Category: Trump-Russia probe

Faust on the Potomac

The New York Times
By Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman writes —

I haven’t yet read Wolff’s book – do I really have to? — but the basic outlines of his story have long been familiar and uncontroversial to anyone with open eyes. Trump is morally and intellectually incapable of being president. He has also exploited his office for personal gain, obstructed justice, and colluded with a hostile foreign power. Everyone who doesn’t get their news from Fox has basically known this for a while, although Wolff helps focus our minds on the subject.

It seems to me that that the real news now is the way Republicans in Congress are dealing with this national nightmare: rather than distancing themselves from Trump, they’re doubling down on their support and, in particular, on their efforts to cover for his defects and crimes. Remember when Paul Ryan was the Serious, Honest Conservative? (He never really was, but that was his public image.) Now he’s backing Devin Nunes in his efforts to help the Trump coverup.

As Brian Beutler says, Republicans have become the Grand Obstruction Party. Why?

The answer, I think, is that the cynical bargain that has been the basis of Republican strategy since Reagan has now turned into a moral trap. And as far as we can tell, no elected Republican – not one – has the strength of character to even attempt an escape.

For more than a generation, the Republican establishment was able to keep this bait-and-switch under control: racism was deployed to win elections, then was muted afterwards, partly to preserve plausible deniability, partly to focus on the real priority of enriching the one percent. But with Trump they lost control: the base wanted someone who was blatantly racist and wouldn’t pretend to be anything else. And that’s what they got, with corruption, incompetence, and treason on the side.

What this means, among other things, is that expecting the GOP to exercise any oversight or constrain Trump in any way is just foolish at this point. Massive electoral defeat – massive enough to overwhelm gerrymandering and other structural advantages of the right – is the only way out.

Trump’s Russian Connections – Part 2

Trump’s Russian Connections – Part 2

Signs of Collusion – Part 2
By Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson)

It turns out 24 paragraphs detailing 24 discrete Trump-Russia ties isn’t enough to encompass how entwined Trump is with Russia, so in this thread—Part 2 in the series—I offer 23 more connections.

#1: Below is a link to Part 1 of the series, which itemizes 24 discrete Trump-Russia ties. Remember: the ties detailed here are a fraction of what Special Counsel Mueller knows; we mustn’t pretend the damning evidence we have is *all* the damning evidence.
Signs of Collusion – Part 1

#2: Trump NatSec advisor Erik Prince secretly traveled to UAE at the command of the UAE’s Royal Family so he could have a clandestine meeting *on Russia sanctions* with a top Putin ally—the Russian Direct Investment Fund manager. Prince lied to Congress about all aspects of this.

#3: Trump NatSec advisor Flynn secretly worked with Trump pal Thomas Barrack and Iran-Contra criminal Robert “Bud” McFarlane to lobby Trump to drop Russia sanctions—the better to make money off a deal to bring nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia via Russian-built nuclear reactors.

#4: In 2002, Trump tried to rig the Miss Universe pageant—by leaning illegally on judges—to award the title to Miss Russia, whose two boyfriends at the time were a) one of the top real estate developers in Saint Petersburg, a market Trump wanted access to, and b) Vladimir Putin.

#5: In 2003, Trump was saved from bankruptcy by the sudden, miraculous appearance of Russian mobster Felix Sater in his orbit. Sater found Trump new partners and tenants—often, Russians—and they helped make Trump rich again. Trump then perjured himself over whether he knew Sater.

#6: Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort was secretly contacting Putin ally Oleg Deripaska during the 2016 presidential campaign, at one point promising him special access to the Trump campaign—and to Trump’s thinking on Russia policy—via clandestine “briefings” on those topics.

#7: After it was revealed Don Jr. met Kremlin agents at Trump’s house—Trump Tower—at a time Trump was in the building and meeting with Don, Jared, and Manafort on the same topics they met the Kremlin agents to discuss, Trump witness-tampered by writing his son’s false statement.

#8: Trump’s campaign hired Bannon/Mercer-run Cambridge Analytica to target voters via “psychographics.” There’s evidence Cambridge Analytica leaked its data to the Kremlin to aid its massive propaganda campaign. Emails *from Cambridge Analytica to WikiLeaks* have been discovered.

#9: *After* it was known Trump’s NatSec team had met to talk Russia policy and receive orders from Trump on sanctions, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied—from the White House—on how many times the team met. She said once—it was three times, plus innumerable group calls and email chains.

#10: Trump National Security Advisor Flynn dined with Putin in Moscow during the presidential campaign—*while he was advising Trump*. He admits they discussed Russia policy. The chances he didn’t brief the man he was advising on what Putin said—and what Flynn said back—are *nil*.

#11: Trump selected as Secretary of State a man who didn’t want the job, wasn’t qualified, and has revealed himself to be as bad at it as anticipated. But Tillerson had one qualification—he’s not just a Putin pal, but had received the *Russian Order of Friendship Medal* from him.

#12: During the presidential campaign—while he was a Trump NatSec advisor—Trump’s future National Security Advisor Mike Flynn received tens of thousands of dollars directly from Kremlin propaganda network RT. He then lied about it on TV and failed to disclose it on federal forms.

#13: Months ago, both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly—517 to 5—to impose new sanctions on Russia for its massive election interference campaign (correctly classified as “cyber-war”) on the United States. Trump is now protecting Putin by refusing to impose those sanctions.

14: Three of Trump’s top NatSec advisors—Schmitz, Gordon, Page—went to Budapest in 2016. Budapest is the European HQ for Russia’s FSB. It was Gordon’s sixth trip to the tiny EU nation in recent years; Page admits meeting an unnamed Russian; *no one knows* what Schmitz was doing.

#15: In 2013, the Trumps developed close business and personal ties with the Agalarovs—a Kremlin-linked family of oligarchs who’ve acted as Putin agents before (including delivering gifts to Trump from Putin). Trump stayed in touch with them throughout the presidential campaign.

#16: Alexander Torshin—a Putin-linked Russian banker and “long-time Trump acquaintance”—met Trump at an NRA conference weeks before Trump announced his run, then tried to set up a secret Putin-Trump meet in May 2016. He then tried to secretly meet Trump at an event this February.

#17: At a time it was *widely known* that the way to reach Trump was to send an email to Hope Hicks—Trump doesn’t use email—Russian intelligence did so several times, suggesting they felt Hicks and Trump would be amenable to the contacts. The FBI had to warn Hicks not to respond.

#18: In 2004, Trump bought a Miami mansion no one wanted for $40 million. After making no improvements to either the land or the property and failing to sell it for *four years*, in 2008 Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev—facing no competing offers—gave him $95 million for it.

#19: In 2014, Eric Trump told reporter James Dodson his father got “all the funding he needed” for his golf courses—a big part of his financial portfolio—from Russian banks. Dodson had no reason to lie, but Eric denied it vehemently—underscoring how dangerous that truth would be.

#20: Trump made his Campaign Manager a man who’d been out of politics for years and is known largely not just for working on behalf of Putin allies in Ukraine but having angled for years to do direct propaganda work for the Kremlin itself—outreach which has since been documented.

BONUS: Fears that the Kremlin recorded “kompromat”—blackmail—on Trump at the Ritz Moscow in November 2013 have been stoked by Trump’s repeated lies about his trip, his bodyguard’s confession it could’ve happened, and as many as eight witnesses found by the BBC and intel agencies.

BONUS: After Trump’s son Don began engaging in a back-and-forth correspondence with Russian front-operation WikiLeaks in September 2016, the Trump campaign responded to WikiLeaks’ pro-Trump overtures by inserting praise of WikiLeaks into then-candidate Trump’s daily stump speech.

BONUS: The 4 ambassadors Trump invited to the VIP event before his first foreign policy speech (Mayflower Hotel, 4/27/16)—that’d be 4 of a possible 195—all *breached diplomatic protocol to attend* and were all from nations involved in Russia’s sanctions-impacted Rosneft oil deal.

BONUS: Trump has repeatedly angled—almost *desperately*—for private meetings with Putin, including orchestrating pretenses for them. Each time they’ve met, they’ve exceeded the allotted time for such a meeting by 300% and breached protocol in how the meetings have been conducted.

Trump’s Russian Connections — Part 1

Trump’s Russian Connections — Part 1

Signs of Collusion – Part 1
By Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson)

From Russian payments to Trump advisors to failing to register as foreign agents working for Putin allies—from perjury to illegal solicitation of campaign donations from the Kremlin—here’s a non-exhaustive summary of known Trump-Russia ties.

Hope you’ll read and share.

#1: In March of 2016, Papadopoulos reveals to Trump—face-to-face—he’s a Kremlin intermediary sent to establish a Trump-Putin backchannel (he says Putin is favorably disposed to Trump’s candidacy). Trump then and there orders Gordon to coordinate a pro-Kremlin GOP platform change.

#2: In June 2016, Don Jr. knowingly attends a meeting with—and set up by—Kremlin agents. He asks the Kremlin for what he has reason to believe is illegally acquired Clinton material. Afterwards, he (allegedly) tells no one. When caught, he lies about every aspect of the meeting.

#3: In April, July and September of 2016 Sessions meets Russian Ambassador Kislyak in settings in which Russian sanctions are discussed. He holds the latter two meetings *after* it’s known Russia is cyber-attacking America. He lies about these contacts under oath before Congress.

#4: Kislyak egregiously violates longstanding diplomatic protocol to attend—as a guest of the Trump campaign—a major Trump foreign policy speech. Having been invited to the speech as a VIP, Kislyak sits in the front row as Trump promises Putin’s Russia “a good deal” on sanctions.

#5: Flynn—aided and abetted by Kushner and the full Presidential Transition Team—illegally conducts sanctions and resolution negotiations with Russia during the 2016 transition. When asked about it by the FBI, he lies. When the lies are published, no one on the PTT corrects them.

#6: Carter Page travels to Moscow under the guise of an academic conference—in fact, he meets with top Kremlin officials and top Rosneft executives, speaking with both about Russian sanctions just as the Steele Dossier alleges. When questioned about his activities, he lies on TV.

#7: Trump campaign manager Manafort and Sessions aide Gordon aggressively push to change the GOP platform to benefit Putin under direct orders from Trump. When asked about Trump’s involvement, they lie to the media; when asked about their own involvement, they lie to the media.

#8: Shortly after the inauguration, it’s revealed that Trump has been holding onto a secret plan to unilaterally drop all sanctions against Russia for months—a plan he’s never before revealed, which would *reward* Russia for cyber-attacking America during a presidential election.

#9: When Trump learns the FBI Director plans to indict his ex-National Security Advisor, he fires him—first lying about his reason for doing so, then eventually admitting he did it due to “the Russia thing.” Later—in an Oval Office conversation with Russians—he repeats the claim.

#10: In an Oval Office meeting into which no U.S. media are allowed (foreshadowing a meeting with Putin in which no U.S. translators would be allowed), Trump deliberately leaks classified Israeli intelligence to the Russians, who are allies of Israel’s (and America’s) enemy—Iran.

#11: In late 2016, Kushner and Flynn smuggle Kislyak into Trump Tower to secretly discuss the creation of a clandestine—Kremlin-controlled—Trump-Putin backchannel only a few principals would know about. The men don’t disclose the meeting or plan, which would constitute espionage.

#12: In May 2016, Trump NatSec advisor Papadopoulos makes secret trips to Athens to make contact with Kremlin allies. During the second trip, Putin’s also there—to discuss sanctions. It’s his only trip to an EU nation during the campaign. Papadopoulos meets the same men as Putin.

#13: In 2013, Trump and Putin’s developer sign a letter-of-intent to build Trump Tower Moscow—a deal requiring Putin’s blessing that only goes forward when Putin dispatches to Trump his permits man and banker. Trump and principals lie about the deal—and events at the Ritz Moscow.

#14: Just before Trump’s inauguration, Trump’s lawyer Cohen and ex-Russian mobster Sater secretly meet with a pro-Russia Ukrainian politician to help ferry a secret Kremlin-backed “peace deal” to Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor. All involved then lie about their actions.

#15: After it’s publicly revealed Russia is waging cyberwar on America, Trump publicly and in all seriousness invites the Kremlin to continue cyber-attacking America if doing so will result in the theft and release of his opponent’s private emails. He never retracts the request.

#16: Trump advisors Bannon, Prince, Flynn, Don Jr., Giuliani and Pirro are involved—to varying degrees—in leaking, sourcing, disseminating, and legitimizing a false “True Pundit” story that seeks to use fraud to blackmail the FBI into indicting Clinton. Russian bots pump it also.

#17: Trump’s top advisors—including Manafort, Sessions, Flynn, Clovis, Page, Papadopoulos, Cohen, Sater, Don Jr, Kushner, Prince, Dearborn, Gordon, Gates, Stone and others—lie about or fail to disclose Russia contacts or key conversations on Russian efforts to collude with Trump.

#18: For many months after Trump begins his run, he is secretly working under a letter-of-intent with Russian developers to build Trump Tower Moscow. The deal—brokered by Cohen and Sater—allegedly falls apart only when Putin’s top aide won’t return an email from Trump’s attorney.

#19: In 2008, Don Jr. privately tells investors that “a disproportionate percentage” of the Trump Organization’s money comes from Russia—a fact later confirmed by Eric Trump. Trump Sr. then becomes the first presidential candidate in decades to refuse to release his tax returns.

#20: Though he’s fully briefed on Russia’s cyberwar against America in August 2016, Trump publicly denies it—calling the U.S. intel community Nazis—while accepting Putin’s denials he’s done anything wrong and proposing the U.S. create a cybersecurity task force with the Kremlin.

BONUS: Though he knows by August 2016 that Russia is committing crimes against America, Trump still lets his top NatSec advisor, Sessions, negotiate sanctions with Kislyak—presumably Trump’s plan for a unilateral dropping of sanctions. This is Aiding and Abetting Computer Crimes.

BONUS: During the transition, Trump’s son-in-law Kushner secretly meets with Putin’s banker—after which discussion the two men disagree wildly as to what they discussed, suggesting that whatever the topic was, it was clandestine. Kushner won’t reveal the meeting for many months.

BONUS: Advisors to the Trump campaign, including Trump Jr. and Stone, have contacts with WikiLeaks and/or Russian hackers—the timeline of which conversations dovetails perfectly with consequential changes in behavior by one or both of the parties (including Trump’s stump speech).

BONUS: When Acting AG Yates warns Trump that Flynn—his National Security Advisor—has been compromised by Russia, Trump fires her and keeps Flynn on board for 18 days. Either he lies to Pence about what he knows on this or both Trump and Pence lie to America about their knowledge.

See more in Part 2.

Let’s be clear on what Republicans are really saying about the Mueller probe

Let’s be clear on what Republicans are really saying about the Mueller probe

The Washington Post
Opinion by Paul Waldman


From the moment a special counsel was appointed to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with that meddling, it was inevitable that it would become a target of Republican attacks. That’s just how things work: As soon as it became clear that the investigation wouldn’t simply exonerate the president, his allies in Congress and the media would try to disparage and discredit it to minimize the damage it might do to the administration.

But at this point, they have nearly lost their minds. And it’s precisely because, from all appearances, Robert S. Mueller III is going about his work methodically and professionally, and is getting closer and closer to the Oval Office. If Mueller really were some kind of partisan hack launching a witch hunt, Donald Trump and the rest of the GOP wouldn’t have all that much to fear.

That is not just the lunatic ravings of one extremist. It is fast on its way to becoming the position of many in the Republican Party — not that we should shut down the FBI, but that the Bureau has become a hopelessly corrupted outpost of anti-Trump subversion, expressed most fully in Mueller’s investigation, which not only must be shut down but which should then be targeted by another special counsel appointed to investigate Mueller.

In the end, what matters is what Robert Mueller’s investigation produces. So far, there hasn’t been a shred of evidence that it has been anything but professional. Perhaps the indictments and plea bargains he has obtained so far will be the end of the story, and he’ll conclude that there was no further wrongdoing, particularly on the president’s part. But the possibility that he’ll find a great deal more — and present it with unimpeachable evidence — is precisely what has Republicans in such a panic.

Thoughts on Rod Rosenstein’s testimony

Thoughts on Rod Rosenstein’s testimony

Lawfare
By Benjamin Wittes

Mr. Wittes writes: “I have not watched all of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. But I watched three hours of it, and that was quite enough to convey the disturbing and dangerous nature of the current moment.”

It was enough to highlight the apparent breadth of the congressional Republican effort to delegitimize the Robert Mueller investigation. The attacks on Mueller and his staff and allegations of supposed conflicts of interest were not the province of a fringe but a matter of an apparent consensus among House Republicans, at least on the famously partisan judiciary committee.

It was enough to loose upon the world an almost hysterical attack on an FBI agent and an FBI attorney in the presence of little evidence that either has done anything wrong—as opposed to merely ill-advised and unfortunate—and in the midst of an ongoing inspector general investigation that has not yet reached any conclusions.

It was enough to lay bare the absurdity of Republican demands for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate a series of matters about which there is not even the barest allegation of criminal conduct—let alone a predicate for an actual investigation.

It was enough to bring to the surface the bizarre fixation in the Republican caucus on conspiracy theories involving Fusion GPS, the so-called Steele Dossier, FISA surveillance, and the Mueller investigation.

And it was enough to make clear, yet again, that Rod Rosenstein is a man out of his depth and to make one sympathize for him at the same time.

At yesterday’s hearing, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan announced about the Mueller probe that “The public trust in this whole thing is gone.”

The trouble is that if enough members of Congress tenaciously attack the institution over a long period of time, Jordan’s words could acquire the quality of self-fulfilling prophecy. It is an enormously damaging undertaking for members of Congress to self-consciously erode public confidence in federal law enforcement.

Even if that doesn’t happen, public confidence in Mueller may not be enough when the President’s political base—in conservative media, in Congress, and the broader political ecosystem—is rallying behind the proposition that the Justice Department, the special counsel, and the FBI are all out of control. The concern, and yesterday’s hearing dramatically highlights that concern, is that if Trump believes he has Republican cover to get rid of Mueller, he may feel emboldened to act against him even in the presence of broader public support.

The GOP’s all-out assault on justice

The GOP’s all-out assault on justice

The Washington Post
By Dana Milbank
Image courtesy of Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Thursday was Pearl Harbor Day, the anniversary of one of the deadliest attacks on American soil and perhaps the most unifying day in American history.

This year some of us marked Pearl Harbor Day by attacking America from within.

For five hours on Thursday, President Trump’s partisans delivered a reckless and sustained attack on the FBI and the special counsel. They amplified Trump’s claim that the FBI’s “reputation is in Tatters — worst in History” and that Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe, which has already secured guilty pleas from two Trump campaign officials and the indictments of two more, is part of a system that is “rigged,” “phony,” “dishonest” and using a “double standard.”

Shamefully, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee launched an all-out assault on the special counsel and the FBI — choosing to protect Trump at the cost of Americans’ faith in the justice system and the rule of law.

Mueller is a longtime Republican who was appointed FBI director by George W. Bush. He was named special counsel by Rod J. Rosenstein, also a Republican, who was appointed by Trump himself to be deputy attorney general. Comey, a Republican who served in Bush’s Justice Department, made political contributions to John McCain, Mitt Romney and other Republicans. Wray, a Republican who also gave to GOP candidates, was appointed by Trump.

Top campaign officials knew of Trump adviser’s outreach to Russia

Top campaign officials knew of Trump adviser’s outreach to Russia

The Washington Post
By Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamberger

Several weeks after Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination, his national campaign co-chairman urged a foreign policy adviser to meet with Russian officials to foster ties with that country’s government.

“Make the trip, if it is feasible,” Sam Clovis wrote in an August email to George Papadopoulos.

The email, included in court papers unsealed Monday, shows how an otherwise low-profile adviser has become a focus of the federal probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Papadopoulos was in contact with several senior Trump campaign aides about his efforts to broker a relationship between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the court papers show. In addition to Clovis, who now serves as senior White House adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Papadopoulos wrote to campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the newly released documents show.