Friday Reads: All Chaos all the Time!

GET SMART — ‘Hoo Done It’ Episode 8 — Aired 11/05/66 — Pictured: (l-r) Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, Joey Forman as Harry Hoo, Barbara Feldon as Agent 99

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I wake up these mornings to thinking this reminds me of 1968. There are students protesting in streets for one. But, the news these days reminds me more of those classic 60s TV shows with classic Russian spy meanies and bumbling Americans mixed in with the classic series about the FBI. There are so many instances of crime, intrigue, spying, investigations and the notorious double agents these days that I doubt even the best TV writing team would come up with any of this.

Then, there’s the classic 60s Soaps with scheming family members, bleach blondes galore, and some mean old geezer every one hates. We appear to be stuck in the reality show version of really whacky 60s TV programming. I fully believe there is a jail cell waiting with Jared Kushner’s name on it and it’s just around the corner.

Jared is in heaps of trouble. It appears the next set of indictments will be against the Russian Hackers of the Podesta emails. Just like two weeks ago, Mueller & Friends are laying the ground work on a crime against this country. Soon, we’ll see if any Americans supported that conspiracy. But, there’s also a ton of evidence of financial irregularities involving JarVanka that can be prosecuted at the state level in New York ensuring jail time, fines, and no promise of Presidential pardon. The golden children are on a slow turning spit with increasing fuel on the fire. Just this moring, the AP broke this little gem of a quid pro quo.

The Securities and Exchange Commission late last year dropped its inquiry into a financial company that a month earlier had given White House adviser Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm a $180 million loan.

While there’s no evidence that Kushner or any other Trump administration official had a role in the agency’s decision to drop the inquiry into Apollo Global Management, the timing has once again raised potential conflict-of-interest questions about Kushner’s family business and his role as an adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.

The SEC detail comes a day after The New York Times reported that Apollo’s loan to the Kushner Cos. followed several meetings at the White House with Kushner.

“I suppose the best case for Kushner is that this looks absolutely terrible,” said Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Without presuming that there is any kind of quid pro quo … there are a lot of ways that the fact of Apollo’s engagement with Kushner and the Kushner businesses in a public and private context might cast a shadow over what the SEC is doing and influence consciously or unconsciously how the agency acted.”

Apollo said in its 2018 annual report that the SEC had halted its inquiry into how the firm reported the financial results of its private equity funds and other costs and personnel changes. Apollo had previously reported that the Obama administration SEC had subpoenaed it for information related to the issue.

Diana Rigg as Emma Peel with Patrick Macnee as John Steed circa 1965

Ivanka’s business dealings are also part of an investigation as reported by CNN.

US counterintelligence officials are scrutinizing one of Ivanka Trump’s international business deals, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The FBI has been looking into the negotiations and financing surrounding Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, according to a US official and a former US official. The scrutiny could be a hurdle for the first daughter as she tries to obtain a full security clearance in her role as adviser to President Donald Trump.
It’s standard procedure to probe foreign contacts and international business deals as part of a background check investigation. But the complexity of the Trump Organization’s business deals, which often rely on international financing and buyers, presents a challenge.
The FBI has been looking closely at the international business entanglements of both Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, to determine whether any of those deals could leave them vulnerable to pressure from foreign agents, including China, according to a US official.

The development — a 616-foot beacon dotting the Vancouver skyline and featuring a trademarked Ivanka Trump spa — opened in February 2017, just after Trump took office.

1965 photo of Efraim Zimbelist Jr. practicing pistol-firing technique at Quantico, VA

More on this FBI investigation from Vanity Fair.

Ivanka, too, has her own set of problems. While the First Couple braced for an Intercept story that Kushner’s father had failed to secure a loan from the Qatari government just weeks before Kushner backed a blockade of Qatar, CNN dropped another bombshell: United States counterintelligence officials are probing a Trump Organization real-estate deal in Canada in which Ivanka played a leading role.

The financing and negotiations surrounding the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver have come under F.B.I. scrutiny, according to current and former U.S. officials who spoke with CNN. It’s unclear why the F.B.I. is interested in the deal, which dates back to 2013, and in which Ivanka played a key role. But CNN reports that foreign buyers involved, as well as the timing of the $360 million project’s opening in February 2017, may have caught the agency’s attention. Like many Trump Organization deals, the New York-based company does not own the building but rather is paid licensing and marketing fees by the developer, the Holborn Group. Joo Kim Tiah, a member of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest families, runs the Canada-based development firm, and said in October 2015 that the First Daughter was closely involved: “Ivanka and myself approved everything, everything in this project,” he said during an interview.

The Intercept reports Kushner Monkey Business in Qatar. This is the bombshell story mentioned in the Vanity Fair bit.

THE REAL ESTATE firm tied to the family of presidential son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner made a direct pitch to Qatar’s minister of finance in April 2017 in an attempt to secure investment in a critically distressed asset in the company’s portfolio, according to two sources. At the previously unreported meeting, Jared Kushner’s father Charles, who runs Kushner Companies, and Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi discussed financing for the Kushners’ signature 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York City.

The 30-minute meeting, according to two sources in the financial industry who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the potential transaction, included aides to both parties, and was held at a suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.

A follow-up meeting was held the next day in a glass-walled conference room at the Kushner property itself, though Al Emadi did not attend the second gathering in person.

The failure to broker the deal would be followed only a month later by a Middle Eastern diplomatic row in which Jared Kushner provided critical support to Qatar’s neighbors. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries, with Kushner’s backing, led a diplomatic assault that culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring an end to the standoff.

“I Spy” Robert Culp, Sheldon Leonard, Bill Cosby circa 1967 Photo by Gerald Smith

Philip Rucker–writing for WAPO–calls the couple “diminished”. Everything I’ve been reading indicates orange jumpsuits in their future with diminished assets.

Kushner no longer receives the President’s Daily Brief, a daily digest that’s restricted to Trump and about a dozen other top officials, these people said. Kushner also was removed from a number of less-exclusive but still highly classified intelligence reports that are sent daily to senior administration officials, because he no longer has sufficient clearance to read them. His chances of eventually having his clearance access restored or made permanent remain unclear.

“It’s amazing how Rob Porter taking Hope Hicks out on a date and getting a picture taken in that British paper led to so many unintended consequences,” said a Republican strategist in frequent touch with the White House, speaking anonymously to share a candid opinion.

For months now, Kelly has been considering changes to professionalize the security clearance process, alarmed by how many staffers had interim clearances and how lax the enforcement of access to classified materials seemed to be, according to White House officials.

The Chief and Max in the “Cone of Silence”

Jared is up to his oddly shaped ears in scandal. Scandal runs in the Kushner Family

Jared Kushner has problems.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators are reportedly interested in the senior White House adviser for a plethora of reasons — including, but not limited to, the central topic of whether the Trump team worked with Russia to interfere with the 2016 campaign.

Meanwhile, Kushner’s security clearance was recently downgraded. For unclear reasons, the FBI has refused to grant him full “top secret” status — throwing his position in the White House into doubt.

Additionally, and probably not coincidentally, more and more questions have been raised about Kushner’s efforts in recent years to drum up investments in his family’s real estate projects — and whether those efforts inappropriately overlapped with his work in the Trump transition or White House.

This week alone, the New York Times reported that Kushner’s family business got big loans from two US financial institutions shortly after he met with their executives in the White House, and the Washington Post reported that foreign officials have discussed using his business entanglements to manipulate him. Meanwhile, and separately from Mueller’s probe, federal prosecutors and state regulators have both recently sought documents on Kushner Companies’ finances.

Looming over so much of this is the fact that the Kushner company owes $600 million on a money-losing Manhattan tower that’s fully due in just one year. The Kushners have spent much of the past few years trying to get wealthy foreigners to finance an expensive redevelopment plan for the property — but so far, all those efforts have failed.

The 37-year-old presidential son-in-law has not been officially accused of anything. There haven’t been any reports that charges against him are imminent. He and Kushner Companies have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. And for now, Jared continues to hold his high-level White House job, in which he is tasked with, among other things, making peace in the Middle East.

Here’s some interesting gossip if you’re into that sort of thing.

A New York Times column by Maggie Haberman and Mark Landler claims President Donald Trump asked his chief of staff John Kelly for help in ousting first daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner from their advisory roles at the White House.

The column alleges that Trump’s managerial style, dubbed “chaos theory” by the writers, has caused emotional grief for the White House staff. It further claims that aides have “expressed frustration” that Kushner and Ivanka Trump have remained as senior advisers and that President Trump has “privately asked” Kelly for help in moving them out.

It is unclear if the president is asking them to leave out of compassion or, as the Times hints, concerns about Kushner’s potential legal issues over various business dealings. The Times story also reports that President Trump has spoken to Kushner and Ivanka Trump and asked them to stay on at the White House but privately has claimed they “never should have come” to work there. Thus, he has asked Kelly to be the instigator of their departure.

So, describing this huge morass of corruption, entitlement and crime sprees must make these reporters need whiskey and showers. But, it’s rewarding to see all this come out at the time we know Mueller’s sight is on the Trump family. This comes from Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine.

So what can we take away? One safe conclusion is that the investigation is probably not near done. Another is that Trump and his family are not safe. Mueller has only so far charged people outside Trump’s family — his campaign manager, national security adviser, and 13 Russian internet trolls — which the president and his defenders have weirdly treated as a kind of vindication.

The big picture is that, after Trump burned enough creditors that American banks stopped dealing with him, he became deeply reliant on Russian capital. The Russian economy is deeply connected to Vladimir Putin, and uses its leverage to advance political goals. For instance, Vnesheconombank, which works closely with Putin, financed a Trump hotel in Toronto. Trump’s finances are totally opaque, and he has been willing to endure a great deal of critical media coverage — the thing he most hates in the world — in order to avoid publishing his tax returns.

Kushner is also an important figure. He has his own web of business ties with Russia, and had assumed a lead role in communicating with the Russians secretly. Remember the secret backchannel he conducted with Russia during the transition, designed to elude American intelligence? If a new development arose in recent weeks, that probably bodes poorly for the president’s son-in-law.

Meanwhile, as Steve Bannon sloppily confessed, after Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with a Russian promising dirt on Hillary Clinton in June 2016, it is overwhelmingly likely that he proceeded immediately to tell the father whose approval is the thing he most craves. That may or may not be provable by Mueller. But he is certainly going to try.

Carl Bernstein argues that Mueller is focused ‘like a laser’ on Kushner. This comes via The Hill.

Veteran journalist Carl Bernstein claimed Tuesday night that White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is “in the crosshairs” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation after the White House adviser had his security clearance downgraded.

“Jared Kushner is in the crosshairs of special prosecutor Mueller’s investigation, which is focused in part on Jared Kushner like a laser,” Bernstein said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”

“And there is every expectation in the White House and among lawyers that are representing other people in Mueller’s investigation that Jared Kushner has many, many strikes lining up against him in the Mueller investigation,” the Watergate reporter continued.

Oh, well, grab the popcorn. It continues.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

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Friday Reads: ру́сский Tяumpсский

Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star Tribune

If you can find any kind of innocent explanation for these headlines and meetings, then I frankly will dub you the champion of Double Speak. Let’s see White House Mommy wiggle her way out of these latest headlines on relationships between the Trump Family, the campaign, and Russian election hacking.

From NBC NewsFormer Soviet Counter Intelligence Officer at Meeting With Donald Trump Jr. and Russian Lawyer .

The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and others on the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist — a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, NBC News has learned.

The lobbyist, first identified by the Associated Press as Rinat Akhmetshin, denies any current ties to Russian spy agencies. He accompanied the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; and Paul Manafort, former chairman of the Trump campaign.

Born in Russia, Akhmetshin served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U.S., where he holds dual citizenship. He did not respond to NBC News requests for comment Friday, but he told the AP the meeting was not substantive. “I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest,” he told the AP.

He had been working with Veselnitskaya on a campaign against the Magnitsky Act, a set of sanctions against alleged Russian human rights violators. That issue, which is also related to a ban on American adoptions of Russian children, is what Veselnitskaya told NBC News she discussed with the Trump team.

But, given the email traffic suggesting the meeting was part of a Russian effort help Trump’s candidacy, the presence at the meeting of a Russian-American with suspected intelligence ties is likely to be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate panels investigating the Russian election interference campaign.

This dude has some special skills.  This is from The Daily Beast: Trump Team Met Russian Accused of International Hacking Conspiracy. “Rinat Akhmetshin allegedly stole sensitive documents from a corporation years before he joined Natalia Veselnitskaya to meet Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner.”  Wow, he has mad hacking skills or knows folks that do. Imagine that!

The alleged former Soviet intelligence officer who attended the now-infamous meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign officials last June was previously accused in federal and state courts of orchestrating an international hacking conspiracy.

Rinat Akhmetshin told the Associated Press on Friday he accompanied Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to the June 9, 2016, meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort. Trump’s attorney confirmed Akhmetshin’s attendance in a statement.

Akhmetshin’s presence at Trump Tower that day adds another layer of controversy to an episode that already provides the clearest indication of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. In an email in the run-up to that rendezvous, Donald Trump Jr. was promised “very high level and sensitive information” on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Akhmetshin had been hired by Veselnitskaya to help with pro-Russian lobbying efforts in Washington. He also met and lobbied Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee for Europe, in Berlin in April.

In court papers filed with the New York Supreme Court in November 2015, Akhmetshin was described as “a former Soviet military counterintelligence officer” by lawyers for International Mineral Resources (IMR), a Russian mining company that alleged it had been hacked.

Meanwhile, back in Stoogeсский Tower, Trump lawyers admit to knowing about the emails for weeks now.  (There is never a dull Friday these days.) This is from Yahoo News.

President Trump’s legal team was informed more than three weeks ago about the email chain arranging a June 2016 meeting between his son Donald Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer, two sources familiar with the handling of the matter told Yahoo News.

Trump told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that he learned just “a couple of days ago” that Donald Jr. had met with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, hoping to receive information that “would incriminate Hillary” and was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” A day earlier, on Tuesday, Donald Jr. released the email exchanges himself, after learning they would be published by the New York Times

Trump repeated that assertion in a talk with reporters on Air Force One on his way to Paris Wednesday night. “I only heard about it two or three days ago,” he said, according to a transcript of his talk, when asked about the meeting with Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in June 2016 attended by Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, then Trump’s campaign chief, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

But the sources told Yahoo News that Marc Kasowitz, the president’s chief lawyer in the Russia investigation, and Alan Garten, executive vice president and chief legal officer of the Trump Organization, were both informed about the emails in the third week of June, after they were discovered by lawyers for Kushner, who is now a senior White House official.

The exchange apparently was initiated on June 3, 2016, when a Trump family associate, publicist Rob Goldstone, emailed Donald Jr. with an offer of something “very interesting” … “official documents and information” that “would be very useful to your father.” On June 8, 2016, Trump Jr. forwarded an email to Kushner and Manafort about the upcoming meeting with the subject line: “FW: Russia-Clinton-private & confidential.” Trump Jr. wrote back later that day, telling Goldstone “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

The discovery of the emails prompted Kushner to amend his security clearance form to reflect the meeting, which he had failed to report when he originally sought clearance for his White House job. That revision — his second — to the so-called SF-86, was done on June 21. Kushner made the change even though there were questions among his lawyers whether the meeting had to be reported, given that there was no clear evidence that Veselnitskaya was a government official. The change to the security form prompted the FBI to question Kushner on June 23, the second time he was interviewed by agents about his security clearance, the sources said.

So, this makes THREE changes to Kushner’s form with an additional 100 or so names.  Gee, that doesn’t just sound like a bad memory does it?  Democrats are trying to have his security clearance revoked by passing a law. Republicans are blocking it and his father in law controls his access atm.

President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner updated a federal disclosure form needed to obtain a security clearance three times and added more than 100 names of foreign contacts through the updates after initially providing none at all, reports CBS News’ Major Garrett.

The first form had no foreign names on it even though people applying for a security clearance need to list any contact with foreign governments. Kushner’s team said it was prematurely sent.

Then the team submitted the second one after they updated it with all of the names except for one — the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya who met with Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman in June 2016.

After omitting her name in the second form, that meeting was then conveyed to the FBI in the third revamping of the form before July.

This comes as some Democrats call for Kushner’s security clearance to be revoked. On Thursday, House Republicans reportedly in the Appropriations Committee blocked a Democratic amendment to a spending bill that targeted Kushner. It would have prevented the government from issuing or maintaining a security clearance for a White House employee under criminal investigation by a federal law enforcement agency for aiding a foreign government.

The Chicago Tribune has an in depth look at Peter W Smith. He’s the guy that was trying to put together a team of Russian hackers who committed suicide shortly after spilling the beans to the WSJ. This part of his suicide note alone makes me suspicious.  Can’t you just here Kremlin Caligula ordering up this?

In the note recovered by police, Smith apologized to authorities and said that “NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER” was involved in his death

And, oh wait we do know what icky Campaign mommy will say about all of this.

White House aide Kellyanne Conway accused critics of the Trump administration of moving the goalposts on the ongoing investigations into possible coordination between members of the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.

The goalposts have been moved,” Conway told “Fox & Friends” Friday morning. “We were promised systemic — hard evidence of systemic, sustained, furtive collusion that not only interfered with our election process but indeed dictated the electoral outcome. And one of the only people who says that seriously these days is still Hillary Clinton and nobody believes it.”

However, authorities investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election have long asserted that there is no evidence votes were physically changed as part of the effort. 

Conway’s analysis came in response to coverage of Donald Trump Jr., who admitted to meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign. Campaign manager Paul Manafort and top aide Jared Kushner were also in attendance.

So far, all the right wing media can say is it’s either Hillary’s fault or Lorretta Lynch’s fault. SAD!  I’m still wrapping my mind around the number of right wing Republicans that actually find Putin and Russia to be respectable.  Try read this from the NYT to understand the allure. Jeremy Peters believe the ‘revere’ Putin.

Mr. Putin is no archvillain in this understanding of America-Russian relations. Rather, he personifies many of the qualities and attitudes that conservatives have desired in a president of their own: a respect for traditional Christian values, a swelling nationalist pride and an aggressive posture toward foreign adversaries.

In this view, the Russian president is a brilliant tactician, a slayer of murderous Islamic extremists — and not incidentally, a leader who outmaneuvered and emasculated President Barack Obama on the world stage. And because of that, almost any other transgression seems forgivable.

“There are conservatives here who maybe read into Russia things they wish were true in the United States,” said Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University. “And they imagine Russia and Putin as the kind of strong, traditional conservative leader whom they wish they had in the United States.” To these conservatives, she added, “Russia is the true defender of Christian values. We are decadent.”

Mr. Trump’s opponents have tried repeatedly to make an issue of the mutual admiration between him and the Russian president, anticipating that Republicans would not tolerate any whiff of sympathy from one of their own toward the leader of what Ronald Reagan called the “evil empire.” But Mr. Trump has never had to wait long for conservatives to leap to his defense — and often Mr. Putin’s as well.

Mr. Putin is no archvillain in this understanding of America-Russian relations. Rather, he personifies many of the qualities and attitudes that conservatives have desired in a president of their own: a respect for traditional Christian values, a swelling nationalist pride and an aggressive posture toward foreign adversaries.

In this view, the Russian president is a brilliant tactician, a slayer of murderous Islamic extremists — and not incidentally, a leader who outmaneuvered and emasculated President Barack Obama on the world stage. And because of that, almost any other transgression seems forgivable.

“There are conservatives here who maybe read into Russia things they wish were true in the United States,” said Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University. “And they imagine Russia and Putin as the kind of strong, traditional conservative leader whom they wish they had in the United States.” To these conservatives, she added, “Russia is the true defender of Christian values. We are decadent.”

Mr. Trump’s opponents have tried repeatedly to make an issue of the mutual admiration between him and the Russian president, anticipating that Republicans would not tolerate any whiff of sympathy from one of their own toward the leader of what Ronald Reagan called the “evil empire.” But Mr. Trump has never had to wait long for conservatives to leap to his defense — and often Mr. Putin’s as well.

There’s a strange connection between Russia and white xtianists. (Via BB) They were allowed to basically invade the country once the USSR failed and they haven’t forgotten it. However, this has changed. Curiously, the Xtianist right still worships Putin.

While there are parts of the world where the persecution of religious minorities, including Christians, is a real problem, the United States is not one of them. Russia, on the other hand, has enacted laws that bar Protestant groups from proselytizing on penalty of fines, and has even gone so far as to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses entirely.

At first blush, then, it might seem odd that one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s leading hierarchs, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk—who was staying at the Trump International Hotel—not only participated in BGEA’s summit yesterday, but also, as first reported by Time, met privately with the vice president. Curiously enough, a key talking point from their meeting was that America and Russia should work together to fight international terrorism, a hallmark of the Trump campaign’s election season foreign policy rhetoric.

Metropolitan Hilarion heads the ROC’s Department of External Relations, and in this capacity he has worked tirelessly in recent years to cultivate relationships with Catholic and Protestant supporters of “traditional values” abroad, in order to work with them to promote Christian supremacy at the expense of women’s and LGBTQ rights—an example of what I call “bad ecumenism.” Such efforts are coordinated with the Kremlin’s foreign policy, which seeks to foster relationships with anti-democratic forces outside Russia. While Moscow made similar efforts during Soviet times, Russian President Vladimir Putin has rebranded post-Soviet Russia into the global standard bearer for “traditional values conservatism,” and in this capacity attracts primarily right-wing fellow travelers.

On the one hand, this policy would seem to make President and CEO of BGEA Franklin Graham a natural partner for Putin and the ROC, and, indeed, Graham has warmed considerably to both in recent years. In October 2015, Graham met with both Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia, after which Patriarch Kirill declared Christians of all confessions who oppose marriage equality to be “confessors of the faith.” Graham reminded his followers on social media of his connections to Russia last month

There’s a good article to read about this unholy alliance from Talk Progress.

To fully understand how some members of the Religious Right came to appreciate Putin, it’s important to asses how Putin came to appreciate the role of organized religion — particularly brands that oppose LGBTQ equality.

Russia, after all, is hardly a bastion of religious freedom. The 2016 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report listed the country as one with an increasingly “negative trajectory in terms of religious freedom,” pointing to policies that limit the activities of Muslims and other minority religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals.

Yet Graham’s remarks are the result of a years-long international power consolidation effort by Putin, who is is well known for using faith — particularly the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), a subset of Eastern Orthodox Christianity whose reach extends beyond Russian borders — as a mechanism to expand his country’s influence and antagonize Western opponents.

According to Christopher Stroop, a visiting instructor at the University of South Florida honors college and a published expert on modern Russian history, Putin became close with the ROC after beginning his third term in 2012.

“The Orthodox church domestically shores up the [Putin] regime, but it also works internationally to push the party line in pursuit of its own goals as well — and the church hierarchs are genuinely socially conservative,” Stroop told ThinkProgress, noting that Putin’s embrace of the ROC coincided with a broader shift toward right-wing populism.

“Putin has rebranded himself [and Russia] as a Champion of traditional values,” Stroop said.

Putin and the church are technically two entities with different agendas, but Stroop said they’ve developed a codependent strategy that benefits both parties. The Russian president often grants the ROC privileges not afforded to other faith groups to help him win domestic debates, for instance. Meanwhile, Russian priests in countries like Moldova and Montenegro have pushed back against efforts to align those nations with Western powers, and a Kremlin-funded spiritual center now sits near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

And as the New York Times reported last fall, Putin lifts up the church’s moral authority as a “traditional” answer to the west’s increasing liberalism, positioning Russia as an opponent to progressive causes such as LGBTQ rights and multiculturalism. This allows Putin to perpetuate the idea that Europe and America — not Russia — are faithless nations by comparison.

So, once again, the idea is that as long as “Traditional Values” are enshrined in law somehow, they don’t care who does it.  There’s been a piety show at the White House with a gross, disgusting laying of hands (more grabby grabby) and a cuckoo Pat Robertson.  Trump’s best base is the folks who fell for the longest running conspiracy theory every so they’re easy prey.

In an interview airing Thursday, Trump sat down with Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network. The aging icon of the religious right has been outspoken in his support for Trump, calling him “God’s man for this job.” It will be Trump’s second interview with CBN since he became president.

And earlier this week, photos surfaced from an impromptu Oval Office prayer session in which two dozen evangelicals laid their hands on the President and petitioned the Almighty on his behalf.

We were praying that God would give him guidance and direction and protect him,” said Richard Land, who served on Trump’s evangelical advisory board and is president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The images of hands praying over the President’s distinctive coiffure caught fire on social media. To some, the timing seemed suspicious. Though raised Presbyterian, Trump is not affiliated with a church, nor does he attend worship services most Sundays. Was he “getting religion” just as the waters were rising around his White House? Was it a repeat of President Bill Clinton conspicuously carrying a Bible and meeting with religious leaders during the Monica Lewinsky scandal?

The White House disputes that interpretation. “The idea that someone would pray only when they’re in crisis is ridiculous,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy White House press secretary.

Land agrees. “That’s a very cynical and negative connotation of what happened.”

Instead, Land, a Southern Baptist who has been active in presidential politics since the Reagan administration, said he and two dozen fellow evangelicals were summoned to Washington for a “work day.”

The group, many of whom advised Trump during the campaign, heard reports from administration officials and gave feedback on issues like Israel’s security, judicial nominations and the Senate’s health care bill. Jared Kushner dropped by, as did Vice President Mike Pence — a fellow evangelical — who said the President invited the group to visit the Oval Office that afternoon and say hello, Land recalled.

As evangelicals gathered around Trump’s desk, he asked how their work meeting was going, Land said, and several praised his recent speech in Warsaw, in which the President pledged to protect Western values.

Okay. I need another shower.  This all creeps me out to no end. It’s like a terrifically bad movie plot.

So, let me know what you’re reading today?


Monday Reads: From Russia with Thugs

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

It would be nice to focus on something other than T-Russia for awhile but this probably is the story of the century and it’s unfolding at a breakneck speed. Hannah Levintova at MoJo has written a great tick tock for any one having trouble keeping up with all the events to date. You may want to bookmark it since they will be updating and editing it. It spans 30 years of T-Russia history.

The Trump-Russia scandal—with all its bizarre and troubling twists and turns—has become a controversy that is defining the Trump presidency. The FBI recently disclosed that since July it has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation into possible coordination between Trump associates and Russia, as part of its probe of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election. Citing “US officials,” CNN reported that the bureau has gathered information suggesting coordination between Trump campaign officials and suspected Russian operatives. Each day seems to bring a new revelation—and a new Trump administration denial or deflection. It’s tough to keep track of all the relevant events, pertinent ties, key statements, and unraveling claims. So we’ve compiled what we know so far into the timeline below, which covers Trump’s 30-year history with Russia.  We will continue to update the timeline regularly as events unfold.

So, here are some interesting reads on the most recent developments which include a Senate Committee questioning Jared Kushner.  NW Luna posted this which is the list of what’s happened this week alone. It’s written by Yonatan Zunger via Medium.

In the past week, there have been several startling revelations about the investigations into Donald Trump, his closest allies, and their ties to Russia. Not only has the existence of two investigations, one by the FBI and one by the House Intelligence Committee, been confirmed, but there is increasing information as to just what is being investigated: an alleged deal for Trump to advance Russian interests as President in exchange for a share of the Russian state oil company Rosneft and Russian intelligence assistance in winning the election.

This news has been spread over a tremendous number of articles and even Twitter threads, rather than in a single big headline. So today I would like to pull together all of these reports, and make it clear what things are known for certain, what things have been reported and sourced but not confirmed, and what things are still speculation.

Information from Nunes continues to shock.

He continues to try to explain his White House visit and conversation with Paul Ryan as calls mount for his resignation.

According to a Daily Beast report later over the weekend, Nunes went off the grid that night to meet a source and view dozens of intelligence reports, including accounts of meetings involving President Donald Trump’s advisers.

Then it gets weirder. CNN is now reporting that Nunes had in fact slipped off to the White House grounds last Tuesday to view the documents. And then on Wednesday, after briefing reporters on what he had found in those intelligence reports, he went back to the White House to inform the president.

On the surface, none of this looks good for Nunes, who is in charge of his committee’s bipartisan investigation into all things Trump and Russia. Why would Nunes need to brief the president on documents he viewed at a facility on White House grounds?

In an interview Monday, Nunes told me that he ended up meeting his source on the White House grounds because it was the most convenient secure location with a computer connected to the system that included the reports, which are only distributed within the executive branch. “We don’t have networked access to these kinds of reports in Congress,” Nunes said. He added that his source was not a White House staffer and was an intelligence official.

Nunes, it should be said, has a history of cultivating independent sources inside the intelligence community. He made contact, for example, with the U.S. intelligence contractors who ended up saving most of the Americans stuck in the Benghazi outpost when it was attacked on Sept. 11, 2012. More recently, Nunes has reached out to his network of whistleblowers to learn about pressure inside the military’s Central Command on analysts to write positive reports on the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State.

In this case, Nunes had been hearing for more than a month about intelligence reports that included details on the Trump transition team, and had been trying to view them himself. He told me that when he finally saw the documents last Tuesday evening, he made sure to copy down their identifying numbers so he could request access to them formally for the rest of the committee.

So, what the heck is going on with Jared Kushner and why hasn’t some one told him to shove off?  It appears T-Russia was in full swing prior to and after the election including stealth visits by the Russian ambassador facilitated by Kushner who secreted him into Mount Doom last fall.  Inquiring senators want to know wtf were they all thinking?

The Senate Intelligence Committee will reportedly question White House adviser Jared Kushner as part of its probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The committee wants to question Kushner, who is also President Trump’s son-in-law, about meetings he arranged with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, The New York Times reported.

According to the Times, the White House counsel’s office was told this month about the panel’s request.

A White House official and a spokesman for Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.) confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that Kushner had agreed to meet.

“Throughout the campaign and transition, Jared Kushner served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials. Given this role, he has volunteered to speak with Chairman Burr’s Committee,” a White House official told the Journal.

The White House has previously acknowledged a December meeting at Trump Tower between Kushner, Kislyak and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Discussions at that meeting reportedly focused on the potential of better relations between the U.S. and Russia.

Meanwhile, Putin is brutally suppressing a nascent Russian Protest that broke out around the country on Sunday.

This is from the Ioffe article at The Atlantic mentioned in the Goldberg tweet above.

But Sunday’s protest was different. Unlike the rallies in Nemtsov’s memory or even the 2011-2012 protests, this one did not have a permit from the Moscow city authorities. Over the weekend, the mayor’s office warned people that protestors alone would bear the responsibility for any consequences of attending what they deemed an illegal demonstration. But despite those warnings and despite the fresh memory of some three dozen people being charged—many of whom did prison time—for a protest in May 2012 that turned violent, thousands came out in Moscow. The police estimated attendance at 8,000, but given officials’ predilection for artificially deflating the numbers of those gathered at such events to make them seem less of a threat, the number could easily have been double that. People clogged the length of Tverskaya Street, one of the city’s main drags. The iconic Pushkin Square was packed, and people clung to the lampposts, chanting “Russia will be free!”

Three weeks ago, Navalny, who became famous as an anti-corruption blogger, posted an hour-long video exposé (with English subtitles) on his blog and YouTube channel. It showed, in great detail and using drone footage, what he said were the vast real-estate holdings of prime minister and former president Dmitry Medvedev, a man who talked of fighting corruption during his presidency and who in May told the residents of recently annexed Crimea, who are suffering from electricity and fuel shortages, “We don’t have the money now. … But you hang in there!” The money, Navalny alleged, was all bundled up in palaces, some costing hundreds of millions of dollars, all over the country. It was strange to attack Medvedev, now a widely ridiculed has-been in Russian politics, and many doubted that Navalny telling people to go out and protest Medvedev would have any resonance. And yet, when he named the day—March 26—people across 11 time zones answered his call and came out.

The Russian opposition leader–Navalny–has been jailed for at least 15 days. More disturbing was the arrest of many foreign journalists.

Thousands of people rallied in dozens of cities across Russia on Sunday following a call by Navalny to protest over an investigation into Medvedev’s alleged corruption. Navalny’s team released a video alleging Medvedev had amassed a collection of palaces, yachts and vineyards during his time in office.

Authorities in most cities – from Chita in Siberia to Makhachkala in Dagestan – denied permission for the rallies. Police arrested those who were holding posters or chanting, and also on occasion simply swept random people off the street.

Guardian correspondent Alec Luhn was among those arrested, despite having Russian journalistic accreditation. He was held for hours and charged with participating in an unsanctioned demonstration before being released after the foreign ministry intervened.

A rights group monitoring the arrests said on Monday morning that 1,030 people had been detained in Moscow alone. About 120 remained in custody on Monday morning. The majority of those released were charged with the minor offence of taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration and are likely to be fined.

In Nizhny Novgorod, parents of five children who took part in the protests were charged with “improper parenting”, according to Interfax news agency.

It took the US State Department 12 hours to respond to arrests of protesters and journalists.

On Sunday night, roughly 12 hours after images and reports of the crackdown began emerging from Moscow, the top State Department spokesman issued a statement strongly condemning the detention of hundreds and calling for the immediate release of all peaceful protesters.

And we thought the Cold War was pretty much over.  Sheesh!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?