reports via Twitter that news show “60 Minutes” this week held a panel discussion about actions Russia should take to retaliate against the latest round of American sanctions.
Vitaly Tretyakov, the dean of the Moscow State University’s School of Television, argued that the Russian government should use whatever leverage it had over Trump to bend the president to its will.
“Let’s turn this into a headache for Trump,” he said, according to Davis’ translation. “If you want us to support you in the elections, do what we say.”
At The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum asks if American institutions are really strong enough to stop Trump: Are you still sure there’s no need to worry?
William Moore Davis (1829 – 1920, American)
“Don’t worry, the institutions will stop him.” Or: “Don’t worry, he hasn’t done any real damage yet, the institutions have stopped him.” How many times have you heard some version of this analysis since the election of President Trump? Sometimes, the speaker is an optimist, someone with faith in the U.S. Constitution. Sometimes, the speaker is a skeptic, someone who dislikes the alleged “hysteria” of those who think Trump’s corrupt habits, autocratic language and authoritarian behavior are doing lasting damage. Either way, they are reassured, and reassuring: Congress will stop him. The judiciary will stop him. The FBI, the Republican Party, the Constitution will stop him. Don’t worry.
But America’s federal institutions are not the only ones designed to prevent someone like Trump from undermining the Constitution. We have other kinds of institutions, too — legal organs, regulatory bodies, banks — that are supposed to prevent men like Trump from staying in business, let alone acquiring political power. The truth is that many of these equally important American institutions failed a long time ago. Trump is not the cause of their failure. He is the result.
One example: Paul Manafort.
Here is a man who is alleged to have declared income as “loans,” concealed foreign bank accounts and lied about money that Ukrainian oligarchs were paying him via shell companies in Cyprus. For decades, in other words, U.S. law enforcement institutions were unable to spot the money-laundering, tax evasion and fraud that his partner Rick Gates spent several hours describing, even when carried out by a prominent person. As long ago as 1985, Manafort’s name featured in Jacob Weisberg’s still-famous New Republic cover story about Roger Stone, then his consulting partner. The headline: “The State-of-the-Art Washington Sleazeball.”
Summer (c.1958). Donald Moodie (British, 1892-1963)
For decades, Manafort’s “political consultancy” has helped crooks and autocrats retain power. But even leaving aside the question of morality: Why wasn’t Manafort put out of business for suspected fraud years ago? Did the police not have the resources? The motivation? Whatever the reason, here, for the optimists and skeptics, is a clear institutional failure: A society allegedly obsessed with “law and order,” so much so that it has the highest incarceration rates in the world, couldn’t be bothered to investigate a famously sleazy man who was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on antique rugs and men’s suits in Northern Virginia.
And what about Trump’s career?
Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, Trump employed 200 illegal Polish workers to destroy the Bonwit Teller department store, a historic building on Fifth Avenue, to make way for what would become Trump Tower. The men earned half the union wage and worked 12-hour shifts without hard hats; at one point, their contractor stopped paying them. Eventually they sued. In 1998, Trump paid $1.375 million to settle the case.
Trump broke immigration law and employment law, and he violated union rules, too. Yet neither immigration authorities nor employment regulators nor union bosses put him out of business. Why not? Why were the terms of that settlement kept confidential? Why, with his track record, was he allowed to get a casino license? Building permits? Wall Street banks did, it is true, stop lending to him. But when he began looking abroad for cash — doing extremely dodgy deals in Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example — no one stopped him.
Read the whole thing at the Post.
What else is happening? What stories are you following?
Posted: April 6, 2018 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: China US Trade War, corruption, Pruitt
Shanghai Tang by Leire Mayendía
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
I’m going to share linky goodness on three story lines today. The first is the tit for tat tariff war with China. Don’t forget Hair Loser told us that “winning trade wars is easy”. Unfortunately, he ignores those of us that practice the economic dark arts of econometrics!
This minor trade war could escalate into something far worse. We have had the tit-for-tat: China has responded with its own list of tariffs to America’s so-called 232 measures (on steel and aluminium). We have had the same relatively proportionate exchanges on America’s 301 actions (on technology). In each case the steps have been modest. Economists estimate that America’s more extensive list, which omits key consumer items such as iPhones, will add just $12.5bn to the roughly $500bn in Chinese annual imports to the US. This is small potatoes. If Washington and Beijing simply stopped here, the world could carry on as normal. But dynamic situations do not normally halt of their own accord. That is why the markets have reacted so badly. They see the potential for escalation. A Chinese official was quoted as saying: “It is only polite to reciprocate”. Whatever Trump does, China will match. The ball is now in Trump’s court, which is never an ideal place for it to be. For more, readers should go to Shawn Donnan’s always excellent “Free trade” newsletter.
Little Guests in the Moon Palace (circa 1972} unknown artist
So, let’s look at Hair Loser’s blatherings on his ongoing list of Making America Gilded Again. This one is from CBS: “Trump says trade war is “already lost,” and he “probably won’t” attend White House Correspondents Dinner”. And is it his fault? Ohhhhh, of course not.
President Trump said in a radio interview aired Friday that the U.S. isn’t in a trade war because the trade war is “already lorst,” and said he “probably won’t” attend the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington later this month because the press is “so fake.”
Mr. Trump made those comments in an interview with WABC’s “Bernie and Sid in the Morning,” taped Thursday. The interview took place before the president’s Air Force One comments denying any knowledge of a hush money payment by his lawyer to porn actress Stormy Daniels.
Mr. Trump explained why he is going after China on tariffs. On Thursday night, Mr. Trump announced he has directed the U.S. Trade Representative to consider an additional $100 billion in new tariffs on China, in response to China’s decision to slap $50 billion in tariffs on U.S. imports. China’s $50 billion was a response to the White House’s announcement of $50 billion in tariffs on China. But Mr. Trump insisted that the U.S. isn’t in a trade war — in the past he has called trade wars “good, and easy to win” — because the U.S. already “lost” a trade war.
“Well, fellas, we’ve already lost the trade war,” the president said. “We don’t have a trade war. We’ve lost the trade war because for many years, whether it’s Clinton or the Bushes, Obama, all of our presidents before, for some reason it just got worse and worse. And now it’s $500 billion in deficits and a theft of $300 billion in intellectual property. So you can’t have this.”
The president said the stock market might take a bit of a hit in the short term — and it has — but the country will be stronger in the long run, he insisted.
“Now we could—the easiest thing for me to do would be just to close my eyes and forget it,” Mr. Trump said. “If I did that, then I’m not doing my job. I’m not saying there won’t be a little pain but the market’s gone up 40 percent, 42 percent—so we might lose a little bit of it—but we’re going to have a much stronger country when we’re finished. And that’s what I’m all about. We have to do things that other people wouldn’t do.”
Victory belongs to peace and socialism (China, 1959)
Of course, he also denied we were in a trade war with China. Hair Loser has such mental acuity! Why, he’s a stable genius!
“We are not in a trade war with China,” President Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.
The president is correct. What looks like a trade war is really a struggle for the control of the technologies that will dominate coming decades.
The trade war narrative seems at first glance to fit the facts. On March 8, the United States, pursuant to Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from China and other countries.
On March 22, President Trump issued a memorandum directing Lighthizer to consider 301 tariffs on China. Beijing, within a few hours, announced tariffs of its own on $3 billion of U.S. goods.
This Wednesday, Beijing made another announcement, this time proposing tariffs on $50 billion of imports from America.
This looks frightening because no one knows what happens when a dispute engulfs the planet’s two largest economies. As Neil Irwin of The New York Timeswrote Thursday referring to China, “a trade war with such a major trading partner is without precedent in modern times.”
President Trump, whether he ends up in a trade war or not, has zeroed in on the core of the competition between China and the U.S. Lighthizer’s proposed tariff list Tuesday includes duties on some mundane items but especially goes after the Chinese aerospace, information and communications tech, and robotics sectors. As Zhou Hao of Commerzbank in Singapore told Bloomberg, “The U.S. list suggests that the government is targeting the ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative.”
That initiative, announced in 2015 by China’s State Council, seeks to make that country nearly self-sufficient in 10 crucial industries, including aircraft, robots, electric cars, and computer chips. Beijing has set out specific goals for market shares by industry.
The plan aims for near self-sufficiency in components by 2020 and materials five years later. Moreover, Beijing, stepping into trade-violation territory, wants Chinese industries to possess 80 percent of their home market in the listed sectors.
CM2025, as the initiative is known in China, calls for jumbo-sized, low-interest loans from state investment funds and development banks, aid for the purchase of foreign competitors, and research subsidies.
Raise your hand if you think Hair Loser knows anything about the details of CM2025. He may know enough to think if they’re getting out of those import areas to be more secure, maybe he can riff on that idea too! But, better he should focus on a cyber wall. The literal stuff only makes us weaker. From The Hill: “Trump says ‘pain’ from China tariffs will make US ‘much stronger’”. Feel the pain!!!! Are we winning now? Are we great again?
President Trump says in a new interview that tariffs targeting China over intellectual property theft could cause some “pain” in the U.S. economy, but promised that America would emerge stronger as a result.
“I’m not saying there’s not gonna be any pain,” Trump said Friday in an interview with “Bernie & Sid in the Morning” on 77 WABC in New York City.
He also acknowledged the initial reaction from markets is likely to be negative.
They “could lose a little bit,” he said
Dow Jones industrial average futures plummeted on Thursday after news broke that Trump has asked officials in the administration to prepare tariffs on another $100 billion of imports from China, escalating a fight with Beijing.
Futures on the index fell 222 points, suggesting the market would open down 271.22 points on Friday, CNBC reported.
A relatively poor jobs report released Friday that found the nation added 103,000 jobs in March is also likely to push markets lower, but Trump said he was not worried about a negative reaction from his move on trade.
“We’re gonna be much stronger for it,” he added later in the interview.
China has responded to the latest round of tariff plans with a statement threatening an all-out trade war.
“We do not want to fight, but we are not afraid to fight a trade war,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Vintage World War II poster of a Chinese soldier with his wife and child. It reads, China first to fight! United China Relief Participating In National War Fund.
Oh, wait, that sounds more like losing again. So, let’s head over to Trump’s Best and Brightest and Most Corrupt Cabinet. Pruitt is now labelled as “too corrupt to be corrupted” by Ryan Cooper at The Week.
As defined by Congress, the EPA is supposed to protect the health of Americans by enforcing environmental law, but Administrator Pruitt’s tenure has been focused almost entirely on dismantling as much of the existing architecture of environmental protections as possible. More than any previous EPA head, he has worked to accomplish the exact opposite of the intended purpose of the agency. He has rolled back President Obama’s automobile efficiency standards, the Clean Power Plan, and stacked scientific advisory boards with science deniers and partisan hacks. Overall there have been 41 instances of EPA deregulation under Pruitt as of early February alone. His EPA insists that a gigantic toxic waste dump in Puerto Rico is fine, despite the fact that it was badly flooded during Hurricane Maria and many locals have suspicious illnesses.
And where he can’t simply torch regulation (because it’s often wildly illegal), he’s stalled implementation as long as possible, through administrative delays, legal red tape, and simply refusing to staff tons of positions.
Perhaps most deviously, as Emily Atkin writes, he recently changed the scientific basis for EPA rulemaking to disqualify any research not based on public data, following a trail blazed by notorious climate change denier Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). That superficially reasonable-sounding policy rules out most air quality research of any kind, which are based on medical datasets that are not public because of federal privacy law.
The objective, obviously, is to come up with any sort of pretext to make it easier for polluters to pollute. This one places a handy Catch-22 in the face of nearly anybody who wants to do serious science on pollution and health.
Oh and also Pruitt has an unprecedented 24/7 squad of bodyguards, a $25,000 secret phone booth in his office, spent $9,000 sweeping his office for surveillance bugs, and took multiple charter, private, and first-class flights costing at least $163,000 in total.
Warmly love the country, the communist party and socialism, 1983
If there’s one silver lining to Pruitt’s effort to leave no American child brain un-poisoned, it’s how he demonstrates the extent to which a committed ideologue can bend an agency to his will. The EPA is supposed to follow the latest science in carrying out its legal mandate, but by tendentiously disqualifying science that doesn’t reach a prearranged ideological conclusion, Pruitt has effectively gutted the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
Anna Navarro–a Republican–speaks truth on Don Lemon’s CNN panel of underwhelming men.
Navarro, who kept accidentally calling Steve Mnuchin Steve Munchkin,” noted that Pruitt’s problem is that his flubs aren’t happening in a vacuum, other cabinet secretaries are doing the same.
“There is one more chapter in this telenovela,” she said. “In the sense that we’ve heard about excesses by Ben Carson, by Munchkin-Mnuchin-whatever. It is $130,000 doors or $130,000 lunch tables or jetting around to see an eclipse. This is one more instance of what we’re seeing after Donald Trump promised to be different, and the Republican Party again and again looks the other way. Whether it’s Stormy Daniels or tariffs or deficits or overspending. They look the other way. If this were a Democratic administration, people would be brought in to testify and there would be investigations.”
“I will say to you, the problem with that [Scott Pruitt] interview is — I mean first of all, it was so bad it made Betsy DeVos look like Albert Einstein,” she continued. “But more than that, he went around the White House to give his buddies and cronies a huge pay raise despite the White House was saying not to do it. That should really bother us, as republicans, as Americans, as taxpayers. That is our money that he is misspending and it should bother all of us despite partisanship.”
Pruitt definitely acts like a worse demigod than Trump. My guess is Hair Loser wants no competition from jerks like him.
Several weeks after taking the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Scott Pruitt was running late and stuck in Washington, D.C., traffic. Sources tell CBS News that he wanted to use his vehicle’s lights and sirens to get to his official appointment, but the lead agent in charge of his security detail advised him that sirens were to be used only in emergencies.
Less than two weeks later that agent was removed from Pruitt’s detail, reassigned to a new job within the EPA.
Wash clothes and body regularly, maintain cleanliness, for good health, ca. 1952
Still, recently Trump has shown more preference to Pruitt over Sessions even suggesting he might replace Sessions with Pruitt.
So, the third headline comes from the US Treasury and sanctions imposed on Russian Oligarchs. We’re waiting for Hair Loser’s pissing wisdom on this via Twitter.
The Trump administration announced new sanctions on Russian tycoons, companies and key allies of President Vladimir Putin, hitting the crucial energy sector and adding to a flurry of moves by Western powers against Moscow in recent weeks.
“The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Friday. “The Russian government engages in a range of malign activity around the globe, including continuing to occupy Crimea and instigate violence in eastern Ukraine, supplying the Assad regime with material and weaponry as they bomb their own civilians, attempting to subvert Western democracies, and malicious cyber activities.”
Those penalized include seven Russian oligarchs, 12 companies and 17 senior government officials under provisions of a law Congress passed last year to retaliate against Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Among the most prominent Russian tycoons identified Friday is metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, the billionaire founder and majority shareholder of En+ Group. Deripaska, 50, made headlines last year due to his links to Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. The tycoon has had difficulties in the past in getting a U.S. visa.
This is basically Putin’s inner circle.
Friday’s announcement builds on a string of punitive actions taken by the U.S. against the Kremlin. Congress and Trump’s national security advisers have pushed for tougher sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2016 U.S. election and its prolonged, destructive cyberattacks in Ukraine and elsewhere.
But in a farewell speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington this week, Trump’s outgoing national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the U.S. has “failed to impose sufficient costs” on Putin’s government for its military and political aggression worldwide.
The Kremlin continues to call for dialogue with Trump. Speaking in Moscow Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov complained about America’s increasingly hostile diplomatic stance towards Russia but expressed hope that Trump and Putin could conduct a “broad dialogue” so long as it does not “fall victim to domestic political intrigues” in Washington.
Other individuals targeted on Friday include members of Putin’s inner circle, some of whom are under scrutiny from U.S. investigators for activities related to the 2016 presidential election.
Among them are Suleiman Kerimov, a top Putin adviser; Kirill Shamalov, who married Putin’s daughter in 2013; and financier Viktor Vekselberg, who attended Trump’s presidential inauguration.
Sanctions target Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, who reportedly is under investigation in the U.S. on suspicion of funneling money to the National Rifle Association to assist the Trump campaign.
And, just in case you missed it … “EXCLUSIVE: Saudi crown prince bragged that Jared Kushner gave him CIA intelligence about other Saudis saying ‘here are your enemies’ days before ‘corruption crackdown’ which led to torture and death”
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?