Thunderous Thursday Reads: What Did Trump Promise A Foreign Leader?

Gustav Klimt, Large Poplar II (Approaching Thunderstorm)

Good Morning!!

Last night The Washington Post broke a story on the mysterious whistleblower complaint that Trump and Cover-up General Barr are trying to keep secret from Congress: Trump’s communications with foreign leader are part of whistleblower complaint that spurred standoff between spy chief and Congress, former officials say.

Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a “promise” that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community, said the former officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

It was not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking with or what he pledged to deliver, but his direct involvement in the matter has not been previously disclosed. It raises new questions about the president’s handling of sensitive information and may further strain his relationship with U.S. spy agencies. One former official said the communication was a phone call.

Gustav Klimt, Landscape with Birch Trees

Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson determined that the complaint was credible and troubling enough to be considered a matter of “urgent concern,” a legal threshold that requires notification of congressional oversight committees.

But acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to share details about Trump’s alleged transgression with lawmakers, touching off a legal and political dispute that has spilled into public view and prompted speculation that the spy chief is improperly protecting the president.

The dispute is expected to escalate Thursday when Atkinson is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee in a classified session closed to the public. The hearing is the latest move by committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) to compel U.S. intelligence officials to disclose the full details of the whistleblower complaint to Congress. Maguire has agreed to testify before the panel next week, according to a statement by Schiff. He declined to comment for this article.

This seems like a very big deal. Atkinson is meeting right now behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee. And the Dotard is up and tweeting about it.

Yes, I’d say quite a few of us believe that the dummy in the WH would do that. Some background from the WaPo story:

The complaint was filed with Atkinson’s office on Aug. 12, a date on which Trump was at his golf resort in New Jersey. White House records indicate that Trump had had conversations or interactions with at least five foreign leaders in the preceding five weeks.

Among them was a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the White House initiated on July 31. Trump also received at least two letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the summer, describing them as “beautiful” messages. In June, Trump said publicly that he was opposed to certain CIA spying operations against North Korea. Referring to a Wall Street Journal report that the agency had recruited Kim’s half brother, Trump said, “I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices.”

Trump met with other foreign leaders at the White House in July, including the prime minister of Pakistan, the prime minister of the Netherlands and the emir of Qatar.

The Swamp, Gustav Klimt

Most likely the call in question is the one with Putin. As you may recall, that was the call in which Trump supposedly offered Russia help with the wildfires in Siberia. The Russian readout of the call was very different. Putin claimed that Trump’s offer demonstrated that normalization of relations between the two countries was possible.

Putin, in response, expressed his “sincere gratitude” to Trump and said that if necessary, he will accept the offer, the Kremlin said on its website.

“The President of Russia regards the US President’s offer as a sign that it is possible that full-scale bilateral relations will be restored in the future,” the statement from the Kremlin read.

“The presidents of Russia and the United States agreed to continue contacts both in a telephone format and in person,” it added.

However, the two countries differed somewhat in their interpretations of the call.

As NPR’s Tamara Keith reports, “Russia announced the call first, saying President Trump offered Putin assistance fighting wildfires in Siberia. … Putin assessed the offer as a sign that relations between the two countries would be fully restored. Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and is still under U.S. sanctions.”

Speculation from Twitter about what happened:

Shugarman has posted a thread with timelines from other twitter users of events that took place during the time in question. Click on the above tweet to read the thread. More timelines:

Response from @swatkins109:

“Also Huntsman (Ambassador to Russia) resigns Aug 6 Sept 3 trump announces military spending for NATO countries canceled.”

Make of all that what you will. I can’t wait till the whole story comes out, and it will.

David Frum writes at The Atlantic: The Question Posed by Trump’s Phone Call: A whistle-blower complaint raises the possibility that President Trump has betrayed the duties of his office.

On the 20th of July 1787, Gouverneur Morris rose inside the stiflingly hot Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, to explain why he had changed his mind and now favored including a power of impeachment in the constitutional text.

Until that point, he and others had feared that an impeachment power would leave the president too dependent on Congress. He had thought that the prospect of reelection defeat would offer a sufficient control on presidential wrongdoing.

A Morning by the Pond, Gustav Klimt

But Morris ultimately changed his mind.

Foreign corruption inducing treason was the core impeachable offense in the eyes of the authors of the Constitution.

Which is why a whistle-blower report filed with the inspector general for the intelligence community, reportedly concerning an improper “promise” by President Donald Trump to a foreign leader, has jolted Congress.

Earlier in the constitutional debates—back when he still opposed an impeachment provision—Morris argued that a corrupt or treasonable president “can do no criminal act without Coadjutors who may be punished.” Trump is surrounded by coadjutors, yet so far all are acting with impunity, joined now by the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who is withholding from Congress the apparently explosive information.

Trump has been engaged in improper contacts with foreign governments for years, and built deep business relationships with foreign nationals. Russian assistance helped elect him. Money from wealthy Russians reportedly helped keep his businesses alive from 2006 to 2016. Since 2016, more and more foreign money has flowed Trump’s way. Trump literally has a hotel open on Pennsylvania Avenue to accept payments—there’s a big carpet in front, his name on the door, nothing even remotely clandestine about the flow of corruption. That corruption seeks returns. Again and again, Trump has acted in ways that align with the interests of foreign states, raising questions about his motives.

Exactly what was promised in this particular conversation, and to whom, America and the world wait to hear.

I certainly hope we learn something from Adam Schiff when he emerges from that private briefing with the Inspector General.

Gustav Klimt, The Marshy Pond

The New York Times just broke a story about the hearing: Watchdog Refuses to Detail Whistle-Blower Complaint About Trump.

The internal watchdog for American spy agencies declined repeatedly in a briefing on Thursday to disclose to lawmakers the content of a potentially explosive whistle-blower complaint that is said to involve a discussion between President Trump and a foreign leader, according to two people familiar with the briefing.

During a private session on Capitol Hill, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, told lawmakers he was unable to confirm or deny anything about the substance of the complaint, including whether it involved the president, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door conversation. The meeting was still underway.

The complaint, which prompted a standoff between Congress and Mr. Trump’s top intelligence official, involves a commitment that Mr. Trump made in a communication with another world leader, according to a person familiar with the complaint….

Few details of the whistle-blower complaint are known, including the identity of the world leader. And it is not obvious how a communication between Mr. Trump and a foreign leader could meet the legal standards for a whistle-blower complaint that the inspector general would deem an “urgent concern.”

Under the law, the complaint has to concern the existence of an intelligence activity that violates the law, rules or regulations, or otherwise amounts to mismanagement, waste, abuse, or a danger to public safety. But a conversation between two foreign leaders is not itself an intelligence activity.

And while Mr. Trump may have discussed intelligence activities with the foreign leader, he enjoys broad power as president to declassify intelligence secrets, order the intelligence community to act and otherwise direct the conduct of foreign policy as he sees fit, legal experts said.

The NYT has the name of the whistleblower’s lawyer.

Andrew P. Bakaj, a former C.I.A. and Pentagon official whose legal practice specializes in whistle-blower and security clearance issues, confirmed that he is representing the official who filed the complaint. Mr. Bakaj declined to identify his client or to comment.

Obviously this story will be making news all day today. As the Dotard likes to say, “we’ll see what happens. Please post your thoughts on this story or anything else you find interesting in the comment thread below.


Friday Reads: Scumbag Blues

Good Afternoon Sky ancers!

The New York Times pinged me with this choice morsel this morning!  I don’t often quote malicious dictators, but when I do, I make certain it’s because they are colluding with what has slunk in to the oval office on the wings of vultures and their obviously brain dead carrion.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Thursday with his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. President Trump said he looked forward to a second summit meeting with Mr. Putin “so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed.

Let me just remind you of a quote yesterday.  This one being from the Director of Intelligence, former Indiana Senator Dan Coates.

Coats made it clear he was totally in the dark about Trump’s meeting with Putin: “I don’t know what happened in that meeting. I think as time goes by and the President has already mentioned some of the things that happened in that meeting, I think we will learn more. But that is the President’s prerogative.”

He also said Trump hadn’t asked him for advice before the meeting: “If he had asked me how that ought to be conducted, I would have suggested a different way, but that’s not my role. That’s not my job. So it is what it is.”

He made clear he had no doubt about the Russian President’s role in the country’s interference efforts. “I think anybody who thinks that Vladimir Putin doesn’t have his stamp on everything that happens in Russia is misinformed,” he said.

We should all just mail our pass codes the Russian Federation Spy Agency and hang it up. He’s selling us out.

So, the debate continues over if KKKremlin Caligula is malevolent towards the United States and commiting Treason, so stupid he doesn’t get that what he’s doing is commiting Treason against the United States, or that his fee fees and self-identity cause him to commit Treason against the United States because he’s just one big raging malignant narcissist who can’t get beyond his Id.

Why?  And a bigger WTF is the behavior of elected Republicans and their shrinking, ever-more-stupid base of religious extremists and angry white men.

Does it even do any good to ask Why anymore when the germane question is how do we get the fuck out of this assuming Republicans are the party of Enablers.

‘Why the President is so nice to Putin, even when Putin might not want him to be?’   Adam Parker–writing for the New Yorker–interviewed Keith Darden, an international-relations professor at American University who has studied the Russian use of kompromat and believes Trump acts like one of its targets.

But, Darden explained to me, kompromat is routinely used throughout the former Soviet Union to curry favor, improve negotiated outcomes, and sway opinion. Intelligence services, businesspeople, and political figures everywhere exploit gossip and damaging information. However, Darden argues, kompromat has a uniquely powerful role in the former Soviet Union, where the practice is so pervasive, he coined the term “blackmail state” to describe the way of governance.

Kompromat can be a single, glaring example of wrongdoing, recorded by someone close to the Kremlin and then used to control the bad actor. It can be proof of an embarrassing sex act. Darden believes it is unlikely that sexual kompromat would be effective on Trump. Allegations of sexual harassment, extramarital affairs, and the payment of hush money to hide indiscretions have failed to significantly diminish the enthusiasm of Trump’s core supporters. But another common form of kompromat—proof of financial crimes—could be more politically and personally damaging.

Trump has made a lot of money doing deals with businesspeople from the former Soviet Union, and at least some of these deals bear many of the warning signs of money laundering and other financial crimes. Deals in Toronto, Panama, New York, and Miami involved money from sources in the former Soviet Union who hid their identities through shell companies and exhibited other indications of money laundering. In the years before he became a political figure, Trump acted with impunity, conducting minimal corporate due diligence and working with people whom few other American businesspeople would consider fit partners. During that period, he may have felt protected by the fact that U.S. law-enforcement officials rarely investigate or prosecute Americans who engage in financial crimes overseas. Such cases are also maddeningly difficult to prove, and the F.B.I. has no subpoena power in other countries. If, however, someone had evidence that proved financial crimes and shared it with, say, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, other American law-enforcement officials, or the press, it could significantly damage Trump’s business, his family, and his Presidency.

There is already inkles of kompromat coming from the Michael Cohen camp today.  It’s the the Trump paid off hookers sort of evidence that is sitting in the busy hands of the Mueller team. Trump beat the “grab ’em by the pussy” revelation easily so it’s unlikely the kind of thing that triggers Trump.

Investigators discovered recordings made by Michael Cohen that include then-candidate Donald Trump talking about making a payment to a former Playboy model, sources familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News.

The recordings were found as part of the raid on Michael Cohen’s home office and hotel carried out earlier this year in New York, the sources told ABC News.

The New York Times first reported the news of the recordings.

The Playboy model in question is reportedly Karen McDougal, who has previously claimed that she had an affair with Trump. The White House previously denied McDougal’s claims.

Cohen is under criminal investigation by New York federal prosecutors in a case that’s separate from the one that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is pursuing.

Sources said that investigators were looking into Cohen’s personal business dealings as well as those with Trump’s alleged mistresses and media organizations as well as the 2016 campaign.

Guiliani is talking about it so who knows if it really bugs the Hair Furor?

Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, confirmed in a telephone conversation on Friday that Mr. Trump had discussed payments to Ms. McDougal with Mr. Cohen on the tape. He said the recording was less than two minutes long and claimed that the president had done nothing wrong.

Mr. Giuliani said there was no indication on the tape that Mr. Trump knew before the conversation about the payment from the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., to Ms. McDougal.

“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Mr. Giuliani said.

The men discussed a payment from Mr. Trump to Ms. McDougal — separate from the Enquirer payment — to buy her story and ensure her silence, Mr. Giuliani said. That payment was never made, Mr. Giuliani said, adding that Mr. Trump had told Mr. Cohen that if he were to make a payment related to the woman, to write a check rather than send cash, so it could be properly documented.

Mr. Cohen’s lawyers discovered the recording as part of their review of the seized materials and shared it with Mr. Trump’s lawyers, according to three people briefed on the matter.

What did trigger D’oh Drumpfen Fuhrer was Dan Coates, Andrea Mitchell, and audience uttering nervously laughs over the news that no one has debriefed the two people at the Helsinki “Spy going home to his Master” Summit.

“Coats has gone rogue,” one senior White House official told the Post.

The optics are particularly damaging. Coats appears to be laughing at the president, along with an audience of intellectual elites. Plus, since the moment is only 35 seconds long, it’s likely to get a lot of play tomorrow on cable news — a venue Trump is obsessed with.

Thus, White House aides are worried that Trump will see the remark as a personal betrayal, which he cares far more about than the scandals that plague many staffers. Axios reported that sources close to Trump are “already speculating about whether Trump ends up firing Coats. Per a source with knowledge, Trump has never had much affection for Coats.”

Firing Coats, a respected two-time Republican senator from Indiana who tends to stay out of the headlines, would turn the Helsinki debacle into an even bigger scandal (though it’s hard to imagine most Republican lawmakers doing anything to counter Trump).

For what it’s worth, Coats suggested that he wants to stay on the job, and the interview wasn’t some effort to provoke Trump into firing.

“Are there days when you think, ‘Well, what am I doing?’ Yeah,” he said, when asked if he’s ever considered resigning. “But there’s lot more days saying, “You know, the mission here is critical. And to be able to be a part of it, be able to feel like you’re giving something back to your country — it’s a reward … As long as I’m able to have the ability to seek the truth and speak the truth, I’m on board.”

Still, we have to ask the big question:  WTF is wrong with Republicans?  What are they all covering up and why? Michelle Goldberg answers the question.

Perhaps, rather than covering for Trump, some Republicans are covering for themselves.

Last Friday, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, indicted 12 members of Russian military intelligence for their interference in the 2016 election. The indictment claims that in August 2016, Guccifer 2.0, a fictitious online persona adopted by the Russian hackers, “received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress.” The Russian conspirators obliged, sending “the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.” Congress has, so far, done nothing discernible to find out who this candidate might be.

Then, on Monday, we learned of the arrest of Maria Butina, who is accused of being a Russian agent who infiltrated the National Rifle Association, the most important outside organization in the Republican firmament. Legal filings in the case outline a plan to use the N.R.A. to push the Republican Party in a more pro-Russian direction.

Butina, 29, appears to have worked for Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician linked to organized crime who is the target of U.S. sanctions. She developed a romantic relationship with Paul Erickson, a conservative operative close to the N.R.A. (Court filings cite evidence it was insincere on her part.) Erickson, in turn, wrote to a Trump adviser in May 2016 about using the N.R.A. to set up a back channel to the Kremlin.

The young Russian woman clearly understood the political significance of the N.R.A. In one email, court papers say, she described the central “place and influence” of the N.R.A. in the Republican Party. Through her pro-gun activism, she became a fixture of the conservative movement and was photographed with influential Republican politicians. A Justice Department filing quotes Torshin as comparing her to another young, famous Russian agent: “You have upstaged Anna Chapman. She poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones.”

If the N.R.A. as an organization turns out to be compromised, it would shake conservative politics to its foundation. And this is no longer a far-fetched possibility. “I serve on both the Intelligence Committee and the Finance Committee,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, told me. “So I have a chance to really look at this through the periscope of both committees. And what I have wondered about for some time is this whole issue of whether the N.R.A. is getting subverted as a Russian asset.”

The events of the last week or so are convincing Russiagate skeptics even. Something is desperately wrong here.  This is Blake Hounshell writing for Politico.

And why does Trump inevitably return to questioning the irrefutable evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 election? We can dispense with the explanation, conveyed anonymously by senior administration officials, that “his brain can’t process that collusion and cyberattacks are two different things.” We can also forget about the widely held theory that he views the various Russia investigations as a threat to the legitimacy of his election, and therefore a devastating blow to his sense of self-worth.

Or, at least, neither offers a sufficient explanation for why Trump consistently parrots Russian talking points on NATO, the American media, U.S. troop deployments, Ukraine and the legitimacy of the postwar liberal order. What does any of that have to do with his tender ego? Do we really think Trump has an informed position on, say, Montenegro’s history of aggression? Could Trump find Montenegro on a map?

Nor is it credible to point to actions his administration has taken that are “tough on Russia.” Trump has questioned proposals to supply the Ukrainian government with anti-tank missiles and sniped at Congress for wanting to impose fresh sanctions on Moscow.

What about my argument that Trump was constitutionally incapable of keeping a secret? That, too, is no longer operative. Since I first wrote, we’ve learned that Trump—a skinflint who once had his own charity pay a $7 fee to register his son for the Boy Scouts—was willing to shell out $130,000 of his own money to hush up a fling with a porn actress, Stormy Daniels. And he still hasn’t copped to sleeping with her, despite the discovery of their nondisclosure agreement and contemporaneous evidence that the affair really happened. None of this leaked out until well after the election, proving that Trump is indeed capable of keeping his yap shut when he wants. Not convinced? How about the fact that Brett Kavanaugh’s name didn’t leak out as Trump’s latest Supreme Court pick until minutes before the announcement?

The FT has even drug out the decayed old Kissinger to scare us. This from a lunchtime interview with Edward Luce.

We are both drinking Badoit sparkling water, which Kissinger has specifically requested. I sense I am losing my battle to get him on to Trump — or failing to detect his hidden message. Is he saying we are underestimating Trump — that, in fact, Trump may be doing us the unacknowledged service of calming the Russian bear? Again, there is a pause before Kissinger answers. “I don’t want to talk too much about Trump because at some point I should do it in a more coherent way than this,” Kissinger replies. But you are being coherent, I protest. Please don’t stop. There is another pregnant silence. “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretences. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows this, or that he is considering any great alternative. It could just be an accident.”

By now Kissinger has abandoned his halfhearted stabs at the fish. I know he has briefed Trump. He has also met Putin on 17 occasions. He reports the contents of those meetings to Washington, he tells me. I try a different tack. To whom does Trump compare in history, I ask. This also fails to do the trick. Kissinger goes off on a tour d’horizon of the health of European diplomacy

 

 

I got a bad case of the Scumbag Blues.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?