Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Case For Trump's Russia Collusion Is Made; We're Just Filling In The Details

There is a glimmer of hope even as Donald Trump destroys the government, undermines our core values, tries to divide us with hate and fear mongering, further isolates America from the world community and becomes increasingly unhinged. 
This is because we are at the point in the movie known as the Russia scandal where the plot, star and supporting actors are well known even if the ending is not.  Beyond the Right Wing Noise Machine, an increasing number of policy makers and mere mortals like you and I now not only believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 election for the purpose of electing Trump, but his campaign -- and the Global Village Idiot himself -- eagerly participated in that effort. 
Does this bring us any closer to impeachment or forced resignation?  Not necessarily, but the path to those outcomes is clearer and the possibility that Trump will not serve out his usurped-by-cybersabotage four-year term improves with each new gut-wrenching revelation.
The case against Trump has been made; we're just filling in the details and waiting for the next round of indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. 
To wit:
* The campaign's subterranean involvement in the unholy alliance between Julian Assange's WikiLeaks and the Kremlin in its election interference plot has now been thoroughly documented, as well as serving up another batch of potential perjury charges for Mueller. 
* As the mountain of documentation of campaign collusion with the Kremlin grows ever higher, the perps are now left to argue that they were too stupid or incompetent to organize a conspiracy, which has become the go-to alibi for Jeff Sessions, among others. 
* Trump's addiction to tweeting is a priceless trove of information for investigators, a prime example of which is his October 22, 2016 tweet on hacked Democratic emails that followed by 15 minutes a WikiLeak email to eldest son Donald Jr. about their imminent release. 
* The sheer number and extent of confirmed contacts with Russians, which now number about 20, is not merely incriminating, the absence of any contacts whatsoever with China, Germany or any other global player makes Trump's continuing denials even more farcical.    
Trump, meanwhile, has not so much been grasping at straws as throwing them all up in the air.  In this context, the magnitude of his statements on his recent Asia trip about Putin -- about whom other world leaders have nothing good to say -- are especially striking because they are a betrayal of American interests that flirt with treason. 
"He just -- every time he sees me, he says 'I didn't do that,' " Trump said of Putin's claims that there was no election interference.  "And I believe -- I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. . . . I think he's very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth."   
That abjectly fawning statement was followed by the renewed claim that the scandal was an "artificial Democratic hit job," this time with a sinister new twist -- that not sucking up to Putin would cause people to die in Syria because of the Russian leader's hurt feelings, and that the Obama administration intelligence officials who had concluded there was interference, including FBI Director James Comey, were "political hacks."    
The next round of Mueller indictments promise to be yuge.  As former Dubya speechwriter Michael Gerson astutely puts it in analyzing the state of play:
I spent part of my convalescence from a recent illness reading some of the comprehensive timelines of the Russia investigation. . . . In all of this, there is a spectacular accumulation of lies.  Lies on disclosure forms.  Lies at confirmation hearings.  Lies on Twitter.  Lies in the White House briefing room.  Lies to the FBI.  Self-protective lies by the attorney general.  Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence.  This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing. 
What are the implications? President Trump and others in his administration are about to be hit by a legal tidal wave.  We look at the Russia scandal and see lies.  A skilled prosecutor sees leverage.  People caught in criminal violations make more cooperative witnesses.  Robert S. Mueller III and his A-team of investigators have plenty of stupidity and venality to work with.  They are investigating an administration riven by internal hatreds — also the prosecutor’s friend.  And Trump has already alienated many potential allies in a public contest between himself and Mueller.  A number of elected Republicans, particularly in the Senate, would watch this showdown with popcorn.  
Mueller's next round of indictments may not touch directly on election skullduggery. While that jackpot is within his grasp, he has plenty of ammo -- including money laundering, tax fraud, the surfeit of perjurious conduct and (drum roll, please!) receiving stolen property in the form of computer hacking, among other crimes -- to use in the meantime while leaning on certain perps to cooperate with his investigation. 
Once again with feeling: It doesn't matter that the self-admitted incompetence and Trump's insane tweeting would seem to mean that he and his campaign didn't have the smarts to pull off their end of a conspiracy.  That construction ignores the reality that there was a conspiracy, even if aspects were jerry rigged as candidate and handlers eagerly allowed themselves to be played by the Russians, and more frequently than not took the bait dangled by the Kremlin.   
It's a wonder that Mueller is able to keep up with it all.   

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.

Monday, November 13, 2017

On Julian Assange's Twisted Embrace Of Vladimir Putin & Betrayal Of WikiLeaks

When you cut through everything that Julian Assange has said about himself and others have said about him -- and there are gigabytes of it -- the only thing that matters is whether Assange has betrayed the admirable founding principles of WikiLeaks by climbing into bed with Vladimir Putin.  The answer is that he not only has, but his betrayal of those principles is so twisted and selfish that this deeply arrogant man, who loves being the center of attention, played a starring role in fixing the 2016 presidential election and the consequent disaster of the Donald Trump presidency. 
Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden on since-dropped rape and sexual molestation charges (he's a misogynist if not an outright woman hater, you know) and the larger fear that Sweden would then send him to the U.S. and charge him with espionage because of his role in publishing troves of secret American military and government documents.
In the few recent interviews Assange has given, most notably for Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorkerhis trademark cockiness evaporates when asked about the by-now well documented ties between WikiLeaks and hackers working for the Kremlin, which he furiously denies.  
This despite the beyond obvious coordination between the public boasts of Assange and a Trump confidante in close contact with him at pivotal moments during the presidential campaign and releases of tens of thousands of emails ostensibly damaging to Hillary Clinton by WikiLeaks from Russian hackers, notably Guccifer 2.0, an online persona used by two Russian intelligence agencies, and the DCLeaks website that the agencies ran and hackers and trolls repeatedly linked back to in unleashing fake news and anti-Clinton hashtags at the probable prompting of the Trump campaign's digital team.   
In particular, these fusillades targeted voters in three nominally blue swing states where the digital team found unexpected weakness in voter support for Clinton.  Trump eked out victories in those states in winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote.  
(Never mind that the emails were rather tame and far from being the stuff of exposés. They did the trick.) 
"I love WikiLeaks," Trump exultantly declared as Clinton licked her wounds and argued correctly that WikiLeaks had played a key role in keeping her from the Oval Office. 
"It's a very sad story for us personally," says Andre Soldatov, who along with fellow Russian journalist Irina Borogan run, a security watchdog website.  "We believed back in 2010 in the mission of WikiLeaks, thus transparency and holding power in check are important words for us.   
"The most important thing we found out that in the spring and summer of 2016 [when Russian election meddling was ramping up and the WikiLeaks-Russia syncronicity became apparent], WikiLeaks suddenly compromised the very principles Assange proclaimed. . . . For us it's a story of betrayal, both principles and people." 
Assange is back in the news after meeting on August 16 with Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, a Russia sycophant and all-around kook who buys into Assange's assertion that Russia did not meddle in the election, which of course puts he and Assange in some pretty fast company.  As in Trump himself.   
Rohrabacher, in a call to White House chief of staff John Kelly last week, proposed that a pardon deal be made for Assange in return for the WikiLeaks founder providing digital evidence that he says would clear Russia of the election meddling allegations.  No word on what Kelly's response was, but it's safe to say the proposal was dead on arrival.  And as big a genius Assange may believe himself to be, proving a negative in this instance would be quite a feat.  
There is a contemporaneous parallel for Assange's betrayal of the founding principles of WikiLeaks. 
Myanmar head of state Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her decades-long campaign against that country's military junta, but has become the embodiment of evil herself as she persecutes the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, who are fleeing the country by the tens of thousands in the face of missile attacks on their burning villages that she undoubtedly ordered or, at the very least, could stop but will not. 
While goings-on in the country formerly known as Burma is an abstraction for most Americans, the fact that the Oval Office is occupied by a profoundly unqualified narcissist who has turned the national mood from cautious optimism to dread in a few months most definitely is not. 
I am among the millions of people who once hailed Assange.  He founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and began taking on the world's most powerful institutions, a crusade that fueled democratic uprisings, brought forth human-rights cases and laid bare the hypocrisies of America as superpower as revealed in the trove of classified military records from Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department diplomatic cables provided Assange by a young Army private by the name of Chelsea Manning. 
But somewhere along the way Assange wandered into a moral wilderness.   The WikiLeaks grail was to hold institutions accountable, but it is now WikiLeaks itself that is unaccountable. 
In the five years he has been holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy his methodology and his motivations have changed.  Some of the more recent WikiLeaks disclosures have caused genuine harm with no discernible benefit other than feeding Assange's immense ego.  These have included revealing the identities of teenage rape victims in Saudi Arabia, dissidents in China and anti-government activists in Syria.  
Assange has not been coy about his hatred for Clinton and affection for Putin, and that begins to explain how WikiLeaks feasted on Democratic emails hacked by Russians in Putin's pay in what became a coordinated propaganda effort.    
When Assange was briefly jailed in England in 2010 because of British government concern that he would flee the country to avoid extradition to Sweden, Putin cast him as a symbol of Western hypocrisy.  "Why have they hidden Mr. Assange in prison?  That's what -- democracy," the Russian leader asked.   
Two years later, Assange agreed to do a talk show on RT, a Kremlin-sponsored news and propaganda outlet.  While the show folded after 12 episodes, he continued to appear on RT to promote his interests, including America bashing.  RT's U.S. affiliate, RT America, actively promoted some of the fake news stories that helped undermine Clinton's campaign.    
Assange's hate Clinton-love Putin thing also informs his passionate denials about collaborating with Putin's hackers.  By design, the WikiLeaks site nominally prevents him from knowing where submissions come from so the identities of sources can be kept secret.  So how then can Assange know that Russians were not the source of the the emails?  Then there is the question of how he got them in the first place. 
Whatever one thinks of Assange's election disclosures," writes The New Yorker's 
Khatchadourian, "Accepting his contention that they shared no ties with the two Russian fronts [Guccifer 2.0] requires willful blindness." 
Assange, once asked what he would do if he learned that intelligence agencies were using WikiLeaks as a "laundry" for information warfare, replied: "If it's true information, we don't care where it comes from.  Let people fight with the truth, and when the bodies are cleared there will be bullets of truth everywhere." 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Maximum Bob Prepares To Lower A Very Big Boom On Those Unbelievable Flynns

A suspension of belief, as well as a vivid imagination, is sometimes required when grappling with the Russia scandal and its cast of characters.  This is not because press accounts are not to be believed.  They have been quite accurate.  It is because some of the things that these characters have said and done are so unbelievable, and no more so than with Michael Flynn and his son. 
Michael Flynn Jr. is a chip off the old block.  Like his father, he is a hair-on-fire Islamaphobe, a promoter of the most outlandish conspiracy theories, and of the belief that the laws and norms that you and I are obligated to follow do not apply to them.  This makes father and son perfect stooges for Donald Trump, as well as why Special Prosecutor Robert "Maximum Bob" Mueller is in the process of lowering a very big boom on them. 
Father and son have qualified for a smorgasbord of potential charges from Mueller's grand jury, ranging from money laundering to illegal lobbying work, while the number of perjury counts against pere Flynn could number in the double digits.  And this doesn't not even include his role as a go between for the Trump campaign and Russians in the service of Vladimir Putin and the greater glory of Mother Russia.   
But the caper that is getting so much attention these days falls unequivocally into the realm of the unbelievable:  
Shortly after Trump had named Flynn his national security adviser (against the advice of intelligence officials who correctly believed that he had been compromised by Moscow and was subject to blackmail), he and his son cut a deal with the government of Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan some three months in the making.  They would kidnap Erdoğan's arch enemy, Fethullah Gülen, a dissident Turkish cleric living legally in the Pennsylvania Poconos, and spirit him off in a private jet to a Turkish prison island for upwards of a cool $15 million.  The plot would have been carried out after Flynn Sr. was installed in the White House. 
It doesn't matter that the deal fell through for reasons that aren't clear.   
The point, should anyone need reminding, is that a retired three-star general -- a man who would shortly assume one of the most sensitive posts in government -- had no problem selling his influence, as well as his soul, in the service of doing dirty work for a foreign government.  Like I said, just another Trump stooge.   
And there was a sidelight: 
In addition to the kidnap plot, Flynn and Turkish reps discussed how to free Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who is moldering in a federal lockup after being busted by the Obama (remember him?) administration for masterminding a huge operation to help the Iranian government evade economic sanctions put in place to discourage it from building nuclear weapons.  Flynn joins esteemed company in trying to spring Zarrab: Rudy Giuliani and Michael Mukasey.  (Remember them?)
The Turkish government already had paid Flynn $530,000 while he was working for the Trump campaign to do opposition research on Gülen, while Flynn not coincidentally told outgoing national security adviser Susan Rice during the presidential transition to not move forward with an Obama administration plan to arm Syrian Kurds in the fight against ISIS.  This is because Turkey, which has fought Kurdish separatists for years, opposed the plan, and that and the promise of a big payday is all a reprobate like Flynn needed to know. 
The Flynns are a classic case of hardheads meeting hardball, and the winners of this mismatch are not in doubt. 
An indictment of Flynn --  that is, if he doesn't crack first and agree to cooperate to save fils Flynn's ass -- would lead to the Oval Office because of Trump's repeated efforts ostensibly to protect pere Flynn from then-FBI Director James Comey's nascent Russia scandal investigation.  And the reality that the president was not trying to shield his short-lived national security adviser, but himself.   
Comey, of course, got sacked when he didn't get the message, which led to Mueller's appointment in one of the more delicious twists in presidential history. 
Flynn has an enormous incentive to protect his son, so the chances of him cooperating -- and the footsteps Trump has been hearing growing louder still -- seem pretty darned good. 
Speaking of unbelievable, Trump's incuriousness, gullibility and flirtation with treason continues to boggle the mind. 
After an informal meeting with Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Vietnam over the weekend, Trump rekindled his bromance with the Russian leader, afterwards declaring himself convinced that Putin's denials of election interference are believable.  Not leaving it at that, he said the entire scandal is "an artificial Democratic hit job" and called Comey a "liar" and "leaker." 
For good measure, he yet again dissed the U.S. intelligence officials who concluded the interference was all too real, calling them "political hacks" before a torrent of stateside criticism rained down on his peculiar hair and the inevitable walk back commenced.   

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline on the Russia scandal. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day 2017

I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. The enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days. As I'm sure Elias will be, fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called "possession of my soul." There are times since, I've felt like a child, born of those two fathers. But be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again. To teach others what we know, and to try with what's left of our lives to find a goodness and a meaning to this life.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Why One Little Meeting Has Taken On Such Big Importance In The Russia Scandal

It was an odd group that assembled on that unseasonably cool late spring afternoon around a table in a conference room on an upper floor of a glass and marble skyscraper on New York's Fifth Avenue.  On one side of the table were three Russians. On the other side were Donald Trump's eldest son, son-in-law and the man who was about to become manager and chief strategist of the billionaire's improbable campaign to become president.   
With one of the three members of the Trump campaign brain trust who attended the June 9, 2016 sitdown at Trump Tower already under indictment and the other two likely to be, the meeting has taken on an outsized importance to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation.   
This is because the events surrounding the meeting -- both before and after -- suggest that Trump not only encouraged members of his campaign team to collude with Russians working for Vladimir Putin to interfere in the forthcoming election, but expected the meeting to pay dividends for his long-shot bid for the presidency because it would provide new ammunition with which to assail the chief target of his incendiary stump speeches -- Hillary Clinton. 
Prior to the meeting, there already had been several attempts by Russians to find entry points into the Trump campaign, an effort that accelerated after he clinched the Republican nomination on May 26, 2016 amidst a flurry of media reports that his campaign had no agenda, was disorganized and several key positions had been left unfilled.   
Then Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge overseeing the Trump University case, unsealed court documents detailing explosive fraud allegations, triggering an outburst from Trump that Curiel was biased by his "Mexican heritage" despite being born in Indiana. 
After railing against Curiel for several days, Trump returned to a familiar theme on June 2 in a speech in San Diego five days before the California primary, hammering Clinton over emails deleted from her personal server while she was secretary of state. 
"By the way, Hillary Clinton is missing 30,000 emails," he said.  "They've been deleted.  30,000.  30,000."  
When eldest son Donald Trump Jr. scrolled through his email in-box the next day, there was a message from Rob Goldstone, a publicist whose musician clients included Emin Agaralov, the son of a Russian oligarch and former Trump Sr. business partner who was close to Putin.  Goldstone did not equivocate in the June 3 message: 
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning, and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.  This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump -- helped along by Aras and Emin. 
Donald Jr. responded not by refusing the offer or alerting the FBI, but by replying with the now infamous words, "If it's what you say I love it." 
It is likely that Trump Sr. was informed of the enticing news and approved of the meeting.   But had his son not already briefed him, Trump almost certainly would have known after he reportedly spoke by phone with Emin Agalarov on June 6.  In any event, on June 7 he tweeted the promise of "big news" on Clinton's "crimes" in a forthcoming "major speech." 
Trump amplified on the promise that night after winning the California and New Jersey primaries. 
"I'm going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week," he declared in a victory speech in Briarcliff Manor, New York.  "And we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.  I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.  I wonder if the press will want to attend.  Who knows?"
Meanwhile, Donald Jr. had invited two other important campaign players to the meeting -- Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. 
Kushner, the husband of his kid sister Ivanka, was in some ways a mirror image of Trump Sr.  He had a reputation for shady and occasionally disastrous business practices as a real estate developer and was a manipulator, blame shifter and liar for whom everything was about money. 
Several days after the meeting, Kushner was named head of the campaign's digital team and in all likelihood was responsible for helping Russian hackers identify voters to target with cyber onslaughts of fake anti-Clinton news in the Kremlin's successful effort to sabotage her campaign.  He also was to pop up with uncanny regularity at many of the meetings with the very Russians being investigated by Mueller. 
Manafort was a longtime associate of Trump who was sometimes referred to as his consigliere.   He had made his nut through financial wheeling and dealing with shadowy Russian figures abroad and corporate shell games and money laundering at home, and 11 days after the meeting was promoted to run the campaign, a job that gave him control over day-to-day operations.   
It seemed to be an unusual choice since Manafort had no experience running a national political campaign, but what he did have was connections.   He had lobbied on behalf of a rogue's gallery of corrupt foreign leaders and had developed an image-enhancement campaign for Putin puppet Viktor Yanukovych, who served as Ukrainian president from 2010-2014 before fleeing to Moscow after being deposed in a popular uprising.
The meeting commenced at 4 p.m. and lasted 20 to 30 minutes.  Trump himself had attended a Trump Victory Fund fundraising lunch at the Four Seasons before returning to his Trump Tower penthouse, where he remained for the rest of the afternoon.
The three Russians on the other side of the table were lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, Ike Kaveladze, an official in Agalarov's real estate company, and lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has continually lied about who she is, who she was representing, and the real reason for her being at the meeting.   
When news of the meeting was first reported by The New York Times on July 8, 2017, Veselnitskaya described herself as a private attorney who wanted Trump to roll back the Magnitsky Act if he became president.   
The act, passed by Congress in 2012, was named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who uncovered a $230 million web of corruption and fraud involving law enforcement, tax officials and the Russian mafia.  He died in a Moscow prison in 2009 where he had been held without trial after allegedly being beaten and tortured by government officials. 
The Magnitsky Act, which was aggressively supported by Clinton, prohibited the Russian officials believed to be responsible for Magnitsky's death from entering the U.S. or using its banking system, and preceded by 15 months the first of three rounds of increasingly broad Obama administration sanctions on Russia in response to its takeover of Crimea.   The Magnitsky Act so outraged Putin that he retaliated by banning the adoption of Russian children by Americans. 
Contacted by The Times, Donald Jr. also stated that the meeting was about adoptions, but that explanation lasted barely 24 hours. 
On July 9, The Times reported that Donald Jr. had agreed to the meeting on the premise that damaging information on Clinton would be provided.  Donald Jr. confirmed that, but asserted the information was not useful and was merely a pretext to discuss adoption. 
On July 10, The Times published the pre-meeting email exchange between Goldstone and Donald Jr.   
On July 11, Donald Jr. posted on Twitter screenshots of all the emails between he and Goldstone with an accompanying statement saying he believed the meeting would be about "Political Opposition Research."  "To put this in context," he stated, "this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue." 
On July 12, President Trump, returning from a G20 meeting in Germany aboard Air Force One, told reporters, "Don is -- as many of you know Don -- he's a good boy.  He's a good kid.  And he had a meeting, nothing happened at the meeting. . . . [which] I only heard about two or three days ago" but nothing came of it. 
On July 31, The Washington Post reported Trump had overruled his aides to personally direct that misleading statements be issued regarding the meeting.  
Trump never gave his "major speech" on Clinton, and it is easy to understand why.  The "dirt" Veselnitskaya brought to the meeting was small beer, a convoluted tale in which Clinton played a peripheral role, at best. 
Meanwhile, it turned out Veselnitskaya was not exactly a babe in the woods.  She had an intelligence background, was hard-wired to Putin and had discussed the "dirt" with one of Russia's most powerful officials, prosecutor general Yuri Y. Chaika. 
A memo Veselnitskaya brought to the meeting was nearly identical to one Chaika's office had given a U.S. congressman in April 2016, The Times reported late last month.  It alleged that Ziff Brothers Investments, an American firm, had illegally purchased shares in a Russian company and evaded tens of millions of dollars of Russian taxes, two of the brothers were major donors to Democratic candidates, including Clinton, and by implication the donations were tainted by "stolen" money. 
Veselnitskaya embellished on the story in an interview with a Russian media outlet in Moscow last weekend, saying Trump Jr. had asked for financial documents showing that money that was from the alleged evasion of taxes had gone to Clinton's campaign but she did not have any. 
The Trump campaign officials at the meeting felt let down and even baffled by Veselnitskaya's presentation about the Democratic donors. 
"Some DNC [Democratic National Committee] donors may have done something in Russia and they didn't pay taxes," Donald Jr. was to say later.  "I was like, 'What does this have to do with anything?' " 
That, of course, misses the point. 
The Trumps, anxious if not desperate to climb into bed with the Russians, were duped. Donald Jr, took their bait and shared it with his father, who with his trademark impetuosity and the knowledge that his attacks on Clinton were working at a time when little else in his campaign was, went public and promised major revelations. 
Donald Jr., Kushner and Manafort have all testified behind closed doors to congressional investigators about the meeting.  Manafort has been indicted by Mueller's grand jury for conspiring against the U.S. by money laundering and tax and foreign lobbying violations.  Donald Jr. and Kushner also are in the special prosecutor's crosshairs. 
So was the Trump Tower sitdown an attempt by Russian intelligence to gauge how willing the campaign was to accept assistance from Moscow?  You bet it was.   
But the larger questions are whether a future Trump administration would ease off on U.S. sanctions in return for real evidence on Clinton and the reason, when confronted with questions about the meeting, both father and son lied despite describing it as innocuous and uneventful.
Which is why it has taken on such importance to Robert Mueller. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.  

Sunday, November 05, 2017

In Maximum Bob's World, Never Is Heard A Truthful Word, But The Fishing Is Great

Maximum Bob Mueller has a secret, and it must bring a smile to his poker face in private moments: Being special prosecutor is pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel. 
This is because the bottom-feeding friends, campaign associates and family members who swim in Donald Trump's swamp are easy pickings.  They are reprobates for whom laws are to be broken, no lie is too outrageous and the bottom feeders who emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union are matches made in shyster heaven for them.   
Trump has accomplished damned little, but he has breathed new life into the concept of irony.   
Trump may have finally realized that he is unable to manipulate what the Justice Department and FBI do, although not without having tried, as did Richard Nixon en route to impeachment.  In fact, Nixon's efforts to do what Trump has attempted were the fifth specification in the Articles of Impeachment that led to his resignation. 
Building on that irony, Trump tweeted at length prior to embarking on his saber-rattling tour of the Far East about the criminal justice system being "a joke" and "a laughingstock" in berating officials for not obeying him and investigating his political opponents. 
Well, Mr. Trump, the system does work, just like it eventually did with Tricky Dick, and Maximum Bob is here to show you just how effective it can be.   
Trump might recall in his more lucid moments that Maximum Bob is on the scene because he tried to twist that system to his own ends by leaning on FBI Director James Comey to knock off his investigation into Russian election interference and his campaign's collusion with Moscow and, when he didn't get the message, he sacked him. 
Many criminal cases hang by a thread, but the perps swimming in Trump's swamp have, for the most part, proven track records as thoroughly bad actors.  Or are rubes who were in way over their heads.  You can put George Popadopoulos and Donald Trump Jr. in the latter category. 
Maximum Bob's opening fusillade of indictments -- and the appearance of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates at the federal courthouse in Washington and Papadopoulos's surprise guilty plea -- took his investigation from the theoretical to the concrete.  It undermined in one fell swoop Trump's contention that the entire scandal is a "hoax" and showed that the special prosecutor is keenly interested in the inner workings of the Trump campaign, as well as business contacts between Russians and Trump, his associates and family members. 
"The release of both sets of charges on the same day was a shrewd strategic move by Mueller," says Randall Eliason, a law prof and expert in white-collar crime.  "Manafort, who apparently has refused to cooperate, ends up indicted and potentially facing a decade or more in prison.  Papadopoulos, who chose to cooperate and plead guilty, faces a single, relatively minor felony charge and may avoid jail altogether.  The message to future witnesses is clear: be like George, not like Paul."
Intriguingly, Papadolpoulos is referred to as a "proactive cooperator" in his plea agreement, which may mean he wore a wire and recorded phone calls for Mueller.
Maximum Bob is carrying out his investigation in stages.   Not as if he was taking on an organized crime organization, as some pundits have noted, but because he is doing just that as he drills into the extraordinary number of Russian political and business connections to Trump's campaign.   
And recall that we still don't know Trump's own direct financial ties because he won't disclose his tax returns, although I suspect that Maximum Bob does because he has been working with the IRS's Criminal Investigation division.   
Expect a slew of additional indictments before the dust settles.   
They almost certainly will include the president's eldest son and son-in-law in addition to Carter Page, Roger Stone and Felix Sater, among other perps thrashing around in Maximum Bob's barrel. Then there is short-lived national security adviser Michael Flynn, who may already be cooperating with the special counsel, possibly to try to spare prosecution of his son, Michael Jr.  There also is an outside chance that two Trump Cabinet officials could come under the hammer -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Trump built his fortune on lies, and those lies could undo him.  But there's a problem, and it's a yuge one. 
All those indictments present and future are part of a criminal process, specifically for the violations of federal law that Maximum Bob and his legal sharpshooters have identified, including the money laundering, failure to report foreign bank accounts and acting as unregistered foreign agents that tripped up Manafort and Gates, and lying to the FBI, which brought down Papadopoulos.
Impeachment is a political process, and while Maximum Bob can and almost certainly will inform Congress that Trump has committed impeachable offenses, including obstruction of justice and trying to use the Justice Department and FBI to go after his enemies, Congress as it is currently constituted is unlikely to do anything. 
Nevertheless, have the fruits of Maximum Bob's labors increased the chances of the Trump presidency collapsing into the swamp?
"It's like hitting a boulder with a hammer 1,000 times and it doesn't break," said John Sipher, highly regarded national security analyst and former CIA spy.  "Then you hit it the 1,001st time and it smashes to pieces.  It's hard to predict." 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Keep Your Eye On The Ball: The Russia Scandal Was An Assault On Democracy

As the White House Spin Machine works overtime in concert with the Right Wing Noise Machine to try to divert attention from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's shock-and-awe indictments, it is time to remember yet again that the Russia scandal is not about partisan politics.  It is about an assault on American democracy. 
Even the most benign spin -- that the indictments are not proof of collusion, merely bad judgement -- ignores the obvious.  That is, for decades Donald Trump and his associates eagerly cut deals with bottom feeders who emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union.  They could have turned down overtures to conspire with Vladimir Putin in his repeated cyberattacks on the Hillary Clinton campaign.  They could have done the patriotic thing and gone to the FBI, but of course did not, because they always had taken the low road and the potential reward in this instance was not millions or billions of dollars, but the biggest payoff of all -- a Trump presidency. 
I continue to believe that Trump still doesn't really understand what has hit him.  For him, the collusion at the heart of Mueller's investigation was just another crooked business deal that happened to be exposed.  And while Trump can't blithely declare bankruptcy and walk away from his creditors, as he so often has done, he can play to the MAGA crowd by portraying himself as a victim, Mueller as a partisan stooge and Clinton as the real villain.  
This exculpatory hogwash would be amusing were the underlying actions not so insidious and, yes, treasonous.   
My ever-growing timeline of the scandal reveals no fewer than 15 meetings and other contacts from late 2015 through Election Day, the presidential transition and beyond involving Trump, family members and campaign associates with Russians hot wired into Putin's plot that add up to a willingness to collude -- and sometimes an eagerness to do so, witness Donald Trump Jr.'s infamous "If it's what you say I love it" response to one of the offers of Kremlin dirt on Clinton. 
Nothingburger, indeed.  
Conspicuous in his absence from the barrage of filings from Mueller that included Paul Manafort and Rick Gates and revealed that George Papadopoulos had copped a plea was Michael Flynn. 
Trump went out of his way to protect and defend his short-lived national security director and architect of his America First policy.  Trump repeatedly asked then-FBI Director James Comey to go easy on Flynn after Flynn's multiple transgressions -- repeatedly failing to disclose payments for back-channel work for Russian-linked entities and other foreign interests and repeatedly failing to register as a representative of some of those groups -- were disclosed.   
Flynn, in his capacity as a campaign adviser,  also traveled to Moscow, met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and was identified by Russians as a way to influence Trump in U.S. intelligence intercepts.  Then this week it was revealed that Flynn followed Russian troll factory Twitter accounts and pushed their messages in the month before the election. 
Trump's uncharacteristic compassion for Flynn unquestionably stems from his concern that he knows an awful lot about campaign collusion and would be a threat if he talked to Mueller and his team. 
Or perhaps he already has.  
Sam Clovis and Robert Mercer are the latest people to learn the hard way that if you fall into Trump's orbit, you will be burned by the experience. 
Clovis, a professor of business management, Iowa conservative talk-radio host and Tea Partier whom Trump had nominated to be the Department of Agriculture's chief scientist despite being utterly unqualified for the post, withdrew his name from consideration 48 hours after Mueller's indictment barrage after campaign foreign policy adviser Papadopoulos revealed that as Trump's national co-chairman, Clovis encouraged him to pursue relationships with Russians who had dirt on Clinton. 
Clovis already has had one chat with Mueller's grand jury and an encore performance seems likely.  Woe be it to him if he lied the first time around, because a federal pen would be a whole lot less fun than even Sioux City.
Mercer is a less sympathetic figure than Clovis, if that's possible. 
The billionaire backer of conservative causes and patron of Stephen Bannon is being forced to step down as co-chief executive of Renaissance Technologies, a giant hedge fund, because of a growing backlash among the fund's customers over Mercer's embrace of polarizing political figures, including nationalists and white separatists. 
Among the clients throwing in the towel is the retirement fund for Baltimore's police and firefighters, which has asked that all of the $33 million it invested in Renaissance be refunded.
Then there's this: Mercer is a major financial backer of Cambridge Analytica, a voter data mining firm that has worked closely with the Trump campaign.  Perhaps too closely, as in coordinating its work with Russian election interference efforts, something that Mueller is no doubt looking into and may have hastened Mercer's decision to spend more time with his family. 
Impeachment has been the Holy Grail of liberals since the full extent of the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia became evident. 
Mueller's initial salvo of indictments with the probability of many more to come has yet again quickened the pulses of writers for liberal rags like Vanity Fair, where reporter Gabriel Sherman quotes former Trump campaign aide Sam Numberg as saying "Trump is at 33 percent in Gallup.  You can't go any lower.  He's fucked." 
In The Independent UK, reporter Lucy Pasha-Robinson says Trump is turning on son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kusher for giving him lousy advice on hiring Flynn and firing Comey "as the prospect of impeachment becomes a real possibility."  
And so on and so forth. 
Democratic Party leaders and especially Democratic candidates running in competitive districts in the 2018 election are trying to tamp down impeachment talk as premature even though an online petition to impeach Trump has more than a million signatures.
They know that wishful thinking isn't going to move the Republican-controlled House, where an impeachment vote would be taken, or the Senate, where a trial would be held, no matter how tight the noose around Trump's neck becomes, and can only hope the Democratic Party can retake the House (a log shot) and Senate (an even longer shot).

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.