seemslikeadream » Sat Jan 12, 2019 5:58 pm wrote:This is the very tip of the ice berg
Donald trump has been working as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Kremlin(((Rep. Nadler)))
Follow Follow @RepJerryNadler
Read my statement following reporting in @NYTimes that the FBI opened an inquiry for national security concerns into whether President Trump may have been working on behalf of Russia against American interests. As Chair of @HouseJudiciary, we will take action on this matter.
This is the single greatest scandal in the history of the United States.
Ex-FBI Officials Say Spy Inquiry into President Trump Is ‘Uncharted Territory’
If the Times’ story is right, retired agents and officials say that means the highest levels of Justice and the FBI knew the president was—and may still be—under investigation.
01.11.19 11:34 PM ET
The White House is blasting as “absurd” a blockbuster new report that the FBI opened an investigation into the whether the president of the United States was working on behalf of the Kremlin. But respected former FBI special agents tell The Daily Beast such a momentous step would not be taken without “serious and substantial evidence.”
They told The Daily Beast that the senior-most levels of the FBI and Justice Department would have known about an event they considered without precedent in bureau history.
“This is uncharted territory,” said Ali Soufan, a retired FBI counterterrorism special agent. “I don’t believe that it had happened before… Ever.”
On Friday night, The New York Times reported that FBI agents opened a counterintelligence investigation in May of 2017 into whether President Trump had been operating “on behalf of Russia against American interests.”
If the Times is correct, then the FBI overcame its reluctance to investigate Trump after he fired one of its own: former director James Comey, whom the president dismissed that same month. One implication of that timeline is that Robert Mueller, who was appointed as special counsel a week later, would have had access to their investigation for at least substantial portions of his own.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat on the committee that oversees the FBI, said the Times’ reporting was intriguing, and “another powerful piece of the mosaic” on Trump’s relationship with Russia.
The Times’ revelations also may reignite Republican criticism of FBI officials who privately expressed concern about Trump while working on investigations concerning him. After text messages between former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and former counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok became public—revealing their criticism of Trump—congressional Republicans brought them in for grilling sessions. Page in particular faced protracted and ugly attacks from Fox News opinion hosts. And the president himself also tweeted numerous times about her, sarcastically calling her “the lovely Lisa Page.” But the Times’ reporting indicates they were far from alone in their concerns about Trump’s posture towards Russia.
“There are a variety of ways to gather information about foreign efforts to influence a U.S. official that don’t require the sensitive step of targeting that official’s communications, and those who are criticizing the FBI for pursuing a counterintelligence investigation are doing so without any knowledge of what investigative steps were actually undertaken,” a Justice Department trial attorney told The Daily Beast.
Mike German, another retired FBI special agent, said an investigation like this would likely have required assent from the very top of the Justice Department.
“It would be most likely that the highest levels of of the FBI and DOJ signed off on the investigation,” German said.
The FBI issues specific guidelines on how agents should handle different levels of counterintelligence investigations. A preliminary investigation requires a low standard of evidence, that “information or an allegation” exists as to a crime or security threat. A full investigation requires “specific and articulable facts” raising a “reasonable indication” of the same. Both are well short of the probable cause needed for an indictment. It is unclear which sort of investigation, if any, Trump was or is under.
“Of course, with the U.S. president as a subject, the threshold would be much higher than normal,” German said.
The Justice Department trial attorney agreed, saying, “foreign efforts to influence presidential candidates are of course supremely serious.”
Soufan added that to open a case “on any official, or high-ranking official, requires some serious deliberations.” He continued: “Imagine if it is a case on the president of the U.S. acting as an agent of a hostile foreign power.”
Soufan went on to note that to open up a counterintelligence investigation into Trump would require “serious and substantial” levels of evidence of a relationship with a hostile foreign power.
It’s unclear whether or not that investigation is over. Former Justice Department officials told The Daily Beast that counterintelligence probes, especially those into a president, would take years to complete.
"They take a long time. They're not over quickly. And based on the president’s public statements and actions, I think you have to open a cointel investigation,” said one former senior DOJ official with knowledge of such counterintelligence investigations. “You might never know that it's resolved. These cases often never see the inside of a courtroom. The findings are often kept within the intelligence community, indexed and filed away.”
The FBI did not comment for this story. The Department of Justice declined to comment as did the Special Counsel’s Office.
The White House was quick to lash out, however. “Unlike President Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push America around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, adding that the Times report was “absurd.”
Trump’s attorney in the Mueller probe, former New York mayor and federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani, dismissed the Times report and called for an investigation into Trump’s FBI investigators.
“The investigation goes back a year and a half, if it ever really happened. If it did after a year and a half if there has been no information forthcoming it obviously came to the same result as the first Peter Strzok inspired counter-intelligence investigation,” Giuliani told The Daily Beast. “As Strzok and Comey said it found no evidence of any inappropriate conduct on the part of the President. In any event, it was, if it happened, yet another example of the extent to which Trump haters like Strzok and Comey would go to carry out their insurance policy to overthrow the Trump Presidency. It calls again for a full and vigorous investigation of the so-called investigators.”
But just the idea of the sitting U.S. president being probed as a possible agent of a foreign nation, especially one like Russia, has former senior government officials and former prosecutors grasping for the right words to describe the news.
“It’s mind-blowing and even though it’s separate from criminal inquiry, any determination that the president of the U.S. had been or was a Russian agent would be out of The Manchurian Candidate,” said Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney. “And I would have to imagine it would make it untenable for him to be president but it would also be the political scandal of all time.”
https://www.thedailybeast.com/ex-fbi-of ... ia=desktop
seemslikeadream » Fri Jan 11, 2019 8:50 pm wrote:It was about Russia. It was always about Russia. Full stop
Donald Trump's name was in the subject line in a counterintelligence investigation
Donald Trump's name was in the subject line in a criminal investigation
As for a counterintelligence inquiry law enforcement officials "concluded that they would need strong evidence to take the sensitive step of investigating the president"
Which they did.
Which indicates that they have strong evidence.If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017. He privately testified in October before House investigators who were examining the F.B.I.’s handling of the full Russia inquiry.F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia
Jan. 11, 2019
Following President Trump’s firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, the bureau grew increasingly concerned about whether the president’s actions constituted anti-American activity.Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.
The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.
The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.
Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it.
The criminal and counterintelligence elements were coupled together into one investigation, former law enforcement officials said in interviews in recent weeks, because if Mr. Trump had ousted the head of the F.B.I. to impede or even end the Russia investigation, that was both a possible crime and a national security concern. The F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division handles national security matters.
If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017. He privately testified in October before House investigators who were examining the F.B.I.’s handling of the full Russia inquiry.
The F.B.I. investigated whether the firing of Mr. Comey was a national security threat.Erik S Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock
“Not only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,” Mr. Baker said in his testimony, portions of which were read to The New York Times. Mr. Baker did not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the investigation of Mr. Trump to congressional investigators.
No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials. An F.B.I. spokeswoman and a spokesman for the special counsel’s office both declined to comment.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, a lawyer for the president, sought to play down the significance of the investigation. “The fact that it goes back a year and a half and nothing came of it that showed a breach of national security means they found nothing,” Mr. Giuliani said on Friday, though he acknowledged that he had no insight into the inquiry.
The cloud of the Russia investigation has hung over Mr. Trump since even before he took office, though he has long vigorously denied any illicit connection to Moscow. The obstruction inquiry, revealed by The Washington Post a few weeks after Mr. Mueller was appointed, represented a direct threat that he was unable to simply brush off as an overzealous examination of a handful of advisers. But few details have been made public about the counterintelligence aspect of the investigation.
The decision to investigate Mr. Trump himself was an aggressive move by F.B.I. officials who were confronting the chaotic aftermath of the firing of Mr. Comey and enduring the president’s verbal assaults on the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt.”
A vigorous debate has taken shape among some former law enforcement officials outside the case over whether F.B.I. investigators overreacted in opening the counterintelligence inquiry during a tumultuous period at the Justice Department. Other former officials noted that those critics were not privy to all of the evidence and argued that sitting on it would have been an abdication of duty.
The F.B.I. conducts two types of inquiries, criminal and counterintelligence investigations. Unlike criminal investigations, which are typically aimed at solving a crime and can result in arrests and convictions, counterintelligence inquiries are generally fact-finding missions to understand what a foreign power is doing and to stop any anti-American activity, like thefts of United States government secrets or covert efforts to influence policy. In most cases, the investigations are carried out quietly, sometimes for years. Often, they result in no arrests.
Mr. Trump had caught the attention of F.B.I. counterintelligence agents when he called on Russia during a campaign news conference in July 2016 to hack into the emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump had refused to criticize Russia on the campaign trail, praising President Vladimir V. Putin. And investigators had watched with alarm as the Republican Party softened its convention platform on the Ukraine crisis in a way that seemed to benefit Russia.
How the Mueller Investigation Could Play Out for Trump
If Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finds evidence that Mr. Trump broke the law, he will have decisions to make about how to proceed. We explain them.
May 23, 2018
Other factors fueled the F.B.I.’s concerns, according to the people familiar with the inquiry. Christopher Steele, a former British spy who worked as an F.B.I. informant, had compiled memos in mid-2016 containing unsubstantiated claims that Russian officials tried to obtain influence over Mr. Trump by preparing to blackmail and bribe him.
In the months before the 2016 election, the F.B.I. was also already investigating four of Mr. Trump’s associates over their ties to Russia. The constellation of events disquieted F.B.I. officials who were simultaneously watching as Russia’s campaign unfolded to undermine the presidential election by exploiting existing divisions among Americans.
“In the Russian Federation and in President Putin himself, you have an individual whose aim is to disrupt the Western alliance and whose aim is to make Western democracy more fractious in order to weaken our ability, America’s ability and the West’s ability to spread our democratic ideals,” Lisa Page, a former bureau lawyer, told House investigators in private testimony reviewed by The Times.
“That’s the goal, to make us less of a moral authority to spread democratic values,” she added. Parts of her testimony were first reported by The Epoch Times.
And when a newly inaugurated Mr. Trump sought a loyalty pledge from Mr. Comey and later asked that he end an investigation into the president’s national security adviser, the requests set off discussions among F.B.I. officials about opening an inquiry into whether Mr. Trump had tried to obstruct that case.
But law enforcement officials put off the decision to open the investigation until they had learned more, according to people familiar with their thinking. As for a counterintelligence inquiry, they concluded that they would need strong evidence to take the sensitive step of investigating the president, and they were also concerned that the existence of such an inquiry could be leaked to the news media, undermining the entire investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election.
After Mr. Comey was fired on May 9, 2017, two more of Mr. Trump’s actions prompted them to quickly abandon those reservations.
The first was a letter Mr. Trump wanted to send to Mr. Comey about his firing, but never did, in which he mentioned the Russia investigation. In the letter, Mr. Trump thanked Mr. Comey for previously telling him he was not a subject of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation.
Everyone Who’s Been Charged in Investigations Related to the 2016 Election
Thirty-seven people have been charged in investigations related to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Aug. 21, 2018
Even after the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, wrote a more restrained draft of the letter and told Mr. Trump that he did not have to mention the Russia investigation — Mr. Comey’s poor handling of the Clinton email investigation would suffice as a fireable offense, he explained — Mr. Trump directed Mr. Rosenstein to mention the Russia investigation anyway.
He disregarded the president’s order, irritating Mr. Trump. The president ultimately added a reference to the Russia investigation to the note he had delivered, thanking Mr. Comey for telling him three times that he was not under investigation.
The second event that troubled investigators was an NBC News interview two days after Mr. Comey’s firing in which Mr. Trump appeared to say he had dismissed Mr. Comey because of the Russia inquiry.
“I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” he said. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”
Mr. Trump’s aides have said that a fuller examination of his comments demonstrates that he did not fire Mr. Comey to end the Russia inquiry. “I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people,” Mr. Trump added. “He’s the wrong man for that position.”
As F.B.I. officials debated whether to open the investigation, some of them pushed to move quickly before Mr. Trump appointed a director who might slow down or even end their investigation into Russia’s interference. Many involved in the case viewed Russia as the chief threat to American democratic values.
“With respect to Western ideals and who it is and what it is we stand for as Americans, Russia poses the most dangerous threat to that way of life,” Ms. Page told investigators for a joint House Judiciary and Oversight Committee investigation into Moscow’s election interference.
F.B.I. officials viewed their decision to move quickly as validated when a comment the president made to visiting Russian officials in the Oval Office shortly after he fired Mr. Comey was revealed days later.
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to a document summarizing the meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/11/us/p ... quiry.htmlWhat if the Obstruction Was the Collusion? On the New York’s Times’s Latest Bombshell
Shortly before the holidays, I received a call from New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt asking me to meet with him about some reporting he had done. Schmidt did not describe the subject until we met up, when he went over with me a portion of the congressional interview of former FBI General Counsel James Baker, who was then my Brookings colleague and remains my Lawfare colleague. When he shared what Baker had said, and when I thought about it over the next few days in conjunction with some other documents and statements, a question gelled in my mind. Observers of the Russia investigation have generally understood Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s work as focusing on at least two separate tracks: collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, on the one hand, and potential obstruction of justice by the president, on the other. But what if the obstruction was the collusion—or at least a part of it?
Late last year, I wrote a memo for Schmidt outlining how I read all of this material, a memo from which this post is adapted.
Today, the New York Times is reporting that in the days following the firing of James Comey, the FBI opened an investigation of President Trump. It wasn’t simply the obstruction investigation that many of us have assumed. It was also a counterintelligence investigation predicated on the notion that the president’s own actions might constitute a national security threat:
In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.
The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.
The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.
The following is an adaption of the memo I sent Schmidt. I have updated it in important respects in light of the reporting in the Times’s actual story. The analysis remains, however, tentative; I want to be careful not to overread the threads of evidence I am pulling together here.
The analysis that follows is lengthy and takes a number of twists and turns before laying out what I think is the significance of the whole thing. Here’s the bottom line: I believe that between today’s New York Times story and some other earlier material I have been sifting through and thinking about, we might be in a position to revisit the relationship between the “collusion” and obstruction components of the Mueller investigation. Specifically, I now believe they are far more integrated with one another than I previously understood.
Because I am certain the disclosures in this story will give rise to questions of leaks, let me start by addressing at the outset the portions of Baker’s testimony which I discuss in this post. To be very clear, I did not receive information about this from Baker. I received it from the New York Times only. And while I don’t know who gave it to Schmidt and Adam Goldman, who share the byline on the story, I am very confident it was not Baker or anyone associated with him. My assumption is that this material reached the Times from congressional sources, since the overwhelming majority of leaks of material available to Congress come from Congress, but I don’t know that for sure. Exactly one thing in the material I discuss below did come to me from Baker, and was not until today a part of the public record—and I flag that very clearly. None of this material is classified. The reporting that Schmidt shared with me made clear that the FBI specifically permitted Baker to answer the questions he addressed.
The public understanding of and debate over the Mueller investigation rests on several discrete premises that I believe should be reexamined. The first is the sharp line between the investigation of “collusion” and the investigation of obstruction of justice. The second is the sharp line between the counter-intelligence components of the investigation and the criminal components. The third and most fundamental is the notion that the investigation was, in the first place, an investigation of the Trump campaign and figures associated with it.
These premises are deeply embedded throughout the public discussion. When Bill Barr challenges what he imagines to be the predicate for the obstruction investigation, he is reflecting one of them. When any number of commentators (including Mikhaila Fogel and me on Lawfare last month) describe separate investigative cones for obstruction and collusion, they are reflecting it. When the president’s lawyers agree to have their client answer questions on collusion but draw a line at obstruction, they are reflecting it too.
But I think, and the Times’s story certainly suggests, that the story may be more complicated than that, the lines fuzzier, and the internal understanding of the investigation very different along all three of these axes from the ones the public has imbibed.
Let’s start by reexamining the most fundamental question: What is this investigation about? In his congressional testimony this fall, as Schmidt and Goldman had discovered, Baker made an arresting comment: the investigation “was about Russia, period, full stop.” The purpose of the investigation, he explained, was to assess what the Russians were up to with respect to the 2016 election. The FBI was trying to learn what the Russians had done and whether any Americans had done things in support of those efforts, either knowingly or unknowingly, so that they could understand the full scope of what the Russians had sought to do.
This quoted testimony immediately above reminded me of a passage Baker had written elsewhere, a passing discussion in an essay on a different subject which Baker wrote for Lawfare but has not yet published. This passage was cleared in pre-publication review by the FBI some months ago when we at Lawfare thought the essay’s publication was imminent. Here, too, Jim stressed that the investigation was about Russian activity. Here is the relevant passage:
A lot of the criticism seems to be driven by the notion that the FBI’s investigation was, and is, an effort to undermine or discredit President Trump. That assumption is wrong. The FBI’s investigation must be viewed in the context of the bureau’s decades-long effort to detect, disrupt and defeat the intelligence activities of the governments of the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation that are contrary to the fundamental and long-term interests of the United States. The FBI’s counterintelligence investigation regarding the 2016 campaign fundamentally was not about Donald Trump but was about Russia. Full stop. It was always about Russia. It was about what Russia was, and is, doing and planning. Of course, if that investigation revealed that anyone—Russian or American—committed crimes in connection with Russian intelligence activities or unlawfully interfered with the investigation, the FBI has an obligation under the law to investigate such crimes and to seek to bring those responsible to justice. The FBI’s enduring counterintelligence mission is the reason the Russia investigation will, and should, continue—no matter who is fired, pardoned or impeached (emphasis added).
There is a lot packed into this little paragraph, so let’s pause for a moment to unpack it. First, note the structure of Baker’s fundamental understanding of the investigation as fundamentally about Russia, with the U.S. component subsidiary to the investigation of Russian government activity. Note also that this construction is fully consistent with Jim Comey’s Mar. 20, 2017, congressional testimony in which he disclosed the existence of the investigation in the first place:
I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts (emphasis added).
Comey’s construction of the investigation here is really the same as Baker’s. The investigation is not at its core an investigation of Trump campaign “coordination” with Russia, much less of Trump himself. The core of the investigation is of Russian government activity; the U.S. side is subordinate to that. It is an investigation of a foreign target that includes any “links” to “individuals associated with the Trump campaign” and “coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” Remember as well that throughout the winter of 2017, Comey felt able to assure President Trump that the FBI was not investigating him.
This construction as, in Baker’s words, “always about Russia” is also consistent with the pattern of indictments brought by Mueller. With the partial exception of the Paul Manafort cluster of cases, which were—in any event—the subject of an additional, clarifying referral letter to Mueller and appear to have resulted from a preexisting U.S. attorney’s office investigation, nearly all of the people prosecuted by Mueller are charged in connection with Russian government activity or their own links to that activity. The Internet Research Agency and hacking indictments both involve Russian activity itself. The Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos cases both involve lies by “individuals associated with the Trump campaign” about their “links” to “the Russian government.” The portion of the Michael Cohen case that Mueller retained deals with lies about, among other things, interactions between the Trump Organization and the Russian government. Even the relatively obscure case against Richard Pinedo fits this pattern; Pinedo, after all, was accused of identity fraud in connection with Russian activity designed to interfere with the election. Anything that does not fit this pattern tightly—for example, the Turkish lobbying case against Flynn’s associates (spun off from the Flynn matter) or the Michael Cohen/Stormy Daniels matter—Mueller has kicked to other actors.
It was about Russia. Full stop. It was always about Russia. And it still is about Russia.
The best way to understand this probe is as an umbrella Russia-related national security investigation in which the bureau opened subsidiary files, some with a counterintelligence focus and some with a criminal focus, on individuals who proved to have substantial “links” to the broader Russian activity.
Second, let’s reexamine the relationship between the counterintelligence and criminal components of the investigation. People tend to draw a sharp line between the FBI acting as as criminal investigative agency and the FBI acting as an intelligence organization; this sharp line is a residue of the pre-9/11 period when there was, indeed, a high “wall” between the bureau’s two roles. That wall, however, came down in the now-famous FISA Court of Review opinion in 2002, after which the line between the counterintellingence and criminal functions became decidedly less stark. Put simply, an FBI investigation can be launched as a counterintelligence matter or it can be launched as a criminal matter, but when the bureau shows up, it shows up with all of its authorities, not just the ones associated with the particular type of investigation originally predicated. If FBI agents conducting a counterintelligence investigation find that a suspect has a kilogram of cocaine in his apartment, for example, they are empowered to make arrests under criminal authorities. People routinely describe separate cones of the Mueller investigation, a criminal cone and a counterintelligence cone; this is imagining a division significantly starker than the reality.
The Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations are explicit in providing that “all of the FBI's legal authorities are available for deployment in all cases” in order to “protect the public from crimes and threats to the national security and to further the United States’ foreign intelligence objectives.” As David Kris explains his landmark treatise on national security investigations, “these three strands of authority are now explicitly braided.” As a result, as the guidelines make clear, the FBI’s “information gathering activities” need not be “differentially labeled” as law enforcement, counterintelligence, or affirmative foreign intelligence, and its personnel need not be “segregated from each other based on the subject areas in which they operate.” The guidelines further explain that, “[i]n many cases, a single investigation will be supportable as an exercise of a number of these authorities—i.e., as an investigation of a federal crime or crimes, as an investigation of a threat to the national security, and/or as a collection of foreign intelligence.” There are separate investigative missions, and there are a variety of different authorities, but there is only one FBI.
Comey actually made this point with respect to the Russia investigation in his original announcement of the investigation before Congress. “As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed,” he said. And Baker makes it explicitly in the passage quoted above as well: “Of course, if that investigation revealed that anyone—Russian or American—committed crimes in connection with Russian intelligence activities or unlawfully interfered with the investigation, the FBI has an obligation under the law to investigate such crimes and to seek to bring those responsible to justice.”
Baker’s formulation (“or unlawfully interfered with the investigation”) also includes, importantly, an obstruction of justice component as an organic feature of the counterintelligence probe. The significance of these statements, put simply, is that the investigation was something of a criminal-counterintelligence hybrid from early on.
Again, this hybrid is visible in the pattern of cases Mueller has brought, which reflects a clear use of criminal authorities to achieve counterintelligence objectives. To go back to the FISA Court of Review opinion from 2002, Mueller’s is a textbook example—albeit in a non-counterterrorism context—of the sort of hybrid investigation that the court was contemplating when it dismantled the wall. As the court wrote:
The government argues persuasively that arresting and prosecuting terrorist agents of, or spies for, a foreign power may well be the best technique to prevent them from successfully continuing their terrorist or espionage activity. The government might wish to surveil the agent for some period of time to discover other participants in a conspiracy or to uncover a foreign power's plans, but typically at some point the government would wish to apprehend the agent and it might be that only a prosecution would provide sufficient incentives for the agent to cooperate with the government. Indeed, the threat of prosecution might be sufficient to "turn the agent."
(Interestingly, Baker was, at the time of this ruling, the Justice Department’s counsel for intelligence policy and review. His name is actually on the briefs in this case.)
So the second key point is not to get hung up on whether this is a counterintelligence or a criminal investigation. It is an investigation born out of “the FBI’s enduring counterintelligence mission,” which operates as a hybrid of the two.
Third, against the backdrop of a hybrid investigation which was “always about Russia,” let’s now revisit the sharp line between the collusion and obstruction investigations. Everyone’s working theory has been that there was this collusion (which is to say counterintelligence) investigation cooking along and then the president tried to interfere with it, first by putting pressure on Comey and then by firing him. The theory goes that this pattern of conduct predicated a separate criminal investigation of obstruction. If you’re Bill Barr or Alan Dershowitz or Josh Blackman or the president’s lawyers, this seems wrong because—as they have all argued—it would be an investigation predicated on an Article II-sanctioned exercise of presidential authority. If you’re one of the myriad commentators who take a broader view of obstruction vis a vis presidential conduct, it seems like a sensible predicate for a criminal probe.
But what if the factual premise is more complicated than that? What if the pattern that jumped out at the FBI officials was that the President of the United States had just sought to interfere in an investigation of Russian intelligence activity and then boasted on television that his action was connected in some way to the Russia probe? What if the FBI knew that by the time he did so, the president had drafted a never-sent dismissal letter to Comey, and this letter also made clear that the Russia probe was on his mind at the time he acted? These are the facts that, the Times reports, led the bureau to open a new file on Trump:
After Mr. Comey was fired on May 9, 2017, two more of Mr. Trump’s actions prompted them to quickly abandon those reservations.
The first was a letter Mr. Trump wanted to send to Mr. Comey about his firing, but never did, in which he mentioned the Russia investigation. . . .
Even after the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, wrote a more restrained draft of the letter and told Mr. Trump that he did not have to mention the Russia investigation — Mr. Comey’s poor handling of the Clinton email investigation would suffice as a fireable offense, he explained — Mr. Trump directed Mr. Rosenstein to mention the Russia investigation anyway.
He disregarded the president’s order, irritating Mr. Trump. The president ultimately added a reference to the Russia investigation to the note he had delivered, thanking Mr. Comey for telling him three times that he was not under investigation.
The second event that troubled investigators was an NBC News interview two days after Mr. Comey’s firing in which Mr. Trump appeared to say he had dismissed Mr. Comey because of the Russia inquiry.
“I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” he said. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself—I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”
The facts actually got worse over the next few days. Because even as the bureau was beginning its obstruction inquiry, Trump boasted about his action to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, saying he had relieved pressure on himself by taking it.
Remember that all of this happened as the FBI was investigating “as part of [its] counterintelligence mission,” as Comey had only weeks earlier testified, “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” an investigation that Comey had announced had criminal elements and “include[d] investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.”
Would not a sequence of overt interferences in the investigation by Trump himself, culminating in the decapitation of the investigation’s leadership and boasted about both on national television and—later—in an Oval Office meeting to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and flagged in a draft letter to Comey as specifically connected to the Russia probe, raise all kinds of red flags within the parameters of the existing investigation the FBI was already conducting? This was, after all, one heck of “link” between an “individual associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government”!
The reporting Schmidt shared with me about Baker’s testimony suggests rather strongly that the FBI did not think of the Comey firing simply as a possible obstruction of justice. Officials thought of it, rather, in the context of the underlying counterintelligence purpose of the Russia investigation. At one point, Baker was asked whether firing Director Comey added to the threat to national security the FBI was confronting.
“Yes,” Baker responds.
Later, having explained—as quoted above—that the investigation was “about Russia,” Baker explains what he means. To the extent that firing Comey was the result of a decision to shut down the investigation, he said, that would frustrate the FBI’s ability to ascertain what the Russians and their confederates had done. In other words, “not only would it be an issue about obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security.”
Put simply, I don’t believe the FBI, having an open counterintelligence investigation, simply opened a new criminal investigation of obstruction in the wake of the Comey firing. I think there likely was—and still is—one umbrella investigation with a number of different threads. That one investigation was (and is) about Russia. And it had (and still has), as a subsidiary matter, a number of subsidiary files open about people on the U.S. side who had links to Russian government activity. Each of these files had (and still has) all of the counterintelligence and criminal tools available to the U.S. government at its disposal.
So when the president sought to impair the investigation, having declared both in the draft letter dismissing Comey and to Lester Holt that his action was connected in some way to the Russia investigation, that raised both potential criminal questions and major counterintelligence questions—questions that could only have been reinforced when Trump later announced to senior Russian government officials that he had relieved pressure on himself by acting as he did. It did so both because it threatened the investigation itself and because it fit directly into a pattern of interface between Trump campaign officials and Russian government actors that they were already investigating.
Remember that the standards of predication are quite low. To open an investigation, the FBI doesn’t need proof of a crime, or even probable cause of criminal activity. It need only see evidence that “An activity constituting a federal crime or a threat to the national security has or may have occurred, is or may be occurring, or will or may occur and the investigation may obtain information relating to the activity or the involvement or role of an individual, group, or organization in such activity” (emphasis added). “May” is a very flexible word. So ask yourself this: If you were the FBI and already investigating Russian activity and you saw the president’s actions in May 2017, would you believe that it “may” constitute a criminal office or “may” constitute a threat to national security or both?
What is the significance of all of this? I have two big takeaways.
First, if this analysis is correct, it mostly—though not entirely—answers the question of the legal basis of the obstruction investigation. The president’s lawyers, Barr in his memo, and any number of conservative commentators have all argued that Mueller cannot reasonably be investigating obstruction offenses based on the president’s actions within his Article II powers in firing Comey; such actions, they contend, cannot possibly violate the obstruction laws. While this position is disputed, a great many other commentators, including me, have scratched their heads about Mueller’s obstruction theory.
But if the predicate for the investigation was rooted in substantial part in counterintelligence authorities—that is, if the theory was not just that the president may have violated the criminal law but also that he acted in a fashion that may constitute a threat to national security—that particular legal puzzle goes away. After all, the FBI doesn’t need a possible criminal violation to open a national security investigation.
The problem does not entirely go away, because as the Times reports, the probe was partly predicated as a criminal matter as well. So the question of Mueller’s criminal theory is still there. But the weight on it is dramatically less.
This possibility, of course, raises a different legal puzzle, which is whether and under what circumstances the president can be a national security investigative subject of his own FBI given that it is ultimately he who defines national security threats for the executive branch. But that’s a question for another day.
Second, if it is correct that the FBI’s principle interest in obstruction was not as a discrete criminal fact pattern but as a national security threat, this significantly blurs the distinction between the obstruction and collusion aspects of the investigation. In this construction, obstruction was not a problem distinct from collusion, as has been generally imagined. Rather, in this construction, obstruction was the collusion, or least part of it. The obstruction of justice statutes become, in this understanding, merely one set of statutes investigators might think about using to deal with a national security risk—specifically, the risk of a person on the U.S. side coordinating with or supporting Russian activity by shutting down the investigation.
It was about Russia. It was always about Russia. Full stop.
https://www.lawfareblog.com/what-if-obs ... -bombshellTea Pain
HOLY GUACAMOLE!! If the FBI had to open a counterintelligence operation against the President of the United States for workin’ for Russia, chances are good he is.
The question we should ask is why is this comin’ out now?
Trump’s Canada venture and the Malaysia connection
Vancouver development risks violating US constitution over conflict of interest
February 15, 2017
Joo Kim Tiah, the son of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest tycoons, sat on stage in the summer of 2013 as his new business partner announced their plans for a C$360m luxury condominium-hotel project on Vancouver’s most prestigious downtown thoroughfare.
With characteristic salesmanship, Donald Trump bragged that the 63-storey glass tower on West Georgia Street would be “one of the great buildings, not only in Canada and the US but anywhere in the world”.
Mr Tiah, chief executive of Holborn Group, his family’s Canada-based property development company, was similarly effusive, saying the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver would one day “become a new symbol” for the city.
For many residents of Vancouver, a proudly multicultural city with a thriving film industry and environmentally friendly vibe, Mr Tiah’s prediction has already come true. Since his business partner’s election as US president in November, the shimmering tower has become an unwelcome symbol of the man whose name shines in large block letters on the front façade.
“The building comes to represent the worst in humankind with that name on it: bullying, sexism and intolerance,” said Kerry Jang, a city councillor. He and other politicians in the city, including the mayor, have called for the Trump name to be removed from the building.
Mr Tiah, the 37-year-old son of Malaysian property developer Tony Tiah Thee Kian, insists he will not remove the name. “I am locked in with the contract,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. The Trump family is “aware I’m under pressure but what am I going to do? From a business standpoint they haven’t done anything wrong.”
Presidential interests scrutinised
The Vancouver development — the first Trump hotel property to open since his inauguration on January 20 — highlights the potential for conflict for a sitting president who has refused to sever ties with his still-expanding business empire. Like some of Mr Trump’s other properties, the Vancouver development raises the risk of violating the emoluments clause in the US constitution prohibiting elected officials from receiving benefits from foreign governments. The hotel also invites scrutiny of his business partners such as the elder Mr Tiah, who was convicted of providing a false report to the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange.
Joo Kim Tiah posted on Instagram an image of himself with Ivanka Trump from a Bloomberg Television report on the Trumps and the White House
Still, Mr Tiah says the condos — which cost as much as $14m — have sold out, despite some buyers getting cold feet. A grand opening for the development is scheduled for the last week of February.
The Vancouver hotel project is structured like many of Mr Trump’s offshore deals. Holborn owns the building while the Trump Organisation receives a fee for managing the property and licensing its name as well as additional “incentive fees” if certain financial targets are reached. Mr Trump’s 2016 financial disclosure says that he received nearly $36,000 in management fees from “THC Vancouver Management Corp”. Fees for other Trump-branded properties run into the millions.
The Vancouver Sun recently reported that wealthy locals as well as foreign buyers have purchased units. One investor is a company called KMF Property, whose address the Sun linked to a home “owned by Sou Lam Fong, the founder of CHTC Fong’s Industries, a Hong Kong-based manufacturing company”. CHTC Fong’s majority shareholder is the Chinese government.
Norman Eisen, a former White House ethics adviser, says the connection with Beijing could represent a violation “since in essence a cut of any foreign emoluments are being passed through to him [Mr Trump] personally. That is the consequence of the president’s insistence on hanging on to ownership of his businesses”.
Mr Eisen said foreign officials staying at properties branded under the Trump name could increase their value, particularly if the officials are high ranking. He added that more transparency is needed about the president’s corporate deals.
Joo Kim Tiah posted his invitation to the inauguration on Instagram
The bipartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, of which Mr Eisen is chairman, on January 23 filed a lawsuit alleging Mr Trump is in violation of the emoluments clause. It cited Mr Trump’s new Washington hotel in the Old Post Office building.
Mr Trump has continued to mix politics with his family business, further blurring the lines of the relationship and raising concern among Democrats and some Republicans too in Washington. As president, Mr Trump is not legally bound to conflicts of interest laws. Last week, he criticised Nordstrom, the publicly traded department store chain, for treating his daughter “unfairly” after it said it would no longer sell Ivanka Trump merchandise, citing poor sales. He also hosted Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, at his company-owned Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
‘We’re second-generation guys’
Mr Tiah said he courted several hotel managers, but the Trumps, whom he met in about 2012, appealed to him because he knew the family would be running the business for years. He also liked their “flexibility” and experience as developers.
There was another factor: he formed a bond with Donald Trump Jr, the president’s oldest son, who is running the day-to-day operations of the Trump Organization with his brother Eric.
“I’m a second-generation guy. Don Jr is a second-generation guy. We both have very dominant successful fathers,” Mr Tiah said. “I pick up my phone and call Don Jr [and he] picks up his phone — in five or 10 minutes we’ll get it done. No bureaucracy.”
Holborn, the Tiah family’s property development group, first came to Vancouver early in the last decade following a wave of investment from Asia that was inspired by Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong billionaire who made a fortune from his 1988 purchase of a waterfront site that hosted Vancouver’s World Fair in 1986.
“What that did was to focus attention in Hong Kong on the Vancouver land market. As a Chinese-Canadian real estate agent told me, where the big fish swim the small fish follow,” said Kris Olds, a professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The money behind Holborn comes from Tony Tiah Thee Kian, chairman of TA Enterprise, which controls several other businesses from real estate to a securities brokerage. The elder Mr Tiah was a prime mover in Malaysia’s boom years of the 1990s.
The new Trump hotel in Vancouver during construction © Maciej Lulko/Flickr/CC
In the late 1990s Mr Tiah was caught up in a crackdown on corporate crime and charged with breaching securities law. In 2002, he was fined 3m ringgit and pleaded guilty to providing a false statement to the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange regarding dealings with another brokerage, Omega Holdings, according to Malaysia’s Securities Commission.
At the time, the commission trumpeted the conviction as a significant move in tackling crimes involving “high profile corporate figures”. Mr Tiah was charged alongside John Soh Chee Wen, another Malaysian dealmaker, who pleaded guilty to two charges of abetting Mr Tiah in submitting false information to the stock exchange. Mr Soh was fined Rm3m for each charge.
Some believed the crackdown may have had a political motive. Mr Tiah was associated with Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister from 1993-98, who was sacked and imprisoned following a power struggle with Mahathir Mohamad, then prime minister. “He was the up and coming Chinese tycoon who was closer to Anwar than Mahathir,” said another Malaysian opposition politician.
A former senior staffer for the elder Mr Tiah said: “At the time, Anwar was coming up, and everybody wanted to get close to him.” The former staffer described the businessman as a “fighter” who was a keen tennis player before age slowed him down; he is now 70. He returned to TA’s board in 2009, and describes himself as a born-again Christian.
“He is now on the marketing side,” the former staffer said. “His wife is more running the company day-to-day.”
TA Global, the family’s Malaysian real estate business in which the younger Mr Tiah is also chief executive, now makes most of its profits from its Canadian operations. Sales from the Trump Vancouver development represented the lion’s share of profits in 2015. TA Global said it earned Rm46.4m — about $10m — in profit from the Trump development in 2015, amounting to nearly 58 per cent of the group’s profit.
Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, and his family have been caught up in a scandal linked to 1MDB, the state investment fund. The US Department of Justice has been investigating claims that more than $1bn was stolen from the fund but has not accused Mr Najib of any wrongdoing.
Still, Malaysia’s leader was relieved by Mr Trump’s election victory. Before Mr Trump became the Republican presidential candidate, the two men played golf together at his New Jersey course; Mr Najib keeps a framed picture from the day in his office. The two leaders spoke in November after Mr Trump’s election win.
The changing city
The gleaming Trump hotel replaced a boxy concrete structure that sat vacant for years. Holborn bought the site in 2003 and struck a deal with the Ritz-Carlton that fell apart after the financial crisis. It was then that Mr Tiah, who attended Oral Roberts University, a Christian college in Oklahoma, and business school at Australia’s Macquarie University, was brought in to replace his brother-in-law at the top of Holborn.
After his initial meetings with the Trumps about five years ago, Mr Tiah went to New York to make his presentation to the siblings. The experience, he said, reminded him of an episode of The Apprentice, the future president’s reality television show.
Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. The president's two sons now run his businesses © Reuters
“One of the senior vice-presidents pulled me aside and said: ‘Joo Kim it’s really important in your presentation that you connect with Ivanka [Mr Trump’s daughter]’. In other words: no one else is in the room. He said, ‘you have to understand that,” Mr Tiah said at the October 2015 launch of a “Trump Luxe” VIP service for condo residents.
Mr Trump was not intimately involved in the project but he did sign off on the deal, Mr Tiah said, and they spent some time together. “My experience with him is that he’s awesome. He’s so charismatic, so warm, so friendly. He’s the straight goods. He’s really real,” Mr Tiah said of Mr Trump.
At the 2015 event Mr Tiah said: “The biggest thing I’ve learned from the Trump Organization and the Trump family is the power of putting a face behind your brand. They connect with the values of the person, what he believes, what he stands for and what he strives to be.”
Mr Tiah represents part of a wave of foreign investment in Vancouver that residents say is changing the dynamics of their city. The number of non-resident unoccupied units reached 25,502 in Vancouver in 2016, up from 12,335 in 1996, according to a new study by Andy Yan, director of the city programme at the local Simon Fraser University.
The juxtaposition of the new wave of Lamborghini-driving youth with the progressive culture of the city shows the “absurdity” of the amount of foreign capital that has flooded the city, he said.
Among those who thought the Trump project did not fit with Vancouver’s image was Brent Toderian, former chief planner for the city.
“My initial criticism was on [Trump] being a bad developer and a bad reality TV star. Both of them I considered to be incompatible with the value system and brand of Vancouverism,” he said.
His feelings only deepened when Mr Trump said in December 2015 during the US presidential campaign that he would impose a ban on Muslims from entering the US. Mr Toderian has joined the calls for the Trump name to be removed from the building.
Mr Tiah told the FT: “As a politician [Trump] shouldn’t say certain things. He is not a politician, he is just a guy telling it how it is.”
From the outset Mr Tiah wanted the hotel to stand out. In letters to the city council last spring to seek approval for a Las Vegas-style nightclub with poolside drinks and music, Mr Tiah billed the hotel as a destination for Vancouver’s nouveau riche, many of whom are from mainland China.
The nightclub was at first opposed by the Coal Harbour Residents’ Association, which butts against the hotel, protesting it would be too noisy and attract drunken revellers. The nightclub was initially voted down but the city council later approved its liquor licence after the hotel agreed to offer food and reduce the club’s size. The liquor licence will be reviewed every year.
After a six-month delay, the hotel had a soft opening last month. On a recent afternoon, construction workers were adjusting light fixtures near the marble bar, where customers can order a 40oz Tomahawk steak for C$150 ($115) or a bison burger for C$25.
A small group of men and women sat on powder blue couches in the lobby bar as hip music filled the air. On the table were a mix of small plates and cocktails, including the C$25 “Scentless Apprentice”, a vodka-based drink containing the essence of Chanel No 5. It is served on a vanity tray alongside a perfume bottle and mister.
Mr Tiah said he has not invited any politicians for the opening party, though two Trumps are on the guest list: Donald Jr and Eric.
“I don’t want it to be misinterpreted,” he said. “It’s a business event.”
https://www.ft.com/content/50495b2c-f1d ... 76151821a6
Ivanka Trump Diamonds Embroiled in Alleged Money-Laundering Scheme: Report
By Jessica Kwong On 12/22/17 at 12:44 PM
Ivanka Trump, founder of Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, arrives at "An Evening of Glamour" at the Couture Jewelry Show party presented by GILT at the Tryst Nightclub at Wynn Las Vegas on May 29, 2014, in Las Vegas. Getty Images
Diamonds from first daughter Ivanka Trump’s now-defunct fine jewelry line were allegedly used in a massive money-laundering and fraud scheme, according to a federal court filing, GQ reported.
The Commercial Bank of Dubai in late June sought and later got permission to subpoena Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, claiming its diamonds were vehicles in a scheme to hide about $100 million owed to the financial institution, GQ reported on Friday based on filings at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York made over the summer.
In its case, the bank alleges a plot engineered by the Al-Saris family, who controlled a multibillion-dollar Emirati oil-trading empire before running into legal trouble due to unpaid bills. The Al-Saris apparently borrowed more than $100 million from the bank, defaulted on the debt, and hid their assets in shell companies they used to buy diamonds, including some from Trump’s jewelry line, according to court documents, GQ reported.
The bank has not accused Trump’s business of wrongdoing, but the timeline of the case suggests that any alleged transactions would have occurred when Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry was licensed under the corporate entity “Madison Avenue Diamonds,” which is named in the documents. Trump has cut her connections with Madison Avenue Diamonds.
White House spokesman Josh Raffel, who deals with inquiries involving the first daughter, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Money launderers convert dirty money into small diamonds that are easy to smuggle internationally and cash in.
Trump started her fine jewelry line in partnership with diamond heir Moshe Lax about a decade ago and owned a stake in the business for some time. Together, Trump and Lax opened a boutique on Madison Avenue, but the first daughter ended ties late last year after Lax became embroiled in various lawsuits claiming extortion and other crimes, with some involving her jewelry line.
The bank’s case is the latest in a string of alleged fraud schemes dogging the Trump family. Trump SoHo in Manhattan is accused of serving as a magnet for funds from Russia and Kazakhstan and is “a monument to spectacularly corrupt money-laundering and tax evasion,” a lawsuit claims. Trump Ocean Club in Panama and Trump Baku in Azerbaijan also face money-laundering accusations.
Trump has continued to pursue her business endeavors while serving as a White House adviser, most recently opening a shop for her Nordstrom-banned clothing and accessories brand at Trump Tower last week.
https://www.newsweek.com/ivanka-trump-d ... eme-757168
Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration
President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.
Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.
The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.
As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is thought to be in the final stages of an investigation that has focused largely on whether Trump or his associates conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. The new details about Trump’s continued secrecy underscore the extent to which little is known about his communications with Putin since becoming president.
After this story was published online, Trump said in an interview late Saturday with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro that he did not take particular steps to conceal his private meetings with Putin and attacked The Washington Post and its owner Jeffrey P. Bezos.
He said he talked with Putin about Israel, among other subjects. “Anyone could have listened to that meeting. That meeting is open for grabs,” he said, without offering specifics.
When Pirro asked if he is or has ever been working for Russia, Trump responded, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.”
[A beefed-up White House legal team prepares for battle with special counsel]
Former U.S. officials said that Trump’s behavior is at odds with the known practices of previous presidents, who have relied on senior aides to witness meetings and take comprehensive notes then shared with other officials and departments.
Trump’s secrecy surrounding Putin “is not only unusual by historical standards, it is outrageous,” said Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state now at the Brookings Institution, who participated in more than a dozen meetings between President Bill Clinton and then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. “It handicaps the U.S. government — the experts and advisers and Cabinet officers who are there to serve [the president] — and it certainly gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump.”
A White House spokesman disputed that characterization and said that the Trump administration has sought to “improve the relationship with Russia” after the Obama administration “pursued a flawed ‘reset’ policy that sought engagement for the sake of engagement.”
The Trump administration “has imposed significant new sanctions in response to Russian malign activities,” said the spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and noted that Tillerson in 2017 “gave a fulsome readout of the meeting immediately afterward to other U.S. officials in a private setting, as well as a readout to the press.”
Trump allies said the president thinks the presence of subordinates impairs his ability to establish a rapport with Putin and that his desire for secrecy may also be driven by embarrassing leaks that occurred early in his presidency.
The meeting in Hamburg happened several months after The Washington Post and other news organizations revealed details about what Trump had told senior Russian officials during a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Trump disclosed classified information about a terrorism plot, called former FBI director James B. Comey a “nut job” and said that firing Comey had removed “great pressure” on his relationship with Russia.
The White House launched internal leak hunts after that and other episodes and sharply curtailed the distribution within the National Security Council of memos on the president’s interactions with foreign leaders.
“Over time it got harder and harder, I think, because of a sense from Trump himself that the leaks of the call transcripts were harmful to him,” said a former administration official.
Senior Democratic lawmakers describe the cloak of secrecy surrounding Trump’s meetings with Putin as unprecedented and disturbing.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview that his panel will form an investigative subcommittee whose targets will include seeking State Department records of Trump’s encounters with Putin, including a closed-door meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki last summer.
“It’s been several months since Helsinki and we still don’t know what went on in that meeting,” Engel said. “It’s appalling. It just makes you want to scratch your head.”
The concerns have been compounded by actions and positions Trump has taken as president that are seen as favorable to the Kremlin. He has dismissed Russia’s election interference as a “hoax,” suggested that Russia was entitled to annex Crimea, repeatedly attacked NATO allies, resisted efforts to impose sanctions on Moscow, and begun to pull U.S. forces out of Syria — a move that critics see as effectively ceding ground to Russia.
At the same time, Trump’s decision to fire Comey and other attempts to contain the ongoing Russia investigation led the bureau in May 2017 to launch a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was seeking to help Russia and if so, why, a step first reported by the New York Times.
It is not clear whether Trump has taken notes from interpreters on other occasions, but several officials said they were never able to get a reliable readout of the president’s two-hour meeting in Helsinki. Unlike in Hamburg, Trump allowed no Cabinet officials or any aides to be in the room for that conversation.
Trump also had other private conversations with Putin at meetings of global leaders outside the presence of aides. He spoke at length with Putin at a banquet at the same 2017 global conference in Hamburg, where only Putin’s interpreter was present. Trump also had a brief conversation with Putin at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires last month.
Trump generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations with Putin, although Russia has often been first to disclose those calls when they occur and release statements characterizing them in broad terms favorable to the Kremlin.
In an email, Tillerson said that he “was present for the entirety of the two presidents’ official bilateral meeting in Hamburg,” but he declined to discuss the meeting and did not respond to questions about whether Trump had instructed the interpreter to remain silent or had taken the interpreter’s notes.
In a news conference afterward, Tillerson said that the Trump-Putin meeting lasted more than two hours, covered the war in Syria and other subjects, and that Trump had “pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement” in election interference. “President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson refused to say during the news conference whether Trump had rejected Putin’s claim or indicated that he believed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered.
Tillerson’s account is at odds with the only detail that other administration officials were able to get from the interpreter, officials said. Though the interpreter refused to discuss the meeting, officials said, he conceded that Putin had denied any Russian involvement in the U.S. election and that Trump responded by saying, “I believe you.”
A White House spokesperson, responding to this detail from the Hamburg meeting, said: “The President has affirmed that he supports the conclusions in the 2017 Intel Community Assessment, and the President also issued a new executive order in September 2018 to ensure a whole of government effort to address any foreign attempts to interfere in US elections.”
Senior Trump administration officials said that White House officials including then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were never able to obtain a comprehensive account of the meeting, even from Tillerson.
“We were frustrated because we didn’t get a readout,” a former senior administration official said. “The State Department and [National Security Council] were never comfortable” with Trump’s interactions with Putin, the official said. “God only knows what they were going to talk about or agree to.”
Because of the absence of any reliable record of Trump’s conversations with Putin, officials at times have had to rely on reports by U.S. intelligence agencies tracking the reaction in the Kremlin.
Previous presidents and senior advisers have often studied such reports to assess whether they had accomplished their objectives in meetings as well as to gain insights for future conversations.
U.S. intelligence agencies have been reluctant to call attention to such reports during Trump’s presidency because they have at times included comments by foreign officials disparaging the president or his advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a former senior administration official said.
“There was more of a reticence in the intelligence community going after those kinds of communications and reporting them,” said a former administration official who worked in the White House. “The feedback tended not to be positive.”
The interpreter at Hamburg revealed the restrictions that Trump had imposed when he was approached by administration officials at the hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying, officials said.
Among the officials who asked for details from the meeting were Fiona Hill, the senior Russia adviser at the NSC, and John Heffern, who was then serving at State as the acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment from the interpreter. Heffern, who retired from State in 2017, declined to comment.
Through a spokesman, Hill declined a request for an interview.
There are conflicting accounts of the purpose of the conversation with the interpreter, with some officials saying that Hill was among those briefed by Tillerson and that she was merely seeking more nuanced information from the interpreter.
Others said the aim was to get a more meaningful readout than the scant information furnished by Tillerson. “I recall Fiona reporting that to me,” one former official said. A second former official present in Hamburg said that Tillerson “didn’t offer a briefing or call the ambassador or anybody together. He didn’t brief senior staff,” although he “gave a readout to the press.”
A similar issue arose in Helsinki, the setting for the first formal U.S.-Russia summit since Trump became president. Hill, national security adviser John Bolton and other U.S. officials took part in a preliminary meeting that included Trump, Putin and other senior Russian officials.
But Trump and Putin then met for two hours in private, accompanied only by their interpreters. Trump’s interpreter, Marina Gross, could be seen emerging from the meeting with pages of notes.
Alarmed by the secrecy of Trump’s meeting with Putin, several lawmakers subsequently sought to compel Gross to testify before Congress about what she witnessed. Others argued that forcing her to do so would violate the impartial role that interpreters play in diplomacy. Gross was not forced to testify. She was identified when members of Congress sought to speak with her. The interpreter in Hamburg has not been identified.
During a joint news conference with Putin afterward, Trump acknowledged discussing Syria policy and other subjects but also lashed out at the media and federal investigators, and he seemed to reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies by saying that he was persuaded by Putin’s “powerful” denial of election interference.
Previous presidents have required senior aides to attend meetings with adversaries including the Russian president largely to ensure that there are not misunderstandings and that others in the administration are able to follow up on any agreements or plans. Detailed notes that Talbot took of Clinton’s meetings with Yeltsin are among hundreds of documents declassified and released last year.
John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Julie Tate contributed to this report.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/na ... 2e567cd540
How the Times Reported the F.B.I. Counterintelligence Investigation Into President Trump: An Interview with the Journalist Adam Goldman
On Friday evening, the Times reported that, days after President Trump fired the F.B.I. director James Comey, on May 9, 2017, the Bureau opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether the President, knowingly or unknowingly, “had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.” When, on May 17th, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to conduct the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election, Mueller reportedly took over the counterintelligence inquiry into Trump, along with the previously known criminal investigation.
To discuss the Times piece, I spoke by phone with Adam Goldman, who reported the story along with Michael S. Schmidt and Nicholas Fandos. During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed why the F.B.I. felt it had to take such an extreme step, the atmosphere in the Bureau after the Comey firing, and whether the Mueller investigation is really nearing its end.
How long have you been working on this particular story?
I have been working on this story for quite some time. [Laughs.] I don’t want to say too long, but a while.
What’s your biggest takeaway from it?
My concern with this story is that it felt, to some extent, like it was a “duh” story. What does the public think Mueller is doing? The public’s understanding of it is “Oh, well, Mueller is looking at whether Trump colluded with the Russians.” But nobody has ever detailed or explained the basis of that thinking, right? Do you understand what I am saying?
You are saying that we all thought this is what was going on, but all we really knew was that the F.B.I. had an obstruction investigation. We didn’t know that there was a counterintelligence investigation—
I think a lot of people have assumed that, and I have seen other reporters just write it: “Mueller is investigating whether Trump colluded with the Russians.” I think that is the general theme here, but once somebody told me about it in some detail, I thought it was important to lay out just what had happened, and to explain to the public that, yes, you are right—everyone knew there was an obstruction piece to this, but there was another piece to it that happened at the same time. It is two elements of one investigation: a criminal one and a counterintelligence one.
My fear was that the nuance—this is a heavily nuanced story—would get lost on the public. And I had to understand the nuance and I had to understand the story, and that contributed to the time it took to write this and publish it.
What aspect of it were you worried would be missed if it wasn’t nuanced?
What this means, right? That the F.B.I. had specifically started looking at Trump and whether he wittingly or unwittingly had been working with a hostile foreign power. I had to look at the mechanisms that went into place to trigger this aspect of the investigation. This comes after the Lester Holt interview. [On May 11th, 2017, two days after Trump fired Comey, the President gave an interview to NBC in which he said that, when he fired Comey, he was thinking, “You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”] And you talk to people who are familiar with this: once he got on Lester Holt and he said this, the F.B.I. is, like, “He is telling us why he did this? The President of the United States got up on television and said, ‘I did this because of Russia.’ ” They are, like, “What the fuck?,” right? Once again it is the President and these self-inflicted wounds. The President said that, and forgive the F.B.I. for taking him at his word. And that led to the opening of the investigation on Trump himself, before the appointment of the special counsel.
What would that look like if the President was an unwitting agent of a foreign power?
Did somehow Russia exert some pressure on Trump, maybe not necessarily because it has leverage or blackmail, but somehow they devised a way to get him to operate on their behalf, to do something on their behalf? It is hard to say what that would look like. People were very careful to tell me that: “It is wittingly or unwittingly. We are not here to say that Trump is an agent of a foreign power.”
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Does this change your sense of the Mueller investigation?
No, not necessarily. Mueller inherited this when he became special counsel, and this is something he would have had to run to the ground. Now we know it officially exists, and it was a predicated F.B.I. investigation, and they would have to articulate why they would have to open this investigation. Mueller inherited this, and he will have to end it. And it seems to me he will have to articulate, if he hasn’t already, why there wasn’t evidence to support this idea—or maybe there was. I think Mueller is going to have to address this. Which, by the way, is the question the American public expects him to answer. You don’t need me to tell you that the American public expects an answer to “Is Trump working with Russia?” It’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.
Were you concerned, or were the people you talked to concerned, about a counterintelligence investigation being opened on the President of the United States, and whether that was a dangerous thing for a democracy?
I asked that question, and the answer was that this was a lawfully predicated investigation. And my understanding was that the people involved understood the gravity of it and knew they would have to answer for it someday, when Congress conducted oversight. Eventually, this will become public. The people who do this kind of work are not fools and know it will become public, just like the Carter Page FISA application became public.
They will have to answer for this if, in fact, the predication of the investigation was weak. My understanding is that people felt the evidence to open this was quite strong, and the comments to Lester Holt pushed it over the edge. It’s my understanding that, if they hadn’t opened this, it would have been an abdication of their duty. If you are a law-enforcement official and you have evidence that perhaps suggests that the President himself may be acting as a foreign agent, either wittingly or unwittingly, isn’t it your duty to run this to the ground?
The problem with this investigation, as anyone in the F.B.I. will tell you, is that normally this is done secretly. The public isn’t supposed to know. Normally, the Russia investigation, Crossfire Hurricane [its code name], would have been done quietly. If word hadn’t gotten out, and they hadn’t found anything on these people, maybe the American public would never have known the investigation had gone on. That is what is supposed to happen.
Do you get the sense that, in the days after the Comey firing, people in the F.B.I. were acting rationally? Your paper’s story about Rosenstein considering taping the President also suggested that agents were understandably stressed, scared, and anxious and hinted—
So was Rod and D.O.J. Rod had just walked into this buzzsaw. I doubt they are acting irrationally. Some of the players involved in this were seasoned F.B.I. agents, had lived through the Boston bombing, had done China espionage investigations. These people had been involved in a lot of serious shit. They had already lived through the Hillary Clinton drama.
I think it was a chaotic time, and everyone was under an enormous amount of pressure. Certainly the F.B.I. was. They just saw their leader get fired, and then they saw the President say it was because of Russia. It’s for someone else to make the argument whether it was rationally or irrationally. I think they certainly had fears that something was amiss with the President and people on his campaign. I know some of the thinking; I haven’t seen the full predication. This is a highly classified document. They would have had to lay out in detail their reasons for opening this.
Giuliani’s quote in the story was pretty mild. Nothing about the deep state or a conspiracy. Were you surprised, and did he say other things?
No, I wasn’t necessarily perplexed by his response. I haven’t seen anything else that he has said. Their position is this is a witch hunt and there is no collusion and this has been going on for a long time. So why would this rile them up more than anything else?
We have seen a lot of reporting for a long time that Mueller was wrapping up. It started with defense lawyers, and then seeped into a ton of the stories on this. We are always approaching the end. As someone who has been on this for a long time, do you have reason to think it will wrap up in the next couple of months?
I think there was information out there that suggested it could be over in the next few weeks. But here is the problem with that: even if Mueller’s people believe that, even if they are furiously writing this report, there is still a grand jury going on. That got extended. If, in fact, they uncovered new evidence that led to new charges, this could go on. They could be a week away from closing and then they dig up something. It is difficult to prognosticate. You never know what an investigation could unearth, even in the ninth inning.
I am not here to say that some of the reporting that this would be over soon is inaccurate. It is just tricky to say something is going to end without knowing what else prosecutors need to finish up. And, remember, there is this secret grand-jury subpoena going on. [On Tuesday, the Supreme Court declined to intercede in the case of a sealed grand-jury subpoena issued to a foreign corporation, owned by a foreign government referred to in rulings as “Country A.” Many have speculated that the subpoena, issued by an unnamed federal prosecutor, is part of the Mueller investigation.] What if there are bank records they are looking for about money transfers, and they get them? It’s, like, whoa, eureka, and that somehow breaks open this whole thing—it’s not ending next month. [Laughs.]
But your sense is that Mueller’s people maybe thought it was ending soon?
That’s a sense out there. We reported that the investigation is in the final stages. The question is how long that stage is going to last. [Laughs.]
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Ambassador Kislyak and President Trump / Посол С.Кисляк и Президент Д.Трамп
We Need to Know What Happened When Trump Was Left Alone With Putin
From the Holocaust to Watergate, there are plenty of examples of how easily bad stuff happens when, like in Helsinki, there is no record of what is said.
01.05.19 9:52 PM ET
Donald Trump spent two hours alone with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in July and we still have no idea what was specifically said or agreed between two of the most powerful men in the world. (Only two interpreters, bound to silence, were present.)
How much does this matter?
Quite a lot, probably. First off, there are new concerns about Trump’s continuing susceptibility to talking points that can have only one source – Russian propaganda. More of this later. Second, it belongs in a long trail of events that have either deliberately left serious blanks in the historical record or delayed by many years discovery of the truth.
We live in a moment in America when the discovery of information is in daily hand-to-hand combat with the deliberate suppression of information. For the second time in recent history the fate of a presidency might well rest on the unhindered discovery and exposure of essential evidence. Nothing is as central to the health of a democracy as overcoming a cover-up.
In 1974 the evidence that proved fatal to Richard Nixon’s presidency was all on tape—the White House tapes that recorded the president’s unguarded conversations with aides as they engineered the Watergate cover-up.
But one section of those White House tapes still remains undisclosed. Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, removed eighteen and a half minutes of a key recording of conversations between Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R Halderman between March and April 1973. According to her this was inadvertent—and covered only five minutes of the taping.
Experts who examined the equipment in 1974 decided that several portions of several conversations had been removed, adding up to eighteen and a half minutes. In 2009 new technology was employed to try again, but failed and Nixon and Haldeman took the secret of what was said to their graves. Some historians believe that Nixon himself could have erased the tapes.
As it turned out, that erasure was frustrating but not decisive. The smoking gun evidence survived amply in other tapes that were seized by prosecutors before they could be destroyed.
A similarly lingering mystery envelops the activity of a special energy task force set up by Vice President Dick Cheney in January 2001.
Cheney told President George W. Bush that the purpose was to develop “a national energy policy designed to help to bring together business, government, local communities and citizens to promote dependable, affordable and environmentally sound energy for the future.”
That was a laughably laudable version of what Cheney was apparently really up to. The task force was supposed to be confined to government officials. Then it turned out that meetings had been attended by waves of energy industry leaders and lobbyists. A report was issued in May 2001. It downgraded the importance of renewable energy in favor of an aggressive expansion of existing energy sources—including the need to build new pipelines, open up new regions for drilling and review the security of foreign sources of oil.
Within months of that report appearing Cheney was directing the response to the 9/11 attacks. He was instrumental in persuading Bush that, rather than concentrating on pursuing Osama bin Laden, the perpetrator, the U.S. should instead give priority to invading Iraq—one of the richest sources of oil in the Middle East. No reliable accounting of the task force’s discussions on foreign oil fields has ever been provided.
When Cheney left his job as CEO of Halliburton to join the Bush administration he received a severance settlement worth $36 million. Halliburton subsequently earned $39 billion as a contractor supporting US troops in Iraq and returning the Iraq oil fields to production.
When it comes to having a record of what presidents discuss with other foreign leaders there is a precedent, of sorts, for Trump in Helsinki, from the last years of the Cold War.
In 1985, during a summit meeting in Geneva with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, President Ronald Reagan spent over an hour with Gorbachev with only interpreters present and later took a walk with Gorbachev to a pool house where they talked for another 44 minutes without anyone else present.
The two leaders, both fearful of nuclear war, were negotiating a new nuclear arms treaty, part of complex talks that had been going on for years. Reagan was not required to have mastery of the technical details, and nothing made his officials more nervous than the idea that, left alone with Gorbachev, he might be seriously outplayed.
They needn’t have worried. Reagan had become mesmerized by the prospect of a new super-weapon, dubbed “Star Wars,” that could intercept incoming missiles in space, even though it was way beyond what was possible, and Reagan had no intention of abandoning his fantasy. He saw it as a way of forcing the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
That never happened, of course. But what the two men had actually discussed in the pool house remained unknown until 2015, when Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, revealed that Reagan had asked Gorbachev how he would respond if America were suddenly attacked by aliens from outer space. “Would you help us?” Reagan asked. “No doubt about it” replied Gorbachev.
That might seem anticlimactic and comical but Reagan had been far more effective than Shultz knew at the time: his conviction that Star Wars was a reality spooked the Russians into the same belief and made them more eager to make concessions.
“At the end of the meeting Heydrich insisted that there should be no verbatim record. Instead, a summary was written and copies of it limited to the 30 participants, known as the Wannsee Protocols. Those copies disappeared at the end of the war—or so it was thought.”
Across the pond, British historians have a tougher time ferreting out the truth about deals that have serious consequences. Politicians can take cover under rules that usually guarantee that really embarrassing lapses won’t emerge during their lifetime, because the release of highly sensitive documents is embargoed for 50 years—or, in some cases, are “lost” during their lifetime.
That was the case in 1956 when British, French and Israeli officials colluded in a secret plan to get rid of Egypt’s leader, General Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had just ended British and French control of the Suez Canal. Basically the idea was that Israel would attack Egypt, and then France and Britain would intervene under the fictional pretext that they were ending the conflict and, having done so, would remove Nasser.
From the start the plan was driven by the hubris of Britain and France, whose leaders seriously underestimated the regional support for Nasser. He was determined to restore true independence to Egypt and become the figurehead of Arab nationalism.
The Israelis were the only militarily competent partners in a scheme that was hobbled by mutual distrust. International laws were about to be violated. Britain kept its most important ally, America, in the dark.
The meeting that set the attack in motion took place in a villa outside Paris. Israeli leaders arrived under cover after a flight in a French military transport. Two people referred to only as “the responsible minister and an official” hopped over from London, the minister arranging an appearance in the House of Commons immediately beforehand intended to indicate that he never left London. The two of them were in France for little more than an hour.
At the end of the meeting the principals agreed that none of them would reveal in their lifetimes what they had discussed. In effect, the meeting never happened.
Ten years later one historian, trying to establish who the British minister was, heard from a French source that he resembled “an old-fashioned family lawyer.” That was clue enough. He was the British Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, a man hopelessly out of his depth in such a Machiavellian scheme.
The operation was a military debacle and a diplomatic disaster. Instead of removing Nasser it consolidated his hold on power. Britain and France were finished as colonial powers. Anthony Eden, the prime minister who had waited so long as Winston Churchill’s understudy, never recovered his reputation. The lasting lesson was that shit happens more easily when momentous decisions are taken invisibly.
But beyond any doubt the single most infamous meeting that never happened took place in another villa, this time on the shore of Lake Wannsee, near Berlin, on January 20, 1942.
The meeting was called by Reinhard Heydrich, the head of Nazi Germany’s SS Security Office. It was attended by 30 people and lasted only 90 minutes but it set in motion the whole apparatus designed to exterminate Europe’s Jews. The two principal architects of the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, were not present—Heydrich was their instrument, the man who industrialized the genocide.
Heydrich directed: “In the course of the practical implementation of the final solution, Europe will be combed from West to East.”
As one of the key historians of the Holocaust, Martin Gilbert, wrote, “What had hitherto been tentative, fragmentary and spasmodic was to become formal, comprehensive and efficient.”
At the end of the meeting Heydrich insisted that there should be no verbatim record. Instead, a summary was written and copies of it limited to the 30 participants, known as the Wannsee Protocols. Those copies disappeared at the end of the war—or so it was thought. Then, in 1947, an American prosecutor working for the Nuremberg Tribunal on Nazi war crimes, Robert Kempner, found one copy in the German foreign office archives.
By any measure this was one of the most essential document discoveries related to the Holocaust. It left no doubt that the atrocity began at the top and was executed by a terrifying bureaucratic machine. When Heydrich’s sidekick Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina in 1960 by an Israeli task force and brought to trial in Israel he described that machine in remorseless detail, as though all its evil had been subsumed in the robotic obedience needed to carry out the assigned task.
It would be nice to think that in the end history will always be able to retrieve the deliberately created gaps in the record, whether major or relatively minor—that truth will out simply because it has an ineluctable quality. But surely, given the examples above, history requires relentless pursuit to make that happen.
Helsinki’s peculiar lacuna may turn out to be relatively minor, but unless we know what was really said we can’t be sure.
Putin is a master of mind games learned as a Soviet intelligence agent. Trump, with his blend of narcissism and ignorance, presents a soft target for these games. He is an empty vessel into which ideas can easily be seeded. How often this happens and by what means are worrying questions, heightened this week when Rachel Maddow showed three examples of either Trump or Trump people suddenly spouting talking points that were so incongruous that they could come from only one place—propaganda created by Russian intelligence.
The first came just weeks after Trump’s inauguration. The Associated Press reported that Trump national security aides were concerned that Poland was preparing to invade Belarus. The only people spreading this bizarre notion were Putin’s propagandists. (At that time General Mike Flynn was the national security adviser, an obvious stovepipe for the Putin line.)
The second, in the summer of 2018, was when—out of nowhere—Trump, talking on Fox News, blurted out that the people of the small Balkan state of Montenegro were “very aggressive” and could start World War III. As Maddow pointed out, that was the Putin line at the time of elections in Montenegro in 2017 when a Russian intelligence plot to take power in Montenegro was exposed and foiled.
The third example just happened—during the course of the so-called meeting of the Trump cabinet when cameras were allowed to cover the whole 90 minutes. It was not so much a meeting as a monologue in which Trump combined salutes to his own towering genius with strange assertions, the strangest being that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 had been justified because “terrorists from there were going into Russia.”
Until now Russian historians had concluded that the Afghan invasion was a mistake and one that ended with an ignominious retreat. But here was Trump saying “They were right to be there.”
Maddow pointed out that this is Putin’s latest revisionist line—both his party and the communists are rewriting Russian history using the falsehood that it was a move to stop terrorism.
The former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, reviewing these three events, told Maddow: “It is striking how Trump does pick up these strange ideas from Putin, there is a pattern here.”
After their Helsinki meeting, Trump looked like a man in thrall to Putin. Asked if he still believed that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election, he said “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. He said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be….”
Later, after even House Speaker Paul Ryan rebuked Trump for the remarks, he attempted to rewrite what was already on the record by saying he had intended to say “I don’t see any reason why it would not be”—a tautology that convinced nobody.
Syria was one of the subjects Trump discussed with Putin. At the press conference following the meeting Putin said that Syria could be “the first showcase example” of successful joint work. Trump’s impetuous decision last month to pull out of Syria came after a phone call with another of the authoritarians he so reveres, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who urged the pull-out. He was probably pushing at an already open door, thanks to Putin.
In Helsinki Putin admitted for the first time that he had wanted Trump to win the presidential election. This was not prima facie evidence of a Manchurian Candidate situation. The worry is that with Trump nothing as sinister as brain washing is needed. The psychological impact on him of spending quality time with an admired “strong man” and a dose of flattery is probably enough.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/we-need-t ... itter_page
Trump's meeting with Russians closed to U.S. media, but not to TASS photographer
Doug StanglinUpdated 5:53 p.m. ET May 10, 2017
At a time of strain between the White House and the media over coverage of the new administration, reporters raised questions Wednesday as to why a photographer from the Russian media, but not the U.S. press, was apparently allowed into an Oval Office meeting between President Trump and Russian officials.
The issue surfaced after photos of the meeting, including Trump shaking hands with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and controversial Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, appeared in the Russian media.
The images were taken by a photographer from TASS, the Russian state-owned new agency.
The issue was further inflamed by the presence of Kislyak, who has been at the center of several controversies involving administration officials, including now fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Russian embassy even tweeted a photograph of Trump smiling broadly as he put his arm around the diplomat while shaking his hand in the Oval Office.
Flynn was fired in February for lying to Vice President Mike Pence by denying that he had discussed the issue of U.S. sanctions with Kislyak. Sessions recused himself from any investigations involving the Trump administration and Russia after acknowledging that he had failed to tell senators during his confirmation hearing that he had met previously with he diplomat.
In addition, Kislyak was brought into the Trump Tower in New York in December out of the sight of reporters for a meeting with Flynn and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and now senior advisor, according to The New York Times.
The photos were taken by TASS photographer Alexander Shcherbak and credited to him by the agency, which included a copyright symbol in photo captions in its own news reports of the meeting. The photos were also distributed by the Associated Press, which credits the Russian Foreign Ministry as the source, and Getty Images, which credits TASS.
After the photos began circulating, members of the White House press corps inquired whether the Russian media had been allowed into the closed meetings.
The White House responded, according to a White House pool report, by saying, "On background, our official photographer and their official photographer were present, that's it."
Talking Points Memosays TASS Washington bureau chief, Andrei Sitov, told TPM initially that no one from his Washington bureau was present at the meeting, but later revised his comments.
“Apparently the TASS person was admitted at the request of the Russian Foreign Ministry as the official photographer for the Russian side,” Sitov told TPM in a later email. “He is permanently assigned to cover FM Lavrov. His pictures from the meeting are available at the Russian FM’s Flickr. I was not even aware of this.”
Frequently the White House press pool is allowed in the room at the start of an official meetings to take photograph and, if possible, to ask the participants questions.
In addition to the photos, TASS provided comments by Lavrov on the Oval Office meeting with Trump, which had followed bilateral talks between him and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Lavrov told TASS that in the meeting with Trump, "(we) discussed, first and foremost, our cooperation on the international stage."
"At present, our dialogue is not as politicized as it used to be during Obama’s presidency," Lavrov said. "The Trump administration, including the president himself and the secretary of state, are people of action who are willing to negotiate."
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/201 ... 101520384/
Russia: Trump’s chaos means ‘we will finally defeat America’
By Caroline Orr - January 11, 20194
Trump's border stunt is hurting Americans — and Russia couldn't be happier about it.
Trump’s manufactured crisis at the border is wreaking havoc in the U.S., sparking a government shutdown that has lasted for three weeks and causing chaos for federal employees and countless Americans who rely on the basic functions of government to remain operational.
But not everyone is upset about the turmoil.
As reported by investigative journalist and Russian media analyst Julia Davis, Russian state TV is celebrating the chaos.
On Thursday’s episode of the Russian state TV program “60 minutes,” the hosts gleefully highlighted the disarray Trump has caused and cheered on the possibility that he would plunge the U.S. into further chaos by declaring a state of emergency over a non-existent border crisis.
“Then we will finally defeat America,” declared co-host Olga Skabeeva.
Meanwhile, other segments on Russia’s state TV highlighted the controversy over funding for Trump’s border wall — and as seen below, it appears that Russian media is taking its cues from Fox News.
On the left: #Russia's state TV.
On the right: Trump's state TV, FoxNews.
Don't get confused.
The opinions expressed on state TV provide important insight into the Kremlin’s perspective on domestic affairs in the U.S. Since Russian TV is controlled by the state, the only views and statements that are allowed on state TV are ones that the Kremlin approves of.
Sowing divisions around issues such as immigration was a focus of Russia’s 2016 influence operation, and clearly it remains a focus today.
As Retired General Gen. Hertling explained, the Kremlin likes to see the U.S. in a state of chaos because it puts us in a weaker position on the global stage.
“Our dysfunction remains a delight for Russian state TV, because it meets Putin’s strategy,” Hertling wrote in a tweet.
And with Trump creating more dysfunction every day, Putin couldn’t be more delighted.
Published with permission of The American Independent.
https://shareblue.com/russia-trumps-cha ... t-america/
Here's a question I posed on the emergency podcast yesterday which I am now posing more generally: If I were a senior FBI official and I had just opened a CI sub file on POTUS, one thing I would make damn sure of is that the Gang of Eight knew.
If the bureau leadership in fact briefed Congress, does that mean that Devin Nunes has known all this time about this? And Mitch McConnell?
Here's a data point!
Here's another one...
Sens. Burr and Warner, and Rep. Schiff, 3 members of the Gang of 8, all declined to comment when I asked whether they’d been briefed by the FBI on the Trump CI investigation.
Warner just gave another clue to CNN: “I’m not going to talk about what we may have been briefed” on.
“The Russians hacked the DNC”
Here’s the book title... “What’s said in the family stays in the family.”House majority leader to colleagues in 2016: ‘I think Putin pays’ Trump
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/na ... 0c3c4c6237
TRUMP’S “OFFICIAL ACTS” TO PAY OFF A RUSSIAN BRIBE SHOULD MAKE IMPEACHMENT A LEGAL ISSUE, NOT JUST A POLITICAL ONE
January 13, 2019/5 Comments/in 2016 Presidential Election, emptywheel, Mueller Probe /by empty wheel
The pearl clutchers screamed about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib saying that we need to impeach the motherfucker, Donald Trump, demeaning the presidency.* While I’m glad that she has refused to back down from her beliefs in the face of the attacks, I think her more substantial argument about impeachment deserves further attention (which I hope to return to in a later post). More important, I think that the response to Tlaib’s comments has resulted in members of both parties retreating to a debate about Trump’s impeachment using the old formulation that it’s a political, not a legal question.
It is true that impeachment is political question insofar as, so long as there’s the political will, a president can be impeached for anything, even lying about a consensual blowjob immaterial to an investigation into financial scandal. But impeachment is also a legal question. Indeed, the Constitution mandates that the President be removed from office if he is impeached and convicted not just for the unenumerated grab bag of “high crimes and misdemeanors” — where Congress exercises the political will to decide whether a blowjob merits impeachment — but also the enumerated crimes of treason and bribery.The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
In spite of Emmet Sullivan’s question — as one of the only people who has read sealed documents laying out what Trump’s transition team did — about whether Mueller’s investigators considered charging Mike Flynn with treason, there’s no chance that Trump will be named in a treason charge.
But there is very good chance he will be named in a conspiracy involving a quid pro quo trading dirt and real estate deals for sanctions relief and other policy considerations.
The other day, I realized something ironic: in precisely the same period Trump was entering in an apparent quid pro quo with Russians, John Roberts was authoring a unanimous Supreme Court decision that clarified the limits of quid pro quo bribery.
And while the Supreme Court believed that Governor Bob McDonnell had not accepted bribes for setting up meetings in exchange for gifts, the language Roberts wrote in the weeks after Trump’s son told some Russians they would revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his father won does not so narrow the definition of bribery as to make Trump’s actions legally excusable.
Roberts described an official act this way:In sum, an “official act” is a decision or action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy.” The “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy” must involve a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit before a court, a determination before an agency, or a hearing before a committee. It must also be something specific and focused that is “pending” or “may by law be brought” before a public official. To qualify as an “official act,” the public official must make a decision or take an action on that “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy,” or agree to do so.
Notably, the bribed public official doesn’t actually have to follow through on the official act he agreed to take, so it doesn’t help Trump that Congress has repeatedly prevented him from overturning sanctions on Russia.Under this Court’s precedents, a public official is not required to actually make a decision or take an action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy”; it is enough that the official agree to do so.
And there are a number of data points in the public record that suggest Trump did believe he had made a deal with the Russians and that Russia had what it believed was a commitment from Trump. For example, four of the people who attended the June 9 meeting testified (most under oath) that Don Jr said his father would revisit sanctions relief if he got elected.Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they’d revisit the topic.Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, “if’ or “when” we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.
Ike Kaveladze said that Don Jr said they might revisit the issue if his father won.There was no request, but as I said, it was a suggestion that if Trump campaign wins, they might get back to the Magnitsky Act topic in the future.
Rinat Akhmetshin said that Don Jr said they would revisit Magnitsky when they won.A. I don’t remember exact words which were said, but I remember at the end, Donald, Jr., said, you know, “Come back see us again when we win.” Not “if we win,” but “when we win.” And I kind of thought to myself like, “Yeah, right.” But it happened, so — but that’s something, see, he’s very kind of positive about, “When we win, come back and see us again.” Something to that effect, I guess.
Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya’s translator, who is the most independent witness and the only one who didn’t compare his story with others, said that Don Jr said they would revisit the issue if Trump won.A. Like I described, I remember, not verbatim, the closing that Mr. Donald Trump, Jr., provided, but that’s all that I recall being said from the other side.
MR. PRIVOR: That closing being that Donald Trump, Jr., suggested —
MR. SAMOCHORNOV: If or when yes, and I do not remember if or when, but if or when my father becomes President, we will revisit this issue.
And Ike Kaveladze, in the call back to his boss to report on the meeting that witnesses observed, was happy with the outcome of the meeting.
It’s not just the Russians who seem to have acted on the meeting. Michael Cohen’s allocution seems to suggest that the meeting tied directly to the negotiations over a Trump Tower, because he took steps to travel to Russian on the day of the meeting.From on or about June 9 to June 14, 2016, Individual 2 sent numerous messages to COHEN about the travel, including forms for COHEN to complete. However, on or about June 14 , 2016, COHEN met Individual 2 in the lobby of the Company’s headquarters to inform Individual 2 he would not be traveling at that time.
Remember: a “senior campaign official” was involved in discussions about trips to Russia. And had the President’s personal lawyer actually taken this trip to St. Petersburg, the plan was to meet Vladimir Putin (who did attend the forum that year).
While the dates provided in Cohen’s allocution also suggest the disclosure that Russia hacked the DNC halted Cohen’s plans “at that time,” we know that the plans did resume after that canceled trip into July.
The Russians certainly believed they had an agreement. They put in some effort to meet again after Trump won. While finding an appropriate communication channel failed for the Agalarovs, Flynn and Jared Kushner moved to establish a back channel via Sergey Kislyak. When Trump met with Preet Bharara and reportedly agreed to keep him on, Veselnitskaya panicked, and suggested Trump planned to keep him on so he could take him out.
In its indictment of Veselnitskaya, DOJ just established that she was actually working as part of the Russian government when she claimed to have fought to get an MLAT request in her Prevezon case. And Veselnitskaya believed that after Trump won the election, he would take out the prosecutor whom she was facing in court. Ultimately, Trump did take out Preet, firing all his US Attorneys in an effort to do so.
Ultimately, however, details from Mike Flynn’s allocution provide one important piece of evidence that Russians believed they had received a commitment from Trump.
After Obama imposed sanctions on Russia partly in retaliation for the election year operation, Trump’s team panicked, both because they wanted to improve relations with Russia, but also because Russia’s role in his victory delegitimized the victory. That is, even those likely to be unaware of any quid pro quo recognized that the public accounting of Russia’s role in helping defeat Hillary would make it all the more difficult to deal with Russia.Obama is doing three things politically:
discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference
lure trump into trap of saying something today that casts doubt on report on Russia’s culpability and then next week release report that catches Russia red handed
box trump in diplomatically with Russia. If there is a tit-for-tat escalation trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia which has just thrown USA election to him.
Trump’s response, however, was to reach out to Russia and assure them they didn’t need to worry about Obama’s new policy. In response, the Russians made it very clear that Putin had decided not to respond based on the assurances that Flynn gave Kislyak.On or about December 30, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement indicating that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. Sanctions at that time.
On or about December 31, 2016, the Russian Ambassador called FLYNN and informed him that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to FL YNN’s request.
Mueller, of course, has the full transcript of what Flynn said to Kislyak that successfully placated Putin. It is highly likely the transcript provides explicit evidence of an official act to pay off his side of the deal, sanctions relief.
All of which is to say that Mueller may well be finalizing a conspiracy indictment of Don Jr and Trump Org laying out a quid pro quo in which Trump agreed to provide sanctions relief (and some other stuff) in exchange for Russia’s help winning the election.
That Mueller might be able to show all this is bribery may not affect Republican willingness to take the action laid out in the Constitution, to convict Trump in an impeachment inquiry. But given that the Constitution specifically envisions impeaching a President who has accepted a bribe, commentators should stop treating impeachment exclusively as a political issue.
Update: I posted this before I had read this analysis from Jack Goldsmith raising concerns about investigating the President for foreign policy decisions. While I think Goldsmith raises key points, he focuses on actions Trump took as President. But that’s one reason I think the transition activities are so important. If I’m right that the calls to Kislyak amount to an official act, then Trump took it to undermine the official policy of the government, not set it as President. Further, The Trump team had been asked — and at least one person had agreed — to not undermine Obama’s policies during the transition. There were several efforts to hide that they were doing so: the indications they couldn’t reengage on Magnitsky sanctions using the same channels as they used during the election, the request for a back channel, and the meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan that Susan Rice discovered by unmasking the identities of those who met with him.
The actions Trump took that led to Comey’s firings were part of an effort to hide these clandestine efforts during the transition. Yes, they were conducted while he was President. But they were conducted to cover up actions taken before he became President. This is why I keep harping on the remarkable lack of curiosity about why Trump really fired Flynn. The public story Trump is telling is assuredly false. The real reason almost certainly ties back to these transition period actions.
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.
*Full disclosure: I donated to Tlaib’s campaign.
https://www.emptywheel.net/2019/01/13/t ... ian-bribe/
Jonathan Karl: Mueller report is 'almost certain to be anti-climactic'
ABC Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl on Sunday said Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report is "almost certain to be anti-climactic."
Karl, who was on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" discussing the bombshell report in The New York Times and Washington Post that said the FBI opened up a counterintelligence investigation into President Donald Trump in the days after he fired James Comey because they were suspicious of his behavior, also said there has been no proof of collusion between Trump's campaign team and the Russians during the 2016 presidential election.
"Well look, I mean the story in The New York Times was an extraordinary reflection of the level of distrust between the FBI leadership and the president and how suspicious the president’s behavior was, that they actually were at -- at the -- to the point of investigating," Karl said when Stephanopoulos asked what he was hearing from sources close to Trump.
"...and -- and actually going to the point of investigating whether or not effectively the president was a Russian agent. But what I am getting is that this is all building up to the Mueller report and raising expectations of a bombshell report. And there have been expectations that have been building, of course, for over a year on this. But people who are closest to what Mueller has been doing, interacting with the special counsel caution me that this report is almost certain to be anti-climactic."
Mueller is said to be wrapping up his Russia probe within the next few months. He is also investigating whether Trump may have obstructed justice in connection with the investigation into his 2016 campaign.
The FBI inquiry forced counterintelligence investigators to evaluate whether Trump was a potential threat to national security. They also sought to determine whether Trump was deliberately working for Russia or had unintentionally been influenced by Moscow.
Trump tweeted early Saturday that the report showed that the FBI leadership "opened up an investigation on me, for no reason & with no proof" after he had fired Comey.
Mueller report is 'almost certain to be anti-climactic'
Mueller Draft Report Says Trump 'Helped Putin Destabilize the United States', Watergate Journalist Says
By Jason Lemon On Sunday, January 13, 2019 - 14:45
President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Legendary journalist Carl Bernstein has said that he’s been told that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report will show how President Donald Trump helped Russia “destabilize the United States.”
Bernstein, who is renowned for his coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of former President Richard Nixon, appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday to discuss two bombshell reports released this weekend, one from The New York Times and one from The Washington Post, which revealed new details about whether or not Trump and his aides have colluded with Russia.
The Post reported that Trump has gone to “extraordinary lengths” to conceal direct conversations he has had with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Times article revealed that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump after he fired former bureau director James Comey in 2017, suspecting the president could be working on behalf of Russia. Trump has angrily denied allegations that he worked with Russia and has regularly attacked the media for reporting on the investigation. But Bernstein slammed Trump’s dismissal of the probe.
“This is about the most serious counterintelligence people we have in the U.S. government saying, ‘Oh, my God, the president’s words and actions lead us to conclude that somehow he has become a witting, unwitting, or half-witting pawn, certainly in some regards, to Vladimir Putin,'” Bernstein explained during his appearance on Reliable Sources .
“From a point of view of strength… rather, he has done what appears to be Putin’s goals. He has helped Putin destabilize the United States and interfere in the election, no matter whether it was purposeful or not,” the journalist added. He then explained that he knew from his own high-level sources that Mueller’s report would discuss this assessment.
“And that is part of what the draft of Mueller’s report, I’m told, is to be about,” he said. “We know there has been collusion by [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn. We know there has been collusion of some sort by [Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul] Manafort. The question is, yes, what did the president know and when did he know it?”
Trump has defended himself against such reports, arguing, inaccurately, that he has taken a hardline stance against Russia.
“I have been FAR tougher on Russia than Obama, Bush or Clinton. Maybe tougher than any other President. At the same time, & as I have often said, getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. I fully expect that someday we will have good relations with Russia again! [sic],” he wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
However, the president’s 2016 campaign remains the subject of a special investigation led by Mueller. Several former high-ranking Trump aides have been indicted in the probe and last week, it was revealed that Manafort shared confidential polling data with an associate linked to Russian-intelligence.
Trump's administration recently moved to remove financial sanctions on an ally of Putin, and has recently pulled troops out of Syria -- a long-standing demand from the Russian President.
https://www.newsweek.com/mueller-report ... ssion=true
Trump’s Shot at Cohen’s Father-in-Law Looks an Awful Lot Like Witness Tampering, Dems Say
by Alberto Luperon | 2:19 pm, January 13th, 2019
Former Personal Lawyer to President Donald Trump
The relationship between President Donald Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen continues to devolve. One new interview has Dems chiding POTUS about possible witness tampering.
News that Cohen will testify before the House Oversight Commmittee on Feb. 7 got Trump to take shots at his former “fixer.”
“[Cohen] should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that’s the one that people want to look at,” Trump said Saturday in an interview with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro. “Because where does that money — that’s the money in the family. And I guess he didn’t want to talk about his father-in-law – he’s trying to get his sentence reduced. So it’s pretty sad. It’s weak and it’s very sad to watch a thing like that.”
Trump admitted during the interview that he didn’t know the father-in-law’s name, but it’s Fima Shusterman. A Chicago Sun-Times report showed that he loaned at least $20 million to a cab mogul mentioned in search warrants used by the FBI in raiding Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room.
The Trump statement got top Dems to cry foul.
“The integrity of our process to serve as an independent check on the Executive Branch must be respected by everyone, including the President,” said a joint statement from Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Maryland, 7th District), Intelligence chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California, 28th District), and judiciary chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York, 10th District). “Our nation’s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress. The President should make no statement or take any action to obstruct Congress’ independent oversight and investigative efforts, including by seeking to discourage any witness from testifying in response to a duly authorized request from Congress.”
We reached out to Professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a campaign finance law expert at Stetson University College of Law, for her take on the matter.
“Given that Michael Cohen has already implicated the president in two campaign finance crimes, the president is likely nervous about what Mr. Cohen might testify about in front of Congress,” she wrote Law&Crime in an email. “But that nervousness is no excuse for trying to intimidate a potential Congressional witness like Mr. Cohen.”
The upcoming testimony threatens to cast some pretty grim optics for the president. In pleading guilty to financial crimes and lying to congressional investigators, Cohen implicated Trump in campaign finance violations in the cover up of the POTUS’ alleged affairs with porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. He was sentenced to three years in prison, and is scheduled to begin his term March 6.
Trump is attempting to downplay his former attorney’s statements. He claimed Cohen implicated him just to get a reduced sentence. Pirro, a vocal booster of the president, called Cohen an “already-proven” liar. The office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave him some credit in their sentencing recommendation, and said he gave them credible information from the second interview, on-ward.
https://lawandcrime.com/politics/trumps ... -dems-say/
It’s Already Collusion
We don’t need news reports to tell us that Trump is giving Putin what he wants. Take it from this longtime Russia hand: It’s staring us in the face.
By STROBE TALBOTTJanuary 13, 2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images
On Friday, the New York Times revealed an FBI investigation whether Candidate Trump had colluded—the word he hates and denies—with Russians to help his campaign. The next day, the Washington Post probed into President Trump’s refusal to let his own government in on his sensitive conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among other developments, Congress has renewed calls for the State Department interpreter Maria Gross, the only other American present for Trump’s two-hour private meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, to share what she knows about the contents of their discussion.
As the plot has thickened, so have fallacious distractions. Last year the transcripts of former President Bill Clinton’s numerous meetings with the late Russian leader Boris Yeltsin were declassified, leading to persistent suggestions that Trump’s relationship with Putin is much the same as Clinton’s dealings with Yeltsin in the 1990s.
Nonsense. I was the note-taker during almost all those conversations. The Clinton-Yeltsin connection shares only one similarity with the Trump-Putin one: In both cases, the American president was helping his Kremlin counterpart. Other than that, the differences are as stark as the climate in Miami and Murmansk in January.
Whether he knows it or not, Trump is integral to Putin’s strategy to strengthen authoritarian regimes and undermine democracies around the world. This unprecedented aberration defiles what America stands for at home and abroad; it alienates and dispirits our allies; and—if it is allowed to persist—it will jeopardize our security.
In contrast, Clinton worked tirelessly with Yeltsin for seven years to assist his reforms. Yeltsin wanted post-Soviet Russia to join the community of democratic nations and the circle of major powers that would chart a course for a peaceful twenty-first century. He needed Western aid and encouragement, and Clinton did his best to provide both.
The Bill-and-Boris enterprise had something else in common: The two were building on their immediate predecessors’ vision. Mikhail Gorbachev began the liberalization that led to the collapse of the rigid Soviet system followed by that of the USSR, and Yeltsin’s ascension to the presidency of the newly independent, post-communist Russian Federation. George H. W. Bush, as the American president at the time of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, recognized that both Kremlin leaders were committed to democratization, tearing down the Iron Curtain, and making Europe “whole and free.” Therefore, it was in the U.S. interest to support that massive transformation.
When Clinton was elected in 1992, he picked up where Bush had left off, dedicating much of his own time working directly with Yeltsin on a massive, urgent, and difficult agenda:
bolstering Russia’s shaky economy,
responding to requests for expertise on building a social safety net for workers as privatization replaced massive state enterprises,
helping relocate to Russia retired Soviet-era officers living in what were now independent nations,
sending N.G.O. experts to advise on how to organize free and fair elections,
ensuring that Russia would be the only one of the former Soviet republics with nuclear weapons in exchange for Moscow’s assurance to respect the other new states’ territory and sovereignty,
opening the door for Russia to join the G-8.
These undertakings were heavy lifts, particularly for Yeltsin. Hardest of all was Russia’s partnering with an expanding NATO and providing crucial diplomatic muscle to end the Balkan bloodbath. Both were necessary to stabilize Central Europe.
Flash forward to the current administration.
Under Putin as a revanchist, Russia has reinstated four key ingredients of Soviet politics and geopolitics: the Iron Fist, the Big Lie, the expansion beyond Russian borders and the subversion of Western societies. He is giving another chance to a system that ended up on the ash heap of history in the last century because of its internal failures.
The Cold War is back with several new and ominous features. The tables have turned. Putin is on a roll. Strongmen in Europe are cloning themselves after him and with his help. Democracy is under stress if not crisis. So are regional and global institutions founded under the leadership of the U.S. after World War II, notably NATO and the integration of Western Europe. And then there’s the U.S.’s pullback from the Middle East, potentially leaving Russia the only major power in the region.
Trumpism is a godsend to Putin and a nightmare for governments in his sights—including Trump’s. The U.S. commander-in-chief is out of sync with his own administration, not to mention the government as a whole. Note his stubborn yearning to lift sanctions on Putin’s pet oligarchs.
America’s 45th president has accused his twelve predecessors, going back to Harry Truman, of making Uncle Sam “a sucker of the world.” In place of that legacy, he is shutting down America’s global franchise while building up literal and virtual walls.
In Europe, Trump has made it vastly easier for Putin to bury the Gorbachev-Yeltsin concept of partnership with the West and roll back what he sees as its incursion into Russia’s sphere of domination. Instead of shoring up key Atlantic allies, Trump is bullying and belittling them, thereby making them even more vulnerable to the rise of right-wing nationalists who now have a booster and exemplar in Trump.
Trump has an affinity for dictators—as he himself reportedly acknowledged only this week during a lunch with senators, “I don’t know why I get along with all the tough ones and not the soft ones.” He actually does know why: He’s a wannabe. He envies their unchecked power, use of intimidation and penchant for operating in secret, apparently because he doesn’t trust the advisers and agencies who work for him.
This weekend’s Post article zeroed in on the Trump-Putin “one-on-one” last July in Helsinki, without aides or note-takers. Gross, the State Department interpreter, was the only American other than Trump who knows what was said, and she is under wraps. Whatever Trump told his own staff afterward, it would be likely what he wants people to believe, especially if he is hiding something. Take his claim that he “couldn’t care less” if his conversation with Putin became public for what it is worth: nothing. What’s more telling was the smug look on Putin’s face and an uncertain one on Trump’s after the meeting.
The Russian interpreter, in any event, would have probably transcribed the tête-à-tête from memory and notes immediately after the meeting. Putin, moreover, is a skilled interrogator who would have back-briefed his inner team. As a result, the Russian side has yet another advantage in its handling of Putin’s admiring would-be friend.
Future historians will have a serious handicap when the archives of this administration’s foreign policy are opened years from now since so much of the normal process for conducting American diplomacy has been subverted or eliminated. But we already know that that the Kremlin helped put Trump into the White House and played him for a sucker.
Or put it this way: Trump has been colluding with a hostile Russia throughout his presidency. We’ll see if it started before that.
Strobe Talbott is distinguished fellow in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution. He was deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration.
https://www.politico.com/magazine/story ... tin-223973
Kremlin Blessed Russia’s NRA Operation, U.S. Intel Report Says
When Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin’s brought NRA bigwigs to Moscow, it wasn’t a rogue mission. It was okayed from the very top, according to a report reviewed by The Beast.
01.13.19 9:07 PM ET
The Kremlin has long denied that it had anything to do with the infiltration of the NRA and the broader American conservative movement. A U.S. intelligence report reviewed by The Daily Beast tells a different story.
Alexander Torshin, the Russian central bank official who spent years aggressively courting NRA leaders, briefed the Kremlin on his efforts and recommended they participate, according to the report. Its existence and contents have not previously been reported.
While there has been speculation that Torshin and his protege, Maria Butina, had the Kremlin’s blessing to woo the NRA—and federal prosecutors have vaguely asserted that she acted “on behalf of the Russian federation”—no one in the White House or the U.S. intelligence community has publicly stated as much. Senior Russian government officials, for their part, have strenuously distanced themselves from Butina’s courtship of the NRA, which she did at Torshin’s direction.
The report, on the other hand, notes that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was fine with Torshin’s courtship of the NRA because the relationships would be valuable if a Republican won the White House in 2016.
“This reporting indicates that Alexander Torshin was working with the blessing of the Kremlin, at a minimum,” one European intelligence official told The Daily Beast. The official added that this reporting is consistent with his group’s understanding of how the Kremlin operates
“The NRA is quite powerful, so when you look to influence U.S. politics, you should consider them as a convenient target,” the official added.
The report, published last year, is based on conversations that happened in 2015, before NRA leaders visited Moscow on a trip arranged by Torshin and Butina. The document does not specifically name the NRA or the Republican Party, but its context makes clear it is discussing those two American organizations. (American intelligence reports generally do not name U.S. persons or organizations for privacy and legal reasons.)
According to the report, Torshin suggested that Russian officials use the NRA to reach out to politically active Americans. Torshin, then a deputy governor at Russia’s central bank, noted the gun rights group’s influence in U.S. politics. He told the Kremlin about his contacts in the NRA, including conversations and meetings in the United States, and suggested that Kremlin officials scrutinize how some people affiliated with the group viewed relations between the U.S. and Russia.
The report notes that Russian officials discussed having their embassy in Washington participate in the work of courting the NRA. Kremlin officials also discussed preparations for NRA members’ upcoming trip to Moscow. Torshin recommended that someone from President Vladimir Putin’s executive office, meaning the group of people who support his day-to-day activities, meet with the group.
“My assessment of what was happening with Torshin and Butina and the NRA was that the Russians decided, a good period of time before 2016, to run an influence operation here in the U.S. with a couple of different goals,” said Steve Hall, who spent 30 years in the CIA and oversaw its Russia operations. “The obvious goal was the one the intelligence community assessed back in 2016, which was to help Donald Trump win and increase the likelihood that Hillary Clinton would lose. In addition, they wanted to create as much chaos in our democracy as possible.”
Spokespersons for the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment for this story. A lawyer for Butina declined to comment as well.
Kremlin officials at the highest levels have tried to distance themselves from Torshin’s outreach to the NRA. Last month, Putin denied that he or his security chiefs were aware of the undertaking.
“I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on,” he said, regarding Butina. “Nobody knows anything about her.”
And in April of 2017, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s longtime spokesperson, said nobody in the Kremlin knew anything about the broader courtship of American conservatives by prominent Russians.
“We know nothing about that,” Peskov told The Washington Post.
Torshin and the Kremlin did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Torshin spent years building relationships with the NRA, as The Daily Beast previously detailed. A Tennessee lawyer named G. Kline Preston, who practices law in the U.S. and Russia, has said he introduced Torshin to David Keene, who helmed the NRA for a time and remained deeply active in its work after ending his time running it. Thanks to Keene, Torshin built connections throughout the gun rights movement and among prominent American conservatives. Torshin also dispatched Butina, a Siberian gun rights activist, to work in the U.S. maintaining those relationships and developing new ones. Butina struck up a romance with Paul Erickson, also an influential member of the American gun rights movement, and with his help built more elaborate plans for winning allies in the NRA.
“My assessment of what was happening with Torshin and Butina and the NRA was that the Russians decided, a good period of time before 2016, to run an influence operation here in the U.S.”
— CIA veteran Steve Hall
Before moving to the U.S., she helmed a Russian gun rights organization called The Right to Bear Arms. Oligarch Konstantin Nikolaev, with the help of P.R. operator Igor Pisarsky, helped fund the group.
In December of 2015, she and Torshin helped arrange for a group of influential NRA members to travel to the Kremlin, where they had high-level meetings—including with the country’s powerful Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov; and sanctioned Putin deputy Dmitry Rogozin, an ultra-right politician who oversaw the country’s defense industry. A schedule of the 2015 trip which The Daily Beast reviewed showed attendees also planned to drive to the Presidential Administration Office on Dec. 9, 2015, for a meeting with Evgeny Lukyanov, then the Deputy Secretary of the Security Council. NRA trip participants did not respond to queries about whether the scheduled meeting with Lukyanov took place. When the trip made national news after the U.S. intelligence community publicly asserted that the Kremlin had tried to help Donald Trump win the 2016 campaign, Keene said it wasn’t about politics.
“Rogozin is chairman of the Russian Shooting Federation and his Board hosted a tour of Federation HQ for us while we were there,” he told The Daily Beast. “It was non-political. There were at least 30 in attendance and our interaction consisted of thanking him and his Board for the tour.”
Torshin and Butina’s outreach to the NRA ended unhappily for both of them. The United States placed Torshin under sanctions, and he recently left his post at the central bank. Butina, meanwhile, pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to act as a covert foreign agent. She is in jail awaiting sentencing, and agreed to cooperate with American prosecutors on their investigations.
The Senate intelligence committee is also probing Russian efforts to court the NRA. Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, is investigating the NRA’s Russia ties as well.
One veteran CIA officer noted that references to the Kremlin in intelligence reports have a more specific meaning than in general parlance, where Americans sometimes use the phrase as a metonym for the entire Russian government.
“In U.S. intelligence reports like this one, the phrase ‘the Kremlin’ generally refers to Vladimir Putin and his small inner circle, which would include key power ministers, including the heads of the intelligence services (SVR, FSB, GRU), the foreign minister, and oligarch cronies,” said a 30-year veteran of the CIA with deep knowledge of the Russian intelligence services who spoke anonymously due to the sensitivity around issues related to Russia. “In this case, Kremlin decision-making would have likely been a smaller, even more limited, group.”
International affairs professor Nina Khrushcheva of the New School, meanwhile, told The Daily Beast that the American intelligence officers who produced the report described in this piece may have overstated the Kremlin’s organization and efficiency.
“I’m sure there’s truth to the report,” she said, “but that kind of incredible consistency and logic that Americans have in their report about what and how Russia is doing is just culturally wrong.”
“Russia is a chaotic country that makes it up as it goes along,” she added.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/kremlin-b ... eport-says
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