Tuesday Reads: Trump Has Put American Foreign Policy Up For Sale.

Good Morning!!

The corruption is right out in the open now. American foreign policy is for sale to highest bidder. On Sunday Trump posted a startling tweet:

EuroNews: Trump tells Commerce Department to help Chinese telecom ZTE.

President Donald Trump said Sunday he has instructed his Commerce Department to help get a Chinese telecommunications company “back into business” after the U.S. government cut off access to its American suppliers.

At issue is that department’s move last month to block the ZTE Corp., a major supplier of telecoms networks and smartphones based in southern China, from importing American components for seven years. The U.S. accused ZTE of misleading American regulators after it settled charges of violating sanctions against North Korea and Iran….

ZTE has asked the department to suspend the seven-year ban on doing business with U.S. technology exporters. By cutting off access to U.S. suppliers of essential components such as microchips, the ban threatens ZTE’s existence, the company has said.

Trump with Chinese president Xi Jinping during China trip

During recent trade meetings in Beijing, Chinese officials said they raised their objections to ZTE’s punishment with the American delegation, which they said agreed to report them to Trump.

The U.S. imposed the penalty after discovering that Shenzhen-based ZTE, which had paid a $1.2 billion fine in the case, had failed to discipline employees involved and paid them bonuses instead.

Why is Trump suddenly so concerned about Chinese jobs? It’s not about U.S. national security; it’s about Trump’s business. HuffPost: Trump Orders Help For Chinese Phone-Maker After China Approves Money For Trump Project.

A mere 72 hours after the Chinese government agreed to put a half-billion dollars into an Indonesian project that will personally enrich Donald Trump, the president ordered a bailout for a Chinese-government-owned cellphone maker….

…on Thursday, the developer of a theme park resort outside of Jakarta had signed a deal to receive as much as $500 million in Chinese government loans, as well as another $500 million from Chinese banks. Trump’s family business, the Trump Organization, has a deal to license the Trump name to the resort, which includes a golf course and hotels.

Trump and family with Indonesian business partners

Trump, despite his promises to do so during the campaign, has not divested himself of his businesses, and continues to profit from them.

“You do a good deal for him, he does a good deal for you. Quid pro quo,” said Richard Painter, the White House ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush and now a Democratic candidate for Senate in Minnesota.

It sure does look like a quid pro quo, doesn’t it? Or is it just that Trump is a bad deal-maker? We can’t be sure because Trump chose to maintain control of his businesses and refuses to release his tax returns. Read more about Trump’s Indonesia project at the South China Morning Post: Trump Indonesia project is latest stop on China’s Belt and Road.

Gordon Chang at the Daily Beast: Trump Cuts a Great Deal—For China.

The White House looks like it is prepared to give relief to ZTE Corp., the embattled Chinese telecom-equipment maker, in exchange for Beijing lifting tariffs on, and easing non-tariff barriers against, U.S. agricultural products. Moreover, China’s Commerce Department will restart its long-stalled review of Qualcomm’s proposed acquisition of NXP Semiconductors, the Dutch firm.

In addition, The Daily Beast has learned there will be either no penalties or only light ones imposed on China for stealing U.S. intellectual property.

This is a great deal—for China. China gets relief for ZTE for doing nothing more than what it should have been doing all along. And its massive theft of U.S. technology and intellectual property—undoubtedly in the hundreds of billions of dollars a year—goes mostly unpunished.

If the reports of the outlines of the impending agreement are correct, the Trump administration, which prides itself on deal-making, will have accepted one of the worst trade arrangements this century.

Josh Rogin at The Washington Post: China gave Trump a list of crazy demands, and he caved to one of them.

After top Trump officials went to Beijing last month, the Chinese government wrote up a document with a list of economic and trade demands that ranged from the reasonable to the ridiculous. On Sunday, President Trump caved to one of those demands before the next round of negotiations even starts, undermining his own objectives for no visible gain.

The Chinese proposal is entitled, “Framework Arrangement on Promoting Balanced Development on Bilateral Trade,” and I obtained an English version of the document, which is the Chinese government’s negotiating position heading into the next round of talks. That round begins this week when Xi Jinping’s special economic envoy Liu He returns to town.

Bullet point 5 is entitled, “Appropriately handing the ZTE case to secure global supply chain.”

So Trump agreed to reverse US policy, but was it really about rewarding China for funding the Trump project in Indonesia? I’d say that’s pretty likely, wouldn’t you?

Trump took a big step in that direction Sunday when he tweeted that he had instructed the Commerce Department to help get ZTE “back into business, fast,” only weeks after the Commerce Department cut off its supply of American components because it violated U.S. sanctions on sales to North Korea and Iran. Trump’s tweet set off a panic both inside and outside the administration among those who worry that Trump is backing down from his key campaign promise to stand up to China’s unfair trade practices and economic aggression.

As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pointed out Monday, the problems with ZTE go well beyond sanctions-busting. The Federal Communications Commission has proposed cutting ZTE and other Chinese “national champion” companies off from U.S. infrastructure development funds because the U.S. intelligence community views their technology as a national security risk.

Guess what folks? Trump doesn’t give a shit about U.S. national security. He cares about money for himself. Period.

Michael Avenatti has had a busy past few days, and I’ve been following the revelations pretty closely. On Sunday Avenatti posted some stills from a C-Span video of Trump Tower during the transition.

Later, he revealed that a Quatari official apparently met with Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn on Dec. 12, 2016.

Mother Jones: Qatari Investor Accused in Bribery Plot Appears With Michael Cohen in Picture Posted by Stormy Daniels’ Lawyer.

Members of the Trump transition team appear to have met on December 12, 2016, with a group from Qatar that included Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, the former Qatari diplomat and current head of a division of Qatar’s massive sovereign wealth fund, who is accused in a recent lawsuit of scheming to bribe Trump administration officials.

Ahmed Al-Rumaihi

On the lawsuit:

Ice Cube, the rapper and actor, and his business partner, Jeff Kwatinetz, recently filed a $1.2 billion lawsuit that includes an allegation that Al-Rumaihi and other Qatari officials who invested in the men’s BIG3 basketball league indicated interest in gaining access to people connected to Trump. “Mr Al-Rumaihi requested I set up a meeting between him, the Qatari government, and Stephen Bannon, and to tell Steve Bannon that Qatar would underwrite all of his political efforts in return for his support,” Kwatinetz said in the court filing. Kwatinetz says he rejected the offer, which he viewed as a bribe.

In response, Kwatinetz claims, “Al-Rumaihi laughed and then stated to me Buthat I shouldn’t be naive, that so many Washington politicians take our money, and stated ‘do you think Flynn turned down our money?’” That’s a reference to Michael Flynn, who was fired as Trump’s national security adviser after lying about his contacts with then Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But it appears that other Quatari officials were also in the Dec. 12, 2016 meeting, according to knowledgeable people on Twitter.

Here’s the Wikipedia article on Quatari the foreign minister.

And a third person from Quatar who is also involved in the lawsuit filed by Ice Cube and Kwatinetz was also present.

What the hell is going on? A couple of useful reads:

Slate: Michael Cohen’s Meetings With Michael Flynn and a Qatari Diplomat Might Be the Key to Unlocking the Steele Dossier.

The founder of a three-on-three basketball league who claims he was offered a bribe by a one-time Qatari diplomat to arrange access to Steve Bannon said on Monday that the former diplomat is the same person photographed with Michael Cohen at Trump Tower in December 2016.

Big 3 basketball league co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz told Slate that he recognized Ahmed Al-Rumaihi in photos with Cohen that were tweeted Sunday by attorney Michael Avenatti.

“Yes, 100 percent,” Kwatinetz said when asked if he thought the videos and photos were of Ahmed Al-Rumaihi. Last week, Kwatinetz, who is a co-founder of Big 3 with Ice Cube, accused Al-Rumaihi in a sworn court declaration of making an attempted bribe and of suggestively boasting that Flynn had not refused “our money.” [….]

[Michael] Avenatti tweeted the images that appeared to show Al-Rumaihi entering an elevator in Trump Tower on Dec. 12, 2016, five days after news broke of the multibillion-dollar sale of 19.5 percent of the Russian fossil fuel giant Rosneft to Swiss trading firm Glencore and Qatar’s sovereign investment fund. (Glencore and Qatar sold off a major stake of Rosneft to China last year, but earlier this month Qatar bought back in to the Russian company for a total stake of 19 percent.)

The Rosneft deal features prominently in an investigative dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. A central claim of the Steele dossier was that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, during an alleged meeting with Rosneft officials in summer 2016, promised that a Trump administration would undo sanctions against Russia, in part, in exchange for brokerage of the Rosneft deal. In May 2016, Al-Rumaihi reportedly took over as head of a major division of the wealth fund ultimately involved in the Rosneft deal.

The allegations in the Steele dossier, made in October 2016, suggested a future quid-pro-quo deal between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump has been conspicuously resistant to Russian sanctions despite widespread congressional support from both parties. As Jed Shugerman has noted in Slate, during congressional testimony Page acknowledged meeting with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft, during his July 2016 trip to Russia and acknowledged “briefly” discussing the sale of Rosneft as well as there being “some general reference” to sanctions. As Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand has reported, Page also acknowledged meeting with top Rosneft managers in Moscow on Dec. 8—four days before the apparent Cohen–Al-Rumaihi meeting and one day after the completion of the Rosneft deal.

Jed Shugarman has posted a detailed Russia/Qatar/Trump Timeline in a Google doc that will be updated with new information. On his blog, Shugarman posted this introduction to the timeline:

I have produced a Google Doc timeline, based on publicly available reports and documents, of the alleged bribery scheme between Russia and Trump associates, possibly through Qatar’s purchase of Rosneft….

Russia’s sale of Rosneft Gas is the key event in the Steele Dossier’s quid pro quo allegation. On June 2016, Russians allegedly offer Trump associates a massive payout derived from the commissions on Russia’s sale of 19.5% of state energy giant Rosneft ($11 billion), in return for lifting sanctions. Weeks after the election, Flynn and Kushner are in contact with Russian officials. Then Russia sells a 19.5% stake in Rosneft in a concealed deal, eventually revealed to be with Qatar. Immediately after the deal, a Qatari diplomat allegedly met with Cohen and Flynn at Trump Tower.

In January 2017, payments from Russian oligarch to Michael Cohen begin, and Flynn reportedly texts associates that Trump will lift Russian sanctions, opening up huge personal profits. But around this time, the Dossier is published. Kushner sought money directly from Qatar, because it is possible that Qatar was backing off of the deal, wary of its exposure. In April 2017, Kushner reportedly escalated a Gulf state crisis between Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar with a risk of regional war. A few months later, the Qatar-backed Apollo Group delivers $184 million to Kushner, who has been in financial crisis over a disastrous purchase of 666 5th Ave.

Remember, Robert Mueller and his investigators have likely known all this for a long time and they probably know many more details. Michael Flynn has been cooperating for months, and indictments involving Michael Cohen are very likely in the works.

What stories are you following today?

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Thursday Reads: An Attitude of Gratitude

Good Afternoon!!

I woke up this morning and suddenly realized that today is my anniversary. It has been 36 years since I got sober on May 10, 1982. It has been a long, strange trip. I have a lot to be grateful for today. Everything is crazy in our world today, but I’d rather be dealing with this than dead.

And I have something else to be grateful for too: Michael Avenatti is on the case, and he has blown it wide open. I wonder where he learned how to get so much public attention?

Jack Schaeffer at Politico: Michael Avenatti’s Rules for Radicals. Where Stormy Daniels’ lawyer got his tricks.

Go ahead and joke about TV’s bright lights sunburning his bald head all the way to skin cancer. Avenatti won’t mind. All the world is his court and all the men and women in it merely jurors. Appearing on Anderson Cooper 360° on Tuesday night, where he was as poised as a fat cat taking a limousine to the airport, he explained his method.

“There’s been some criticism about our media strategy and how often I’ve been on CNN and how often I’ve been on your show and other networks,” Avenatti said. “Here’s the bottom line, Anderson. It’s working. OK? It’s working in spades. And one of the reasons, and one of the ways that it’s working, is because we’re so out front on this, people send us information. People want to help our cause. People contact us with information.”

They sure do, as we’ve learned over the past couple of days of wall-to-wall media coverage of Avenatti’s revelations about Michael Cohen selling access to Donald Trump. So what’s Avenatti’s secret?

Although Avenatti grew up in St. Louis and attended college and law school in Washington, D.C., his media politics owe much to the famous teachings of Chicago political organizer Saul Alinsky (1909-1972), who formulated a set of 13 “rules for radicals” that have gained devotees on both the left and right for several generations, including Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel, for whom Avenatti worked while in college.

Appearing on TV, Avenatti wears down his opponents by deploying Alinsky’s Rule No. 5, one that Trump has long observed in his own battles: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” Avenatti routinely mocks Cohen as a “thug,” “beyond stupid,” legally “radioactive” and “not that bright.” and goes after Cohen’s attorney with an ack-ack of insults and slights. Wherever possible, Avenatti makes personal everything that is legal, perhaps because he figures that a temperamental opponent like Cohen will grow unsettled and erratic in the face of ridicule, unable to muster any real defense.

“Keep the pressure on. Never let up,” Alinsky’s Rule No. 8, has guided Avenatti’s nonstop, inventive TV campaign. Yesterday, for example, he broadened his attack on Cohen by releasing leaked financial documents that documented suspicious cash transfers from corporations to Cohen. What, if anything this new, damning information has to do with liberating Stormy Daniels from her NDA, isn’t readily apparent. But it fills the ditch that Cohen occupies with fast-drying concrete. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have,” Alinsky’s Rule No. 1, has piloted Avenatti’s moves from the beginning: He teased his Twitter audience by posting a picture of a DVD, implying that it contains smutty pictures of Trump and constantly hints that new, detrimental evidence against Cohen is about to emerge, such as his prediction that new hush payments will be revealed or that the Russians might have covered the $130,000 silence payment to his client. Overstatement is one of his favorite games. Staging media events that please the gallery is another area in which the Avenatti and Alinsky worlds intersect (Rule No. 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”).

Head over to Politico to read the whole thing. I wonder if Barack Obama is following all this?

At New York Magazine, Frank Rich compares Avenatti to Woodward and Bernstein: Following the Money in Trumpland Leads Ugly Places.

With Michael Avenatti’s revelation that the shell company Michael Cohen used for the Stormy Daniels payoff also received money tied to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg (as well as payments from other companies with government business), it looks like the two main threads of Donald Trump’s legal troubles may be part of the same story. Has Avenatti found the “collusion” that Trump has spent so much energy denying?

Avenatti, whose revelations have since been verified by the Times and others, is doing exactly what Woodward and Bernstein did in Watergate — following the money. By doing so he has unveiled an example of collusion so flagrant that it made Trump and Rudy Giuliani suddenly go mute: a Putin crony’s cash turns out to be an essential component of the racketeering scheme used to silence Stormy Daniels and thus clear Trump’s path to the White House in the final stretch of the 2016 election. Like the Nixon campaign slush fund that Woodward and Bernstein uncovered, this money trail also implicates corporate players hoping to curry favor with a corrupt president. Back then it was the telecommunications giant ITT, then fending off antitrust suits from the government, that got caught red-handed; this time it’s AT&T. Both the Nixon and Trump slush funds were initially set up to illegally manipulate an American presidential election, hush money included. But the Watergate burglars’ dirty tricks, criminal as they were, were homegrown. Even Nixon would have drawn the line at colluding with Russians — or, in those days, the Soviets — to sabotage the Democrats.

I know some accuse Avenatti of being a media whore, but he’s the one media whore I can’t get enough of. He knows what he’s doing, he has the goods, and he is playing high-stakes poker, shrewdly, with what appears to be a winning hand.

I can’t wait to see what Avenatti will do next.

I can’t find any news reports on this yet, but last night Giuliani told USA Today that the Michael Cohen revelations have nothing to do with Donald Trump.

President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday that his client is not affected by investigations into payments to longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen from several American companies and a firm tied to a Russian oligarch.

“I don’t see it,” Giuliani told USA TODAY. “This has nothing to do with us.”

If Trump had some kind of legal exposure, Giuliani said, Russia special counsel Robert Mueller would not have passed on the information to federal prosecutors in New York who are investigating Cohen’s business dealings.

Giuliani also scoffed at a suggestion made by Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti that Russian money went to the adult film star to keep her quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.

“I don’t see how that could be the case,” Giuliani said, noting that the entity cited by Avenatti is “not Russian; it’s an American company.”

There’s a lot that Rudy doesn’t see, like how Trump is likely to dump him next. Rick Wilson at The Daily Beast: Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump: This Will End Badly. And Probably Soon.

Like a bloated, portly fake billionaire rolling off a hooker after a hot 45 seconds of passionate sex, Donald Trump’s ardor for Rudy Giuliani seems to have cooled.

If the White House leaks are any barometer, it sounds more and more as if Donald wants Rudy to get his money off the nightstand and the hell out of his room at the No-Tell-Motel. This is what happens when you work for Trump, and Rudy is old enough, crafty enough, and knows Trump well enough to have known better.

Trump’s hiring of my old boss is a triumph of today’s Trump-right media bubble, where nothing matters but the coverage on Fox & FriendsHannity, Sinclair stations’ nightly Two Minutes of Hate, and on the nut-site constellation that comprises conservative “news” sites. Trump didn’t hire Rudy for his skills as a litigator, or as a warrior in the high-speed low-drag social-media world of today. He was hired to break shit and make loud noises, and he’s damn good at it. Unfortunately for Rudy, that probably won’t be enough to save him from the Trump curse.

Trump has been mostly unable to hire and retain top-flight litigators because he destroys everyone around him. His record of stacking former staffers like cordwood as they are either fired, humiliated, shamed, permanently scarred, forced to cut off a finger by the Yakuza, morally compromised, or moved into the Witness Protection Program will go down in presidential history. It’s no secret that he’s a spectacular liar at all times and on all subjects, leaving his legal team constantly wary they have a client who combines a stubborn streak and a self-destructive nature with an endless capacity to lie to them about his marital, financial, and political lies.

Even though he’s a right-winger, Wilson has a way with words. Read the rest at The Daily Beast.

That’s is for me this morning. I may have a few more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following?