The Wall Street Journal has a story on Michael Flynn’s plot to kidnap Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen and “deliver” him to a Turkish prison. We knew about this plan, but the WSJ provides more details. The article is behind the paywall, but I go access by clicking on Twitter link.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating an alleged plan involving former White House National Security Adviser Mike Flynn to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have asked at least four individuals about a meeting in mid-December at the ‘21’ Club in New York City, where Mr. Flynn and representatives of the Turkish government discussed removing Mr. Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries. The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, according to one of the people who has spoken to the FBI….
The people who described the alleged proposal said they didn’t attend the December meeting and didn’t have direct knowledge from Mr. Flynn or his associates about its purported details. It isn’t clear how advanced Mr. Mueller’s investigation of the alleged plan to remove Mr. Gulen is, nor is there any indication that any money changed hands, according to those familiar with the discussions and the FBI investigation.
But federal investigators’ interest in whether Mr. Flynn was pursuing potentially illegal means to forcibly deal with Mr. Gulen indicates that the former Trump adviser faces another investigation stemming from his work on behalf of Turkish government interests, both before and after the presidential election.
One more interesting bit:
One person familiar with the alleged discussions about Mr. Gulen said Mr. Flynn also was prepared to use his influence in the White House to further the legal extradition of the cleric, who lives in Pennsylvania.
According to the WSJ, there were two meetings to discuss the kidnapping. The second one was attended by former former CIA Director James Woolsey, who was concerned enough to tell then Vice President Joe Biden about it. It seems both Mike Flynns are in serious trouble.
Randall D. Eliason of George Washington University Law School writes at The Washington Post: How Robert Mueller can play hardball with Michael Flynn.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team are no strangers to the practice of prosecutorial hardball. That skill may be coming into play once again if, as news reports indicate, the special counsel is turning his attention to former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and Flynn’s son Michael G. Flynn, who worked with his father’s lobbying firm and was also involved in the Trump transition. The elder Flynn has long been thought to be in Mueller’s sights, and CNN reported Wednesday that Flynn and his wife are worried about their son’s legal exposure as well.
If in fact prosecutors have built cases against both men, they now have a huge, juicy carrot to dangle in front of the elder Flynn: Plead guilty and testify against others, and we’ll go easy on your son. Given the former national security adviser’s prior positions with the Trump campaign and administration, that prospect has to make other potential targets of Mueller’s inquiry extremely uneasy.
Members of Mueller’s team are very familiar with — and have not been shy about employing — the tactic of persuading a witness to cooperate in exchange for leniency toward a family member. His chief deputy is Andrew Weissmann, a career prosecutor with a reputation for aggressiveness. More than a decade ago, Weissmann served on and ultimately headed the Enron task force, the team of prosecutors charged with investigating the financial collapse of the huge energy corporation. Weissmann and the other Enron prosecutors wanted the cooperation of Andrew Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer, whom they had indicted on dozens of federal charges. When prosecutors later added additional charges against Fastow, they also indicted a new defendant: Lea Fastow, Andrew’s wife, who had also worked at Enron. With the felony charges pending against Lea Fastow, the couple faced the prospect of spending years in prison while their two young sons were raised by others.
Eventually Andrew Fastow was sentenced to 10 years in prison and his wife got one year, which she was allowed to serve before Andrew went to prison so they could care for their children. It looks like we’re about to find out what Michael Flynn will do to protect his son.
A couple more Russia investigation stories:
ABC News reports that George Papadopoulos, who is cooperating with the Mueller investigation in return for a reduced sentence, initially lied to FBI investigators “out of loyalty to Trump.”
Trump had publicly denied that there had been any contact between his campaign and Russian officials, and Papadopoulos did not want to contradict the official line, the source said.
“It’s all fake news,” Trump said of any alleged connections in January. “It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”
Papadopoulos met with the FBI agents investigating those alleged ties shortly thereafter, and he later acknowledged that he lied during that meeting about the timing of certain contacts.
How may other advisers lied out of loyalty to the liar in chief? And how many of those advisers will end up turning on Trump? Mueller is on the case.
After a business meeting before the Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, a Russian participant offered to “send five women” to Donald Trump’s hotel room in Moscow, his longtime bodyguard told Congress this week, according to three sources who were present for the interview.
Two of the sources said the bodyguard, Keith Schiller, viewed the offer as a joke, and immediately responded, “We don’t do that type of stuff.”
The two sources said Schiller’s comments came in the context of him adamantly disputing the allegations made in the Trump dossier, written by a former British intelligence operative, which describes Trump having an encounter with prostitutes at the hotel during the pageant. Schiller described his reaction to that story as being, “Oh my God, that’s bull—-,” two sources said.
The conversation with the Russian about the five women took place after a morning meeting about the pageant in Moscow broke up, two sources said.
That night, two sources said, Schiller said he discussed the conversation with Trump as Trump was walking back to his hotel room, and Schiller said the two men laughed about it as Trump went to bed alone. Schiller testified that he stood outside Trump’s hotel room for a time and then went to bed.
One source noted that Schiller testified he eventually left Trump’s hotel room door and could not say for sure what happened during the remainder of the night.
Schiller is one of Trump’s closest and longest-term employees. He would probably lie for his boss. So why didn’t he just say there was nothing to the story at all? A couple of legal experts on TV have suggested that Schiller may be afraid that someone else overheard the offer and thus he’s afraid to give a complete denial.
Disguised Russian agents on Twitter rushed to deflect scandalous news about Donald Trump just before last year’s presidential election while straining to refocus criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to an Associated Press analysis of since-deleted accounts.
Tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as “America_1st_” and “BatonRougeVoice” on Oct. 7, 2016, actively pivoted away from news of an audio recording in which Trump made crude comments about groping women, and instead touted damaging emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
Since early this year, the extent of Russian intrusion to help Trump and hurt Clinton in the election has been the subject of both congressional scrutiny and a criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. In particular, those investigations are looking into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
AP’s analysis illuminates the obvious strategy behind the Russian cyber meddling: swiftly react, distort and distract attention from any negative Trump news.
Read the rest at the AP link above.
Meanwhile Trump is bumbling through his Asia trip, working on destroying U.S. credibility around the world.
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s recent hosting of Donald Trump was a masterclass in how to make the US president comfortable—feed him familiar food, take him on his favorite outing, golf, and tell him how much you like him.
But Chinese president Xi Jinping added a creamy layer of pomp and circumstance to the mix when the White House delegation reached Beijing. Trump has been feted with everything from an unprecedented private dinner in the Forbidden City to a red carpet welcome in Tiananmen Square, the Beijing landmark where hundreds of students were killed by the Chinese military in 1989.
Trump has responded in kind, calling Xi a “very special man” with whom he has “great chemistry.” While US businessmen had high hopes that Trump and his back-to-the-1980s China advisors would wring concessions from Xi to cut the $350 billion trade deficit, the only concrete result has been a mish-mash of previously announced deals and non-binding agreements that probably aren’t worth the $250 billion both governments claim….
Beyond the numbers, it’s Trump’s embrace of Xi that has diplomats and human rights activists around the world concerned. China’s government is “playing Trump like a fiddle,” said Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s ambassador to China from 2007 to 2013. “You don’t have good chemistry with a Chinese leader who doesn’t speak your language and is geared to not develop chemistry,” he said.
Read more at Quartz.
Putin is playing Trump too. Trump has been dying to meet with him again, but it’s not going to happen. Putin was just jerking him around and trying (successfully) to humiliate him.
Da Nang, Vietnam (CNN)President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will not hold a formal meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit here in Vietnam, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday.
But the two world leaders did briefly meet during the so-called APEC class photo, where all the heads of state come together to take a photo before the summit officially starts. Trump and Putin shook hands and had a briefly spoke before the photo was snapped….
Citing “scheduling conflicts on both sides,” though, Sanders said no formal meeting will take place during the two-day gathering, but that an informal interaction between the two world leaders was likely to happen, a notion reinforced by her Russian counterparts.
“Regarding a Putin meeting, there was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides,” Sanders said. “There is no formal meeting or anything scheduled for them.”
Sure Sarah. Poor Donald was so looking forward to a private audience with his idol. But it was not to be.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?
Hurricane Irma is still headed for Florida and then will move up the coast. The Weather Channel: States of Emergency Issued, Evacuations Ordered as Florida, Georgia, Carolinas Prepare for Irma.
As the dangerous Category 5 Hurricane Irma barrels toward southeast of Florida, officials in the Sunshine State, Georgia and the Carolinas have declared disasters and ordered evacuations.
The storm, which has undergone rapid intensification in the past several days is now the strongest Atlantic hurricane in the last 10 years, a dangerous Category 5, which made landfall overnight packing winds of 185 mph on the Caribbean island of Barbuda.
“The storm is massive and the storm surge is predicted to go for miles. In some instances, it could cover homes and go very far inland,” Scott said.
He urged urgent preparation:
- “Every family needs to have a plan. …Do not sit and wait. Prepare right now.”
- “Do not ignore evacuation orders.”
- “Take what you need to evacuate. Don’t take extra.”
Read more about Florida’s preparations at the link.
The Miami Herald: South Florida comes under hurricane watch with weekend strike likely.
South Florida came under hurricane and storm surge watches Thursday morning as powerful Hurricane Irma steamed toward the peninsula on track for a weekend strike.
Tropical storm force winds could begin battering the Keys and South Florida Saturday afternoon, National Hurricane Center forecasters said in their latest advisory. The fierce center of the Cat 5 storm is also increasingly likely to plow across the state’s crowded east coast, and it’s more than 6 million residents, in three to four days.
The hurricane and storm surge watches cover much of the South Florida coast, from Jupiter Inlet south and up the west coast to Bonita Beach, including the Keys. Water levels could reach from between five and 10 feet above ground level in the storm surge watch area, forecasters said.
Because Irma is such a large hurricane, the storm surge could be widespread and life-threatening, said senior hurricane specialist Mike Brennan, with waters moving further inland along the Gulf.
Presumably, the storm will keep moving on up the coast. It’s not clear yet how it will impact us up here in New England, but environmental experts are trying to prepare Boston for future storms as the sea level rises from climate change. The Boston Globe: What a future sea barrier in Boston would look like.
According a city-sponsored report published last December, sea levels are forecasted to rise eight inches from 2000 to 2030 due to climate change. By 2050, they are expected to increase up to 1.5 feet — and by 2070, up to three feet.
The chances of a Harvey-esque 50 inches of rain are minuscule in Boston. But with the expected sea level rise, a one-in-100- or one-in-10-year storm (Harvey was a one-in-1,000-year storm) would put many Boston neighborhoods underwater, according to the report, Climate Ready Boston. Even monthly high tides would flood 5 percent of the city’s real estate market value toward the end of the century, officials said.
With the sea level rise expected within roughly 30 to 50 years, major storms could make neighborhoods including East Boston, the South End, and the Seaport “unviable.” This interactive map shows what exact places could be threatened (and it doesn’t look great for Faneuil Hall).
“You’re not going to escape it,” Curt Spalding, New England’s regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, told Boston.com last year regarding sea level rise, after Boston’s waterfront was inundated by simple king tides.
According to a 2013 report by the World Bank, Boston ranked eighth out of 136 coastal cities for risk of flood damage.
Local officials are thus faced with a dilemma: how to manage the characteristic that historically made Boston a thriving commercial hub — its favorable port location — when that same asset now contributes to a potentially existential threat?
Head to the Globe to read the rest. I imagine many coastal cities are looking at possible protections from future flooding.
Donald Trump Jr. is being interviewed by investigators from the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning. MSNBC reports that he has changed his story again–now claiming he took a June 2016 meeting with Russians to get information that would help him assess Hillary Clinton’s “fitness for office.” From The New York Times:
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, is set to meet with Senate Judiciary Committee investigators behind closed doors on Thursday to answer questions about his June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, committee officials said.
Committee aides said the interview, Mr. Trump’s first with congressional investigators, will be transcribed and could last for much of the day. It will largely focus on the meeting in Trump Tower, which appears to have been set up to deliver harmful information about Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign, according to emails disclosed in June.
Democrats, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, said on Wednesday that Mr. Trump had also agreed to testify at a public hearing before the committee and that he would probably be subpoenaed if he did not follow through on that agreement. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s chairman, declined to discuss the committee’s dealings with Mr. Trump. Lawyers for Mr. Trump could not be reached for comment.
The closed-door interview is the clearest indication yet that the Senate Judiciary Committee — after months of being eclipsed by the Senate and House intelligence committees — is emerging into a higher-profile role in investigating the president, his family and his associates in the coming months.
The committee is trying to get answers about the firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director this spring and has staked out a broad investigation that aims to look at everything from the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia to the Obama Justice Department’s handling of the Clinton email case last year.
More Russia news broke last night in The Washington Post: Russian firm tied to pro-Kremlin propaganda advertised on Facebook during election.
Representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators Wednesday that the social network has discovered that it sold ads during the U.S. presidential campaign to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters, according to several people familiar with the company’s findings.
Facebook officials reported that they traced the ad sales, totaling $100,000, to a Russian “troll farm” with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda, these people said.
A small portion of the ads, which began in the summer of 2015, directly named Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the people said, although they declined to say which candidate the ads favored.
Most of the ads, according to a blog post published late Wednesday by Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”
The acknowledgment by Facebook comes as congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III are probing Russian interference in the U.S. election, including allegations that the Kremlin may have coordinated with the Trump campaign.
Read more at the WaPo.
The other big story from last night is that Trump suddenly aligned himself with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on raising the debt ceiling and threw Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell under the bus. Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker: How Democrats Rolled Trump on the Debt Ceiling.
For weeks, Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, had been plotting a strategy to use the debt-ceiling vote to extract concessions from Donald Trump and his fellow-Republicans. Over the weekend, the White House and Senate Republicans indicated that they wanted a debt-ceiling increase attached to a bill to provide immediate aid for areas of Texas and Louisiana affected by Hurricane Harvey. The plan was perfect for the G.O.P. The House would pass a “clean” debt ceiling that most Republicans would probably support. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader, would add the Harvey money and pass the two bills together with the help of Democrats. The plan was to raise the debt ceiling for eighteen months, which would kick the next difficult vote past the 2018 midterm elections. In the House, such a bill likely would have lost some votes from both parties, but, given the urgency of the hurricane aid, it was a decent bet to pass. Best of all, for G.O.P. leaders, the bill would have taken away the Democrats’ debt-ceiling leverage from the coming debates on immigration, government spending, and health care.
But, when conservative Republicans came out vocally against McConnell and Ryan’s plan, Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, saw an opening. They called for the three-month debt-ceiling deal, which would kick the issue into mid-December, allowing them to maintain their leverage as Congress worked out agreements on other agenda items.
At his morning press conference, Ryan had been withering about this idea. “Let’s just think about this,” he said. “We’ve got all this devastation in Texas. We’ve got another unprecedented hurricane about to hit Florida. And they want to play politics with the debt ceiling? That will strand the aid that we need to bring to these victims of these storms that have occurred or are about to occur. And then they also want to threaten default on our debt? I think that’s ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics with the debt ceiling at this moment.”
He added that the idea was “unworkable,” and, speaking for Trump, noted, “What the President doesn’t want to do is to give more leverage where it shouldn’t occur on the debt ceiling.”
But Ryan spoke too soon.
An hour later, in the Oval Office, Ryan, McConnell, Schumer, and Pelosi sat down with Trump and Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, to negotiate. The Republican leaders—at first—stuck to their demand for an eighteen-month debt-ceiling increase. But the Democrats held fast as the Republicans dropped their request to twelve months and then to six months. Mnuchin argued that the financial markets needed a long-term deal. Trump cut him off and abruptly sided with Schumer and Pelosi on their three-month request.
Read the rest at The New Yorker.
Lots of media people are outraged that Hillary Clinton dared to write a book detailing the challenges she faced during the 2016 election. Never mind that Clinton won the popular vote and her book has been number 1 on Amazon for months. Those of us who voted for her are still invisible to the media. Politico: Democrats dread Hillary’s book tour.
President Donald Trump may be the only person in politics truly excited about Hillary Clinton’s book tour.
Democratic operatives can’t stand the thought of her picking the scabs of 2016, again — the Bernie Sanders divide, the Jim Comey complaints, the casting blame on Barack Obama for not speaking out more on Russia. Alums of her Brooklyn headquarters who were miserable even when they thought she was winning tend to greet the topic with, “Oh, God,” “I can’t handle it,” and “the final torture.”
Political reporters gripe privately (and on Twitter) about yet another return to the campaign that will never end. Campaign operatives don’t want the distraction, just as they head into another election season. And members of Congress from both parties want the focus on an agenda that’s getting more complicated by the week.
But with a new NBC News poll showing her approval rating at 30 percent, the lowest recorded for her, Clinton kicks it off on Tuesday with a signing at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York. She’ll keep it going all the way through December, all across the country.
Do the Democrats really think they can win elections without Hillary’s hard core supporters? They seem to be going all in with Bernie, who lost to Hillary in the primaries by 4 million votes. Do these people know anything about math?
That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?