Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Election

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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Dec 10, 2018 6:05 pm

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MARCI WHEELER (EMPTYWHEEL)


INFORMATION IN AMENDED DNC LAWSUIT REVEALS THAT ROGER STONE IS AT SIGNIFICANTLY GREATER RISK FOR CFAA INDICTMENT

December 9, 2018/41 Comments/in 2016 Presidential Election, Mueller Probe /by emptywheel
Back in November, I wrote a post considering whether Roger Stone could be charged in a CFAA conspiracy. I noted that the last hack noted in the GRU indictment may have post-dated communications Stone had with Guccifer 2.0, in which Stone scoffed at the analytical information released as part of the DCCC hack. I pointed to this passage from the GRU indictment, showing that the GRU hack of the DNC analytics hosted on an AWS server may have post-dated those conversations between Guccifer 2.0 and Stone.

I’m writing a response to the Wikileaks defense against the DNC lawsuit for its involvements in the 2016 election attack, and so have only now gotten around to reading the amended complaint against Stone and others that the DNC filed in the wake of the GRU indictment. And it reveals that the AWS hack was far worse than described in the GRU indictment — and it continued well after that Stone conversation with Guccifer 2.0.

None of this long passage is footnoted in the complaint. It has to be based on the DNC’s own knowledge of the AWS hack.

On September 20, 2016, CrowdStrike’s monitoring service discovered that unauthorized users—later discovered to be GRU officers—had accessed the DNC’s cloud-computing service. The cloud-computing service housed test applications related to the DNC’s analytics. The DNC’s analytics are its most important, valuable, and highly confidential tools. While the DNC did not detect unauthorized access to its voter file, access to these test applications could have provided the GRU with the ability to see how the DNC was evaluating and processing data critical to its principal goal of winning elections. Forensic analysis showed that the unauthorized users had stolen the contents of these virtual servers by making exact duplicates (“snapshots”) of them and moving those snapshots to other accounts they owned on the same service. The GRU stole multiple snapshots of these virtual servers between September 5, 2016 and September 22, 2016. The U.S. government later concluded that this cyberattack had been executed by the GRU as part of its broader campaign to damage to the Democratic party.

In 2016, the DNC used Amazon Web Services (“AWS”), an Amazon-owned company that provides cloud computing space for businesses, as its “data warehouse” for storing and analyzing almost all of its data.

To store and analyze the data, the DNC used a software program called Vertica, which was run on the AWS servers. Vertica is a Hewlett Packard program, which the DNC licensed. The data stored on Vertica included voter contact information, such as the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of voters, and notes from the DNC’s prior contacts with these voters. The DNC also stored “digital information” on AWS servers. “Digital information” included data about the DNC’s online engagement, such as DNC email lists, the number of times internet users click on DNC advertisements (or “click rates”), and the number of times internet users click on links embedded in DNC emails (or “engagement rates”). The DNC also used AWS to store volunteer information—such as the list of people who have signed up for DNC-sponsored events and the number of people who attended those events.

Vertica was used to both store DNC data and organize the data so that DNC computer engineers could access it. To use the Vertica data, DNC employees could not simply type a plain-English question into the database. Instead, DNC engineers needed to write lines of computer code that instructed Vertica to search for and display a data set. The computer engineers’ coded requests for data are called “queries.”

When the DNC wanted to access and use the data it collected, the DNC described the information it wanted to retrieve, and DNC computer engineers designed and coded the appropriate “queries” to produce that data. These queries are secret, sensitive work product developed by the DNC for the purpose of retrieving specific cross-sections of information in order to develop political, financial, and voter engagement strategies and services. Many of these queries are used or intended for use in interstate commerce. The DNC derives value from these queries by virtue of their secrecy: if made public, these queries would reveal critical insights into the DNC’s political, financial, and voter engagement strategies. DNC computer engineers could save Vertica queries that they run repeatedly. In 2016, some of the DNC’s most frequently used Vertica queries—which revealed fundamental elements of the DNC’s political and financial strategies— were stored on the AWS servers.

When the DNC wanted to analyze its data to look for helpful patterns or trends, the DNC used another piece of software called Tableau. Tableau is commercial software not developed by DNC engineers. Instead, the DNC purchased a license for the Tableau software, and ran the software against Vertica.

Using Tableau, the DNC was able to develop graphs, maps, and other visual reports based on the data stored on Vertica. When the DNC wanted to visualize the data it collected, the DNC described the information it wanted to examine, and DNC computer engineers designed and coded the appropriate “Tableau queries” to produce that data in the form requested. These Tableau queries are secret, sensitive work product developed by the DNC for the purpose of transforming its raw data into useful visualizations. The DNC derives value from these queries by virtue of their secrecy: if made public, these queries would reveal critical insights into the DNC’s political, financial, and voter engagement strategies and services. Many of these queries are used or intended for use in interstate commerce.

DNC computer engineers could also save Tableau queries that they ran repeatedly. In 2016, some of the DNC’s most frequently used Tableau queries—which revealed fundamental elements of the DNC’s political and financial strategies—were stored on the AWS servers.

The DNC’s Vertica queries and Tableau Queries that allow DNC staff to analyze their data and measure their progress toward their strategic goals—collectively, the DNC’s “analytics,”—are its most important, valuable, and highly confidential tools. Because these tools were so essential, the DNC would often test them before they were used broadly.

The tests were conducted using “testing clusters”—designated portions of the AWS servers where the DNC tests new pieces of software, including new Tableau and Vertica Queries. To test a new query, a DNC engineer could use the query on a “synthetic” data set—mock-up data generated for the purpose of testing new software—or a small set of real data. For example, the DNC might test a Tableau query by applying the software to a set of information from a specific state or in a specific age range. Thus, the testing clusters housed sensitive, proprietary pieces of software under development. As described above, the DNC derives significant value from its proprietary software by virtue of its secrecy: if made public, it would reveal critical insights into the DNC’s political, financial, and voter engagement strategies and services, many of which are used or intended for use in interstate commerce.

The DNC protected all of the data and code in its AWS servers by, among other things, restricting access to authorized users. To gain access to the AWS servers themselves, an authorized user had to take multiple steps. First, the authorized user would have to log onto a Virtual Private Network (VPN) using a unique username and password. Second, once the user entered a valid and password, the system would send a unique six-digit code (PIN) to the authorized user’s phone, and the user would have 30 seconds to type it into the computer system. This two-step process is commonly known as “two-factor authentication.”

Authorized users would also employ a two-factor authentication system to access Tableau visualizations. First, they would log into a Google account with a unique username and password, and then they would enter a pin sent to their cell phones.

Finally, the DNC’s AWS servers were protected with firewalls and cybersecurity best practices, including: (a) limiting the IP addresses and ports with which users could access servers; (b) auditing user account activities; and (c) monitoring authentication and access attempts.

On September 20, 2016, CrowdStrike’s monitoring service discovered that unauthorized users had breached DNC AWS servers that contained testing clusters. Further forensic analysis showed that the unauthorized users had stolen the contents of these DNC AWS servers by taking snapshots of the virtual servers, and had moved those replicas to other AWS accounts they controlled. The GRU stole multiple snapshots of these servers between September 5, 2016 and September 22, 2016. The U.S. later concluded that this cyberattack had been executed by the GRU as part of its broader campaign to damage to the Democratic party. The GRU could have derived significant economic value from the theft of the DNC’s data by, among other possibilities, selling the data to the highest bidder.

The software would also be usable as executable code by DNC opponents, who could attempt to re-create DNC data visualizations or derive DNC strategy decisions by analyzing the tools the DNC uses to analyze its data. [my emphasis]

In other words, at least one of those snapshots was stolen after Stone suggested he would like better analytics data than what GRU had publicly released via HelloFL. So he can no longer say that his communications with Guccifer 2.0 preceded all the hacking. Which the nifty timeline Stone’s attorney submitted in conjunction with his motion to dismiss doesn’t account for at all.

Image

Given Stone’s history of non-denial denials for crimes he commits, I’d say this stunted timeline doesn’t help him much.

Here’s Stone’s motion to dismiss. As with his nifty timeline, he does not address — at all — the communications between him and Guccifer 2.0 regarding analytics. It does, however, include this tagline.

He is the First Amendment running, not walking; but his conduct cannot be adjudged a civil wrong.


Past history says Stone’s rat-fuckery tends to be easily found in his swiss cheese denials, and I’d say this is one example.

Note that, a week after DNC submitted its amended complaint on October 4, WikiLeaks released a proprietary AWS document showing the locations of all AWS’s servers around the world — something that is not all that newsworthy, but something that would be incredibly valuable for those trying to compromise AWS. That was one of its only releases since the crackdown on Assange has intensified.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post.
https://www.emptywheel.net/2018/12/09/i ... ndictment/
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Dec 11, 2018 5:32 pm



Dems Want to Know If Bolton Told White House About Contact With Alleged Spy

National security adviser appeared with Butina at gun rights roundtable when he worked for NRA


Top Democrats on the House Oversight Committee want to know if National Security Adviser John Bolton told the White House about his reported contact with alleged Russian spy Maria Butina before he was appointed by President Trump.

Bolton appeared with Butina in a video roundtable discussion about gun rights, reportedly sponsored by the Russian organization Right to Bear Arms, in his previous position as a top National Rifle Association official, Democrats Elijah Cummings and Stephen Lynch wrote in a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly delivered Monday.

Butina was charged in July by federal prosecutors with infiltrating the National Rifle Association and spying on the United States.

“Given the alarming and unprecedented nature of these revelations — and the high-level position of trust Mr. Bolton now holds — we request that you produce documents relating to whether Mr. Bolton reported his previous work with this alleged Russian spy on his security clearance forms or other White House vetting materials prior to President Trump appointing him to his current position,” they wrote.

Cummings is the ranking Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Lynch is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee on national security.

In the video, Bolton expressed support for amending the Russian constitution to include broader gun rights and offered the Russian people “encouragement as you consider embracing that freedom,” the Democrats wrote in the letter.

Bolton reportedly participated at the request of then-NRA President David Keene. Keane had appointed Bolton to lead the NRA’s Subcommittee on International Affairs in 2011.

In order to get access to classified information, government officials must provide a wide range of information about their contacts with foreign citizens, foreign business and professional activities, foreign government contacts, and any advice they provided or consultancy arrangements they had with foreign entities, according to a news release from Cummings’ office.

Applicants also typically provide additional information directly to the Executive Office of the President as part of their applications for employment at the White House.


The letter requested several categories of documents and information provided by Bolton on his security clearance forms and other White House vetting materials.
https://www.rollcall.com/news/politics/ ... lleged-spy
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Wed Dec 12, 2018 10:35 am

Rockefeller heir George O’Neill is Russia agent Maria Butina's ‘U.S. Person 2 & Rohrabacher's in this, too: Reports


The U.S. indictment for accused Russian secret foreign agent Maria Butina refers to one of her American contacts as “U.S. Person 2.” Like others having serious legal troubles this week, they shared a love for the NRA.

We now know “U.S. Person 2” is George O’Neill Jr., an heir to the Rockefeller fortune and a conservative opinion writer, from a report today in the WSJ. O'Neill is believed to have helped build a secret line of communication between the U.S. right wing behind Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, and the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. charges against Butina discuss “friendship dinners” she organized to bring together Russians with politically active Americans who'd be receptive to their money and ideology.

One of those Americans, government prosecutors now say, hosted such a dinner in February 2017 before that year’s National Prayer Breakfast.

From Aruna Viswanatha and Julie Bykowicz at the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. O’Neill, an heir to the Rockefeller fortune and an outspoken advocate of closer ties with Russia, hosted that event, as he confirmed in a magazine column. The charging documents say Ms. Butina told him that a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration had approved “building this communications channel.”

Mr. O’Neill, who hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing, didn’t respond to emails and phone messages. In the charging papers, he isn’t described by name but is called “U.S. Person 2.”

“All that we needed is > from Putin’s side. The rest is easier,” Ms. Butina told Mr. O’Neill, according to the court documents, in an apparent effort to relay approval from the Russian government of a U.S-Russian back channel through events like the dinner.

Mr. O’Neill’s involvement helps broaden the picture of Ms. Butina’s efforts in the U.S. She also collaborated with Paul Erickson, a South Dakota-based conservative with a history of debt and fraud cases who is referenced as “U.S. Person 1” in the charges filed against Ms. Butina, The Wall Street Journal reported previously.

Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Erickson were on some of the same emails with Ms. Butina, court papers show. Mr. Erickson didn’t respond to emails and phone messages.

In a column in advance of President Donald Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin earlier this month, Mr. O’Neill argued that Russia could be a “constructive partner” in working with the U.S. to “stop its wasteful wars.” He founded a group to lobby for a “realistic and restrained foreign policy,” and organized a dinner last year for several Russian officials and Republican lawmakers and others before the Prayer Breakfast.

That dinner, chronicled by Time magazine last year, was a factor in the case against Ms. Butina, who is in jail awaiting trial on charges of being an unregistered foreign agent after her arrest on July 15. In a column last year for the American Conservative, where he is a board member, Mr. O’Neill laid out his involvement in that dinner.

“Some months back I organized a dinner on Capitol Hill that brought together some former and current Russian officials with a number of prominent U.S. Republicans and conservatives, including two congressmen, a conservative magazine publisher, some journalists, and others,” Mr. O’Neill wrote in his April 24, 2017, column.

The American Conservative says they “did not fund or sponsor the dinner.” Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which her lawyer says are “overblown.”



From Bloomberg's story on Butina's connection to 'scion of the Rockefeller clan' George D. O’Neill Jr.:

O’Neill, a 68-year-old sculptor and a rainmaker for conservatives since Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential run, hosted a private dinner in Washington, D.C., for a delegation of Russian dignitaries in town for a National Prayer Breakfast in early February 2017, he has said publicly and to Bloomberg last year. There, just days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Russians met two Republican lawmakers and other conservative luminaries, he has said.

The dinner is also referenced in a trip itinerary given to Russian delegates traveling to Washington for the breakfast, which was reviewed by Bloomberg. Delegates also received a Russian-language rundown of the Americans they could expect to meet at the dinner. Among them were O’Neill and his wife, a Russian-speaking congressional aide and a conservative operative they were told was an adviser to the new Trump administration, according to a document reviewed by Bloomberg.

Oh, and guess who else came to dinner? Yep, Dana Rohrabacher.



Dana Rohrabacher is colloquially known here in California as “the Congressman From Moscow.”

At one dinner, ABC News has learned, in February 2017 at the tony French eaterie, Bistro Bis, one guest who dined with the then-28 year old Russian was a California Republican congressman on the House Foreign Relations committee, Dana Rohrabacher. Rohrabacher’s office confirmed he attended.

Some of the Russians at that dinner were part of an active effort to undermine the 2016 presidential elections, U.S. national security prosecutors are effectively saying in the indictment. Whether he knew it or not, O’Neill may have helped Butina achieve her goal of creating a “backchannel” between the Kremlin and GOP, pro-Trump leadership.

IN RELATED NEWS:

On July 17, Maria Butina was indicted on charges of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. Her involvement in a South Dakota fraud case involving Paul Erickson first came to light last week, during a detention hearing in Butina's case.

Butina has “offered to cooperate in a fraud investigation being mounted by federal prosecutors in South Dakota that appears to target Paul Erickson, the conservative activist with whom she was romantically linked, according to a letter released by her lawyer and court testimony in her case.”


OH, AND THERE'S JUST ONE MORE THING.

She trolled you so hard, America. How hard? She literally walked around DC with this Beautiful Vladimir Putin With A Horse On A Russian Mountaintop Phone Case.

From the Washington Post:

Butina’s cellphone case was emblazoned with a famous photograph of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin riding shirtless on a horse. She would buy friends rounds of vodka at Russia House, the Dupont Circle restaurant popular with the Russian diplomatic set, sometimes challenging male friends to down horseradish-infused shots. She bragged to classmates that she had worked for the Russian government.

Dude.

https://boingboing.net/2018/07/26/rocke ... ssion=true
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Wed Dec 12, 2018 12:00 pm

wow News Max could you be more racist????

Incoming NY AG Planning Major Investigations Into Trump

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Incoming NY AG Planning Major Investigations Into Trump | Newsmax.com
https://www.newsmax.com/newsfront/trump ... id/894143/


Image

Incoming New York attorney general plans wide-ranging investigations of Trump and family
Just-elected Letitia James, who takes office next month, tells NBC she will probe real estate deals, Trump Tower meeting, emoluments, Trump Foundation and more.
https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald ... mp-n946706
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Wed Dec 12, 2018 1:05 pm

trump's fixer Cohen sentenced to 36 months

2 counts violating campaign finance laws

dirty deeds done cheap


Soon enough he will be in front of congress tesifing in public


"I take full responsibility for each act," Cohen says.

"It was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds," Cohen said of Trump.

Cohen said Trump was right to call him weak, and says his weakness was a blind loyalty to Donald Trump.

"I take full responsibility for each act that I pleaded guilty to ...." including those implicating the "President of the United States of America."


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American Media reaches non prosecution agreement..........conduct paying off Karen McDogal to influence election for trump


This gets rid of the John Edwards defense
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Wed Dec 12, 2018 5:35 pm


Neal Katyal

THREAD RE INDICTING PRESIDENT. Trump’s defenses to campaign finance vio crumbling rapidly, partic after AMI admission. I predict the only thing he has left is idea sitting President cant be indicted. This thread fleshes out aspects of that, expands on NYT
Protesters in Portland, Ore., at the National March for Impeachment in January.
Opinion | Neal Katyal: Can’t Indict a President? That Could Hurt Trump
nytimes.com
3:00 PM · Dec 12, 2018 · Twitter Web Client



1.The 2 DOJ opinions saying sitting Presidents can’t be indicted have 3 limitations for Trump that mean they don’t necessarily protect him. And, even if DOJ policy means a sitting President can’t be indicted, that could actually hurt Trump in huge ways. Start with the 3 limits.



2. First, they do not necessarily apply to crimes that go to obtaining Presidency itself. It is one thing if we're talking about unrelated crimes, like perjury in current office (which has chilling fx etc). But we may want to avoid incentivizing a world where the prize of winning



3. Presidency is a get out of jail free card for crimes you committed to get there. That’s the world of House of Cards, or certain less developed countries around the globe.



4. Second, as
@WalterDellinger
has argued, there is a real difference between indicting a President and forcing them to go through trial. The indictment might be permissible–indeed, it might be required if a President doesn’t agree to voluntarily waive the statute of limitations



5. Third, the opinions don’t apply to state crimes, and it looks like some of the violations here may have state law counterparts. So, for example, the Attorney General of New York may be able to bring charges, DOJ opinions won’t protect Trump.



6. Now, let’s say all that is wrong, and Trump can’t be indicted. As I said in NYT, there are several deep reasons why that is bad for Trump, too (which is part of the reason why Presidents and candidates outside of Nixon stay far away from questionable conduct).



7. The first thing is that it feeds impeachment, indeed, it may require it. If indictment is off the table, then impeachment must be on it. The whole idea of a sitting Pres can’t be indicted is b/c you have to go thru impeachment proceedings first and then try him for the crime.




8. This means that Congress is under a constitutional duty to investigate every aspect of the allegations and commence a full-blown inquiry, precisely because the criminal process (which would be used in the case of every other American) cannot be used.


9. That is hardly good news for President Trump.
@JerryNadler
is a brilliant and dogged investigator, and he’s also a balanced one who hasn’t wanted to trigger impeachment unless he has to. Trump’s argument may mean Nadler has to.


10. The second problem for Trump is that it intersects with his ability to stay silent. His lawyers keep talking about a “perjury trap” if he talks to prosecutors, claiming he has a 5th amendment right to avoid self incrimination.



11. But if Trump can’t be indicted, then why should he be able to plead self-incrimination rights, which are after all about criminal liability?



12. It may be that the statute of limitations would still permit charge for perjury after he leaves office – but that is years later and not true should Trump win a second Term (I know, unlikely at this point, after all, even serving out his Term looking increasingly unlikely).



13. Trump’s arg would create a huge disparity w/all other fed employees—who would have to cooperate w/law enforcement or lose their job. Why should President be above that?



14. Brings me to most impt point: DOJ policy about sitting President indictment is generic, BUT Special Counsel regulations (which I had the privilege of drafting for DOJ as a young pup back in good ol' 1999) permit departures from DOJ policy.



15. Mueller can seek a departure from DOJ policy, and obtain permission to indict Trump. Partic if Trump insists on not providing testimony, and not waiving statute of limitations, such a departure may be granted by Acting AG.



16. Of course, we don’t even know who the Acting AG is, DOJ won’t tell us who is supervising investigation –Whitaker or Rosenstein? (Something of an aside here: that’s the way the Soviet Union operates, in America, we have an inalienable right to know who are governors are.)


17. Either Whitaker or Rosenstein may conclude that in America, no one is above the law, and authorize the indictment of Trump.



18. If Mueller asks (and he may be the one making the ask for SDNY given his other investigations), Special Counsel regs say if Acting AG refuses to indict, must report it to Congress, both majority and minority parties.



19. Here is kicker #1:Special Counsel regs therefore put thumb on scale of Mueller asking Acting AG to indict, as that is the one way Mueller can be sure info he has uncovered in his investigation is provided to Congress. EVEN if Mueller thinks AG would say no, he may need to ask



20.Particularly in a world of witness tampering, fake AGs installed &now serious allegations of lying by President, and indeed, felonies, that may be Mueller’s best option. Key purpose of Special Counsel regs is shining sunlight on govt wrongdoing+avoid appearances of impropriety



21. Kicker#2: Trump has to know all of this, at least if he has decent counsel. Trump may therefore conclude, as Spiro Agnew did before him, he has 1 card left to play: resign and plea to avoid jail time. END

https://mobile.twitter.com/neal_katyal/ ... 0548387840



Kind of stunning to step back and consider that three people who in the summer of 2016 were principal players around trump and speaking for him are all convicted felons today.
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Dec 13, 2018 7:23 am

Former Trump Attorney and ‘Consigliere’ Michael Cohen Gets 3 Years in Prison

Michael Cohen
President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, leaves federal court after making a plea deal on August 21, 2018, in New York City. Photo credit: © Bryan Smith/ZUMA Wire

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and “consigliere,” has been sentenced to three years in federal prison. The judge has also imposed “nearly $2 million in fines, forfeitures and restitution.”

Cohen had previously pled guilty to tax fraud, campaign finance violations, and lying to Congress.

The prosecutors had called for a substantial sentence, saying that while Cohen cooperated up to a point, he declined to be fully candid about the extent of illegalities with which he might have been involved.

For an inkling of those, see this investigative piece we published in 2017. Some lead to interesting places in the former USSR.

However, both Cohen and his attorney Lanny Davis indicated that Trump’s former right-hand man might be ready to reveal a lot more about the president down the road.

Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn … all members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle — past and present — have been scrutinized by the media, and their various Russia ties are being investigated by the press and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. One figure, however, managed to fly largely under the radar until very recently: Michael Cohen, Trump’s former right-hand man and in-house attorney.

Cohen, who came out of nowhere to occupy a prominent spot in Trump’s orbit, has his own unique links to Russia and Ukraine. In fact, he might be one of the missing links that ties the president to shady figures and shady money from the former Soviet Union (familiarly known as FSU).

The following story, in documented detail, lays bare Cohen’s dealings, his ties to the FSU, and how he could trigger a world of trouble for the president if he ever decided to reveal what he knows about Trump’s business empire.

Among the points illustrated below:

— Michael Cohen and Felix Sater, two key figures in Trump’s businesses in recent years, both have backgrounds tied to the FSU

— Both men knew each other; both began entering Trump’s orbit around the same time with money that may have come from FSU sources — and in a period when Trump came to increasingly depend on such monies

— Putin appears to have launched a full-court press on the United States in this time frame through surrogates, and eventually took an interest in Trump as someone who could help advance Russian interests

— Both Cohen and Sater showed up recently as intermediaries to Trump on behalf of pro-Putin policy initiatives

— While Trump has a history of sticking with supporters, even controversial ones, his loyalty does not extend to Cohen, Sater, Manafort (who managed his campaign for a time) and Flynn, who briefly served as National Security Advisor. What do they all have in common? Ties to Russia. Ties that are part of the public record.

Cohen is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in early September; although Committee staff have not confirmed this, Cohen said in June that it will be on September 5.

While Manafort and Flynn played only specific and short-lived roles with Trump, Cohen has served as confidant, spokesperson and liaison between his boss and powerful foreign agents over the past decade.

Of all the people Trump could have tapped to function as his main man, the lawyer who is always around him, his legal rottweiler, why Michael Cohen?

The story behind Cohen’s pre-Trump connections to an avalanche of dubiously sourced money from the FSU offers a possible explanation — and the tantalizing prospect of new insight into the president’s curious co-dependence with the Kremlin.

The “art of the deal” seems to be about knowing people who need to move money, and getting them to move it through you.

As WhoWhatWhy previously reported, the crux of Trump’s relationship with Moscow goes beyond the presidential campaign to prior dealings that were central to his business empire.

Those dealings concern investors and business partners from various parts of the FSU. Tied into this network of influence are Russian President Vladimir Putin, wealthy FSU businessmen (“oligarchs”), and allied members of organized crime. And, improbably, Cohen, Trump’s own attorney.

Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the 2017 G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. Photo credit: President of Russia / Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

Enter Cohen, the Ultimate Groupie

.

In 2007, the little-known Cohen suddenly became visible in the Trump camp. Positioned close to the throne, he became executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Donald Trump.

Cohen told a reporter that he first got hooked on Trump after reading his book, The Art of the Deal, twice, cover to cover. If so, he is the ultimate groupie.

“Over the years I have been offered very lucrative employment opportunities, which I summarily dismissed,” he said. “To those of us who are close to Mr. Trump, he is more than our boss. He is our patriarch.”

Indeed, Cohen has a reputation for being a kind of Trump Mini-Me. In July 2015, he vowed to “mess up” the life of a Daily Beast reporter who brought up the decades-old allegation that Trump assaulted his first wife, Ivana. And he tweeted about his desire to “gut” then-Fox anchor Megyn Kelly when she challenged Trump. Cohen’s bravado has earned him comparisons — from Trump Organization colleagues — to Tom Hagen, Vito Corleone’s consigliere in the Godfather movies.

Trump values fiercely protective loyalists, and none has proven more loyal than Michael Cohen.

With the exception of a quixotic run for New York City Council as a Republican in 2003, Cohen had been a lifelong Democrat, voting for Obama in 2008. So it was a quite a change when he decided to formally join the GOP — after Trump’s inauguration.

But neither that switch nor years of devoted service to the Trump Organization could win Cohen a post in the president’s administration, though he had reportedly yearned for and expected to occupy one. And why was that?

Possibly because by the time Trump took office, Cohen’s name had surfaced in headline-grabbing, Russia-related stories — and that is the one kind of publicity from which Trump has tried to distance himself.

Cohen and the Dossier

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To begin with, the name “Michael Cohen” showed up in the controversial “dossier” put together last year by a former UK foreign intelligence officer doing private research on Russia connections for Trump opponents. The 35-page collection of memos, published in its entirety by Buzzfeed, comprises precise but unverified documentation of continuous contact between Trump associates and Russian operatives during the presidential campaign.

Cohen’s name appeared on page 18 of the dossier, which claimed that he met with Kremlin representatives in Prague last August to conduct damage control on a pair of “western media revelations”: Manafort’s “corrupt relationship” with Ukrainian President Yanukovych and campaign adviser Carter Page’s meeting with “senior regime figures” in Moscow a month earlier.

Cohen has forcefully rejected the notion that he was the man referenced in the dossier. To prove this, he made public his own passport stamps, which indicate he could not have been in the Czech Republic last August.

Shortly after the inauguration, Cohen’s name was in the news again, this time for meeting in late January with a Moscow-connected Ukrainian politician, and in this case his involvement is not in dispute. The Ukrainian had come bearing a “peace agreement” intended to lift punishing economic sanctions that had been imposed on Russia after Putin’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Cohen, Felix Sater, and the Russians

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Cohen purportedly attended the meeting at the urging of Felix Sater, a one-time mob-connected businessman who went on to work with Trump, and about whom WhoWhatWhy has written extensively.

According to The New York Times, as a result of that meeting, Cohen joined other Trump associates already under scrutiny in the FBI’s counterintelligence inquiry related to Russia.

Why was Cohen even in a meeting about US foreign policy at all? As Cohen himself noted, his role as “special counsel” with Trump was limited to representing Trump personally, not as president.

Since the January meeting, Cohen has become even more ghostlike, and his boss has remained conspicuously quiet as Cohen landed in the crosshairs of both the media and Mueller’s investigative unit — two entities Trump hasn’t been shy about lambasting. Though he retains his official title as the president’s personal advisor and attorney, Cohen appears to have been exiled from Trump’s inner circle. Neither the White House Press Office nor the Trump Organization responded to WhoWhatWhy’s inquiry about Cohen’s current role in the Trump orbit.

Trump is not one to banish someone just because he or she is run-of-the-mill controversial. Witness such highly polarizing, risky figures as Stephen Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller who, though relative latecomers to the Trump camp, were kept on long after they were political liabilities, albeit popular with his ever-shrinking base. (And Miller is still on board.)

So why does Michael Cohen’s fate resemble that of Manafort and Flynn, who were ditched when their Russia-related activities drew unwelcome national attention?

In the Spotlight

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This spring, when it became apparent that members of Congress might wish to question him, the typically brash Cohen declared that he would only testify if he received a subpoena. Which is just what happened — he is now slated to testify before the House Intelligence Committee right after Labor Day.

Compared to some others in Trump’s entourage, he is largely unknown to the public. Notwithstanding those brief moments in the limelight, the media overall (with a few notable exceptions including Talking Points Memo and Buzzfeed) has devoted little attention to him.

But a new development thrust Cohen back into the limelight Monday, when the Washington Post reported that Cohen and Sater had worked together closely in the early months of Trump’s presidential campaign on a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

At Sater’s suggestion, Cohen had emailed Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s personal spokesperson, to solicit the Kremlin’s approval of the lucrative project while Trump, stumping on the campaign trail, was lavishing the Russian president with praise at debates and rallies. The real estate deal, Sater suggested in a string of emails to Cohen, would be a win-win: Trump would look like a great negotiator, and Putin would be boosting the prospects of the candidate he preferred.

“Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote to Cohen. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.”

The tower never materialized, but their “boy,” of course, did ascend to the presidency. And the Trump Organization renewed ownership of the TrumpTowerMoscow.com domain this July — before the latest controversy, though it has since gone dark.

Cohen’s Own Ukrainian Connections

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The son of a Long Island physician, Michael Dean Cohen received his law degree from a low-ranked Michigan school, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School — a “diploma mill” according to some, which later rebranded as Western Michigan University. The school, which, like Trump, doesn’t hesitate to sue its critics, has highlighted Cohen as an illustrious alumnus.



Cohen was admitted to the New York Bar in 1992 and became a personal injury lawyer.

He soon began assembling a portfolio of businesses outside the legal profession, virtually all involving Ukrainian immigrants — many of whom were, or became, immensely wealthy.

Perhaps the earliest was a taxi business in partnership with the Ukraine-born Simon Garber, who was at one time involved with a Moscow cab company, and now has huge stakes in cab ownership in New York, Chicago and New Orleans.

By 2003, Cohen and Garber were running more than 200 taxis in New York, allowing Cohen to pull in $90,000 a month in 2011. The partnership imploded in 2012 after a nasty legal dispute, after which Cohen went his own way and entrusted his 15 medallion companies to Evgeny Friedman, a Russian immigrant who holds the single largest collection of medallions in New York.

In partnership with two other Ukrainian immigrants, Cohen went into the casino boat business. His partners, Leonid Tatarchuk and Arkady Vaygensberg, were associated with a man who allegedly had FSU mob ties, and with a lawyer indirectly connected to the late mob legend Meyer Lansky.

The gambling venture was besieged by lawsuits from unhappy workers and investors. Cohen has had other legal problems. He could not explain what had become of $350,000 held in a trust account he managed, according to court documents obtained by Buzzfeed News.

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Victory Casino Cruises
Victory Casino Cruises. Photo credit: Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In 1998 Michael Cohen incorporated two entities: Ukrainian Capital Partners LP and Ukrainian Capital Growth Fund Corp. The Growth Fund was dissolved in 2002, but, according to New York Department of State records, Capital Partners is still active.

Towering Trump Investments

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Shortly after the turn of the century, Cohen took a new direction. He began buying — as did his relatives — properties in buildings with the Trump name.

He obtained his first in 2001: a unit in Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza. And he kept on buying.

Some years later, the Trump-friendly New York Post profiled Cohen and his passion for Trump developments in a real-estate-porn article headlined “Upping the Ante.”

Once some buyers go Trump, they never go back. Take Michael Cohen, 40, an attorney and partner at Phillips Nizer. He purchased his first Trump apartment at Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza in 2001. He was so impressed he convinced his parents, his in-laws and a business partner to buy there, too. Cohen’s in-laws went on [to] purchase two more units there and one at Trump Grande in Sunny Isles, Fla.

Cohen then bought at Trump Palace at 200 E. 69th St., and Trump Park Avenue, where he currently resides. He’s currently in the process of purchasing a two-bedroom unit at Trump Place on Riverside Boulevard – so, naturally, Cohen’s next step is to purchase something at Trump Plaza Jersey City. He’s now in negotiations for a two-bedroom unit there.

“Trump properties are solid investments,” says Cohen, who’s also looking at the new Trump SoHo project.

By the time he entered Trump’s employ, Cohen, his relatives and his business partner had already purchased a combined 11 Trump properties.

Why did Cohen and company begin buying all those Trump properties? Where did the money come from? And did Cohen use this spending spree to gain an entrance into Trump’s inner circle?

The answers to these questions may lie in what at first appears to be a mere coincidence: Around the time Cohen began buying these properties — 2000-2001 — the aforementioned Felix Sater apparently first approached Trump.

It is interesting to learn that when Cohen was growing up, he had known and run in the same circles as Sater when both lived on Long Island.

Sater and Cohen would go on to play intriguingly interconnected roles in the saga linking Donald Trump to vast supplies of dubiously sourced money from the FSU.

Sater’s family immigrated to the US in the 1970s, landing in the Coney Island-Brighton Beach area, a part of Brooklyn heavily populated by Soviet emigres — and an area where the Trump family owned lots of buildings.

In addition to the Trump units, Cohen owns entire buildings around New York City. In 2015, while working for Trump, he bought a $58 million apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. According to the New York real estate news site The Real Deal, Cohen also holds multiple luxury apartment units and other buildings on the Lower East Side and in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan.

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Trump buildings
Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Rustycale / Wikipedia, Leandro Neumann Ciuffo / Flickr (CC BY 2.0), Americasroof (talk) / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0), Alex Proimos / Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0) and Stepanstas / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Cohen has a seemingly limitless appetite for real estate, and his younger brother Bryan, also a lawyer, entered the real estate trade and is now Chief Administrative Officer of DE Development Marketing, part of the prominent Douglas Elliman real estate brokerage.

More Businesses, More Ukrainians

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That Cohen buys luxury Trump apartments like others buy shoes — and that he has a seemingly inexhaustible budget — could conceivably be explained, at least in part, by his ties to people who, as noted earlier, became extremely wealthy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

There are any number of perfectly legitimate ways for Cohen to amass the funds necessary to purchase entire buildings. Usually, however, the source of such wealth can be ascertained. In Cohen’s case, the source is unclear— and Cohen refused to discuss the origin of those funds with WhoWhatWhy.

It should be noted that Russians and others from the former Soviet Union seeking to move funds West are among the biggest buyers of New York real estate.

But Cohen’s Ukrainian ties run even deeper. His wife, Laura, is from the Ukraine. So is Bryan Cohen’s wife, Oxana.

From here we follow a trail through a somewhat complicated cast of characters. At the end, you will see how all of these people are connected to one another as well as to Trump — and to Russia.

The trail begins with Bryan Cohen’s father-in-law, Alex Oronov, born in Kharkiv, Ukraine, who emigrated with his family to the United States in 1978. He ran a Manhattan art gallery, and eventually, and surprisingly, managed to convince the old-school communist government to partner with him to sell lithographs based on the collection of the State Russian Museum. His influence or skills of persuasion were so good that he even persuaded Kremlin authorities to permit him to open a gift shop at the museum, a rarity in the USSR.

Following Ukrainian independence in 1994, Oronov spotted a far more lucrative opportunity: Ukraine’s privatized bounty of grain. Ukraine has some of Europe’s largest acreage of arable land — and it is highly fertile and productive, making it the “breadbasket of Europe.”

He founded an agribusiness firm, Harvest Moon (later rebranded as Grain Alliance); Bryan Cohen notes in his own online biography that he served as General Counsel and Executive Vice President for Grain Alliance, Americas. It’s not clear where the funding for the enterprise, which had more than 100,000 acres in production at one point, came from.

The firm seems to have benefited from the lack of strong central authorities in the Ukraine. According to a brochure from a Kiev-based law firm, “Foreign Investment in Ukrainian Agriculture,” prepared for a 2010 seminar on investment, “Grain Alliance… expanded rapidly over the last five years when Ukraine had no control from any government officials.”

In this and similar ventures Oronov, from a modest start, became wildly wealthy, working with a network of well-connected Ukrainian politicians and businessmen with alleged mob ties. One of his partners was Viktor Topolov, a wealthy Ukrainian closely associated with figures the FBI has identified as “well known” members of the Russian and Ukrainian underworld. A Ukrainian court document obtained by Buzzfeed reveals that Topolov ignored subpoenas and lied about his role in a money-laundering and fraud investigation in the late 1990s.

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Semion Mogilevich
FBI Wanted Poster for Semion Mogilevich. Photo credit: FBI

To follow the Trump money trail further requires a brief dip into Ukraine’s recent history, which turns out to be crucial to Michael Cohen’s story.

Ukraine in Tug of War Between East and West

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Starting around 2000, Ukraine increasingly became the subject of a tug of war between the West and Russia. Ukraine was once one of the most valuable parts of the USSR. Since gaining independence in 1991, it has been drawn closer to the West, and has even toyed with the ultimate snub to Russia: joining NATO, the Western military alliance.

The struggle to control Ukraine, its political leaders and its resources, played a major role in Russia’s decision to enter Ukraine militarily in the summer of 2014. This led the West to impose sanctions that have severely harmed Russia’s economy. Putin has made no secret of his desire to get the sanctions lifted.

Also at stake for Russia in its relations with Ukraine is the future of the pipelines that pass through Ukraine, bringing Russian natural gas to Western Europe. Russia is not happy that its lucrative gas exports, the source of much of its foreign exchange, must be transported across the territory of its now-adversary.

Going head to head in the battles to control the future of this resource are sovereign nations, international corporations, shadowy public-private entities, and shady figures like the Ukrainian-born Semion Mogilevich. The reputed “boss of bosses” of organized crime in today’s Russia is believed to be the most powerful mobster in the world. His sub-boss, Vyacheslav Ivankov, was sent to America, and discovered by the FBI living in a luxury condo in Trump Tower, and later, having fled Manhattan, in a Trump casino in Atlantic City.

Mogilevich was identified as the secret majority owner of the Ukrainian stake in a mysterious intermediary company, half-owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom. Ivankov later stated that Mogilevich and Putin were close; soon after, the man was gunned down on a Moscow street.

One beneficiary of the Ukrainian pipeline situation was future Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was paid millions of dollars by prominent players in the natural gas scramble.

While questions swirled about the international ramifications of the pipeline battle, Sater, then an FBI informant, traveled to Ukraine and Russia — ostensibly searching for properties to develop with the Trump Organization.

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Alex Oronov
Alex Oronov. Photo credit: Facebook / TPM

In the past, Cohen has downplayed his connections to the FSU. In a January 2017 interview with Yahoo News, he averred that he had only been to Ukraine twice — “either 2003 or 2004.” The reason? His “brother’s father-in-law [i.e., Oronov] lives in Kiev.”

However, Cohen seemingly would not have to travel to see his relative. Oronov had homes in the US — including one on Long Island and one at the Trump Hollywood in Hollywood, Florida; he was even registered to vote in Florida.

The Cohens said that they knew nothing about Topolov when they pitched the project. But if they didn’t know the background of Bryan Cohen’s father-in-law’s famous longtime business partner, they’re unusually ill-informed, and certainly failed to do due diligence in a situation well-known to be rife with financial criminals.

Cohen and Sater and Trump… Together

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The Trumps themselves have stated that their company came to depend increasingly over the years on monies tied to the FSU. Thus, it would not be illogical to wonder whether Michael Cohen was brought into the Trump Organization because of his ability to help in that regard.

But there’s more here. As mentioned above, Cohen dovetails in interesting ways with another FSU-tied figure who entered Trump’s orbit in roughly the same period: Felix Sater, the one-time mob-connected businessman who worked with Trump in the past, and about whom, as noted earlier, WhoWhatWhy has written extensively. Both bring ostensible ties to people who themselves have links to organized crime, and to those whose interests coincide with those of Vladimir Putin and his oligarchic network.

Take Topolov, with whom Cohen and his brother have done business. Via a conglomerate of his, Topolov employed three executives the FBI have described as members of a violent Russian organized-crime network: one, a mob enforcer closely associated with Mogilevich, the powerful organized crime boss, was reportedly responsible for at least 20 murders.

We previously reported about Mogilevich’s associates’s ties to Trump Tower, dating back to the 1990s. We noted how, from its inception, Trump Tower was a popular place with people having organized crime connections. We noted the various people connected with the FSU, with FSU organized crime, and the ties between those organizations and the Putin regime.

We told the story of Sater, a USSR-born felon who had cut a deal to serve as a confidential source for the FBI in return for leniency after he was caught participating in a major financial fraud with a group of men including one with American organized crime ties.

We explained that tackling FSU influence in Wall Street had become one of the FBI’s highest priorities.

We described how, circa 2001, Sater joined Bayrock, a real estate development company run by FSU emigres in Trump Tower, and eventually began working directly with Donald Trump. Sater and Bayrock were supplying Trump with income during a period when his other investments had been suffering.

Trump Tower
Trump Tower. Photo credit: baba_1967 / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The money spigot was apparent to all. In a 2008 deposition, Sater even testified that, upon Trump’s request, he accompanied Donald Jr. and Ivanka on business trips to the FSU. Donald Jr. would later declare that the region had become the family’s main source of investment.

While Sater was moving up in the Trump orbit, Cohen’s status as a mysterious Trump real estate mega-investor of uncertain wealth and an undistinguished legal practice changed, seemingly overnight.

In 2006, the year before he went to work fulltime for Trump, Cohen suddenly went big-time, becoming, briefly, a partner at a prominent New York firm, Phillips Nizer, where, according to a profile, “he counted [Trump] as one of his many high-profile wealthy clients.”

He was then offered a job by the developer. The reason? “I suspect,” Cohen said, “he was impressed with both my handling of matters as well as the results.”

According to cached images of the Phillips Nizer website found in the Internet Archive, he was first listed as partner in October 2006. By May 2007, about the time he was hired by Trump, Cohen’s title was changed from partner to counsel. He remained in the Phillips Nizer directory as counsel until some time in late 2008.

What exactly did this obscure former personal injury lawyer bring to the firm? It has become increasingly common for law firms to bring on board anyone who can bring business with them. Interestingly, Cohen’s practice there was described as including distressed debt — which certainly could have described Trump’s frequently unstable situation. Mark Landis, managing partner at the firm, declined to comment, saying it is policy not to discuss current or former colleagues.

But in an interview with WhoWhatWhy, Bryan Cohen said that both he and his brother came to Phillips Nizer as part of a merger between Nizer and their entity, the Cohen Law Firm. Asked why Nizer wanted to combine with the much smaller Cohen operation, Bryan Cohen declined to say, terming the question “irrelevant.”

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Phillips Nizer
Photo credit: baba_1967 / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Whatever one is to make of Cohen’s sudden affiliation with Phillips Nizer, just as abruptly as he appeared, he moved on. So did Bryan Cohen, who joined the real estate firm, Douglas Elliman.

Michael Cohen officially joined Trump’s organization in a top position — as Executive Vice President and Special Counsel.

With Sater already working with Trump, this meant that for much of 2007, two of Trump’s key people were decidedly unusual fellows with major ties to the FSU.

Thus we see a fascinating pattern in which two childhood acquaintances began entering the Trump orbit at the same time, circa 2000-2001 (with Cohen making his extraordinary string of Trump property purchases and Sater moving into business in Trump Tower) and, by 2007, both were working near each other inside the Trump empire itself.

In this period, we see a third figure who would later become highly controversial for his links into the FSU: Paul Manafort.

It was in 2006 that the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, long a close Putin associate, signed a whopping $10 million a year contract with Manafort based on what Manafort had presented as efforts inside the United States that would “greatly benefit the Putin government.” (As the Daily Beast reported, few have noted that Deripaska soon partnered with Manafort and the Ukrainian alleged gangster Dmytro Firtash in acquiring New York’s Drake Hotel.)

That same year, Manafort himself bought an apartment…. In Trump Tower.

A Whirlwind in the Former Soviet Union

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In September 2007, Trump, Sater and another partner posed for a photo at the opening of their Trump SoHo Hotel in New York.

The celebration would be brief. In December, the Times revealed that Sater had a criminal past.

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Donald Trump, Tevfik Arif, Felix Sater
Donald Trump, Tevfik Arif and Felix Sater attend the Trump Soho Launch Party on September 19, 2007, in New York. Photo credit: Mark Von Holden / WireImage

This potentially put Trump in a very difficult spot. If Trump were to admit that he knew Sater was a convicted felon but did business with him nonetheless, he, the Trump Organization, and anyone within the company who knew of it would be potentially liable for sky-high sums. This was especially true for the Trump-Bayrock projects (as noted, many of them financed by FSU figures), as so many of them ended terribly, with multiple lawsuits across many states.

Bayrock unraveled. Trump SoHo went into foreclosure in 2013, after just three years of operation, leaving a slew of unoccupied units in the hands of a new developer. It was the firm’s final deal. As is now well known,Trump, who would later claim to barely know Sater, kept him on in the building and, if anything, he and Sater grew even closer. Indeed, Sater was soon working directly for Trump himself, with an office, business cards, phone number and email address all provided by the Trump Organization. The cards identified him as a “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump.”

In this period, Trump Organization activities in the countries of the former Soviet Union appear to have accelerated.

In 2010 and 2012, while working for Trump, Cohen traveled to the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan and Georgia. It’s worth noting that Bayrock had earlier received large infusions of cash from the ultra-corrupt Kazakhstan, and other funds from Georgia, also awash in ill-gotten fortunes.

In 2013, leading up to the Russian-hosted winter Olympics in Sochi, a close Putin ally reached out to Trump.

Aras Agalarov, an Azerbaijani billionaire real estate developer with Russian citizenship who is known as the “Donald Trump of Russia,” paid Trump millions of dollars to bring Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow.

An Instagram post by Agalarov’s son shows Cohen with Trump and Agalarov at the Trump Vegas around the time the deal was inked.

Right around this time, Putin awarded Agalarov a state medal for his entrepreneurial and philanthropic contributions to Russia.

The Third American Political Party: Russia

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As Trump’s relationship to the former Soviet Union intensified, so, seemingly, did Russian interest in the American political system and the presidency.

In 2014, we now know, US intelligence secretly identified what it determined was a Russian effort to sow doubt and chaos in the US elections system.

By then, Trump was widely recognized for his long-standing presidential ambitions — he ran for the office as a Reform Party candidate in 2000, garnering more than 15,000 votes in the California primary before abruptly dropping out. The Russians understood that he also had mass appeal, and a personality, temperament and history associated with provoking strong and divisive reactions.

Also, in a GOP primary field with a crowd of lackluster candidates, Trump was guaranteed to draw considerable public and media interest. At a time when Hillary Clinton, an antagonist of Putin, was viewed as virtually a shoo-in, Trump was a dark horse and a wild card, but one with plenty of outside potential to shake things up.

By February, 2015, Trump had already recruited staff in early voting states; a month later, he formed a presidential exploratory committee and delayed the production of “The Apprentice,” the still-running reality television show that established Trump as a pop culture icon in the mid-2000s. Trump officially announced his candidacy for president on June 16, 2015.

The date of the first campaign-related contacts between Trump’s people and the Russians is not clear, though as time passes, we are learning of earlier and earlier interactions.

Matters seem to have come to a head in June 2016, when, at the request of Russians, Donald Trump Jr. convened a meeting in his office.

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Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner
Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner. Photo credit: Watch the video on C-SPAN, Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs / Flickr.

When the meeting was revealed in July 2017, a panicked Donald Trump Jr. sought to downplay it, claiming it was to discuss policy toward adoptions of Russian children. Further revelations forced him to gradually disclose bits of information that cumulatively make clear the meeting was in response to Russian offers to help Trump’s candidacy by providing intelligence on Clinton that could be used against her.

Among those attending were Manafort, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and publicist Rob Goldstone — who works for the son of the previously mentioned Russian real estate mogul Aras Agalarov and who brokered the meeting. Also present was Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, a fervent opponent of the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on certain Russian officials following the imprisonment, and subsequent death, of a Russian tax accountant investigating fraud. Veselnitskaya claimed to hold incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Another participant was Rinat Akhmetshin, whose past activities and associations led some to wonder whether he was or is a spy. Sen. Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley, a Republican, speculated that the meeting itself was a classic ploy of Russian intelligence, intended to draw the Trump people into a potentially incriminating relationship. That, perhaps paradoxically, would likely make Trump even more vulnerable and beholden to Putin.

And of course the meeting was arranged via Goldstone, who works for the Agalarovs — who performed such valuable services to Russia that, as noted, Putin gave Aras Agalarov a medal.

Cozier and Cozier

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To sum up, Trump’s financial fortunes seem — both by appearance and by statements from the Trumps themselves — to have been heavily dependent on money from the former Soviet Union. Besides the Cohen retinue buying at least 11 apartments in Trump buildings, the money that came in through Felix Sater was also from the FSU.

How much of the funds that kept Trump’s shaky financial empire afloat in those lean years had its origins in the part of the world dominated by the Kremlin? Well, how much did not? Even Donald Trump, Jr. declared in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

As for Trump, he has repeatedly tweeted and declared that he has no loans “from Russia” and no “deals” in Russia. While that may be technically true, what’s more important is that money that originated in the FSU has played a crucial role in his business career. The “art of the deal” seems to be about knowing people who need to move money, and getting them to move it through you.

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Felix Sater, FBI
Felix Sater and Trump business card superimposed over FBI building. Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Cliff / Flickr (CC BY 2.0), 591J / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0) and Boing Boing (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0).

Sater appears to have been an FBI asset for many years, including at least some of the years when Cohen was working with Trump.

Sater denied to WhoWhatWhy that any of his reports to the FBI from Trump Tower concerned organized crime figures in Russia, and asserted that he had never even heard of Mogilevich, though his own father was said to be a Mogilevich underling.

In any case, the FBI agents running Sater were extremely focused on the FSU underworld. It is likely that they would take an interest in the partner of Cohen’s in-law, and all the partner’s ties to organized crime. And they would surely have been interested in how Donald Trump fit into this underworld web all around him.

The Ukraine “Peace Deal”

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Yet Cohen remained mostly out of the public eye, even as myriad Trump associates (including Manafort) ended up in the hot seat for their business dealings in the FSU.

That changed with the report of the January 27, 2017, meeting between Cohen, Sater and Ukrainian politician Andrii V. Artemenko at a luxury hotel in New York.

The three men discussed a proposed Russia-Ukraine peace agreement that would result in the lifting of economic sanctions against Russia. Artemenko told The New York Times that Cohen delivered the proposal to Michael Flynn, who was then Trump’s national security advisor. Cohen has told different stories about his role, but in one interview he confirmed that he delivered a bundle of documents containing the proposal to Flynn’s office while Flynn was still part of the Trump administration. Cohen has insisted he was not aware of any Kremlin involvement.

In bragging about his role in getting such material into the White House, Artemenko comes across as clumsy and artless, seemingly oblivious to how devastating the revelation could have been to Trump had the media and, say, influential congressmen made more of it. But was he naive? Or was this actually a House of Cards-type scenario, where the Russians were deliberately publicizing another bit of incriminating material on Trump in order to gain yet more leverage over him and control over his fate?

The Artemenko “peace plan” was — importantly — accompanied by documents that purported to reveal corruption on the part of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, which could be used to weaken (and potentially topple) the Ukrainian regime led by an enemy of Putin.

This of course made the current Ukrainian authorities go ballistic. No more has emerged on the document bundle, or what, if anything, resulted from its arrival in the White House. But the intent was clearly to advance Russia’s interests, and that of a pro-Russian Ukrainian politico with historic ties to Manafort.

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Andrii V. Artemenko , Michael Cohen
Andrii V. Artemenko superimposed photo of Michael Cohen. Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from IowaPolitics.com / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) and A. V. Artemenko / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Although Felix Sater was present at the meeting as a supposed intermediary, he wouldn’t have been needed for that. Artemenko had known Cohen for years. Cohen’s brother’s father-in-law was, as mentioned earlier, tied to Artemenko through business. Artemenko was also closely tied to Topolov, the allegedly money-laundering Ukrainian politician in business with Oronov, Bryan Cohen’s father-in-law. (Oronov died March 2 after suffering from what Bryan Cohen described to WhoWhatWhy as an “incredibly aggressive” cancer diagnosed three months earlier.)

Artemenko said that his Russia-Ukraine sanctions proposal had been discussed with Cohen and Sater back during the primaries in early 2016, just as Trump was emerging as the frontrunner.

Western sanctions have delivered some crushing blows to Russia’s economy, slashing both its GDP and ruble value by 50 percent in three years, according to a 2017 Congressional Research Service report. Though the economy is expected to resume modest growth, getting out from under the stifling sanctions is for Putin still a national security concern of the highest possible priority. And the Trump camp had been all about lifting the sanctions.

During the 2016 Republican Convention, the party surprisingly removed from its platform a condemnation of Russia over its incursion into Ukraine. Initially, both Donald Trump and campaign manager Paul Manafort denied any knowledge of the platform change. Much later, though, we learned that Trump’s platform chairman, J. D. Gordon, had met with the Russian ambassador during the convention.

In an interview with CNN’s Jim Acosta, Gordon said he had promoted the softening of the language on Ukraine — a softening that Trump himself had advocated earlier in the year, in a meeting with Gordon. Later still, Gordon would attempt to walk back the admission in a parsing reminiscent of Bill Clinton: “I mean, what’s the definition of pushed for the amendment, right? It’s an issue of semantics.”

Semantics or no semantics, the platform was changed.



Trump himself has been very kind to Russia. As a candidate, he worked strenuously to avoid criticizing Russia. He wouldn’t even acknowledge that Russia had seized Crimea, or that it had military units in eastern Ukraine. Even after he was nominated, he told a reporter,

“Just so you understand: [Putin] is not going to go into Ukraine, all right?,” as if that had not already happened two years earlier.

This seeming quid pro quo with Russia suggests the extent to which Russia has compromised the Trump White House.

Having Cohen and Sater deliver the sanctions “peace proposal” to Flynn, a trusted figure with his own Russia connections, keeps Trump himself out of the loop, something Cohen would well understand — that’s one of the core things lawyers do understand, and a role they often play.

We also know that Artemenko’s role in the meetings with Cohen and Sater led Ukraine’s chief prosecutor to open a treason investigation.

Why would Cohen go to such a meeting? It seems crazy. But then the Trump team’s defining trait has been its reckless bravado, and a brash disregard for troubling appearances.

As for Artemenko’s seemingly bumbling admission about the meeting, it is reminiscent of the “indiscretion” of Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, who went to the Republican convention to meet with Manafort about softening the GOP’s stance toward Russia. Although Trump and Manafort vigorously denied it, Kislyak then went public with his own account of the meeting.

In the complex game being played by Putin, with Russia’s (and Putin’s) future at stake, Trump seems to have been cornered into a precarious dependence on Russian “good will.” As we noted months ago, the FBI has long known much of this. What former FBI director and Special Counsel Robert Mueller will do about it remains to be seen.

WhoWhatWhy sought an interview with Cohen, but he declined. When we offered to send him questions, he wrote back: “You can send questions but not committing to respond.” We did send questions. And he did not respond.
https://whowhatwhy.org/2018/12/12/forme ... in-prison/



Get Ready for Mueller's Phase Two: The Middle East Connection

The ‘Russia investigation’ is set to go global. In court filings due to drop in 2019, prosecutors will unveil Middle Eastern countries’ attempts to influence U.S. politics.

12.13.18 5:00 AM ET



Over the past year, the indictments, convictions, and guilty pleas have largely been connected, in one way or another, to Russia. But now, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office is preparing to reveal to the public a different side of his investigation. In court filings that are set to drop in early 2019, prosecutors will begin to unveil Middle Eastern countries’ attempts to influence American politics, three sources familiar with this side of the probe told The Daily Beast.

In other words, the so-called “Russia investigation” is set to go global.

While one part of the Mueller team has indicted Russian spies and troll-masters, another cadre has been spending its time focusing on how Middle Eastern countries pushed cash to Washington politicos in an attempt to sway policy under President Trump’s administration. Various witnesses affiliated with the Trump campaign have been questioned about their conversations with deeply connected individuals from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, according to people familiar with the probe. Topics in those meetings ranged from the use of social media manipulation to help install Trump in the White House to the overthrow of the regime in Iran.

Now, according to those same sources, the Special Counsel’s Office is ready to outline what cooperating witnesses have told them about foreigners’ plans to help Trump win the presidency. Two sources with knowledge of the probe said Mueller’s team has for months discussed the possibility of issuing new charges on this side of the investigation.

“If this is going to be unveiled, this would be like the surfacing of the submarine but on the other plank which we haven’t seen,” said Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney. “I guess what Mueller has to date has turned out to be pretty rich and detailed and more than we anticipated. This could turn out to be a rich part of the overall story.”

“If this is going to be unveiled, this would be like the surfacing of the submarine but on the other plank which we haven’t seen”

— Harry Litman, former U.S. Attorney

The switch in focus comes as Mueller winds down cooperation with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who participated in 19 interviews with the special counsel’s team. In often-heavily redacted court documents made public over the last two weeks, the Special Counsel’s Office hinted at ways in which Flynn helped with its investigation into links between Trumpworld figures and the Russian government.

But Flynn was also involved in conversations with representatives and influential individuals from other foreign governments, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel—encounters The Daily Beast has reported over the last several months. Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller could bring new details about the scope of the special counsel’s probe into how individuals from those countries offered not only to help Trump win the presidential election, but also how they sought to influence foreign policy in the early days of the administration.

Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, said it is unclear if Mueller’s team will unveil nefarious foreign activity beyond what normally occurs in Washington.

“Many of these characters involved are somewhat unsavory,” he added. “But governments deal with all kinds of people all the time. It might be possible to question the wisdom of some of these connections, but not really possible to impugn the right of a government to deal with shadowy dealers in influence and access.”

Still, the Special Counsel’s Office has taken a keen interest this year in practices that were once considered business-as-usual in Washington. Republican operative Sam Patten pleaded guilty to the rarer-than-rare charge of “causing foreign money to be paid to the 2016-17 Presidential Inaugural Committee.” Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Flynn were both charged with not disclosing parts of their businesses under the Foreign Agents Registration Act—the first indictments of this nature in more than half a century.

It’s unclear exactly how, if at all, this side of Mueller’s probe overlaps with his mandate from the Department of Justice to investigate links and coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

Mueller also has the jurisdiction to “investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the special counsel's investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses,” according to the code.

“For something like this to happen, Mueller would have needed to get approval from Rosenstein for this,” Litman said. “It’s not really in the original grant of jurisdiction and it appears then that he made his case to Rosenstein some time ago and that Rosenstein agreed.”

George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman and emissary to the UAE, seems to have sat at the nexus of the two, and Mueller’s office has been investigating several meetings Nader attended. Nader helped arrange the now-infamous meeting between Trump associate and Blackwater founder Erik Prince and Kirill Dmitriev, the head of one of Russia’s sovereign wealth funds—and he also acted somewhat as a go-between with representatives from Gulf state governments, at least one well-connected Israeli, and the Trump team.

Although Nader has been cooperating with the Special Counsel’s Office since March, it is still unclear what evidence he has offered prosecutors during interviews.

In one August 2016 meeting, first reported by The New York Times and later confirmed by The Daily Beast, Nader told the room that the crown princes of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE were eager to help Trump win the election. Also ready to lend his services was Joel Zamel, a self-styled Mark Zuckerberg of the national-security world with deep ties to Israeli intelligence. Zamel had already been in close contact with the Trump team because one of his companies, Psy Group, had drawn up a plan to use social media manipulation to help Trump clinch the Republican nomination. The company sent former senior campaign aide Rick Gates that proposal.

But the connections between Trumpworld and Psy Group in 2016 were more extensive than previously reported, as The Daily Beast noted in November. Former employees said there were at least two other individuals who reached out to the firm during the campaign, both representing themselves as members of Trump’s inner circle.

Over the past year, Mueller’s team has interviewed a host of employees from Psy Group because of its connection to the Trump camp. Several former employees said the firm never went forward with its plan to help Trump, but others disputed that claim.

Zamel, through his lawyer, has also said publicly that he cooperated with the Special Counsel’s Office. His lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story. The Special Counsel’s Office declined to comment. Nader’s lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Zamel remained close to the Trump team throughout the election and into the transition. Part of the reason? He had an easy in. He had been introduced to Nader years earlier by John Hannah, a former aide to Dick Cheney now working as a senior counselor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a right-leaning think tank. Hannah has also been in the sights of the Special Counsel’s Office.

Zamel popped back into the mix in the transition period after the election and further offered services, this time for crafting a plan for regime change in Iran. The Daily Beast was the first to report the meeting, which included Nader, Flynn, and a Saudi general, Ahmed al-Assiri. During this time, Nader was also promoting a plan to carry out economic sabotage against Tehran. The meeting appears to be part of Saudi and Emirati efforts to lobby the incoming Trump administration against Qatar and Iran, their top regional competitors. The New York Times reported earlier this year that Nader worked with Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy to urge the White House to take an aggressive stance against the two countries.

Mueller has also probed Nader’s role in the January 2017 Seychelles meeting between Prince and Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. In his house testimony, Prince said the meeting was a chance encounter and the two met to talk about trade and mineral wealth. But prosecutors this year received evidence that showed the meeting was premeditated. Communications reviewed by The Daily Beast reflect that narrative.

A memo shows the two spoke about a range of topics, including peace between Ukraine and Russia, military operations in Syria, investment in the Midwest, and nuclear weapons. Although RDIF is under U.S. sanctions, it was and is still legal for U.S. individuals to meet with Dmitriev, and, in some circumstances, do business with the fund.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are hoping to take another shot at questioning Prince next year—part of the new Congress’ effort to investigate the Trump administration. Prince told The Daily Beast this summer that he was cooperating with the Special Counsel’s Office, but it is not clear to what extent. His previous lawyer, Victoria Toensing, is no longer representing him
https://www.thedailybeast.com/get-ready ... itter_page



A Key Russian Figure with Connections to Trump and the NRA Faces Sanctions\https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/a-key-russian-figure-with-connections-to-trump-and-the-nra-faces-sanctions-628836/


NRA-Linked Russia Central Banker Retires
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles ... s-u-s-deal



I can't wait to find out who planted this story from March 2017
Image


Two years later, wondering why no one in any media org has ever asked any questions about this -- one of the most serious allegations on the Steele dossier, that Trump org had been collecting info for the Kremlin on its opponents for almost a decade.

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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Dec 13, 2018 5:16 pm


Trump was in the room during hush money discussions with tabloid publisher


A source confirmed to NBC News that Trump was the "other member of the campaign" present when Michael Cohen and David Pecker agreed to silence women.

Dec. 13, 2018 / 3:41 PM ET
Donald Trump was the third person in the room in August 2015 when his lawyer Michael Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed ways Pecker could help counter negative stories about Trump's relationships with women, NBC News has confirmed.

As part of a non-prosecution agreement disclosed Wednesday by federal prosecutors, American Media Inc., the Enquirer's parent company, admitted that "Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate's relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided."

The "statement of admitted facts" says that AMI admitted making a $150,000 payment "in concert with the campaign," and says that Pecker, Cohen, and "at least one other member of the campaign" were in the meeting. According to a person familiar with the matter, the "other member" was Trump.

David Pecker attends an event in Paris in 2012.Francois Durand / Getty Images
Trump was first identified as attending the meeting by the Wall Street Journal.

Daniel Goldman, an NBC News analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney said the agreement doesn't detail what Trump said and did in the meeting. "But if Trump is now in the room, as early as August of 2015 and in combination with the recording where Trump clearly knows what Cohen is talking about with regarding to David Pecker, you now squarely place Trump in the middle of a conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud."

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which investigated Cohen's hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, declined to comment.

McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate, and her lawyers have said that the National Enquirer paid her $150,000 in August 2016 as part of a "catch-and-kill" strategy to keep the story from circulating publicly.

When Cohen pleaded guilty to arranging the payments in August, he said he had done so "at the direction" of an unnamed candidate, and that a $150,000 payment prior to the 2016 election was "for the principal purpose of influencing" the election. The meeting between Cohen, Pecker and unnamed other parties to discuss suppressing stories was referenced in the criminal information document to which Cohen pleaded guilty. The document also refers to "at least one other member of the campaign" being present.

The statement of admitted facts says that AMI's "principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election." Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for the president, has said the payments were made to spare Trump's family from embarrassment. Trump tweet after the sentencing that he "never directed Michael Cohen to break the law."


On Wednesday, Judge William Pauley sentenced Cohen to a total of 36 months behind bars, and three years of post-release supervision, for tax evasion, violating campaign finance law and other charges. The judge ordered him to pay almost $1.4 million in restitution and forfeit $500,000, while fining him $50,000 for lying to Congress. Cohen must turn himself in to start serving his sentence by March 6.

At his sentencing, Cohen said that "time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up [Trump's] dirty deeds."

Tom Winter is a producer and reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit based in New York, covering crime, courts, terrorism, and financial fraud on the East Coast.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/ncna94 ... ssion=true





Trump Inauguration Spending Under Criminal Investigation by Federal Prosecutors

Probe looking into whether committee misspent funds and top donors gave money in exchange for access to the administration

By Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Rebecca Ballhaus and Aruna Viswanatha
Dec. 13, 2018 4:27 p.m. ET
President Trump delivered his inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2017.
The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions, some of the people said.

The investigation represents another potential legal threat to people who are or were in Mr. Trump’s orbit. Their business dealings and activities during and since the campaign have led to a number of indictments and guilty pleas. Many of the president’s biggest campaign backers were involved in the inaugural fund.

The investigation partly arises out of materials seized in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s business dealings, according to people familiar with the matter.

In April raids of Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents obtained a recorded conversation between Mr. Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump, who worked on the inaugural events. In the recording, Ms. Wolkoff expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money, according to a person familiar with the Cohen investigation.

The Wall Street Journal couldn’t determine when the conversation between Mr. Cohen and Ms. Wolkoff took place, or why it was recorded. The recording is now in the hands of federal prosecutors in Manhattan, a person familiar with the matter said.

The inaugural committee hasn’t been asked for records or been contacted by prosecutors, according to a lawyer close to the matter, who said: “We are not aware of any evidence the investigation the Journal is reporting actually exists.”

The inaugural committee has publicly identified vendors accounting for $61 million of the $103 million it spent, and it hasn’t provided details on those expenses, according to tax filings. As a nonprofit organization, the fund is only required to make public its top five vendors.

The committee raised more than double what former President Barack Obama’s first inaugural fund reported raising in 2009, the previous record. President Trump’s funds came largely from wealthy donors and corporations who gave $1 million or more—including casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, AT&T Inc. and Boeing Co. , according to Federal Election Commission filings. There is no sign that those three donors are under investigation.

Federal prosecutors have asked Richard Gates, a former campaign aide who served as the inaugural committee’s deputy chairman, about the fund’s spending and its donors, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Gates has met with prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office and the special counsel’s office.

Mr. Gates, who served as deputy in the inaugural fund, in February pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the U.S. involving foreign political consulting work unrelated to the campaign. The case was brought by Mr. Mueller’s office. Mr. Gates agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department in ongoing investigations.

The committee was headed by Thomas Barrack Jr., a real-estate developer and longtime friend of Mr. Trump. There is no sign the investigation is targeting Mr. Barrack, and he hasn’t been approached by investigators since he was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office last year, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Mueller’s investigators, who are probing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, asked Mr. Barrack only a handful of questions about the inaugural fund, the person said.

Mr. Mueller has also probed whether any foreign money flowed to the inaugural fund, which is prohibited from accepting foreign funds. In August, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, on a referral from Mr. Mueller, obtained a guilty plea from a Washington consultant who admitted he used a U.S. citizen to serve as a “straw purchaser” so that a “prominent Ukraine oligarch” could attend the inauguration. The names were never disclosed.

Manhattan federal prosecutors in recent months asked Tennessee developer Franklin L. Haney for documents related to a $1 million donation he made to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Haney in early April hired Mr. Cohen, at the time serving as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, to help obtain a $5 billion loan from the Energy Department for a nuclear-power project, the Journal has previously reported. Mr. Haney was asked for documents related to his correspondence with members of the committee, meeting calendars and paperwork for the donation, the person said. A loan application by Mr. Haney’s company is still pending at the Energy Department.

A lawyer for Mr. Haney didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment on the investigation. A lawyer for Mr. Cohen didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Since pleading guilty to federal crimes in August, Mr. Cohen has been cooperating with federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the special counsel’s office. He was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison.

According to the inaugural fund’s tax filings, the committee’s top-paid vendor was an event-production firm led by Ms. Wolkoff called WIS Media Partners. The company, which California corporate records show was formed 45 days before the inauguration, was paid $25.8 million, the largest sum paid to a vendor.

Ms. Wolkoff is a former unpaid adviser to Mrs. Trump who also helped produce the inaugural. Ms. Wolkoff and several partners were paid about $1.6 million of the $25.8 million, and the remainder went to subcontractors, a person familiar with Ms. Wolkoff’s work said.

It couldn’t be determined which expenses are the focus of scrutiny by federal prosecutors. The committee said in its tax documents that it spent $77 million on conferences, conventions and meetings, plus $4 million on ticketing, $9 million on travel, $4.5 million on salaries and wages, and other expenses. Mr. Barrack has said that an external audit was completed of the inaugural committee’s finances, but the organization has declined to make that audit available.

The January 2017 inaugural events included a celebration concert at the Lincoln Memorial, receptions, private meals and inaugural balls.

People involved in Mr. Trump’s inaugural have attributed some of the costs to the last-minute nature of the planning. Few expected Mr. Trump to win the 2016 election, leaving his camp scrambling to arrange events for the inaugural, with little time to bid for competitive contracts, they said.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-inau ... 1544736455
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:03 am

Russian Politician Who Reportedly Sent Millions to NRA Has Long History in Spain
Spanish authorities were poised to arrest Alexander Torshin in a money-laundering case in 2013 when he mysteriously canceled his trip to Spain.

https://www.propublica.org/article/russ ... y-in-spain


TRUMP JR. SHOULD BE 'CONCERNED': PUTIN ALLY'S WIRETAPPED CALLS SENT TO FBI, SAYS SPANISH PROSECUTOR
https://www.newsweek.com/trump-jr-shoul ... ish-945753



Renato Mariotti


THREAD: What can we learn from the cooperation deal with Russian spy Maria Butina? (Answer: A lot.)



1/ Today Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring to secretly work as a Russian agent within the United States. As part of her plea, Butina and federal prosecutors agreed on the facts that proved her guilt, and they are shocking. See here:




2/ Butina pleaded guilty to working with "U.S. Person 1" (her former paramour, GOP operative Paul Erickson) to secretly act as a Russian agent at the direction of "Russian Official," which @CNN has identified as Alexander Torshin.



3/ Butina admitted that she drafted a proposal in Russian called "Description of the Diplomacy Project" that suggested Russia could use "unofficial channels of communication" to build relations with Political Party #1 (the Republican Party).



4/ In the proposal, she pointed to her attendance at conferences organized by "Gun Rights Organization" (the National Rifle Association or @NRA), which she told the Russian government had influence over the Republican Party.


5/ She told the Russian government that she believed the Republican Party would win the next presidential election and that she "laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration."



6/ In the proposal, Butina also claimed that she had been introduced to Republican Party leaders as "an unofficial representative" of Russian official Alexander Torshin. (It's worth noting that there are photos of Butina with Trump Jr., Santorum, and many others.)



7/ What shocks me most is that Erickson helped write this proposal! His behavior amounts to what most Americans would regard as outright treason. (As I discussed on my latest #OnTopic podcast with @Mimirocah1, our Constitution defines "treason" narrowly.) What was he thinking?




8/ In the joint statement to the court agreed to by the government and Butina, they said Erickson reviewed a Google-translated version of the proposal and gave advice, including information about U.S. political figures and connection with a Russian media commentator.



9/ Butina sent the proposal to the Russian official (Torshin) and asked for $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to attend NRA conferences as well as "separate meetings with interested parties," including the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.



10/ She then traveled to the U.S. in April 2015 to attend a NRA convention. and was introduced to "influential members" of the Republican Party, including Donald Trump. (As @washpost recently noted, she was later able to directly ask Trump a question.)



11/ (The question was about sanctions imposed on Russia after its 2014 invasion of Crimea, and Trump gave an answer--"I don’t think you’d need the sanctions"--the Russian government would have favored.)



12/ Butina and federal prosecutors noted that part of the conspiracy was also inviting NRA leaders to Moscow in December 2015, and using Torshin to set up meetings with high-ranking Russian politicians because doing so would advance Russian interests.



13/ According to Butina and federal prosecutors, Butina sent the following message to Russian official Torshin about the NRA, translated from the original Russian: "We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later."



14/ Butina also hosted "friendship dinners" with individuals who she believed "would have the ear of the next U.S. presidential administration." She told Torshin about one attendee who Erickson connected her with, and then sent an email to that attendee, copying Erickson:



15/ "Torshin is very impressed with you and expresses his great appreciation for what you are doing to restore the relations between the two countries. He also wants you to know the Russians will support the efforts from our side."



16/ Butina then helped organize a Russian delegation to the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast after Trump's election. Butina emailed Erickson that a list of invitees was handpicked by her and Torshin and were "coming to establish a back channel of communication."



17/ Erickson emailed someone (we don't know who), copying Butina, stating "Reaction to the delegation's presence in America will be relayed DIRECTLY" to Putin and the Russian Foreign Minister. As the statement makes clear, Butina did all of this work under Torshin's direction.



18/ So what does today's news mean legally? Now that Butina will testify against him, Erickson faces what appears to be overwhelming evidence of his guilt. Indeed, as @woodruffbets and @ErinBanco reported recently, Erickson received a target letter.



19/ That means that federal prosecutors intend to indict him. One reason why prosecutors send someone a target letter is because they *want* the person to find a criminal defense attorney. I've done that before myself when I was a federal prosecutor.



20/ Why would prosecutors want Erickson to get a good federal criminal defense attorney? Because they hope the attorney will tell Erickson that he faces overwhelming evidence and needs to cooperate.



21/ What did Erickson tell GOP leaders, NRA leaders, GOP operatives and others when he was connecting them with a Russian spy? Those conversations will be of very great interest to federal prosecutors because they might reveal others who also acted as Russian agents.



22/ Even if they didn't act as Russian agents, it is important for the United States to know whether the Russian government can blackmail any powerful American. Securing Erickson's testimony is the logical next step for prosecutors. The big question: Where does he lead them? /end
https://twitter.com/renato_mariotti/sta ... 7746864128


Maria Butina's plea deal. She successfully infiltrated the NRA and helped establish illegal back channels to the Kremlin for the Trump administration.

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https://mobile.twitter.com/TeaPainUSA


David Hogg

Thoughts and prayers to the NRAs PR team
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Zoe Tillman

Remember that mostly sealed Dec. 6 hearing in Maria Butina's case? The transcript is now unsealed and contains some interesting tidbits about the back and forth leading up to Butina signing her plea deal. Updated story: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zo ... ssia-agent

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Maria Butina Pleaded Guilty To Conspiring To Act As A Russian Agent In The US

Butina pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, and will delay sentencing while she cooperates with the government.

Zoe TillmanDecember 13, 2018, at 5:08 p.m.
Last updated on December 13, 2018, at 6:15 p.m. ET

Maria Butina
Str / AFP / Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Maria Butina pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiring to act as an agent for the Russian government in the United States, admitting she was involved in efforts to set up informal back channels between US and Russian officials leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

Butina agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of her plea deal, and a lawyer for the government said at her plea hearing that her cooperation was “ongoing.” The judge won’t set a sentencing date until Butina finishes working with the government — the prosecutor asked to update the court on their status by mid-February; the court set a hearing for Feb. 12.

Butina has been in jail since her arrest in July, and appeared in federal district court in Washington, DC, unshackled as she stood before the judge and entered her guilty plea. Wearing a green jail uniform and a white shirt with a large hole in the left elbow, Butina appeared calm as she answered questions from US District Judge Tanya Chutkan, although a few times she got ahead of the judge, giving her answer before the judge finished asking a question. She’ll remain in jail while she cooperates.

The judge also for the first time revealed a situation involving Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll that the judge had been dealing with on a sealed basis until now. Chutkan announced to the courtroom that prosecutors had recordings of calls that Butina made in jail that the government said might suggest Butina was trying to serve as a go-between for the media and her lawyer, who is bound by a court-imposed gag order not to speak with reporters.

The judge had appointed an “advisory counsel” for Butina to advise her on the potential conflict of interest issue presented by the evidence the government said it had — that there was concern her lawyer might have incentive for her to plead guilty to avoid getting in trouble with the court for violating the gag order. Butina told the judge that she waived any such potential conflict, and was “extremely satisfied” with her legal representation. The judge did not make a finding about whether Driscoll violated her order and allowed him to continue handling the case.

A federal grand jury indicted Butina in mid-July on two counts: acting as an agent of a foreign government without alerting the US government, and conspiring to do so. Prosecutors claimed Butina received guidance from a Russian official who tasked her with influencing US foreign policy toward the country; her lawyers from the start denied she was acting as an agent, saying she was just a graduate student. The first charge carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, while the conspiracy charge had a maximum sentence of five years.

Prosecutors agreed to drop the more serious count when she’s sentenced. The lawyers estimated that she faced a sentencing range of between zero to six months. As part of the deal, prosecutors could ask the judge for a low sentence, or even no prison time, if they’re satisfied with her cooperation. Assistant US Attorney Erik Kenerson did not offer any details about what sort of information they wanted from Butina. Butina acknowledged that as a Russian national, she could face deportation once she finishes serving any prison time she may face.

Butina admitted working with a Russian official and US citizen — both unnamed in charging papers — since at least 2015 to develop a plan to try to influence US policy to the benefit of the Russian government. The Russian official she is accused of reporting to matches the description of Alexander Torshin, a former Russian senator and banking official who is a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and was sanctioned by the US in April. He left his position as deputy governor of Russia’s central bank on Nov. 30.

Prosecutors say Butina’s American partner — labeled “US Person 1” and known to be South Dakota GOP operative Paul Erickson — helped connect her with prominent conservatives as part of a yearslong influence campaign. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

By touting her life story as a Russian gun rights activist from Siberia, Butina became an exotic fixture at conservative events for five years before her arrest. Even before she came to Washington, DC, as a graduate student in 2017, she regularly traveled to NRA conventions with Torshin and Erickson. Through these events she was able to interact with a number of high-profile Republican politicians and activists, including GOP then-candidates Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum. She also attended the Conservative Political Action Conference and Trump’s inauguration, and organized a Russian delegation to the National Prayer Breakfast in 2017.

After her arrest, the Russian foreign ministry launched an online campaign to raise awareness of what they called the unfair persecution of an innocent graduate student who was just interested in US–Russia relations. Official Kremlin social media accounts even changed their profile photos to Butina’s face.

In the statement of offense laying out the conduct that Butina pleaded guilty to, the government said that Butina wrote in her initial proposal of the “Diplomacy Project” in March 2015 that during her previous trips to the United States she had “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration.” At the time, she predicted that whoever was nominated by “Political Party #1” — the Republican party, based on descriptions in charging papers and what is known about Butina’s activities — would win the 2016 election, and that the “U.S. civil society gun rights organization” — the NRA, again based on the description and what is known about Butina’s activities — had influence over that party.

Butina traveled to conferences in the United States and invited “powerful members of the Gun Rights Organization” to Russia, according to the statement of offense. After that visit, Butina wrote the Russian official a message in Russian that was translated as, “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”

Butina admitted to organizing “friendship dinners” with influential Americans whom she “believed would have the ear of the next U.S. presidential administration,” the government wrote.

Maria Butina in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, in August.
Handout / Reuters
Maria Butina in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, in August.

A federal magistrate judge ordered Butina jailed in July after concluding there weren’t any release conditions that would satisfy the judge that Butina wouldn’t try to flee the country. At the time, the government argued that Butina was “an extreme flight risk” given her lack of ties to the United States, her contacts in Russia, and the fact that she had already been preparing to leave Washington, DC. Prosecutors also said there was evidence Butina had ties to Russian intelligence.

In the two months after her arrest, Russian government officials conducted six consular visits and passed four diplomatic notes to the State Department to press her case, according to a prosecution filing. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also spoke twice to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about her incarceration, calling her a political prisoner.

In September, Chutkan rejected a request by Butina’s lawyer to reconsider holding her while the case went forward. The defense accused prosecutors of creating a “patina of espionage” even though Butina wasn’t charged with spying, and called them out for claiming Butina had offered sex in exchange for a job and then walking that back only after multiple news outlets had focused on it in their reporting.

But Chutkan said she didn’t find that circumstances had changed as far as Butina’s risk of flight. The judge cited a concern prosecutors raised about the fact that if Butina got into a car with diplomatic license plates, there was nothing the US government could do to stop her from getting on a plane to Russia, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States. The judge also entered a gag order after finding that Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll had “crossed a line” with his TV appearances.

On Tuesday, Putin said he did not know why Butina had been detained and faced jail time in the US.

“I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on,” Putin said. “Nobody knows anything about her.”

Butina’s lawyers initially fought back against the allegations, but on Nov. 16, the lawyers filed a joint report with the judge saying that they were involved “in negotiations regarding a potential resolution of this matter” — that is, that they were trying to hammer out a plea deal. Two weeks later, they filed another update saying they were still “optimistic” about reaching an agreement.

The next court date was set for Dec. 19, but then the judge abruptly set a conference for Dec. 6. Much of that hearing took place under seal, but during the public portion, Butina’s lawyer said they were comfortable canceling the Dec. 19 hearing, and anticipated not needing to pursue a subpoena they’d issued to American University, where Butina had been a student — both signs that a deal was imminent. Driscoll said on Thursday that he did want American University to comply with the subpoena after all, saying documents might prove useful at sentencing. The judge will now have to rule on requests filed by American University students seeking to get the subpoena tossed out.

Later on Dec. 6, the judge issued an order appointing A.J. Kramer, the head of the federal public defender office in Washington, as “advisory counsel” to Butina. The judge didn’t explain what prompted that or what Kramer’s role would be; Kramer declined to comment at the time.

The judge ruled Thursday that transcripts from the latter part of the Dec. 6 hearing would be unsealed, and BuzzFeed News obtained a copy later in the evening. At the time, Driscoll told the judge that Butina was close to signing a plea deal, but hadn't yet because of the potential issue that had come up about compliance with the gag order.

In discussing whether the hearing should be sealed, Chutkan noted that she previously agreed to seal requests to transport Butina from jail to the US attorney's office, since "the possibility of a defendant's cooperation is always something that is sensitive." The judge didn't say at the hearing how many times Butina may have met with prosecutors. She initially pushed back on keeping information about Butina being close to a deal under seal, noting the parties had already disclosed that they were negotiating, but agreed after the lawyers explained it was tied up in the gag order issue.

Kenerson told the judge that in recorded phone calls from jail with a reporter, Butina made references to someone who shared Driscoll's first name — Kenerson said they didn't know for sure that she was talking about Driscoll — and that raised concern that she might be acting as a go-between. Kenerson also said other inmates had reported that Butina told them to talk to the media on the advice of her lawyer.

Driscoll said Butina had been talking to a journalist she was friendly with, and that he told the reporter they couldn't use post-gag order conversations in any reporting (Driscoll didn't name the journalist, but referred to them as a "he.") Driscoll did not address the government's other claim about Butina asking fellow inmates to talk to the press. Driscoll asked to keep the issue sealed because "having this all out in public both disparages the defendant and counsel, at least some." The judge agreed to keep it sealed, at least until it was resolved.

UPDATE

This story has been updated with information from an unsealed transcript of the Dec. 6 hearing in Maria Butina's case.
https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zo ... ssia-agent





Mueller to outline Middle Eastern countries’ efforts to influence US politics: report

Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly planning to begin releasing information concerning foreign countries' efforts to interfere in U.S. politics and the 2016 presidential election.

The Daily Beast reports that three sources familiar with Mueller's efforts in the Russia investigation say that prosecutors will begin outlining in court filings next year how foreign countries, in particular ones in the Middle East, attempted to exert influence over the Trump administration.

A former U.S. attorney told The Daily Beast that the remaining unreported evidence could amount to "more" than what U.S. experts have anticipated.

“If this is going to be unveiled, this would be like the surfacing of the submarine but on the other plank which we haven’t seen,” former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman told the news site.

“I guess what Mueller has to date has turned out to be pretty rich and detailed and more than we anticipated," he added. "This could turn out to be a rich part of the overall story."

The ongoing legal battles surrounding President Trump's closest associates took a sharp turn this week with the sentencing of Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, to three years in prison over various criminal charges including campaign finance violations related to payments he said were made at Trump's direction to women threatening to publicly disclose affairs they said they had with the president.

Democrats and critics of the administration have pointed to the recent court filings as evidence that Trump was involved in criminal behavior that aided his campaign's efforts to win the presidency.

Trump has also long faced criticism for not separating himself fully from his businesses upon taking the White House, instead deciding to place the Trump Organization into a blind trust controlled by his two adult sons. Critics have said that business between the Trump Organization and foreign leaders, as well as the Trump Organization's frequent use by GOP groups for events, could violate the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.
https://thehill.com/policy/national-sec ... fluence-us
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

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The Butina 11: Meet the Russians ‘Handpicked’ for Trump Event

Evgenia PismennayaDecember 14, 2018, 5:42 AM EST
A Moscow real-estate executive. Two former staffers in Vladimir Putin’s administration. A Siberian mayor with dreams of cloning woolly mammoths.

To Maria Butina and her minder back home, these were the right Russians for Donald Trump’s Washington.


Maria Butina poses at a shooting range in Moscow in 2012.
Photographer: Pavel Ptitsin/AP Photo
Butina, 30, who now admits she worked as an undeclared Kremlin agent, helped arrange for these and five other Russians chosen by a top official to attend the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, which was held just two weeks after Trump’s inauguration, according to U.S. prosecutors.

“People in the list are handpicked” by Butina and the official “and are VERY influential in Russia,” she wrote in a November 2016 email cited by prosecutors. “They are coming to establish a back channel of communication.”

The other Russians, most of whose names haven’t previously been disclosed, are identified in documents reviewed by Bloomberg News.

In addition to attending the annual event, where Trump gave the keynote speech to some 3,500 guests, the delegates went to meetings that Butina helped arrange with politically connected Americans -- the culmination of her now-admitted multiyear effort to forge inroads into the U.S. conservative movement, including the National Rifle Association.

Pleading guilty in a Washington courtroom on Thursday, Butina admitted she’d been doing the Kremlin’s work and agreed to cooperate with U.S. national security prosecutors. Now comes the question of whether she’ll reveal more about her contacts in Moscow -- or whether, like others pulled into the greater investigation of election meddling, she may hold back.

Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin in 2012.
Photographer: Pavel Ptitsin/AP Photo
U.S. prosecutors allege that Butina conspired with others who aren’t identified in court filings. Based on descriptions provided, one of them was Paul Erickson, her boyfriend at the time, who helped her make inroads into Republican circles.

Another was Butina’s main contact in Moscow, then-central bank deputy chief Alexander Torshin, who’s been accused by Spain of being a handler for Russian organized crime, which he denies. Torshin said through the central bank’s press service last year that the 2017 prayer breakfast was his 12th.

A month before the gathering in Washington, according to the U.S., the person believed to be Erickson said in an email that the Russian delegation was well curated. In addition to Torshin, he wrote, “the list is populated by key mayors, university presidents and personal advisors to President Putin.”

Donald Trump speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2, 2017.
Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images
“Reaction to the delegation’s presence in America will be relayed DIRECTLY” to the Russian president and foreign minister, he wrote in an email copying Butina, prosecutors said.

The U.S. hasn’t leveled accusations against any of the other Russian attendees, and it’s unclear how many of them Butina and Erickson considered influential. Starting in 2017, Bloomberg News attempted to contact the delegates, interviewing some. Here they are:

The Kremlin Alums

By the time Trump took office, Andrey Kolyadin and Sergei Shakhov had left their jobs in the Kremlin’s domestic politics section to work as advisers in the private sector, though Kolyadin continued to consult the presidential administration on various policy matters.

“I went to the Prayer Breakfast so I could say I saw Trump, which is good PR for anyone who’s involved in politics,” Kolyadin said in an interview last year. “This wasn’t some fringe gathering. The other side has direct access to leadership and so do we.”

Andrey Kolyadin, left, and Rex Tillerson at the Prayer Breakfast in 2017.
Source: Facebook
Though he said he didn’t get a private audience with the new president, he did manage to get close to a Cabinet member -- the newly confirmed secretary of state. “I got to shake Rex Tillerson’s hand,” Kolyadin said. “We sat very close to each other and just smiled.” Tillerson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In an interview last year, Shakhov said the Russians felt a natural affinity with U.S. conservatives. “They like us there, they respect us,’’ he said. “They share our views – that a man should be a man and a woman a woman. They’re strongly behind family values.’’

The Woolly Mayor

Aisen Nikolaev was the mayor of the Siberian city of Yakutsk, 280 miles below the Arctic Circle, at the time of the Washington visit.

Source: Instagram
He gushed over Trump afterward, saying in an Instagram post that the billionaire-turned-politician “is self-confident, jokes well and works the room easily.” He was later picked by Putin to be acting governor of the entire Yakutsk region, eventually winning election.

One of his aims is to bring the woolly mammoth back to life by cloning one of the scores of frozen carcasses that are peppered in the permafrost throughout Yakutsk.

“We will be able to clone mammoths in our lifetimes,” Nikolaev told a Russian tabloid in September. He didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.

The Problem Solver

Stanislav Puginsky is part-owner of Egorov, Puginsky, Afanasiev & Partners, one of Russia’s largest law firms. The practice was co-founded by one of Putin’s classmates from his law school days in St. Petersburg.

Source: EPAM
The firm’s website says Puginsky specializes in “complex dispute resolution, government property management, drafting of laws, government relations, corporate governance, bankruptcy of strategic enterprises and other matters of the highest complexity.”

He declined to comment for this article.

The Education Tycoon

Vadim Lobov heads Synergy University, a for-profit institution based in Moscow known for inviting U.S. business and cultural figures to its conferences.

“We have to create lots of avenues for dialogue,” Lobov said at his headquarters on the outskirts of Moscow, a converted factory decorated with a wall-sized Putin portrait in the pop-art style of Andy Warhol.

Synergy, which has 35,000 students across the country, sells T-shirts online with patriotic slogans such as “Crimea Is Ours” and “The Russian Empire -- Reloaded.”

The PR Guy

Igor Pisarsky is a veteran public-relations executive and a professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. The chairman and co-owner of the R.I.M. Porter Novelli PR agency in Moscow worked with Butina on her early gun-rights efforts in Russia.

Source: RIM
An architect by education, Pisarsky’s doctoral thesis was titled, “The Use of Public Spaces in Central Moscow,” according to his firm’s website.

He declined to comment on his participation in the event.

The It Girl

Vlasta Guryeva is a Russian-born fashion designer and consultant who was asked to help with translation and logistics for the delegation, according to participants.

She said in her “Girl of the Week” profile in the Russian version of Elle magazine in 2013 that she believes “all thoughts materialize and nothing is impossible.” Elle called her the creative force behind Sophie Goes Round, a lifestyle blog that features a lot of nude photos.

Guryeva lives in New York and goes by the name Vlasta Gary. She posted a photo on Facebook of her invitation to the prayer breakfast last year above the caption, “Make love no [sic] war.”

She didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Mall Builder

Alexander Karpov is a shareholder in GK Regiony, a major developer of shopping centers controlled by Zelimkhan Mutsoev, a multimillionaire member of Russia’s lower house of parliament.

The Instagram photo that Paris Hilton posted of her and Mutsoev’s two sons at at a company event in Moscow in 2013 got 24,236 likes.

Karpov didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Mystery Man

Little is publicly known about Alexander Yerkhov beyond several media reports about a 2013 incident in Moscow in which the bodyguards of a man with the same name and general description were recorded roughing up a motorist who failed to yield to his Bentley.

One member of the delegation called Yerkhov a mercurial character who barely said a word the entire trip. Yerkhov couldn’t be reached for comment.

— With assistance by Greg Farrell, and Polly Mosendz
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Dec 17, 2018 11:33 am

Russia favored Trump, targeted African-Americans with election meddling, reports say

Image
Dec. 17, 2018 / 8:36 AM CST
WASHINGTON — Russian agents who favored Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy harnessed the major players of America’s tech industry in a sophisticated propaganda effort that was far more extensive that originally understood, according to a detailed analysis prepared for the Senate intelligence committee.

The Russian efforts included an attempt to suppress the votes of African-Americans.

Researchers combed through millions of posts from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube created by the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based firm run by a close ally of Vladimir Putin whose key executives have been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller on charges of defrauding the United States.



Two separate reports on the operation were prepared for senators, both of which were obtained by NBC News. Both sets of researchers found, as Mueller did, that the Internet Research Agency set out in the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton, in part by inflaming right-wing conspiracy theories and seeking to engender distrust among — and suppress the vote of — left-leaning groups, including African-Americans.

The Russians set up 30 Facebook pages targeting the black community, the researchers found, and 10 YouTube channels that posted 571 videos related to police violence against African-Americans. YouTube, which is part of Alphabet, the holding company for Google, was not correct when it said in a statement last year that Russian content did not target a segment of U.S. society, the researchers concluded.

The Russians also set up hotlines that encourage people to discuss sexual or other personal problems the researchers found, raising the possibility they could use the information later to blackmail people. Through deceit, the Internet Research Agency recruited many Americans to take various political actions, the researchers found.

The post that drew the most attention featuring Trump emerged after the election, on January 23, 2017 — a conspiracy theory asserting that President Barack Obama had refused to ban Sharia Law and encouraging President Trump to take action. It was shared 312,632 times from a page created by Russian propagandists.

Image

The post with the most engagement that featured Donald Trump emerged after the election, on January 23, 2017. It was a conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama refusing to ban Sharia Law.
The top post featuring Hillary Clinton came a month before the election, the researchers found — a soup of conspiracy theories alleging that Clinton would win because of voter fraud and alluding to an armed uprising. It received 102,253 engagements, which can be anything from likes and shares to comments.

The Washington Post first reported Sunday on a draft of one of the reports, by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, a network analysis firm.

The other group, led by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity firm that specializes in disinformation, counted 263,769,228 engagements with internet Research Agency content—including likes, comments and shares— on Facebook and Instagram. They said the total number of people who viewed the Russian-backed content is likely higher than the 126 million people Facebook said were exposed.

New Knowledge faulted U.S. social media companies for failing to come to grips with the extent to which their platforms are being used for foreign propaganda, and the researchers noted that Russian efforts to manipulate American voters continue mostly unabated.

“The Instagram and Facebook engagement statistics belie the claim that this was a small operation — it was far more than only $100,000 of Facebook ads, as originally asserted by Facebook executives,” the New Knowledge white paper said. “The ad engagements were a minor factor in a much broader, organically- driven influence operation.”

A Twitter spokesperson said, "Our singular focus is to improve the health of the public conversation on our platform, and protecting the integrity of elections is an important aspect of that mission. We’ve made significant strides since 2016 to counter manipulation of our service, including our release of additional data in October related to previously disclosed activities to enable further independent academic research and investigation.”

Google declined comment and representatives for the other tech companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment by NBC News.

The Russian social media effort, which unfolded alongside a separate Russian intelligence operation to hack and leak Democratic emails, was “intended to reinforce tribalism, to polarize and divide, and to normalize points of view strategically advantageous to the Russian government on everything from social issues to political candidates,” the New Knowledge white paper said.

Image

Some of the Facebook and Instagram ads linked to a Russian effort to disrupt the American political process and stir up tensions around divisive social issues werereleased by members of the U.S. House Intelligence committee on Nov. 1, 2017.Jon Elswick / AP file

“It was designed to exploit societal fractures, blur the lines between reality and fiction, erode our trust in media..in government, in each other, and in democracy itself.”

The U.S. government, the report noted, has done little to understand or deter the use of social media platforms by foreign propagandists.

Some of the key findings in the New Knowledge report:

YouTube was used more extensively than previously known. The IRA began making YouTube videos in September 2015, producing 1,107 videos across 17 channels. A few channels were active until July 2017.
The IRA developed a collection of more than 3,840 persona accounts on Twitter; approximately 1.4 million people engaged with their tweets. They generated 72,801,807 engagements on their original content.
The posts display “a nuanced and deep knowledge of American culture, media, and influencers in each community the IRA targeted." Pepe the Frog memes were used to reach alt-right youth, but don’t appear on pages aimed at older conservatives, “The IRA was fluent in American trolling culture.”
The IRA impersonated state and local news media on Twitter and Instagram, setting up approximately 109 Twitter accounts masquerading as news organizations, including 44 U.S.-focused Twitter handles that amassed 660,335 followers between them — with an average of 15,000 followers each. The accounts were bots posting like to articles, many of which were bogus.
The IRA simultaneously worked hard to undermine trust in real news media both among left and right-right-leaning audiences.
There were dozens of posts extolling the virtues of Wikileaks and Julian Assange.
Thousands of conspiratorial tweets were advanced or amplified by fake right-wing personas, and included pseudoscience conspiracies about vaccines, paranormal activity and aliens, and anti-anti-Semitic complaints about the “globalist” agenda.
The Russians sought to convey a narrative that the Robert Mueller investigation was corrupt, and that the emerging Russia stories were a “weird conspiracy” pushed by “liberal crybabies."
Ken Dilanian is a national security reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit.

Ben Popken and Ben Collins contributed.
https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politi ... ay-n948731



Trump and Putin Tape Discovered, Witness Says Trump “Put on speakerphone for everyone to hear”
http://www.bluedotdaily.com/trump-and-p ... one-to-he/




Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really a Thing

By Josh Marshall
July 23, 2016 4:15 pm
https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/tr ... ly-a-thing
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Dec 17, 2018 1:53 pm


Russia’s “Propaganda War” On US Social Media Is Ongoing, New Reports Say




Outside researchers provide the deepest look yet at Russian efforts to influence American politics in reports released by the Senate Intelligence Committee Monday.

Emma Loop
Reporting From
Washington, D.C.

Posted on December 17, 2018, at 10:47 a.m. ET


Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Russian efforts to interfere in American politics were more pervasive on Instagram and other social media platforms than previously known and showed a clear preference for Donald Trump during the last presidential election, according to a pair of new reports prepared for the Senate.

Third-party researchers completed two reports for the Senate Intelligence Committee, which released them on Monday. The documents provide the most complete picture to date of the years-long campaign by the Internet Research Agency — a Kremlin-connected troll farm indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller in February — to sow divisions in American society, spread disinformation, and manipulate US voters through social media.

The reports were based largely on data provided to Congress by Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet, which owns Google and YouTube, and question whether the companies were completely forthcoming with Congress about foreign influence on their services. Lawmakers, including members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have previously accused the companies of failing to fully cooperate with congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Some of those lawmakers have urged Congress to pass legislation to regulate social media, prompting the companies to take some steps to try increase transparency and curb the effects of malicious foreign actors on their platforms.

“[The IRA] infiltrated communities with intention of staying there for a very long time,” said Renee DiResta, research director at New Knowledge, a cybersecurity firm behind one of the reports. “That’s the challenge here. These tools were built for connection, but they’re being used by hostile intel services to get in contact with vulnerable Americans.”

The New Knowledge report, which says it’s the first comprehensive outside analysis of the impact of social media on the election that hasn’t been done by the companies themselves, also accuses the companies of doing the bare minimum in working with Senate investigators.

“None of the platforms (Twitter, Facebook, and Alphabet) appears to have turned over complete sets of related data to [the committee],” the report read. “Some of what was turned over was in PDF form; other data sets contained extensive duplicates. Each lacked core components that would have provided a fuller and more actionable picture.” A second report, authored by the University of Oxford and Graphika, said that “Google’s data contribution was by far the most limited in context and least comprehensive of the three.”

Still, the New Knowledge report, titled “The Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency,” says the data given to the committee “clearly illustrates that for approximately five years, Russia has waged a propaganda war against American citizens, manipulating social media narratives to influence American culture and politics.” That war, designed to undermine American democratic institutions, targeted more than a dozen divisive American themes, such as immigration, gun rights, and race, and spanned several social media platforms, the report found.


Alex Wong / Getty Images
Sens. Mark Warner and Richard Burr, who lead the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“As we've said all along, Congress and the intelligence community are best placed to use the information we and others provide to determine the political motivations of actors like the Internet Research Agency,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. Twitter echoed that sentiment in its own statement, noting that the company had “made significant strides since 2016 to counter manipulation of our service.” A spokesperson for Google and YouTube did not return a request for comment.

The IRA’s efforts to support Donald Trump in the 2016 campaign began early in the Republican primaries, the New Knowledge report says. “The IRA had a very clear bias for then-candidate Trump’s that spanned from early in the campaign and throughout the data set,” the report states. Moreover, a “substantial portion of political content articulated anti-Hillary Clinton sentiments among both Right and Left-leaning IRA-created communities.”

The New Knowledge study takes Facebook to task for comments made by some executives following the 2016 election that attempted to diminish the IRA's work as just "a few hundred thousand dollars of ads." The power of the IRA's work wasn't in paid advertising, according to the report, but in unpaid organic content posted across multiple platforms. The data set provided to the Senate included 10.4 million tweets from 3,841 Twitter accounts, 1,100 YouTube videos across 17 account channels, 116,000 Instagram posts across 133 accounts, and 61,500 unique Facebook posts from 81 pages.

In all, there were 77 million engagements from users on Facebook, 187 million engagements on Instagram, and 73 million engagements on original content on Twitter.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, “was a significant front in the IRA’s influence operation, something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in Congressional testimony,” the report says. Moreover, the report’s authors assessed that “Instagram was perhaps the most effective platform for the Internet Research Agency" and that it “is likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis.”

The report says that the “most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted Black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing Black audiences and recruiting Black Americans as assets.” The IRA also spread narratives related to voter suppression and secessionist movements, the report found.

“Active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms."
Other lesser-known platforms were also targeted by the IRA, the report says. “Evidence provided by these companies to [the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] ties the IRA operation to widespread activity on other popular social platforms including Vine, Gab, Meetup, VKontakte, and LiveJournal,” the report found. “The popular game Pokémon Go was incorporated into the operation, illustrating the fluid, evolving, and innovative tactical approach the IRA leveraged to interfere in US politics and culture.”

DiResta also provided BuzzFeed News with evidence that the IRA may have been running their own merchandise sites with products such as custom t-shirts that were advertised through its Instagram accounts. Featuring contentious political messages, the apparel may have been a source of revenue for the troll farm — though the researchers lacked any specific sales data — or could have been used to gather personal information including names, emails, and potentially payment information from unwary shoppers. One portion of data from Instagram shows that at least one of the IRA's accounts were promoting the sale of female sex toys in April 2017 on the popular image-sharing site.

“Active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms” and continued well after the 2016 presidential election, the report says. Ironically, among the memes shared by the IRA following Trump's November 2016 victory were images of Mark Zuckerberg associated with stories where he said it was a "pretty crazy idea" that Facebook had any meaningful impact on the election.

Details of the University of Oxford and Graphika report, titled “The IRA and Political Polarization in the United States, 2015-2017,” were first reported Sunday by the Washington Post. “The IRA adapted existing techniques from digital advertising to spread disinformation and propaganda by creating and managing advertising campaigns on multiple platforms, often making use of false personas or imitating activist groups,” the report says. The fake accounts’ presence on several platforms, including PayPal for donations, likely boosted their perceived credibility.

“Between 2013 and 2018, the IRA’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter campaigns reached tens of millions of users in the United States,” the report found. “Over 30 million users, between 2015 and 2017, shared the IRA’s Facebook and Instagram posts with their friends and family, liking, reacting to, and commenting on them along the way.” Often, the agency took advantage of significant news events — everything from primary debates to Hillary Clinton’s 2015 appearance on Saturday Night Live — to boost activity, which included advertising and organic activity, with the latter being “most far reaching,” the report adds.

The IRA’s activity didn’t stop once it was exposed, the report says. “The highest peak of IRA ad volume on Facebook is in April 2017—the month of the Syrian missile strike, the use of the Mother of All Bombs on ISIS tunnels in eastern Afghanistan, and the release of the tax reform plan,” the report found. “IRA posts on Instagram and Facebook increased substantially after the election, with Instagram seeing the greatest increase in IRA activity.”

University of Oxford/Graphika
A graphic showing how Internet Research Agency activity progressed over time, based on data technology companies provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“On Facebook, the five most shared and the five most liked posts focused on divisive issues, with pro-gun ownership content, anti-immigration content pitting immigrants against veterans, content decrying police violence against African Americans, and content that was anti-Muslim, anti-refugee, anti-Obama, and pro-Trump,” the report says. “On Twitter, of the five most-retweeted IRA accounts, four focused on targeting African Americans.”

Similar to the New Knowledge report, this report found that the IRA paid particular attention to African American communities, encouraging them to “boycott elections or follow the wrong voting procedures in 2016.” The agency targeted Black Americans with ads on Facebook and Instagram “to divert their political energy away from established political institutions by preying on anger with structural inequalities faced by African Americans, including police violence, poverty, and disproportionate levels of incarceration.”

More recently, the IRA’s efforts have included urging “Mexican American and Hispanic voters to distrust US institutions.” They’ve also included “encouraging extreme right-wing voters to be more confrontational; and spreading sensationalist, conspiratorial, and other forms of junk political news and misinformation to voters across the political spectrum.” Other groups, including conservatives, Muslim Americans, and LGBT voters, were also targeted.

“Differential messaging to each of these target groups was designed to push and pull them in different ways,” the report says. “What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically, Donald Trump. Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged these groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract, and ultimately discourage members from voting. While the IRA strategy was a long-term one, it is clear that activity between 2015 and 2016 was designed to benefit President Trump’s campaign.”

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the committee, used the reports to renew calls to pass legislation to regulate social media. “These reports demonstrate the extent to which the Russians exploited the fault lines of our society to divide Americans in an attempt to undermine and manipulate our democracy,” Warner said in a statement. “These attacks against our country were much more comprehensive, calculating and widespread than previously revealed. This should stand as a wake up call to us all that none of us are immune from this threat, and it is time to get serious in addressing this challenge.”

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, didn’t go as far, calling instead for more “information sharing” between tech companies and outside researchers, but stated that the reports show “how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology, and how the IRA actively worked to erode trust in our democratic institutions.

“Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped,” Burr added.

The committee has not yet said what it will do with the reports, but noted that it doesn’t necessarily endorse the reports’ findings and that it is working on its own report about social media manipulation.

Emma Loop is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. PGP fingerprint: 4A39 DD99 953C 6CAF D68C 85CD C380 AB23 859B 0611.

Contact Emma Loop at emma.loop@buzzfeed.com.

Ryan Mac is a senior tech reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/amphtml/em ... ssion=true

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Trump Demands Stop To Emoluments Case As State AGs Subpoena 38 Witnesses
Josh Kovensky


AP
President Trump’s Justice Department is scrambling to stop two state attorneys general from procuring evidence about whether the President is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause by filing an emergency appeal in the Fourth Circuit court.

Warning that attorneys general from Maryland and DC have sent 38 subpoenas to third parties, Justice Department attorneys argue that the court needs to halt the lawsuit at the district court level before documents from those subpoenas are returned by a January 3 deadline.

Trump lost a motion to dismiss the suit at the district court level in the case, and he filed the appeal as a petition for writ of mandamus, essentially asking the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to override the lower court and halt the case immediately before throwing it out entirely.

DOJ attorneys argue that the state attorneys general have a “fundamentally flawed” view of the Constitution and that the lower court judge, District Judge Peter Messitte, committed a “manifest abuse of discretion” in failing to allow an appeal of his decision denying a motion to dismiss.

The brief at times exudes a panicky tone regarding the impending responses to the 38 subpoenas that have been sent in the case. Trump’s lawyers write that “plaintiffs have already propounded thirty-eight subpoenas to third parties, including to five federal agencies,” since Judge Messitte ordered discovery to begin this month.

“The President is likely to obtain mandamus, and he is likely to suffer irreparable injury in the interim from the intrusive discovery into his personal finances and the official actions of his Administration (including through third-party subpoenas of government agencies),” the filing reads.

Trump attorneys also argue that the a violation of the emoluments clause, even as alleged by the state attorneys general, doesn’t give them the right to sue to enforce it.

Through dense legalese, they argue that the plaintiffs “are asserting only a generalized grievance shared by all members of the public.” That “grievance” supposedly stems from “having an official comply with constitutional provisions adopted for the benefit of the public generally.”

Other elements of the brief descend into early U.S. history, going back to the plantations and land purchases made by the founding fathers and early presidents.

Trump attorneys cite Washington D.C. land records from 1793 to show that George Washington purchased “several lots of federal land” during his presidency, adding that “no concern was raised that such transactions conferred a benefit.”

The DOJ goes further, however, and reaches for the slave-run plantations that Washington and Thomas Jefferson ran while in office as examples how the Constitution permits presidents to run private businesses while in office.

“Several early Presidents owned plantations and continued to export cash crops overseas while in office, including Washington, who exported flour and cornmeal to ‘England, Portugal, and the island of Jamaica,’ and Thomas Jefferson, who exported tobacco to Great Britain,” the filing reads.

“Yet there is no evidence that they took steps to ensure that foreign governments were not among their customers,” the DOJ adds.

The Trump administration attorneys also make a comparison between Barack Obama’s book sales while in office and Trump’s D.C. hotel, arguing that Judge Messitte’s ruling that an emolument has to be larger than minimal payments “was created to explain away inconvenient examples like President Obama’s likely royalties from book sales to foreign governments.”

Read the brief:

Clarification: The post has been updated to more precisely reflect the argument over whether the attorneys general have the right to sue to enforce the emoluments clause.
https://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker ... -witnesses

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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Dec 18, 2018 10:34 am

Unable to indict the president, Manhattan federal prosecutors may focus on Trump Organization



Federal prosecutors in Manhattan this past week appeared to be barreling forward on a collision course with President Trump. Forbidden from indicting him by their superiors in Washington, the prosecutors instead are likely to turn their guns on the president’s family and close associates and, perhaps most significantly, the business he spent his life building, according to former Department of Justice officials.

In court filings, a dramatic sentencing hearing and an unusually revelatory press release, the prosecutors in the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York added substantially to the mound of public evidence that the president has criminal exposure for arranging secret payments to women during the federal election campaign.

In a sentencing memo, the Southern District cited Michael Cohen’s claims that Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate, had directed Cohen to secretly pay off two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, in violation of campaign finance laws. In a lower Manhattan courtroom, as he pleaded with a judge for leniency, Cohen cast himself as a weak man and instrument of Trump’s will.


President Trump and Michael Cohen (Photos: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Shortly after the sentencing hearing concluded, Southern District prosecutors revealed for the first time that they had entered into a cooperation deal with American Media Inc. (AMI), the company that publishes the National Enquirer, which had assisted Cohen by negotiating and making one of the secret payments, $150,000 paid to Karen McDougal based on a sham contract, on the understanding that Cohen would reimburse AMI for the expense. (Despite the understanding, he never actually reimbursed AMI.)

AMI agreed to help Southern District prosecutors by providing evidence in exchange for not being charged. Both Cohen and AMI said that the hush money payments, which Trump was involved with and knew about, were intended to influence the presidential election by keeping derogatory stories about Trump out of the news.

“I think that they’re clearly building a case, right?” said Mimi Rocah, a 16-year veteran of the Southern District now in private practice. “They’re not trying to get Cohen to cooperate against AMI because AMI has a nonprosecution cooperation agreement. And they’re not cooperating AMI just against Cohen because he has already pled out. So there seem to be other targets in their sights.”

While it appears the Southern District is assembling a powerful criminal case against Trump, one of the targets for prosecution may be not the president himself, but the Trump Organization.

A stubborn obstacle stands in the way of presenting a case against the president in court. A memorandum, written in the fall of 1973 by attorneys at the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel amid the Watergate scandal concluded that constitutional principles forbid indicting or criminally prosecuting a sitting president for federal crimes. That conclusion was reaffirmed in 2000 and amounts to a Justice Department-wide policy against bringing criminal charges against the president.

Even though the Manhattan-based division is often cheekily referred to as the “Sovereign District of New York,” former prosecutors who worked there agreed that its vaunted independence would not extend to disregarding the Office of Legal Counsel’s written guidance on indicting and prosecuting the president.

“There’s no question that, as long as the [Office of Legal Counsel] memo is in place, they’re going to follow that,” said Rocah. “Even the ‘Sovereign District’ is not going to just ignore that.”


Michael Cohen leaves the federal courthouse in Manhattan on Dec. 12. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Other former prosecutors from the office agreed with Rocah’s assessment about the prospect of an indictment of the president.

“We didn’t say, like, ‘We’re the Southern District, we don’t have to follow any rules,’ you know?” said Harry Sandick, another former Southern District prosecutor now in private practice. “I would be surprised if the Southern District did not consider itself bound by DOJ policy at a high level.”

“They might not do everything the way Main Justice tells them to do it,” Sandick said, using an insider’s reference to Justice Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., “but I think on an issue like this I would be shocked if they said, ‘Well, our analysis is different, we’re indicting the president.’ That would be a surprise.”

Matthew Miller, a former Department of Justice spokesman, agreed that the Southern District was unlikely to disregard Justice Department policy on indicting the president, but “ I don’t think it’s tenable for DOJ to just do nothing about him,” he said. “That could either be some kind of referral to Congress, or by making all the information available through an indictment of somebody else. And then they don’t have to send it officially to Congress. Congress will see it all because it’s all in the public domain.”

The Southern District could not be immediately reached for comment. The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment.

The former Southern District prosecutors said that the latter option, bringing further indictments, is likely more in keeping with the office’s culture and its desire to keep its distance from politics.

Federal investigations such as Southern District’s are secret, and any discussion of who future targets might be is necessarily speculative, but the charging documents from that office contain some strong hints that the Trump Organization and its executives could be the targets.

Both Rocah and Sandick pointed specifically to allegations that two Trump Organization executives, referred to in charging documents as Executive 1 and Executive 2, had concocted a fraudulent scheme to pay Cohen back for his payment to Stormy Daniels. NBC News and the Wall Street Journal have reported that Executive 1 is the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, who was granted immunity by the Southern District in its investigation.

The identity of Executive 2 is unknown.

Cohen, the prosecutors alleged and Cohen admitted, had given the executives a bank statement showing the $130,000 payment from the account of the shell company Cohen created, along with the $35 wire fee he paid. To this, Cohen added in handwriting an additional $50,000 for “tech services,” which prosecutors wrote “in fact related to work Cohen had solicited from a technology company during and in connection with the campaign.”

In total, Cohen had requested $180,035 in reimbursement from Trump’s private company for expenditures he had made to assist Trump’s campaign.

A reimbursement of campaign expenses by a private company alone could have put the Trump Organization in jeopardy, as private businesses are forbidden from contributing to campaigns (the same violation got AMI into hot water with prosecutors). However, that is not the only issue.


President Trump listens to a question from a member of the media on Dec. 11. (Photo: Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
What the executives did with Cohen’s requested reimbursement raises the specter of tax and accounting fraud, both former prosecutors agreed. According to the criminal information Southern District prosecutors filed against Cohen, the executives “grossed up” the amount “for tax purposes,” effectively doubling it to $360,000, and then they added $60,000 on top of that as a bonus for Cohen, arriving at a total payment to Cohen of $420,000. That amount would be spread out over the full year of 2017 in $35,000 installments, for which Cohen would submit invoices requesting “pursuant to retainer agreement … payment for services rendered.”

These machinations, presumably, served a dual purpose. First, they allowed the Trump Organization to maintain the fiction, on its books and before its auditors, that Cohen was simply being periodically paid for legal work on behalf of the company, rather than reimbursed for one-time campaign expenses. “The Company accounted for these payments as legal expenses,” the SDNY prosecutors wrote. Second, in order to maintain consistency with the Trump Organization’s deceptive accounting treatment, Cohen would have to report the full amount received as taxable income on his tax returns, rather than accurately identifying it as an untaxed reimbursement. The increased, or “grossed up,” amounts would have been to cover Cohen’s resulting taxes, since the payments to him were being classified as income, rather than a reimbursement.

The contortions may not just put the Trump Organization’s executives at risk; they could expose the president’s cherished business as well.

“I think there’s a possibility of the Trump Organization as a whole being charged,” Rocah said.

“Charges against the Trump Organization seem like a way of addressing through one path what you might not be able to address through a different path,” Sandick agreed.

“I mean it seems pretty clear to me that the Trump Organization has criminal liability here,” Miller said. “You have the fraudulent contract with Cohen. And then you have the fact that they used corporate money to reimburse a campaign contribution. So that looks like a couple different crimes to me. That’s one thing you could do is you could indict the Trump Organization and possibly the unnamed executive, and then in that indictment you just make all of the facts public and you name the president as an unindicted co-conspirator.”

An indictment premised on the disguised reimbursement to Cohen could provide prosecutors with the vehicle to name the president as an unindicted co-conspirator. On Fox News Sunday, in the course of a discussion about President Trump’s prior denials that he knew about the secret payment to Stormy Daniels, the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani appeared to admit that Trump was personally involved in the reimbursement scheme. “The president did talk to Cohen or to people in between,” Giuliani said, “and they arranged to reimburse Cohen. This is after the payment was made, after it was over — after the campaign was over.”

What may be tricky, however, is figuring out what part of the Trump Organization to charge, since it’s composed of many different entities operating under a single name. “You hold interests as the sole or principal owner in more than 500 separate entities,” Sheri Dillon and William Nelson wrote in a letter to the president dated March 8, 2017.

The letter was released to the public in lieu of disclosure of president Trump’s personal income tax returns.

Former prosecutors pointed out that a prosecution of a business organization would not be undertaken lightly. The Department of Justice’s frequently revised guidelines on the subject “generally tend to discourage charging organizations because of the concern about harm to third parties,” Sandick said.

On the other hand, it’s unclear how many employees the Trump Organization has, and thus could be affected, since much of their work seems to be in the area of licensing the Trump name, according to Sandick.

“The truth is nobody, even those of us in the alumni network, lived through something quite like this,” said Sandick. “I was there during 9/11 and we saw lots of huge cases, high profile things. I remember lots of big things happening in the office. But this is, kind of, of a different magnitude.”
https://news.yahoo.com/unable-indict-pr ... 41480.html


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THE DOSSIER IS NOT THE MEASURE OF THE TRUMP-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY

December 18, 2018/1 Comment/in 2016 Presidential Election, emptywheel, Mueller Probe /by emptywheel
It seems like the whole world has decided to measure Trump’s conspiracy with Russia not from the available evidence, but based on whether the Steele dossier correctly predicted all the incriminating evidence we now have before us.

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The trend started with NPR. According to them (or, at least, NPR’s Phillip Ewing doing a summary without first getting command of the facts), if Michael Cohen didn’t coordinate a Tower-for-sanctions-relief deal from Prague, then such a deal didn’t happen. That’s the logic of a column dismissing the implications of the recent Cohen allocution showing that when Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” he knew his family stood to make hundreds of millions if they stayed on Vladimir Putin’s good side.

Item: Cohen ostensibly played a key role in the version of events told by the infamous, partly unverified Russia dossier. He denied that strongly to Congress. He also has admitted lying to Congress and submitted an important new version of other events.

But that new story didn’t include a trip to Prague, as described in the dossier. Nor did Cohen discuss that in his interview on Friday on ABC News. Could the trip, or a trip, still be substantiated? Yes, maybe — but if it happened, would a man go to prison for three years without anyone having mentioned it?


As I noted, Mueller laid out the following in the unredacted summary of Cohen’s cooperation.

Consider this passage in the Mueller Cohen sentencing memo.

The defendant’s false statements obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government. If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues. The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Similarly, it was material that Cohen, during the campaign, had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia.


Cohen’s lies, aside from attempting to short circuit the parallel Russian investigations, hid the following facts:

Trump Organization stood to earn “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” if the Trump Tower deal went through.
Cohen’s work on the deal continued “well into the campaign” even as the Russian government made “sustained efforts … to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.”
The project “likely required[] the assistance of the Russian government.”
“Cohen [during May 2016] had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia [Dmitri Peskov].”


But because the new Cohen details (along with the fact that he booked tickets for St. Petersburg the day of the June 9 meeting, only to cancel after the Russian hack of the DNC became public) didn’t happen in Prague, it’s proof, according to NPR, that there is no collusion. [Note, NPR has revised this lead and added an editors note labeling this piece as analysis, not news.]

Political and legal danger for President Trump may be sharpening by the day, but the case that his campaign might have conspired with the Russian attack on the 2016 election looks weaker than ever.


There are other errors in the piece. It claims “Manafort’s lawyers say he gave the government valuable information,” but they actually claimed he didn’t lie (and it doesn’t note that the two sides may have gone back to the drawing board after that public claim). Moreover, the column seems to entirely misunderstand that Manafort’s plea (would have) excused him from the crimes in chief, which is why they weren’t charged. Nor does it acknowledge the details from prosecutors list of lies that implicate alleged GRU associate Konstantin Kilimnik in an ongoing role throughout Trump’s campaign.

Then there’s the NPR complaint that Mike Flynn, after a year of cooperation, is likely to get no prison time. It uses that to debunk a straw man that Flynn was a Russian foreign agent.

Does that sound like the attitude they would take with someone who had been serving as a Russian factotum and who had been serving as a foreign agent from inside the White House as national security adviser, steps away from the Oval Office?


That’s never been the claim (though the Russians sure seemed like they were cultivating it). Rather, the claim was that Flynn hid details of Trump’s plans to ease sanctions, an easing of sanctions Russians had asked Don Jr to do six months earlier in a meeting when they offered him dirt. The 302 from his FBI interview released last night makes it clear that indeed he did.

Finally, NPR is sad that Carter Page hasn’t been charged.

Will the feds ever charge Trump’s sometime foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, whom they called a Russian agent in the partly declassified application they made to surveil him?


This is not a checklist, where Trump will be implicated in a conspiracy only if the hapless Page is indicted (any case against whom has likely been spoiled anyway given all the leaking). The question, instead, is whether Trump and his spawn and campaign manager and longtime political advisor (the piece names neither Don Jr nor Roger Stone, both of whom have been saying they’ll be indicted) entered into a conspiracy with Russians.

In short, this piece aims to measure whether there was “collusion” not by looking at the evidence, but by looking instead at the Steele dossier to see if it’s a mirror of the known facts.

But NPR isn’t the only outlet measuring reality by how it matches up to the Steele dossier. This piece describes that Michael Isikoff thinks, “All the signs to me are, Mueller is reaching his end game, and we may see less than what many people want him to find,” in part because of the same three points made in the NPR piece (Cohen didn’t go to Prague, no pee tape has been released, and Flynn will get no prison time), but also because Maria Butina — whose investigation was not tied to the Trump one, but whom Isikoff himself had claimed might be — will mostly implicate her former boyfriend, Paul Erickson. In the interview, Isikoff notes that because the dossier has not been corroborated, calling it a “mixed record, at best … most of the specific allegations have not been borne out” and notes his own past predictions have not been fulfilled. Perhaps Isikoff’s reliance on the dossier arises from his own central role in it, but Isikoff misstates some of what has come out in legal filings to back his claim that less will come of the Mueller investigation than he thought.

Then there is Chuck Ross. Like Isikoff, Ross has invested much of his investigative focus into the dossier, and thus is no better able than Isikoff to see a reality but for the false mirror of the dossier. His tweet linking a story laying out more evidence that Michael Cohen did not go to Prague claims that that news is “a huge blow for the collusion narrative.”

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Even when Ross wrote a post pretending to assess whether the Michael Cohen plea allocution shows “collusion,” Ross ultimately fell back on assessing whether the documents instead proved the dossier was true.

Notably absent from the Mueller filing is any indication that Cohen provided information that matches the allegations laid out in the Steele dossier, the infamous document that Democrats tout as the roadmap to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.

The most prominent allegation against Cohen in the 35-page report is that he traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin insiders to discuss paying off hackers who stole Democrats’ emails.


The Isikoff comments appear to have traveled via Ross to Trump’s Twitter thumbs, all without assessing the evidence in plain sight.

Meanwhile, Lawfare is erring in a parallel direction, checking on the dossier to see “whether information made public as a result of the Mueller investigation—and the passage of two years—has tended to buttress or diminish the crux of Steele’s original reporting.”

Such an exercise is worthwhile, if conducted as a measure of whether Christopher Steele obtained accurate intelligence before it otherwise got reported by credible, public sources. But much of what Lawfare does does the opposite — assessing reports (it even gets the number of reports wrong, saying there are 16, not 17, which might be excusable if precisely that issue hadn’t been the subject of litigation) out of context of when they were published. Even still, aside from Steele’s reports on stuff that was already public (Carter Page’s trip to Moscow, Viktor Yanukovych’s close ties to Paul Manafort), the post reaches one after another conclusion that the dossier actually hasn’t been confirmed.

There’s the 8-year conspiracy of cooperation, including Trump providing Russia intelligence. [my emphasis throughout here]

Most significantly, the dossier reports a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between [Trump and his associates] and the Russian leadership,” including an “intelligence exchange [that] had been running between them for at least 8 years.” There has been significant investigative reporting about long-standing connections between Trump, his associates and Kremlin-affiliated individuals, and Trump himself acknowledged that the purpose of a June 2016 meeting between his son, Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer was to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. But there is, at present, no evidence in the official record that confirms other direct ties or their relevance to the 2016 presidential campaign.


There’s the knowing support for the hack-and-leak among Trump and his top lackeys.

It does not, however, corroborate the statement in the dossier that the Russian intelligence “operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team.”


There’s Cohen’s Trump Tower deal.

These documents relate to Cohen’s false statements to Congress regarding attempted Trump Organization business dealings in Russia. The details buttress Steele’s reporting to some extent, but mostly run parallel, neither corroborating nor disproving information in the dossier.


There’s Cohen’s role in the hack-and-leak, including his trip to Prague.

Even with the additional detail from the Cohen documents, certain core allegations in the dossier related to Cohen—which, if true, would be of utmost relevance to Mueller’s investigation—remain largely unconfirmed, at least from the unredacted material. Specifically, the dossier reports that there was well-established, continuing cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin; that Cohen played a central role in the coordination of joint efforts; and that he traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials and cut-outs.


There’s Papadopoulos, who (as Lawfare admits) doesn’t show up in the dossier; here they argue he could have, without asking why Steele missed him running around London talking to people who traveled in Steele’s circles.

We revisit his case because it resonates with one of the themes of the dossier, which is the extensive Russian outreach effort to an array of individuals connected to the Trump campaign. Steele’s sources reported on alleged interactions between Carter Page and Russian officials, but Papadopoulos’s conduct would have fit right in.


Again, except for the stuff that was publicly known, Lawfare assesses one after another claim from the dossier and finds that Mueller’s investigation has not corroborated the specific claims, even while Mueller has provided ample evidence of something else going on. But that doesn’t stop Lawfare from claiming that Mueller has “confirm[ed] pieces of the dossier.”

The Mueller investigation has clearly produced public records that confirm pieces of the dossier. And even where the details are not exact, the general thrust of Steele’s reporting seems credible in light of what we now know about extensive contacts between numerous individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russian government officials.

However, there is also a good deal in the dossier that has not been corroborated in the official record and perhaps never will be—whether because it’s untrue, unimportant or too sensitive. As a raw intelligence document, the Steele dossier, we believe, holds up well so far. But surely there is more to come from Mueller’s team. We will return to it as the public record develops.


In the end, I actually think Mueller may show that Trump, Stone, and Manafort did abet the hack-and-leak campaign, certainly the later parts of it, and that the Trump Tower deal was a key part of the quid pro quo. That’s aside from anything that Trump did with analytics data made available, if it was. But Mueller has just shown the outlines of where a case in chief might fit thus far. And where has has, those outlines raise one after another question of why Steele missed evidence (like the June 9 meeting) that was literally sitting in front of him. No one is answering those questions in these retrospectives.

One reason this effort, coming from Lawfare, is particularly unfortunate is because of a detail recently disclosed in Comey’s recent testimony to Congress. As you read, remember that this exchange involves Mark Meadows, who is the source of many of the most misleading allegations pertaining to the Russian investigation. In Comey’s first appearance this month (given Comey’s comments after testifying yesterday, I expect we’ll see more of the same today when his transcript is released), Meadows seemed to make much of the fact that Michael Sussman, who works with Marc Elias at Perkins Coie, provided information directly to Lawfare contributor James Baker.

Mr. Meadows. So are you saying that James Baker, your general counsel, who received direct information from Perkins Coie, did so and conveyed that to your team without your knowledge?

Mr. Comey. I don’t know.

Mr. Meadows. What do you mean you don’t know? I mean, did he tell you or not?

Mr. Comey. Oh, I — well —

Mr. Meadows. James Baker, we have testimony that would indicate that he received information directly from Perkins Coie; he had knowledge that they were representing the Democrat National Committee and, indeed, collected that information and conveyed it to the investigative team. Did he tell you that he received that information from them? And I can give you a name if you want to know who he received it from.

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember the name Perkins Coie at all.

Mr. Meadows. What about Michael Sussmann?

Mr. Comey. I think I’ve read that name since then. I don’t remember learning that name when I was FBI Director. I was going to ask you a followup, though. When you say “that information,” what do you mean?

Mr. Meadows. Well, it was cyber information as it relates to the investigation.

Mr. Comey. Yeah, I have some recollection of Baker interacting with — you said the DNC, which sparked my recollection — with the DNC about our effort to get information about the Russian hack of them —

Mr. Meadows. Yeah, that’s — that’s not — that’s not what I’m referring to.

Mr. Comey. — but I don’t — I don’t remember anything beyond that.

Mr. Meadows. And so I can give you something so that you — your counsel can look at it and refresh your memory, perhaps, as we look at that, but I guess my concern is your earlier testimony acted like this was news to you that Perkins Coie represented the Democratic National Committee, and yet your general counsel not only knew that but received information from them that was transmitted to other people in the investigative team. [my emphasis]

I have long wondered how the Perkins Coie meeting with the FBI on the hack timed up with the hiring, by Fusion GPS working for Perkins Coie, of Christopher Steele lined up, and that appears to be where Meadows is going to make his final, desperate stand. An earlier version of this hoax revealed that it pertained to materials on hacking, but did not specify that Steele had anything to do with it (indeed, Steele was always behind public reporting on the hack-and-leak).

Still, it would be of more public utility for Lawfare to clarify this detail than engage in yet another exercise in rehabilitating the dossier.

Instead, they — just like everyone else choosing not to look for evidence (or lack thereof) in the actual evidence before us — instead look back to see whether Steele’s dossier was a mirror of reality or something else entirely. If it’s the latter — and it increasingly looks like it is — then it’s time to figure out how and what it is.

Update: Cheryl Rofer did a line by line assessment of Steele’s dossier which is worthwhile. I would dispute a number of her claims (and insist that Steele’s reporting on the hacks be read in the temporal context in which he always lagged public reporting) and wish she’d note where the public record shows facts that actually conflict with the dosser. But it is a decent read.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post.

https://www.emptywheel.net/2018/12/18/t ... onspiracy/
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Dec 18, 2018 5:36 pm

Disgraced Trump Fundraiser Tried to Use GOP Contacts to Score “Billions” in Africa

Here’s another chapter in the Elliott Broidy saga.

David Corn

December 12, 2018 11:04 AM



In late 2016, as Donald Trump was readying to move into the White House, Elliott Broidy, then one of the Republican Party’s top fundraisers, was working on a deal to gain control of what a business partner called “billions of dollars in oil & gas, and mining assets” in Angola. And while he was trying to pull together this gigantic venture—as well as mounting another project to provide intelligence services to the Angolan government—Broidy used his clout to hook up top Angolan government officials with members of the US Congress and the Trump administration. It was a swampy endeavor involving old-fashioned political influence, a Beverly Hills activist and realtor, and a Nigerian American businessman who had been a close friend of Michael Jackson.

Broidy is no longer a power player wielding sway in the Republican cosmos. Early this year, he faced a series of media stories that raised questions about his business dealings (which included ventures with the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Romania, and the Republic of Congo) and alleged influence peddling. Those articles were based on emails hacked from his personal accounts. Broidy subsequently sued Qatar, claiming Qatari officials orchestrated the hacks and a smear campaign because Broidy, a vigorous supporter of the Israeli government, was a vocal opponent of Qatar. (In August, a federal judge dismissed the government of Qatar as a defendant in the case.) And in April, news broke that Broidy had in 2017 used Michael Cohen, then Trump’s personal lawyer, to pay $1.6 million in hush money to a Playboy model with whom he had an extramarital affair. Broidy soon resigned as deputy finance chair of the Republican Party. In August, the Washington Post reported he was under federal investigation for possibly selling his influence within the Trump administration to foreign officials for tens of millions of dollars. And recently, federal prosecutors implicated Broidy in a scheme under which millions of dollars ended up in his wife’s law firm in return for Broidy helping a Malaysian financier, who was accused of embezzling billions, end a Justice Department investigation.

This venture involved, Broidy’s business partner wrote in an email, the Angolans “signing over billions of dollars in oil & gas, and mining assets.”
The hacked Broidy emails are an incomplete set of records. The hackers obviously disseminated material to cast the businessman/fundraiser in a negative light. But the emails do depict slices of Broidy’s world in which he attempted to grease deals with ties he forged as a top fundraiser for Trump and the Republican Party. And Broidy’s wheeling and dealing in Angola—a full account of which has not yet been reported—reveal how he mixed commerce and politics.

The story begins with an unlikely hook-up: a prominent Beverly Hills resident named Lisa Korbatov brokering a partnership between Broidy and Dolapo Asiru, a Nigerian American dealmaker. On his LinkedIn page, Asiru describes himself as a “highly regarded international investment banker and diplomat” who “has represented African governments at the United Nations and regularly advises other governments on all aspects of their financial planning, investments and international trade.” In 2001, Asiru was sued by Motown for being connected to a company that the record label complained was infringing on its trademark by using the Jackson5.com domain name. (Asiru says that his attorney “not only demonstrated that the action lacked merit, but achieved a confidential and very satisfactory financial settlement in my favor. On a personal note, that frivolous lawsuit never affected my relationship with Michael Jackson who was one of my close friends.”) In 2008, Asiru attended a state dinner at the George W. Bush White House for the president of Ghana. A columnist for Africa News in 2009 called him “one of Nigeria’s most influential men in America.” Asiru, an American citizen, has donated to Republican political candidates, most notably Mitt Romney.

In the latter months of 2016, Lisa Korbatov, a realtor, member of the Beverly Hills school board, and pro-Israel activist, connected Broidy with Asiru, according to sources familiar with the deal. Actually, they already knew each other.

About a decade earlier, Asiru, who had links to the ruling family of Gabon, and Broidy had been involved in a venture in the coastal African country. But that deal—of which there are scant public details—never materialized. “It imploded,” says a former Broidy associate. (The Gabon venture might have ended in a legal fight. In one of the hacked emails, Asiru, writing to Broidy, refers to “litigation with Gabon.”) And around that time, Broidy’s overall dealmaking hit a major roadblock. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to charges he had handed out $1 million in illegal gifts to New York state officials so they would invest $250 million from the state’s pension fund in Broidy’s investment company. (Three years later, after Broidy had cooperated with prosecutors, a federal judge reduced his felony conviction to a misdemeanor.)

Broidy’s involvement in that crime put a crimp in his relationship with Asiru, and by 2016, they were not on the best terms, according to sources familiar with the men. But Asiru had some business prospects he wanted to share with Broidy, and Korbatov, a social acquaintance of both, brought the pair together again. “Elliot wanted to pitch companies in Africa,” a former Broidy associate recalls. (Korbatov and her husband, Igor Korbatov, met Asiru in 2007, when a trust controlled by her parents bought a Beverly Hills mansion from the family of Omar Bongo, the longtime dictator of Gabon. Asiru was then the “managing member” of the limited liability company that officially owned the property for the Bongo family.)

Korbatov convinced the two men they should once again throw in with each other. On December 7, 2016, Broidy, Asiru, and Korbatov signed a memorandum of agreement related to a joint venture called BCH Development Group. A later amendment to this memorandum noted that Korbatov would get a finder’s fee of 3 percent for any security contract negotiated by the Republic of Angola and Circinus, a security firm Broidy owned. And Asiru would pocket 30 percent.

Asiru and Broidy at this point were working on at least two different ventures in Angola. As 2016 was ending, the hacked emails show, the pair finished up a deal under which Circinus would set up and operate an “Open Source Intelligence Center” for the Angolan government. Much of the paperwork for that project was handled by Circinus executives. The contract was worth $12 million.

Yet at the same time, Broidy and Asiru had their eyes on a bigger prize: They were developing a deal with Grupo Simples, an Angola-based oil services company that in late 2015 had been assigned oil concessions by Angola’s state-owned oil company for possible development. (The company, at that point, had no experience developing oil wells.) This venture involved, Asiru noted in an email to Broidy, the Angolans “signing over billions of dollars in oil & gas, and mining assets” to BCH Development, the company formed pursuant to the agreement between Broidy, Asiru, and Korbatov.

Asiru was Broidy’s go-between with Grupo Simples. In a December 29, 2016, email from Asiru to Broidy—under the subject head, “Framework Agreement Between BCH Development Group and Grupo Simples Oil”—Asiru included a note from Alberto Mendes, the head of the Angola company, requesting that Asiru “urgently send me the due diligence” on BCH Development, including “formation year, directors, basic information.” Asiru pointed out to Broidy that “the Angolans are concerned” about striking a deal with “a newly formed entity (BCH Development Group). We need to show some history to avoid raising any Red Flags.”

As Broidy and Asiru were working with Angolans on the oil deal and the intelligence center, Broidy used his Republican Party connections to obtain invitations to Trump’s inauguration for two Angolan officials.
Asiru had some ideas how to assuage the concerns of their Angolan partners. He asked Broidy whether they should tell the Angolans that BCH Development Group was formed as an affiliate of the company he and Broidy had used for their earlier dealings in Gabon. This way, Asiru added, they could “show some history.” Asiru also noted they needed “to provide some credible names to add to the board of Advisory for BCH.”

Broidy replied in an email that same day and said Asiru should not “tie BCH Development Group, LLC to any BCH Group entity that relates to Gabon.” Instead, Broidy instructed Asiru to tell the Angolans that BCH Development Group was formed in 2016 and that its directors included Asiru, Broidy, and Korbatov, with only Broidy and Asiru having “signature authority.” Broidy noted it was his understanding that Asiru had already “formed” BCH Development Group in Delaware. Yet a corporation of that name was not created in Delaware until three days later, on January 1, 2017.

Though Korbatov was part of this company, she was unaware Broidy was pursuing this mammoth deal in Angola, according to sources familiar with this episode.

As Broidy and Asiru were working with Angolans on the oil deal and the intelligence center, Broidy used his Republican Party connections to obtain invitations to Trump’s inauguration for two Angolan officials: João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, the defense minister, and André de Oliveira João Sango, the director of external intelligence. In a January 3, 2017, letter to the two men—on BCH Development Group letterhead—Broidy invited Sango and Lourenço to the inauguration, and he also included a copy of the contract for the Circinus project in Angola and asked them to sign and return the paperwork within six days. The letter was drafted by Asiru.

Lourenço and Sango accepted the invitation, and while they were in Washington for the inauguration, Broidy, according to the hacked emails, arranged for them to meet Republican members of Congress, including Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). The meetings were set up by Aryeh Lightstone, a leading Orthodox Jewish rabbi and businessman who owned a stake in a Broidy company called Threat Deterrence Capital LLC. (Lightstone, a well-connected player in GOP circles, is now a senior adviser to Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.) In one email, a Broidy aide informed Lightstone that the meetings would include Broidy, Asiru, Lourenço, and Sango, as well as Alberto Mendes of Grupo Simples and Mario Gomes, another executive from the company. (The email did not explain why the two Angolan oil executives would be present.) Broidy appeared to be blending politics with his Angola business dealings: the intelligence center he was establishing for the government and the big oil endeavor he was pursuing. Reporting on Lightstone’s role in arranging these meetings, ProPublica recently noted, “Some legal experts argue that Lightstone and Broidy should have registered [as foreign agents] with the [US] government for the Angolan meetings, though representatives for both dispute that.” (Lightstone did not respond to an email request for comment.)

In mid-January 2016, Broidy received the first payment from Angola for the intelligence center project. It was for $6 million, but Broidy had been expecting $8 million, per his agreement with the Angolan government. He accepted the lower payment but requested Angola pay the rest of the $12 million fee within 180 days. According to the hacked emails, he would spend the coming months pushing the Angola government to pay up. (For her role, Korbatov pocketed $180,000. The emails do not show how much of a fee, if any, Asiru received.)

In February, Alan Blaine Stone, founder and CEO of Circinus, emailed Broidy that he needed a signed contract related to the firm’s Angola project: “I wanted to let you know that we need something from the Angolans signed even if it just says we’re ‘consulting and advising’ with the US Government; something to put in the records to show that we are on contract in order to justify the influx of funds.” Soon after that, Broidy asked Asiru to send him the signed contract for the company’s files, noting, “You mentioned that it was provided to you some time ago.” (Lawyers for Broidy say he provided the Angolans with no advice or consulting services related to the US government and that the Circinus contract only covered setting up and operating the open-source intelligence center in Angola.)

At this time, Broidy was chasing after yet another venture in Angola. In February 2017, Fran Moore, a former top CIA official who was a board member of the Broidy-owned Threat Deterrence Capital, sent an email to Broidy noting she wanted to “strengthen” a proposal related to Angola. This project aimed at diminishing the “high-level of corruption” in Angola in order to create a “better investment atmosphere,” according to Juan Zarate, a former deputy national security adviser in the Bush-Cheney White House and now chairman of the Financial Integrity Network, a consulting firm specializing in thwarting money laundering. Zarate tells Mother Jones that Broidy had heard Zarate’s firm wanted to develop business in Africa, reached out to him, and said he could “get a proposal from us in front of the Angolan government.” In an email Zarate sent Broidy, he referred to this endeavor as “an ambitious and important project for the Angolans (and us).”

Asiru, Zarate recalls, was going to make contacts for the Financial Integrity Network in Angola and would earn a finder’s fee, if a contract were signed. Asiru, Zarate says, “was very well-versed in African politics and business. Well-connected. He was a business mover-and-shaker.”

As Broidy was trying to do all this assorted business in Angola, he was using his political bonds to connect Lourenço, the Angolan defense minister, with the Trump White House. In a February 27, 2017, email to Asiru about the anti-corruption project, Broidy reported, “I will be at the White House meeting with VP Pence, CoS Priebus etc. tomorrow and can begin to set the wheels in motion for a meeting for the Defense Minister.”

“I wanted to let you know that we need something from the Angolans signed even if it just says we’re ‘consulting and advising’ with the US Government; something to put in the records to show that we are on contract in order to justify the influx of funds.”
And Broidy was willing to go all the way to the top. In this email, Broidy noted he would be visiting with “President Trump this weekend at Mira Largo [sic] (Friday) and on [casino owner and GOP fundraiser] Steve Wynn’s Yacht Aquarius on Saturday evening. I can also ask Trump for the meeting.” He noted it might be tough to arrange a meeting for the Angolan defense minister for this weekend, but added, “[W]e can certainly accomplish [it] this month predicated on next deal for BCH and immediate collection of balance.” The message seemed clear: If Angola paid what Broidy believed he was owed and moved ahead with a new project, he would use his political juice to arrange a face-to-face between Lourenço and Trump officials.

In this email, Broidy referred to a conversation he had with Sango, the Angolan intelligence chief, a few weeks earlier at a high-end Washington, DC, restaurant: “The bottom line is that Sango looked me in the eye and promised at the Occidental Grill lunch that the funds would be sent by early February; I asked for January payment. Sango was effusive in his praise and said that I had exceeded all of his expectations. He needs to hear from me that this…treatment of us is unacceptable and that payment needs to be made now. I can also convey things directly that he will appreciate.” Then Broidy referred to the two Grupo Simples officials: “Of course Mario and Alberto can join us on the call.” This suggests that somehow the oil deal Broidy was pursuing with Grupo Simples was connected to his interactions with Angolan government officials.

Days later, Broidy wrote directly to Lourenço and asked if he would be “joining us for the events at Miro Largo.” He told the Angolan defense minister, “Many preparations have been made in advance of your visit, including additional meetings at the Capitol and the Department of Treasury.” He added that Sango “promised me that the balance of the payment due would be received by early February.” He asked Lourenço to send the money immediately.

The available emails do not indicate how the Angolans replied. The anti-corruption plan, though, didn’t get that far and fizzled out, according to Zarate. “Doing what we do is hard,” Zarate says. “It requires a real transformation of culture.”

Lawyers for Broidy maintain that Broidy didn’t discuss any Angola projects with either Trump or Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and they insist Broidy did not trade on his White House connections to receive payments from Angola or to win contracts there. “That message was never conveyed” to the Angolans, a Broidy attorney notes. “What was written down there [in Broidy’s February 27 email to Asiru] never happened.”

In May 2017, Lourenço signed a memo of understanding with Mattis to boost “security cooperation” between Angola and the United States. “The Angolan defense minister met with Mattis on his own, having nothing to do with Elliott,” a Broidy lawyer says.

Come June, Broidy was still after the Angolans to pay the $6 million. And in an August 22, 2017, email exchange with Broidy, Korbatov asked him for help for her effort to stop a mass transit project that would pass beneath Beverly Hills High School, and Broidy informed her he had “a path” to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. “Let me work on it a bit,” he said. In response, Korbatov said she was “nagging” Asiru—a reference, according to sources familiar with this project, to collecting the payment the Angolan government owed Broidy. “He’s waiting for the [Angola] election to finish,” Korbatov reported.

The Angolan presidential election was the following day. Lourenço won the presidency. Days later, Broidy drafted a congratulatory message that noted, “We look forward to continuing to work together [to] support you and your country….Please let me know if I can be helpful to you during your transition and I look forward to speaking with you soon.” Three months later, after Lourenço had assumed office, Broidy wrote him, offering to set up a visit for Lourenço to the United States and “possibly” a meeting with Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. “I am able to assess and advise in this matter,” he pointed out. At the time, Broidy was still looking to collect the $6 million the Angola government owed him.

That money, as of September 2018, still had not come, according to Broidy’s attorneys, yet his company was still performing services under the contract. His lawyers also note that the oil deal with Grupo Simples—which Asiru said could involve “billions”—never happened. (In May 2017, the new head of Sonangol, Angola’s state-owned oil company, put a hold on concessions it had granted earlier. And once Lourenço took office, he took steps to overhaul Sonangol, which had been criticized for a lack of transparency.) Mendes and Gomes of Grupo Simples did not reply to repeated emails requesting comment. Angola’s embassy also did not respond to requests for comment.

Asiru declined to answer questions about his involvement in Broidy’s deals in Angola. “Regrettably, I must decline to comment since I now realize your questions pertain to outreach programs I support that are helpful to African countries,” he wrote in an email to Mother Jones. “All these endeavors are covered by a range of confidentiality arrangements, hence the reason I must decline to make any further comments.” In a subsequent text message, Asiru said, “I continue to work with major multinational corporations, NGOs and government agencies to improve the economic situation in Africa. I am proud of my relationships and my reputation. I have never engaged in, nor ever been accused of, unlawful activities. Elliott has been involved in many businesses, including a few ventures in which I participated. The accusations against Elliott do not involve me. Guilt based on mere association smacks of a sad era that I thought concluded more than 60 years ago.” He added, “Be assured, I’ll respond vigorously to any libel or slander by you or your colleagues to link me in any way with any of Elliott Broidy’s alleged misdeeds. Please govern yourself accordingly.”

Broidy’s attorneys did not respond to a list of additional questions about his Angola dealings submitted by Mother Jones.

After helping the GOP regain the White House, Broidy has become a poster child for Trump-era corruption. He has generated headlines about multiple controversies—personal, political, and business
And there could be more Broidy stories to come. But the Angola episode illustrates how Broidy, having used the Trump campaign and victory to establish himself as a force within the Republican Party, did business—and indicates there is a public interest in learning the full story of how Broidy put his Trump and Republican connections to personal use.

https://www.motherjones.com/politics/20 ... in-africa/
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Re: Trumpublicons: Foreign Influence/Grifting in '16 US Elec

Postby Grizzly » Tue Dec 18, 2018 6:00 pm

We're so fucked ...

Dems: We learned from 2016! Also Dems:


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