Tuesday Reads: Russia Russia Russia

Good Morning!!

There has quite a bit of breaking news on the Russia investigation front this week, and it’s only Tuesday. We learned last night that Paul Manafort tried to suborn perjury from witnesses in his case. Perhaps that’s why Trump has been madly tweeting about Manafort and the investigation generally.

The Washington Post: Mueller accuses Paul Manafort of witness tampering.

Federal prosecutors accused former Trump presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort of witness tampering late Monday in his criminal case and asked a federal judge to consider revoking or revising his release.

Prosecutors accused Manafort and a longtime associate they linked to Russian intelligence of repeatedly contacting two members of a public relations firm and asking them to falsely testify about secret lobbying they did at Manafort’s behest.

The firm of former senior European officials, informally called the “Hapsburg group,” was secretly retained in 2012 by Manafort to advocate for Ukraine, where Manafort had clients, prosecutors charged.

Konstantin Kilimnik

In court documents, prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III allege that Manafort and his associate — referred to only as Person A — tried to contact the two witnesses by phone and through encrypted messaging apps. The description of Person A matches his longtime business colleague in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik.

So Manafort could soon be headed for jail unless he decides to cooperate with Mueller. Read the rest at the WaPo. Some commentary:

John Cassidy at The New Yorker: More Legal Trouble for Paul Manafort—and Donald Trump.

Coincidences do happen, but this seems to be an unlikely one. On Sunday morning, seemingly apropos of nothing, Donald Trump posted a messageon Twitter that stated the following: “As only one of two people left who could become President, why wouldn’t the FBI or Department of ‘Justice’ have told me that they were secretly investigating Paul Manafort (on charges that were 10 years old and had been previously dropped) during my campaign? Should have told me!”

Even by Trump’s standards, this message seemed a bit weird. A few minutes later, the President posted another one, which said, Paul Manafort came into the campaign very late and was with us for a short period of time (he represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole & many others over the years), but we should have been told that Comey and the boys were doing a number on him, and he wouldn’t have been hired!”

Trump says a lot of things on Twitter, of course. But prior to this outburst, he hadn’t talked much recently about Manafort, who made millions of dollars working as a political consultant for despots around the world and is facing trial in two federal courts on charges that include money laundering, bank fraud, and failing to disclose his U.S. lobbying work for a foreign government—all of which were brought by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Why Trump’s sudden interest? One possible inference was that the President had somehow heard that there was more bad news coming about Manafort, and he was trying to limit some of the damage in advance of its release. If that was indeed the case, we now know the source of Trump’s concern.

In a filing made in U.S. district court, in Washington, on Monday night, Mueller’s office accused Manafort, who is out on bail, of trying to tamper with potential witnesses earlier this year, and asked a judge to consider jailing him before his trial. At this stage, obviously, we don’t know how the court will rule. But Manafort is already facing considerable pressure to coöperate with the special counsel’s investigation. If the court were to revoke his freedom, this pressure would sharply increase.

Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: Paul Manafort Loses His Cool.

At the height of his powers as a political consultant, Paul Manafort was known for his cool. In fact, the value of his counsel increased at moments of crisis. While others panicked, Manafort rarely evinced a hint of frazzle. He could still think strategically, detach himself from emotion, and issue clearheaded guidance. But he could afford to keep his head at such moments, because the problems he was called on to solve belonged to others.

Robert Mueller’s allegation that Manafort attempted to tamper with a witness permits us to peer inside Manafort’s mind as it has functioned in a very different set of circumstances. When it comes to Manafort’s own deep problems—his moment of legal peril—he seems unable to muster strategic thinking. He has shown himself capable of profoundly dunderheaded miscalculations.

It’s hard to understand how he could have attempted the scheme described by Mueller in the midst of the highest-profile, most scrutinized criminal inquiry of the century. But that alone fails to capture the depths of his blundering.

Foer describes how each of Mueller’s filings in Manafort’s case has made it clear that Manafort’s every move is being closely watched by federal investigators, and yet Manafort apparently thought he could get away with contacting witnesses.

Each of Mueller’s new filings has further revealed the extent to which he is surveilling Manafort and his closest associates. A week before Manafort apparently attempted to tamper with the witness, Mueller stated plainly that he was watching their encrypted communication channels. And before that, Mueller showed that he was keeping tabs on Manafort’s email when he exposed an op-ed that Manafort had ghostwritten in his own defense, in violation of a judge’s gag order.

If we look back on Robert Mueller’s strategy over the past few months, the special prosecutor seems to repeatedly signal to Manafort: Look, I know everything; you have no choice but cooperation. It’s a pattern that continues with this filing, the first instance in which Mueller has deployed material supplied by Manafort’s old alter ego, Rick Gates. When Gates agreed to cooperate with Mueller, he handed over a raft of emails. We can see in the exhibits that Mueller attached to this filing that Gates possesses a comprehensive archive of Manafort’s dealings, a blueprint of his operation. There will be no ellipses in the Manafort trial. Gates can fill all the gaps.

There is another suggestive fact that Mueller posits in passing. Manafort’s witness-tampering scheme featured a co-conspirator. Mueller doesn’t name the accomplice, but his identity is not hard to discern from Mueller’s description. Manafort tried to contact his Hapsburg Group collaborators through his old Russo-Ukrainian aide, Konstantin Kilimnik.

Rick Gates

Why did Manafort think he could get away with continuing to communicate with Kilimnik? Mueller is slowly but surely ensuring that Manafort will either cooperate or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Meanwhile, at Mother Jones, David Corn warns that the simple narrative of Russia’s attack on our democracy is getting lost in the details as Trump, Fox News, and Devin Nunes work constantly to obfuscate the truth with big lies: Donald Trump Is Getting Away With the Biggest Scandal In American History.

The other evening I was on a cable news show to cover the latest Russia news of the day—and I had an epiphany.

We were talking about a recent scoop from Michael Isikoff, the co-author of my latest book, Russian RouletteHe had reported that a Spanish prosecutor had handed the FBI wiretapped transcripts of a Russian official who was suspected of money laundering and for years had been trying to gain influence within the American conservative movement and the National Rifle Association. We then discussed a New York Times article revealing that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s longtime fixer, had met with a Russian oligarch in January 2017, around the time a US company affiliated with this tycoon began making $500,000 in payments to Cohen. Next we turned to the latest in the so-called Spygate nonscandal—the false claim, championed by Trump and his defenders, that the FBI infiltrated a spy into his presidential campaign for political purposes.

Then the show moved on. We had spent 15 or so minutes on these important developments, delving into the details—but without referring to the essence of the story. And it hit me: Though it’s clear Trump’s presidency has been hobbled by the Russia scandal, the manner in which this matter plays out in the media has helped Trump.

Meanwhile Trump, backed up by Fox News, keeps pushing out his propaganda.

Michael Isakoff and David Corn

The other side—the accurate perspective—isn’t that complicated. In 2016, Vladimir Putin’s regime mounted information warfare against the United States, in part to help Trump become president. While this attack was underway, the Trump crew tried to collude covertly with Moscow, sought to set up a secret communications channel with Putin’s office, and repeatedly denied in public that this assault was happening, providing cover to the Russian operation. Trump and his lieutenants aligned themselves with and assisted a foreign adversary, as it was attacking the United States. The evidence is rock-solid: They committed a profound act of betrayal. That is the scandal.

But how often do you hear or see this fundamental point being made? The media coverage of the Trump-Russia scandal—which has merged with Cohen’s pay-to-play scandal, the Stormy Daniels scandal, and a wider foreign-intervention-in-the-2016-campaign scandal—has yielded a flood of revelations. Yet the news reporting tends to focus on specific components of an unwieldy and ever-expanding story: a Trump Tower meeting between Trump aides and a Kremlin emissary; what special counsel Robert Mueller may or may not be doing; the alleged money-laundering and tax-evasion skullduggery of Paul Manafort; a secret get-together in the Seychelles between former Blackwater owner Erik Prince and a Russian financier; the Kremlin’s clandestine exploitation of social media; Russian hackers penetrating state election systems; Michael Flynn’s shady lobbying activities; Trump’s attempted interference in the investigation; and so much more. It is hard to hold on to all these pieces and place them into one big picture.

Please go read the rest–it’s fairly lengthy. I’m not sure what the solution to this is; It’s not likely that non-Fox news sources are going to start hammering a simple narrative to push back on the Trump big lies. I can only hope that when Mueller issues his report, it will pull all the complex details together into a coherent and understandable story.

Finally, get this–Vladimir Putin is now bragging publicly about his “close relationship” with Trump. Axios reports:

Russian President Vladimir Putin tells Austrian TV that he and President Trump have a close working relationship, although it’s complicated by U.S. politics.

“You should ask our colleagues in the United States. In my opinion, this is the result of the ongoing acute political struggle in the United States. Indeed, Donald Trump and I have, firstly, met more than once at various international venues and secondly, we regularly talk over the phone.”

Interviewer: “You and Donald Trump talk so nicely over the telephone, but Trump has been President for a year and a half and there still has not been a bilateral summit between you, in contrast to Bush and Obama with whom you met within the first six months of their presidencies. Why is it taking so long?”

Putin:

“Our foreign affairs departments and special services are working fairly well together in areas of mutual interest, above all in the fight against international terrorism. This work is ongoing.”

“As for personal meetings, I think that the possibility of these meetings depends to a large extent on the internal political situation in the United States….”

“In a recent telephone conversation, Donald said he was worried about the possibility of a new arms race. I fully agree with him.”

“[W]e will do all we can to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. So of course we pin great hopes on the personal meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, because mutual claims have gone way too far.”

Putin calls the “president” *Donald.* And I guess if “Donald” does achieve any success with North Korea, Putin expects to share the glory.

So . . . what stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: Russia News and Natural Disasters

Goldie Hawn reading a newspaper

Good Morning!!

Naegeli court reporters investigation is getting closer and closer to Trump. Here are the stories that broke just last night, with brief excerpts:

The New York Times: Mueller Seeks White House Documents Related to Trump’s Actions as President.

In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s office sent a document to the White House that detailed 13 areas in which investigators are seeking information. Since then, administration lawyers have been scouring White House emails and asking officials whether they have other documents or notes that may pertain to Mr. Mueller’s requests.

One of the requests is about a meeting Mr. Trump had in May with Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, was fired. That day, Mr. Trump met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, along with other Russian officials. The New York Times reported that in the meeting Mr. Trump had said that firing Mr. Comey relieved “great pressure” on him.

Mr. Mueller has also requested documents about the circumstances of the firing of Michael T. Flynn, who was Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. Additionally, the special counsel has asked for documents about how the White House responded to questions from The Times about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. That meeting was set up by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son,Th to get derogatory information from Russians about Hillary Clinton.

Jane Fonda

The Washington Post: Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire ‘private briefings’ on 2016 campaign.

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.

Interesting Twitter posts on this subject:

Isn’t that fascinating? Trump and Putin are obviously still collaborating.

One more from the NYT last night: Manafort Working on Kurdish Referendum Opposed by U.S.

Paul J. Manafort, the former campaign chairman for President Trump who is at the center of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, is working for allies of the leader of Iraq’s Kurdish region to help administer and promote a referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq.

The United States opposes the referendum, but Mr. Manafort has carved out a long and lucrative career advising foreign clients whose interests have occasionally diverged from American foreign policy. And he has continued soliciting international business even as his past international work has become a focus of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into ties between Russia and Mr. Trump and his associates, including possible collusion between them to influence the presidential election.

In fact, the work for the Kurdish group appears to have been initiated this summer around the time that federal authorities working for Mr. Mueller raided Mr. Manafort’s home in Virginia and informed him that they planned to indict him.

Catherine Deneuve

Manafort is in serious trouble. It’s hard to believe he’s still refusing to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. It also looks like Trump is royally f**cked at least in terms of obstruction of justice, thanks to his own loose lips in the Lester Holt interview and his chummy Oval Office meeting with the Russians.

More Russia-related stories from this morning:

Politico: Manafort used Trump campaign account to email Ukrainian operative.

Former Donald Trump aide Paul Manafort used his presidential campaign email account to correspond with a Ukrainian political operative with suspected Russian ties, according to people familiar with the correspondence.

Manafort sent emails to seek repayment for previous work he did in Ukraine and to discuss potential new opportunities in the country, even as he chaired Trump’s presidential campaign, these people said….

In the emails to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort protégé who has previously been reported to have suspected ties to Russian intelligence, the longtime GOP operative made clear his significant sway in Trump’s campaign, one of the people familiar with the communications said. He and Kilimnik also met in the United States while Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, which he chaired until an August 2016 shake-up.

Mike Allen at Axios: Another potential Mueller honey pot: Spicer’s notebooks.

Now we can tell you about another potential honey pot for Mueller. Former colleagues of Sean Spicer tell Axios that he filled “notebook after notebook” during meetings at the Republican National Committee, later at the Trump campaign, and then at the White House.

When Spicer worked at the RNC, he was said to have filled black books emblazoned with the party’s seal. Spicer was so well-known for his copious notes that underlings joked about him writing a tell-all.
  • One source familiar with the matter said that the records were just to help him do his job.
  • “Sean documented everything,” the source said.
  • That surprised some officials of previous White Houses, who said that because of past investigations, they intentionally took as few notes as possible when they worked in the West Wing.

Allen texted Spicer about this story and Spicer flipped out, telling Allen to stop contacting him or he would “report to the appropriate authorities.” What authorities? Spicer thinks it’s illegal to text another private citizen–Allen says he has been on friendly terms with Spicer for “more than a dozen years.”

Marlon Brando

Axios also has a terrific timeline of Manfort’s activities beginning in 2006: How the Russia probe closed in on Paul Manafort.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at the LA Times: Trump will fire Robert Mueller eventually. What will happen next?

Here’s predicting flat out that yes, at some point Trump will try to oust Mueller.

As the probe advances, the likelihood increases that Mueller will uncover evidence of a serious offense by Trump. With the recent search of former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s home, Mueller has shown his willingness to follow the money trail aggressively. (The latest reports suggest that Mueller’s team is planning to indict Manafort for possible tax and financial crimes.) And Mueller has begun to negotiate interviews with up to a dozen White House aides as well as former White House officials. Trump likely fears that Mueller will zero in on something sleazy or criminal whose revelation could cripple his presidency. Each turn of the screw of the Mueller investigation — and there will be many — increases the pressure on Trump to act preemptively.

The odds also seem great that the erratic, power-consumed and thin-skinned Trump, who every week launches a new Twitter attack on a real or imagined enemy, will be unable to stay his hand month after month as the Mueller investigation unfolds. Like the fabled scorpion who stings the frog even though it dooms him, Trump, being Trump, won’t be able to endure domination by Mueller over the long term. Of course, Trump likely fails to appreciate that it is not Mueller personally, but the law, that is asserting its dominance.

Let’s say Trump snaps.

Angelina Jolie

To fire Mueller, Trump would need to order Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein to remove him. But Rosenstein, a career prosecutor with a strong dedication to the values of the Department of Justice, would likely resign his office rather than comply with the order, as would the department’s third-ranking official, Rachel Brand.

Eventually Trump, moving down the hierarchy, would find someone willing to fire Mueller (as Nixon found Robert Bork, the then-solicitor general, to fire Archibald Cox).

From there, Mueller could launch a legal challenge to the ouster (potentially with the support of the Department of Justice). It’s by no means clear that Mueller, an ex-Marine of legendary rectitude, would choose to sue. Assuming he did, though, he would need to overcome a series of constitutional arguments by the president’s lawyers that any restrictions on the president’s ability to terminate him would impinge on presidential power under Article II.

Click on the link to read the rest.

The natural disasters continue as Hurricane Maria devastates Puerto Rico and moves on the fresh destruction and Mexico City struggles to recover from the recent earthquake.

NBC News: Hurricane Maria Leaves Puerto Rico Facing Months Without Power.

Millions of people across Puerto Rico woke up Thursday to a grim new reality.

Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to hit the U.S. territory in almost a century, ravaged the island, demolishing homes and knocking out all electricity. It could take half a year to restore power to the nearly 3.5 million people who live there.

The eye of the storm moved offshore overnight, but the danger remained Thursday: Intense flooding was reported, particularly in San Juan, where many residential streets looked like rushing rivers.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said the devastation in the capital city was unlike any she had ever seen.

“The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there,” Cruz told MSNBC. “We’re looking at 4 to 6 months without electricity.”

Elizabeth Taylor

The Washington Post: Mexico anxiously awaits the fate of a 12-year-old schoolgirl after deadly earthquake.

 A sprawling earthquake recovery effort spanning several states turned intensely personal Thursday as Mexicans were riveted by an effort to save a 12-year-old girl who was pinned in the rubble of her elementary school.

The drama played out live late Wednesday and early Thursday on the major news channels here, with television cameras tracking every movement of the Mexican marines and others who sought to rescue the girl now known as “Frida Sofia.” Under a soft rain, the work was delicate and painstaking, relying on thermal cameras and other technology to try to locate and remove young children trapped for more than 30 hours after their school collapsed on Tuesday afternoon.

At one dramatic point in Wednesday night’s broadcast, Televisa reporter Danielle Dithurbide learned from the marine admiral leading the recovery effort that Frida Sofia — which may not be her real name — was able to tell rescuers that five other students were possibly trapped with her. It was unclear whether they were alive.

I’ll end with this from Grist, via Mother Jones: This Is the Hurricane Season Scientists Tried to Warn Us About.

There is evidence that we are emerging from an era of messy meteorological data, where we were blind to warming seas strengthening hurricanes because the really damaging ones were rare. If that’s true, weather historians may look to this year as the beginning of a frightening new phase of superstorms.

About 85 percent of all damage done by hurricanes is attributable to “major” storms—those stronger than Category 3, so roughly one-quarter of all storms. While relatively infrequent, they are by far the most destructive—a Category-5 cyclone has 500 times the power of a Category 1. Globally, major hurricanes have become slightly more common in recent decades, even as overall numbers have held steady.

Haley Mills

Further, there’s nothing in recorded history that resembles what Irma and Maria have inflicted on Caribbean islands in recent days. Since Sept. 6, the two hurricanes have made six separate landfalls at Category-5 strength. Before this month, just 18 such landfalls had happened in the previous 165 years (and never more than three in a single year). Clearly there’s something happening here—and there’s a developing consensus among scientists about what factors are responsible.

There have been only 33 Category 5 storms in the Atlantic since hurricane records began in 1851. Twenty-three of them have formed since 1961; 11 in only the last 14 years. Part of that uptick comes from better weather monitoring equipment, like satellites that help us spot hurricanes before they make landfall. But even since we developed satellite technology, there’s been a measurable increase in major storms.

The strongest hurricanes require an exceptionally warm ocean to intensify, and with water temperatures currently near record highs in the Caribbean, it’s providing conditions ripe for Category 5s. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, since 1970, the oceans have retained more than 90 percent of the excess energy generated from global warming. That’s a lot of extra fuel for stronger storms.

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?