Lazy Saturday Reads: Russia News

The Athenaeum – Thérèse Reading in the Park at Meric (Jean Frederic Bazille)

Good Afternoon!!

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….

Maxwell Doig

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?


Friday Reads: Shock and Awe on the American Campaign Trail

Good Morning!

Well, I  am supposed to be waiting to hear the Big Dawg speak at an event today. Instead, I’m sitting here with a flat tire waiting.  I’ve heard Bill Clinton speak quite a few times down here including with George H.W. Bush in a small tent on campus right after Katrina when I was one of two profs actually teaching on the UNO campus.  Exactly one building was open.  He’s really a great speaker and he has the ability to make you feel like the most important person he’s ever met when he’s one on one.  I wanted to see if he still had it frankly.

I’m still stunned by the so-called “debate” last night between the remaining Republican Presidential Candidates. Did you ever think you’d see ten minutes of one of these things dedicated to the penis size of the front runner?  Did you even think that a member of the U.S. Senate would be the one to bring it up on national TV?  I’d like to go on record saying that the Republican party needs to goes the way of the Dodo.  I’m not sure if there are any sane people left in the infrastructure, but whatever grown ups are left need to just turn off the lights and start over.  They need to send the racists and the religious kooks and the enablers that make them deny economic and scientific reality back to whatever self-created hell realm they’ve emanated from. Paul Krugman isn’t very generous about their shit show either.

So Republicans are going to nominate a candidate who talks complete nonsense on domestic policy; who believes that foreign policy can be conducted via bullying and belligerence; who cynically exploits racial and ethnic hatred for political gain.

But that was always going to happen, however the primary season turned out. The only news is that the candidate in question is probably going to be Donald Trump. Establishment Republicans denounce Mr. Trump as a fraud, which he is. But is he more fraudulent than the establishment trying to stop him? Not really.

Actually, when you look at the people making those denunciations, you have to wonder: Can they really be that lacking in self-awareness?

Donald Trump is a “con artist,” says Marco Rubio — who has promised to enact giant tax cuts, undertake a huge military buildup and balance the budget without any cuts in benefits to Americans over 55.

“There can be no evasion and no games,” thunders Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House — whose much-hyped budgets are completely reliant on “mystery meat,” that is, it claims trillions of dollars in revenue can be collected by closing unspecified tax loopholes and trillions more saved through unspecified spending cuts.

Mr. Ryan also declares that the “party of Lincoln” must “reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry.” Has he ever heard of Nixon’s “Southern strategy”; of Ronald Reagan’s invocations of welfare queens and “strapping young bucks” using food stamps; of Willie Horton?

Put it this way: There’s a reason whites in the Deep South vote something like 90 percent Republican, and it’s not their philosophical attachment to libertarian principles.

The Republican Party is capable of nothing these days but ruining the states they govern,  stopping any kind of governance on the Federal level,

and making laws to make lives miserable for any one that isn’t either white male or white male property and branded the right kind of  “christian”.  The one thing I will say about the ongoing shit show is that people that have been voting Republican under the mistaken idea that Republicans are anything but a party of rich dudes getting political favors and racists, misogynist, homobigoted religious freaks are finally finding out what’s been the underlying theme of insurrection since the Reagan Shit show. The Republican Party is not the Party of Lincoln or even Ronald Reagan.  It’s the party of George Wallace, at best.

image

The Republicans have become so obsessed with one policy–subsidizing the extremely rich--they’ve also tanked any possible hope that we can get reasonable trade policies or any kind of reasonable form of government spending to include fixing the damn roads and bridges.  If you look around the world, you can see how trade has been creating healthy middle classes.  There’s a lot of money that flows into countries from trade and a hell of a lot of it goes to workers and smaller businesses because responsible government ensures this through good policy.  NOT in this country, however.  They’ve destroyed the decades of what economics has taught us they way they’ve turned racism, misogyny and bigotry into religious freedom.

The Econ-101 case for free trade is straightforward: Trade benefits those who produce exports and those who consume imports (including producers who use imported goods as inputs). It hurts the producers of goods which can be made better or more cheaply abroad. But the gains to the winners exceed the gains to the losers: that is, the winners could make the losers whole and still come out ahead themselves. Therefore, trade passes the Pareto test.

[Yes, this elides a number of issues, including path-dependency in increasing-returns and learning-by-doing markets on the pure-economics side and the salting of actual agreements with provisions that create or protect economic rents on the political-economy side. It also ignores the biggest gainers from trade: workers in low-wage countries, most notably the Chinese factory workers whose parents were barefoot peasants.]

So when the modern Republican Party (R.I.P), in the name of “small government” and opposition to “class warfare,” set its face against policies to redistribute the gains from economic growth, it destroyed the theoretical basis for thinking that a rising tide would lift all the boats, rather than lifting the yachts and swamping the trawlers. Free trade without redistribution (especially the corrupt version of “free trade” with corporate rent-seeking written into it) is basically class warfare waged downwards.

Trade by itself can’t account for all of the fractal growth in incomes, with the top half of earners (mostly college graduates) pulling away from the less-educated bottom half, the top decile pulling away from the rest of the top half, the top 1% pulling away from the rest of the top decile, and the top tenth of 1% pulling away from the rest of the top percentile. (I suspect that the billionaires have also been pulling away from the merely rich, but I’m not sure there’s data to support that.) The increasing importance of “winner-take-all” phenomena (linked to the information revolution and the increasing importance of very-low-marginal-cost goods as well as trade), the combination of dual incomes and assortative mating, and the destruction of labor unions have all done their share.

But the bottom line is that all of the gains, not merely from trade but from economic growth, have been concentrated in the hands of a relative few.  And worsening inequality harms the relative losers even if their absolute incomes do not fall.

Have we finally reached a critical mass where folks on both sides of the aisles will realize that all they do is lie and that if Bernie Bros or Hillary Haters repeat their lies, we’re as good as cooked.   Donald Trump has pretty much killed the narrative that the Republicans are a Big Tent party that are just interested in a different approach to governing. 

Reeling from a second straight loss to Barack Obama, a flailing Republican Party in 2013 found its culprit: Mitt Romney’s callous tone toward minorities. Instead of being doomed to irrelevance in a changing America, the party would rebrand as a kinder, more inclusive GOP. They called their findings an “autopsy,” and party leaders from Paul Ryan to Newt Gingrich welcomed it with fanfare.

But even then, Donald Trump was lurking.

Now, with Trump’s GOP takeover fully underway, interviews with four co-authors of the 2012 autopsy and 10 other Republican leaders reveal a party establishment terrified that Trump is not only repeating the party’s failures — he’s destroying the party in the process. And while the leaders continue to insist that their report laid out the Republican Party’s best chance of victory, they fear Trump’s dominance will tear the party apart before they ever get a chance to put it in play. “New @RNC report calls for embracing ‘comprehensive immigration reform,’” he wrote in a little-noticed tweet, nestled alongside digs at Mark Cuban and Anthony Weiner on the day of the report’s release. “Does the @RNC have a death wish?”

Pundits laughed it off as the buffoonish ramble of a fringe New York billionaire on that March 2013 day, but what Trump didn’t say — and what the party establishment couldn’t have imagined — is that, three years later, he would be the one on the verge of making that death wish come true. The billionaire has not only ignored the report’s conclusions, he has run a campaign that moved the party in the exact opposite direction.

This is the same candidate that has open support of David Duke and white supremacists and answers questions about that support with “meh”. You need look no farther than Trump Rallies to find them out in the open and acting like goons. White nationalists shoved and assaulted a young black woman with absolute impunity.

White supremacists and other Donald Trump supporters could face charges for altercations that broke out during a Kentucky campaign rally — but so could protesters.

Video showed a white nationalist leader shoving and screaming at a black woman who protested the Republican presidential candidate’s rally Tuesday at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville.

Matthew Heimbach, head of the Traditionalist Youth Network, admits he was involved in an altercation with a black woman who he said was screaming obscenities and creating a disturbance, but he denied the woman’s claims that he used racial slurs.

One of the protesters, Henry Brousseau, filed a police report alleging that he was punched in the stomach by a woman in Heimbach’s group for shouting “Black Lives Matter,” reported the Courier-Journal.

The 17-year-old Brousseau said he did not know the woman’s name but took a photo of her before he was ejected from the event by what he believes was a combination of Trump security guards, Louisville Metro Police officers and Secret Service agents.

Trump interrupted his roughly 40-minute speech at least a half-dozen times to call for the removal of protesters, reported WDRB-TV, and some of the demonstrators said the candidate’s supporters roughed them up before they were ejected.

“I didn’t expect hands to be placed on me,” said protester Shalonte Branham. “I expected security to say, ‘It’s time to go,’ but I did not expect people to try and harm me.”

Karma has been swift for these horrible people in the world of social media.  Those of us living in the world outside Trump’s wet dreams are ensuring that chickens come home to roost.

Imagine if you will that you are one of the dullards who frequents Donald Trump rallies. Imagine that Donald Trump’s rhetoric is actually exciting enough for you to become energized when he hits the stage. Now imagine that because you are of the low-information variety American voter, your favorite part of the show is the racism.

You would be just like young Joseph Pryor, who was just kicked off of the US Marines’ delayed enlistment program, meaning he will not EVER be a United States Marine, because of the antics he pulled in connection with the assault of a black woman at a recent Trump rally in Kentucky.

Louisville police added to the mess the Trump supporters got themselves into by announcing they’re looking at filing criminal charges against several people. There has been some speculation that Trump himself may be facing charges as a ringleader, but that is unconfirmed at this time. What we do know is that a woman was treated with the utmost of disrespect, was physically and verbally assaulted and quite possibly had her civil rights violated for no reason other than the color of her skin.
It’s a common scene at these things. Protesters stand as quietly as they can and are eventually discovered and removed with extreme prejudice. Trump security personnel, local police and tens of thousands of unruly thugs in red hats solves those issues while Trump stands on stage scanning for the next people to have booted out. It’s nothing but a reality TV hook.

Now this poor young man, whose racism may have just been a side-effect of being raised by idiots and who may have had hope with just a few more IQ points, will tell the story of how he sacrificed his military service for Donald Trump. His friends will toast him with Natural Ice until the day he dies of liver failure. He’ll be buried with full honors by his World Of Warcraft buddies in a casket draped with the Gadsden Flag In an unsanmctioned cemetery slated to be paved for the new Walmart Supercenter parking lot.

This guy isn’t the first person to go full stupid for Donald Trump and lose big and he certainly won’t be the last.  But, so many folks are also

falling for horrid Republican lies about Hillary Clinton.  Last night, Rubio out right lied about the focus of the FBI interest in Clinton’s emails which were first outlined here.   Politico fact checked it last night along with other blatant lies last night.  The entire lot of them lie like a warehouse filled with rugs.

Marco takes two shots at Hillary on Benghazi; misses

Rubio launched a late attack on Hillary Clinton that contained what were at best two distortions. First, he said she’s under FBI investigation. In fact, the FBI is investigating handling of classified information on her email server, which is not quite the same as investigating her—at least not yet. Second, Rubio said Clinton lied to the families of the victims of the attack in Benghazi. But there’s no way to know: PolitiFact has delved into this before and determined “there simply is not enough concrete information in the public domain for Rubio or anyone to claim as fact that Clinton did or did not lie to the Benghazi families.” Clinton and the families disagree about what was said, but even if she blamed the video mocking Islam for triggering the attacks, that might not have been an intentional lie given the intelligence at the time.

— Isaac Arnsdorf

This morning our local published an Op Ed a local freaking Republican pol repeating the same damned lie!  (H/T to Adrastonos.)  “There is no FBI or DOJ email investigation of Hillary Clinton.”  Immunity granted to Bryan Pagliano does not look bad for her or mean she’s done something criminal at all.   There are now lies!  damned lies!  and Republican lies!!!

What about Clinton – does Pagliano’s immunity somehow count against her? Hardly. Again, it is only what it is.  The whole country saw her on live television being questioned by a Republican-majority House Committee. They can decide about her from what they saw themselves.

WAPO puts it this way: “Clinton emails continue to be non-scandal, disappointing Republicans”.  So, they lie.

US citizens of goodwill can no longer take the Republican Party seriously.  This morning, Fox News is trying to push Kasich as the reasonable one left

in the room.  This is the governor that is trying to take credit for both Obama’s and Clinton’s legacy while simultaneously damning them.  He is no moderate. Never has been or will be.

For all of Kasich’s supposed moderation, he is one of the most extreme antiabortion politician in America. Such views, however, seem to have little impact on Kasich’s moderate image.

Consider that, since Kasich took office in 2011, he has signed into law 16 antiabortion measures. These include a ban on abortions after 20 weeks; a mandatory ultrasound for women having abortions in clinics that receive state funding; and a provision in the state’s budget bill that prevents rape crisis counselors from providing women with information about abortion services. Onerous regulations on abortion providers have led half the abortion clinics in the state to shut down. All of this would seem to reflect Kasich’s “Christian moral imperative” too.

“John Kasich also peddles economic quackery and social conservatism.”

While there’s substantial evidence that Kasich is not consumed with a sociopathic loathing of immigrants and the poor, that’s a remarkably low bar to clear to merit the “moderate” appellation. To be sure, Kasichhas not quite followed the ultraconservative path charted by, say, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — but it’s not for lack of trying. Just as Walker did, Kasich signed a law stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights shortly after taking office in 2011 — and like Walker, Kasich witnessed a plunge in his standing in the polls; one April 2011 survey pegged Kasich’s approval rating at a mere 30 percent. Unlike Wisconsin, Ohio lacked a law providing for a gubernatorial recall, so opponents of Kasich’s anti-union law staged a November 2011 referendum on it instead. The outcome was a humiliating rebuke to the new governor; by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent, voters overturned the law — a chastening result that informed Kasich’s subsequent decision not to pursue legislation making Ohio a so-called right-to-work state.

It is imperative that more and more people see exactly what the Republican Party has become.  For that, I’m thankful for the Trump candidacy.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?