Thursday Reads: Trump Has Left the U.S. and All Hell is Breaking Loose.

Good Morning!!

I’ve been having another one of those mornings when I’m so shocked that I feel almost paralyzed. I realize now that I was becoming accustomed to the daily jolts of breaking news about Traitor Trump. How much worse can it get? I think it’s going to get a whole hell of a lot worse. Last night a story broke that knocked me back into that overwhelming feeling of unbelief.

Business Insider: House Democrats want to know why a major Russian money-laundering case was abruptly settled.

Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday asking why the Department of Justice settled a major money-laundering case involving a real-estate company owned by the son of a powerful Russian government official whose lawyer met with Donald Trump Jr. last year….

That attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, represents the family of Pyotr Katsyv, the former vice governor of the Moscow region, whose son, Denis, owns the real-estate company Prevezon. The DOJ had been investigating whether Prevezon laundered millions of dollars through New York City real estate when the case was unexpectedly settled two days before going to trial in May.

“Last summer, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected attorney in an attempt to obtain information ‘that would incriminate Hillary,'” the Democrats wrote, citing the emails he published. “Earlier this year, on May 12, 2017, the Department of Justice made an abrupt decision to settle a money laundering case being handled by that same attorney in the Southern District of New York.

“We write with some concern that the two events may be connected — and that the Department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts.”

The case was settled for only $6 million, and here’s how the lawyers for the Russians reacted.

“We reluctantly agreed to accept the government’s offer when it became clear that the fine proposed was no more than we would have spent fully litigating the case, and that no admission of guilt, forfeiture, or continued seizure of any assets was required,” Dillard added. “Essentially, the offer was too good to refuse.”

Sergei Magnitsky

This was a case that Preet Bharara was prosecuting at the time he was fired. I’ve long suspected that when Jeff Sessions fired all of the U.S. Attorneys it was really a cover for the Trump administration’s desired to get rid of Bharara and hush up this case and possibly other investigations of the Trump organization. Foreign Policy reports:

The civil forfeiture case was filed in 2013 by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — who was fired by Trump in March. The case alleged that 11 companies were involved in a tax fraud in Russia and then laundered a portion of the $230 million they got into Manhattan real estate.

The forfeiture case was heralded at the time as “a significant step towards uncovering and unwinding a complex money laundering scheme arising from a notorious foreign fraud,” Bharara said. “As alleged, a Russian criminal enterprise sought to launder some of its billions in ill-gotten rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate.”

But Instead of proceeding with the trial as scheduled, the Trump Justice Department settled the case two days before it was due to begin. By then, Bharara had already been axed by the president. Bharara’s assistant did not immediately respond to request for comment.in

The case stemmed from the work of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who was likely murdered in prison in an effort to hush up the fraud. After Magnitsky’s death, the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which personally sanctioned certain named Russian oligharchs. One of the attorneys in the case is the woman who met with Donald Trump Jr. in June, 2016. Vladimir Putin then retaliated by ending American adoptions of Russian orphans.

Also the attorney representing the Russian companies in the DOJ case, [Natalia] Veselnitskaya, is the same one who organized a meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. and top Trump campaign officials in June 2016 to offer material that could “incriminate” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “Love it,” responded Trump, Jr. to an intermediary.

Donald J. Trump with the Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, left, and his father, Aras Agalarov, on the red carpet at the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.

This sets up a very troubling timeline if you combine what was happening with this case and in the Trump Campaign at the same time. That link goes to a NYT timeline of campaign events published last night. A brief excerpt:

At 6:14 p.m. on June 7, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. clicked the send button on an email to confirm a meeting with a woman described as a “Russian government attorney” who would give him “information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.”

Three hours later, his father, Donald J. Trump, claimed victory in the final primary races propelling him to the Republican presidential nomination and a general election contest against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In his victory speech, Mr. Trump promised to deliver a major address detailing Mrs. Clinton’s “corrupt dealings” to give “favorable treatment” to foreign governments, including “the Russians.” ….

The meeting with the Russian lawyer came at a crucial stage in the elder Mr. Trump’s against-the-odds campaign as he pivoted toward taking on Mrs. Clinton, who was widely seen as the front-runner for the presidency. With Mr. Trump’s party still divided, his team was eager for information that could be used against his Democratic opponent, just as any nominee would be at that stage. The difference was that the Kremlin, according to intelligence reports, was eager to play a role in the campaign, and was in the midst of unleashing an operation to damage Mrs. Clinton.

Please read the rest at the NYT. I can’t tie all this together in a blog post, but it all seems very suspicious. A couple other relevant reads:

Josh Rogin at The Washington Post: Inside the link between the Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump dossier. You’ll need to read the whole thing to make the connections. The Trump gang is trying to twist this story in such a way as to blame Democrats.

This week’s revelations about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyerhave shined a new spotlight on a small Washington opposition research firm that worked with her on a legal case for years and then subsequently commissioned a dossier full of salacious allegations of the Russian government’s attempts to collude with the Trump presidential campaign.

The firm, Fusion GPS, will be one subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing next week that was planned well before the story broke of Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Fusion GPS says it had no involvement in the meeting although it did work on a lawsuit that involved Veselnitskaya for more than two years. The firm’s work on the Trump dossier was on a different timeline. Nevertheless, Trump’s legal team is already conflating the two issues as part of their defense of the president’s son.

Natalia Veselnitskaya

The Trumpies are suggesting that evil Democrats somehow set up poor, innocent Don Jr. But Fusion GPS was also representing Prevezon, the “holding company” involved in the Russian money laundering case.

Fusion GPS has said that it was working for the law firm BakerHostetler, which was representing Prevezon, a Russian holding company based in Cyprus, in its defense against Justice Department allegations that Prevezon laundered money stolen in the fraud Magnitsky uncovered. Veselnitskaya was Prevezon’s lawyer. Fusion GPS started working on the case in 2013 and the case settled in May with no admission of guilt by Prevezon.

Fusion GPS told me its work on the Prevezon case had nothing to do with the 2016 presidential election and they were not involved in the outreach to the Trump campaign.

“Fusion GPS learned about this meeting from news reports and had no prior knowledge of it,” the company told me in a statement. “Any claim that Fusion GPS arranged or facilitated this meeting in any way is false.”

As a subcontractor for BakerHostetler, Fusion GPS would not have been required to register under FARA. Senators may want to know why BakerHostetler decided that it did not need to register. Neither Veselnitskaya nor Mark Cymrot of Baker Hostetler, who handled the Prevezon case, responded to requests for comment.

Sam Thielman at TPM: Inside The Russian Lawyer’s And An Accused Spy’s ‘Adoption’ Crusade.

…that June 2016 meeting, which the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended, served another purpose for the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskya, and her wealthy client Denys Katsyv: It was a stop on a major PR tour against a sanctions bill.Katsyv had retained

Pytor Katsyv

Veselnitskaya had been accused of lobbying U.S. officials on behalf of the foundation before. The foundation had just two registered lobbyists, one of whom, Rinat Akhmetshin, had worked for Russian counterintelligence. And the foundation wasn’t asking for the reinstatement of an adoption program; it was, at least by implication, offering it. The group sought the alteration of a U.S. sanctions program that was about to become law, the Global Magnitsky Act, which was named after a dead Russian whistleblower. The original Magnitsky Act, enacted in 2012, had annoyed Russian President Vladimir Putin so much that he banned American adoptions of Russian children in retaliation; the expanded version had him enraged.

“What’s happening around the time of her meeting with Don, Jr. is the most serious-resourced and aggressive counterattack ever that the Kremlin has mounted on the Magnitsky Act,” one congressional aide told TPM. “They have learned over the years in their attempts to fight and derail this and they have gotten better at it. They’ve involved less ham-handed folks, and less people who might be out of central casting.”

Read the rest at the link. I’m sorry I can’t tie this all together, but I’m sure Bob Mueller is working on it with his dream team of federal prosecutors.

That’s not the only big story that broke last night. The Wall Street Journal was kind enough to leave this one outside the paywall: Russian Officials Overheard Discussing Trump Associates Before Campaign Began.

Investigators are re-examining conversations detected by U.S. intelligence agencies in spring 2015 that captured Russian government officials discussing associates of Donald Trump, according to current and former U.S. officials, a move prompted by revelations that the president’s eldest son met with a Russian lawyer last year.

In some cases, the Russians in the overheard conversations talked about meetings held outside the U.S. involving Russian government officials and Trump business associates or advisers, these people said….

The Devil Incarnate

The 2015 conversations were detected several months before Mr. Trump declared his candidacy for the White House. The conversations have been in investigators’ possession for some time, but officials said the Donald Trump Jr. news this week prompted them to look at them again.

In 2015, intelligence agencies weren’t sure what to make of the surveillance reports, which they viewed as vague and inconclusive, the current and former officials said. But the volume of the mentions of Trump associates by the Russians did have officials asking each other, “What’s going on?” one former official said….

Now, in light of the release of emails Tuesday by the president’s eldest son, describing a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, investigators are going back to those early reports. They are seeking new leads as they probe whether the Trump campaign colluded in what several U.S. intelligence agencies say was a Russian government-sponsored effort to meddle in the election to benefit Mr. Trump.

Did the collusion between Trump and Russian begin before anyone even knew Trump would run for president?

And what the hell is going on in the Department of Justice. From NPR this morning: Justice Department Defies Court Deadline To Release Sessions’ Contacts With Russians.

In defiance of a court order, the Justice Department is refusing to release part of a security form dealing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ contacts with the Russian government.

On June 12, a judge had ordered the agency to provide the information within 30 days, a deadline that passed on Wednesday.

A recently launched ethics watchdog group called American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request in March for sections of the Standard Form 86 relating to Sessions’ contact “with any official of the Russian government.”

The group then filed a lawsuit in April after it said the government didn’t provide the documents.

“Jeff Sessions is our nation’s top law enforcement officer, and it is shocking one of his first acts after being named Attorney General was to mislead his own agency about a matter of national security,” the group’s executive director, Austin Evers, said in a statement.

He continued: “The court gave DOJ thirty days to produce Attorney General Sessions’s security clearance form, DOJ has already confirmed its contents to the press and Sessions has testified about it to Congress, so there is no good reason to withhold this document from the public.”

The DOJ has now released a heavily redacted document.

I hope this post isn’t too confusing. I’m probably going to spend the rest of the day trying to sort out all this madness.

So . . .what stories are you following today?