Monday, May 29, 2017

The Puzzle Palace And The G-Men

Former NSA analyst John Schindler says that the order has come from agency chief Adm. Mike Rogers to unleash the full power of the agency and preserve anything and everything collected on Team Trump period.

In my last column, I broke the news that Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, reportedly explained to his workforce last week that he had declined to assist President Donald Trump in his efforts to undermine the FBI and its counterintelligence investigation of the White House. As Rogers is said to have explained to agency personnel, “There is no question that we have evidence of election involvement and questionable contacts with the Russians.”

On this basis, Admiral Rogers confirmed the existence of highly classified signals intelligence which establishes some sort of collusion between Team Trump and the Kremlin during the 2016 election campaign. However, now that the Justice Department has appointed Robert Mueller special counsel charged with running the Russia investigation, NSA is apparently pulling out all the stops to track down any additional evidence which might be relevant to the expanded inquiry into KremlinGate.

Specifically, last week NSA is believed to have sent out an unprecedented order to the Directorate of Operations, the agency’s largest unit. The DO, as insiders term it, manages all of NSA’s SIGINT assets worldwide, making it the most important spy operation on earth. The email sent to every person assigned to the DO came from the Office of General Counsel, the NSA’s in-house lawyers, and it was something seldom seen at the agency—a preservation order.

Such an order would have charged every DO official, from junior analysts to senior managers, with finding any references to individuals involved in KremlinGate, especially high-ranking Americans—and preserving those records for Federal investigators. This would include intercepted phone calls and any transcripts of them, emails, online chats, faxes—anything the agency might have picked up last year.

At the request of NSA officials, I will not name the specific individuals that DO personnel have been told to be on the lookout for in SIGINT intercepts, but one could fairly surmise that the list includes virtually all key members of Team Trump.

Take it as you will, I believe that Schindler is right on the preservation order.  The reason is why, and he helpfully gives a devil's advocate defense:

The DO is divided into offices which focus on a specific country or region (e.g. China, the Middle East) or on a defined problem set (e.g. counterterrorism, counterintelligence). Months ago, the DO’s Russia shop is said to have received a preservation order from the agency’s lawyers—no surprise, given what that office does. Now such an order has reportedly been passed to the whole DO, including offices which have nothing to do with Russia. This demonstrates the agency’s serious intent to provide investigators with any evidence which may shed additional light on KremlinGate.

That said, NSA may have another motive in issuing this DO-wide order. Such motive is the Intelligence Community’s venerable tradition of self-preservation, what spy-veterans term CYA. As Trump’s Russia problems have heated up, his fans and media allies have made increasingly serious accusations of malfeasance by NSA and other spy agencies under President Obama. Some of these wild charges have been ludicrous, merely lies created by Kremlin disinformation outlets, then parroted by right-wing media in America.
That media has lavished particular attention on the issue of SIGINT unmasking, meaning the process of how NSA responds to high-level requests to reveal the name of any American who appears in an intelligence report (normally those names are redacted; for an explanation of how this complex issue really works, see this). Although there’s no evidence of any systematic abuse of unmasking by President Obama, this hasn’t halted the increasingly shrill accusations. 

Which is odd because anyone who has followed Schindler's blog and Observer column would be able to say that he is no fan of President Obama whatsoever.  Yes, this could be Schindler going to bat to protect his former employer from criticism, after all Edward Snowden and more recently Harold Martin did catastrophic damage to the agency and its reputation.  The information Putin got to compromise us came from these guys, and they remain some of the largest failures in American intelligence history, and Schindler has blamed Obama for these events for years now.  Of course Schindler wants to redeem the Puzzle Palace.

Having said that, it does make sense that with a special counsel like Robert Mueller now on the case that he would enlist the NSA's help on this.  Maybe Schindler's finally buried the hatchet long enough to realize the real bad guy here is Trump...and Putin.  Ahh, but Trump's increasing paranoia is going to make things very rough for the agency, and he can still do a lot of damage to it on the way out.

President Donald Trump has been aggressively working the phones since returning this weekend from his foreign trip, talking to friends and outside lawyers as he obsesses over the deepening investigations into his aides and Russia.

Two White House officials said Trump and some aides including Steve Bannon are becoming increasingly convinced that they are victims of a conspiracy against Trump's presidency, as evidenced by the number of leaks flowing out of government — that the crusade by the so-called “deep state” is a legitimate threat, not just fodder for right wing defenders.

Still, Trump and his aides are starting to take the probes more seriously, seeking to establish a communications team dedicated to dealing with questions around the probe and beefing up his legal representation. And they've become more rattled by the idea that they don't know where the scandals are headed and who may be ensnared next.

“The more people talk to him about it, the more he obsesses about it,” said one outside adviser who is close to the president. The White House did not respond to requests for comment as to how Trump was spending his day after returning from the nine-day foreign trip the night before.

How long before he fires Rogers, I wonder.  He'd have legitimate cause to do so over Harold Martin.

We'll see.

Zee Germans Are Done

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it very clear this weekend that the EU and the rest of the Western world will be moving forward without the United States any longer.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is urging European Union nations to stick together in the face of new uncertainty over the United States and other challenges.

Merkel said Sunday at a campaign event in Bavaria that "the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days."

The comments follow President Donald Trump saying he needed more time to decide if the U.S. would continue backing a key climate accord.

Trump's stance had led Merkel to describe the just-ended G-7 talks on climate change as "unsatisfactory."

The dpa news agency reports that in her campaign remarks, the German leader emphasized the need for friendly relations with the U.S., Britain and Russia, but added: "We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands."

"Well good, let them deal with their own Muslim mess!" will be the opinion of the deplorables.  Frankly, it's a good idea.  Our government is completely compromised by the Russians. We're no longer the leader of the free world, we're a client state of Moscow.  

Where China, Russia, and Germany go from here to determine the future of the planet is unknown, but I do know that those decisions will increasingly be made without us, and it will take generations for us to show the world that we can be trusted again, if ever.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Trumped In Kentucky

Another month, another heartbreaking story of Trump voters here in Kentucky who now are worried they'll be condemned to the crematorium along with the people they voted for Trump to incinerate.

Wesley Easterling noted that Trump had a kind of “charisma about him, something different.” The county he lives in typically goes for Democrats but in 2016 it went for Trump, despite having one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

Easterling is on food stamps and Medicaid and he believed Trump when the then-candidate swore he’d never touch Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Trump lied and Easterling and his family are fearful they’re going to lose critical benefits they need to stay afloat.

“I mean, I felt just like I was — just like he played me for a fool,” he said with a look of sadness in his eyes. “I mean, I kind of took it personal.”

Easterling does have one light at the end of the tunnel, he recently graduated from a pipe welding program at a local community college. He’s trying to get a job at a local refinery so he can get off of federal assistance.

He admitted if he could vote again he’d cast his ballot for former Secretary Hillary Clinton “without a doubt.”

When asking Easterling’s neighbors about Trump cutting federal programs that help him while he’s getting back on his feet, one man had just two words: “Tough luck.”

Easterling isn’t alone, Trump’s recently announced cuts hit rural communities the hardest. Already, many were struggling to keep schools open and farmers and ranchers continue to struggle after drought. Even conservative Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) isn’t happy with Trump.

Elliott County, Kentucky as a whole has about 7,500 people. Famously, it was "The Most Reliably Democratic County in America" until Trump came along.  But Wesley here cast his first ever presidential vote for The Donald. He didn't care before.  Now he has a two-year old girl and needs some help, but oh well.

My heart goes out to his daughter.

Sunday Long Read: Wasting Away Again In Kushnerville

Turns out that like his infamous father-in-law Donald Trump, Jared Kushner is also a ruthless landlord who made his fortune off the misery of rental property tenants in big American cities. ProPublica and the NY Times Magazine take a close look at  one such "Kushnerville" in Baltimore.

When Americans were introduced last year to Ivanka Trump’s husband and the nation’s prospective son-in-law in chief, it was as the preternaturally poised, Harvard-educated scion of a real-estate empire whose glittering ambitions resembled Donald Trump’s own. In 2007, Kushner Companies, run at the time by Jared and his father, Charles, bought the aluminum-clad skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue for a record-breaking $1.8 billion; they are now seeking partners for a $12 billion plan to replace it with a glass tower that would be 40 stories taller. In 2013 they acquired 17 buildings in Manhattan’s East Village for about $130 million, and three years later they spent $715 million on a cluster of buildings owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses on prime land in Brooklyn’s fast-developing Dumbo district. 
But the Kushners’ empire, like Trump’s, was underwritten by years of dealing in much more modestly ambitioned properties. Jared’s grandfather Joseph Kushner, a Holocaust survivor from Belarus, over his lifetime built a small construction company in New Jersey into a real-estate venture that owned and managed some 4,000 low-rise units concentrated in the suburbs of Newark. After taking over the business, Charles expanded Kushner Companies’ holdings to commercial and industrial spaces, but the company’s bread and butter remained the North Jersey apartment complexes bequeathed to him by his father. 
In the mid-2000s, the company began to sell off the more than 25,000 multifamily rental units it owned, culminating in a 2007 sale of nearly 17,000 units for $1.9 billion. The sale — near the peak of the housing boom, just months before the crash — was impeccably timed, but it also reflected a shift in the attentions of what would soon be a three-generation real-estate dynasty. Charles, a major Democratic Party donor, had returned late the previous year from a brief stint in federal prison after pleading guilty to 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations. Back at the helm of the company, he began to shift its focus from New Jersey to New York City — and prepared to pass the reins to his son Jared, who had just received a degree in law and business from New York University. 
But amid the high-profile Manhattan and Brooklyn purchases, in 2011, Kushner Companies, with Jared now more firmly in command, pulled together a deal that looked much more like something from the firm’s humble past than from its high-rolling present. That June, the company and its equity partners bought 4,681 units of what are known in real-estate jargon as “distress-ridden, Class B” apartment complexes: units whose prices fell somewhere in the middle of the market, typically of a certain age and wear, whose owners were in financial difficulty. The properties were spread across 12 sites in Toledo, Ohio; Pittsburgh; and other Rust Belt cities still reeling from the Great Recession. Kushner had to settle more than 200 debts held against the complexes before the deal could go through; at one complex, in Pittsburgh, circumstances had become so dire that some residents had been left without heat and power because the previous owner couldn’t pay the bills. Prudential, which was foreclosing on the portfolio, sold it for only $72 million — half the value of the mortgages on the properties. 
In the following months, Kushner Companies bought another 1,700 multifamily units in similar markets, according to the trade publication Multifamily Executive. Unlike the company’s big New York investments, the complexes were not acquired with an eye toward appreciation — these were not growing markets, after all — but toward producing a steady cash flow. “Our goal is to keep buying and incrementally growing — they’re good markets where you can get yield,” Jared Kushner told Multifamily Executive in October 2011, predicting that the net income for the year’s purchases would be $14 million within a year. The complexes buttressed the Kushner portfolio in another way, he said: They would serve as a hedge against an upswing in inflation he believed was looming on the horizon. 
A year later, in August 2012, a Kushner-led investment group bought 5,500 multifamily units in the Baltimore area with $371 million in financing from Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage lender — another considerable bargain. Two years later, Kushner Companies picked up three more complexes in the Baltimore area for $37.9 million. Today, Westminster Management, Kushner Companies’ property-management arm, lists 34 complexes under its control in Maryland, Ohio and New Jersey, with a total of close to 20,000 units. 
Kushner’s largest concentration of multifamily units is in the Baltimore area, where the company controls 15 complexes in all — which, if you assume three residents per unit, could be home to more than 20,000 people. All but two of the complexes are in suburban Baltimore County, but they are only “suburban” in the most literal sense. They sit along arterial shopping strips or highways, yet they are easy to miss — the Highland Village complex, for example, is beside the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, but the tall sound barriers dividing it from the six-lane highway render its more than 1,000 units invisible to the thousands traveling that route every day. 
The complexes date mostly from the 1960s and ’70s, when white flight from the city was creating a huge demand for affordable housing in Baltimore County. They were meant to exude middle-class respectability — unglamorous but safe and pleasant enough, a renter’s Levittown. Since then, however, they have slipped socioeconomically, along with the middle class itself, into the vast gray area of the modern precariat — home to casino workers, distribution-warehouse pickers, Uber drivers, students at for-profit colleges. Although most of the tenants I met in a series of recent visits to the complexes pay their own rent, ranging from about $800 to $1,300, some of them receive Section 8 assistance, as Kamiia Warren did; Baltimore County has no public housing for a population of more than 825,000, so these and similar complexes have become the de facto substitute. 
At the time of the 2012 Baltimore purchase, Kushner raved about the promise of the low-end multifamily market. “It’s proven over the last few years to be the most resilient asset class, and at the end of the day, it’s a very stable asset class,” he told Multifamily Executive. He said things were proceeding well in the Midwestern complexes he purchased a year earlier. “It was a lot of construction and a lot of evictions,” he said. “But the communities now look great, and the outcome has been phenomenal.”

And Kushner is very, very wealthy as a result of that cash flow.  His tenants, well, not so lucky. Kushner's rental property business, Westminster, is pretty ruthless on evictions and suing tenants, and they basically always win.  It's pretty grubby and gruesome work to profit off of affordable housing by squeezing tenants for every last buck, but Kushner is far from the only person doing it amid America's rapidly growing affordable housing crisis.

And being Trump's son-in-law doesn't hurt, either.  If you somehow think Kusher and his wife Ivanka Trump are somehow going to be moderating influences on Donny, you should probably reconsider based on the kind of person Kushner is, and why Ivanka married him.

Climate Of Disgust

All indications are Trump wanted to wait until after the G7 summit last week and return to the US to announce America was dropping out of the Paris Climate Accords so he could get credit with the rubes who voted for him.

President Trump has privately told multiple people, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, that he plans to leave the Paris agreement on climate change, according to three sources with direct knowledge.

Publicly, Trump's position is that he has not made up his mind and when we asked the White House about these private comments, Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks said, "I think his tweet was clear. He will make a decision this week."

Why this matters: Pulling out of Paris is the biggest thing Trump could to do unravel Obama's climate policies. It also sends a stark and combative signal to the rest of the world that working with other nations on climate change isn't a priority to the Trump administration. And pulling out threatens to unravel the ambition of the entire deal, given how integral former President Obama was in making it come together in the first place.

Caveat: Although Trump made it clear during the campaign and in multiple conversations before his overseas trip that he favored withdrawal, he has been known to abruptly change his mind — and often floats notions to gauge the reaction of friends and aides. On the trip, he spent many hours with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, powerful advisers who back the deal.

It would forever make Trump a hero to the Rolling Coal set.  No matter what happens to him as far as impeachment or the Russia collusion investigation, the notion that he utterly dismantled the first black president's legacy so thoroughly and completely will always earn him a permanent place as a god among white supremacist America.

The goal was always to erase Barack Obama from history and to erase any political power his supporters have, to put us in our place as America is "made great again", to unravel in months what it took him years to create.  Millions of Americans are happy to vote for the white man who does that.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Our Little Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

Having a guy in the White House who regularly treats Muslims and immigrants as unwanted vermin might have a detrimental effect on how his followers behave, I'm just saying.

Two men were killed in a stabbing on a MAX train Friday when they tried to intervene as another man yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim, including one wearing a hijab, police said.

A third passenger who tried to help was also stabbed, but is expected to survive, said Portland police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson.

Officers arrested the suspect as he ran from the Hollywood transit station into the neighborhood near Providence Portland Medical Center in Northeast Portland, Simpson said. Police are still working to identify him and the three men stabbed.

The suspect was ranting about many things, using "hate speech or biased language," and at one point focused on the young women, Simpson said. 
The suspect then turned on the passengers who tried to help, Simpson said.

"In the midst of his ranting and raving, some people approached him and appeared to try to intervene with his behavior and some of the people that he was yelling at," Simpson said. "They were attacked viciously."

One good Samaritan died at the scene and another at the hospital, he said. The third victim was undergoing evaluation, but didn't suffer life-threatening wounds, he said.

"These were folks just riding the train and unfortunately got caught up in this," he said.

It's not clear why the man was yelling, Simpson said.

"He was talking about a lot of different things, not just specifically anti-Muslim," Simpson said.

The suspect has been identified as of this morning:

Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center on suspicion of aggravated murder and attempted murder early Saturday morning, records show. He's being held without bail.

A Portland police spokesman didn't immediately return an email seeking information about whether Christian is the suspect in the fatal MAX stabbing.

Christian was also arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor charges, according to records.

His criminal record includes felony robbery, kidnapping and weapon convictions, records show.

So a career criminal is radicalized by Trump and the GOP and decides he's going to kill people for defending two black women, one in a hijab.  It's not the presence of the women that drives him into a killing rage, it's the presence of men who tell him he can't be a racist, hateful asshole in a public place so he cuts their throats in front of dozens of witnesses.

Oh, and this happens right before Ramadan.

But it will be another "lone wolf" incident and forgotten by your next cookout.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Former intelligence officer and author John Schindler makes a pretty bold charge here, saying that NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers all but admitted to the agency's staff in a meeting broadcast to all agency personnel that they basically have the goods on Trump on tape as far as Russian collusion goes.

This week’s town hall event, which was broadcast to agency facilities worldwide, was therefore met with surprise and anticipation by the NSA workforce, and Rogers did not disappoint. I have spoken with several NSA officials who witnessed the director’s talk and I’m reporting their firsthand accounts, which corroborate each other, on condition of anonymity. 
In his town hall talk, Rogers reportedly admitted that President Trump asked him to discredit the FBI and James Comey, which the admiral flatly refused to do. As Rogers explained, he informed the commander in chief, “I know you won’t like it, but I have to tell what I have seen”—a probable reference to specific intelligence establishing collusion between the Kremlin and Team Trump
Rogers then added that such SIGINT exists, and it is damning. He stated, “There is no question that we [meaning NSA] have evidence of election involvement and questionable contacts with the Russians.” Although Rogers did not cite the specific intelligence he was referring to, agency officials with direct knowledge have informed me that DIRNSA was obviously referring to a series of SIGINT reports from 2016 based on intercepts of communications between known Russian intelligence officials and key members of Trump’s campaign, in which they discussed methods of damaging Hillary Clinton. 
NSA employees walked out of the town hall impressed by the director’s forthright discussion of his interactions with the Trump administration, particularly with how Rogers insisted that he had no desire to “politicize” the situation beyond what the president has already done. America’s spies are unaccustomed to playing partisan politics as Trump has apparently asked them to do, and it appears that the White House’s ham-fisted effort to get NSA to attack the FBI and its credibility was a serious mistake. 
It’s therefore high time for the House and Senate intelligence committees to invite Admiral Rogers to talk to them about what transpired with the White House. It’s evident that DIRNSA has something important to say. Since Mike Rogers is said to have kept notes of the president’s effort to enlist him in Trump’s personal war with the FBI, as any seasoned Beltway bureaucrat would do, his account ought to be impressively detailed.

I would definitely be very interested in any testimony Mike Rogers would have to make on this, but I have a feeling we're all going to find out over the next few weeks and months just how bad this collusion really got.  Kushner's already under the gun here as we found out last night, and now it turns out Russians want to talk.

Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch once close to President Trump’s former campaign manager, has offered to cooperate with congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but lawmakers are unwilling to accept his conditions, according to congressional officials.

Mr. Deripaska’s offer comes amid increased attention to his ties to Paul Manafort, who is one of several Trump associates under F.B.I. scrutiny for possible collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign. The two men did business together in the mid-2000s, when Mr. Manafort, a Republican operative, was also providing campaign advice to Kremlin-backed politicians in Ukraine. Their relationship subsequently soured and devolved into a lawsuit.

Mr. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate who is a member of the inner circle of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, recently offered to cooperate with congressional intelligence committees in exchange for a grant of full immunity, according to three congressional officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. But the Senate and House panels turned him down because of concerns that immunity agreements create complications for federal criminal investigators, the officials said.

Mr. Deripaska, who lives in Moscow, has long had difficulty traveling to the United States. The State Department has refused to issue him a business visa because of concerns over allegations that he was connected to organized crime, according to a former United States government official, which Mr. Deripaska has denied.

It just keeps getting worse for Team Trump this weekend.  Maybe it will get better for the country when actual Russians start saying that Trump guys are traitors, but it's going to take that at minimum before people abandon Donny.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Last Call For The Return Of The Steve

The unstoppable Steve M. notes that the Trump regime is hitting the mattresses after Donny's global embarrassment tour, and that means the return to power of Steve Bannon:

So Bannon -- who is allegedly "super savvy" -- is responsible for "misdirections" like trying to change the subject to Bill Clinton's decades-old sexual behavior after Trump's Access Hollywood tape broke. Here's my question: How effective was that misdirection effort? Apart from any Fox-addicted wingnuts you know, did you hear anyone talking about it? If so, was anyone talking about it for days and days? Whereas we all talked about the Trump "grab 'em by the pussy" tape for days and days -- longer, in fact. We're still talking about it.

My point is that Bannon might not actually change what most Americans are talking about. What he's skilled at doing is changing what right-wingers are talking about. And maybe that's worth it to Trump, because he seems to believe he can save his presidency as long as 80+ percent of Republicans still support him without question
.

So if you have even a glancing exposure to right-wing media, expect to hear a lot of names that make you ask, "Isn't this person completely out of power now?" Susan Rice. Valerie Jarrett. Donna Brazile. (Why, here's a story about Donna Brazile at Joe the Plumber's website right now.) Expect even more on Seth Rich. Expect terror scares and "knockout game" scares and Black-Lives-Matter-is-going-to-kill-all-white-people scares. The Russia investigations might strike more and more pay dirt, but your right-wing relatives won't even know.

Steve's right on this.  What you and I think about Trump is irrelevant as to whether or not Trump stays in power until the end of his term.  What the people who voted for Trump think of him -- and what those Republican voters can do to GOP members of Congress -- is now the only thing that matters.

As long as Bannon can keep Trump's numbers up among the faithful, he will survive politically due to the power of the office, and due to the cowardice of the GOP that brought him to power.  Nobody wants to be the "Traitor That Brought Down Trump" because they know good and well what they've been saying needs to happen to "traitors" in this country.

So why is that important?  Because of tonight's Friday night news dump.

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergei Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The White House disclosed the fact of the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

This is pretty much as bad as it gets for Kushner right now. Neither the WH nor the Russians are denying this story tonight.

But it gets worse for them.

Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch once close to President Trump’s former campaign manager, has offered to cooperate with congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but lawmakers are unwilling to accept his conditions, according to congressional officials.

Mr. Deripaska’s offer comes amid increased attention to his ties to Paul Manafort, who is one of several Trump associates under F.B.I. scrutiny for possible collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign. The two men did business together in the mid-2000s, when Mr. Manafort, a Republican operative, was also providing campaign advice to Kremlin-backed politicians in Ukraine. Their relationship subsequently soured and devolved into a lawsuit.

Mr. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate who is a member of the inner circle of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, recently offered to cooperate with congressional intelligence committees in exchange for a grant of full immunity, according to three congressional officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. But the Senate and House panels turned him down because of concerns that immunity agreements create complications for federal criminal investigators, the officials said.

Mr. Deripaska, who lives in Moscow, has long had difficulty traveling to the United States. The State Department has refused to issue him a business visa because of concerns over allegations that he was connected to organized crime, according to a former United States government official, which Mr. Deripaska has denied.

A lot of Trump's inner circle are going down and soon.  But Trump?  Trump's not going anywhere.

Not yet.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

As expected, the story last week that "a White House official in Trump's inner circle" was under FBI investigation now has a name attached to it: Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News. 
Investigators believe Kushner has significant information relevant to their inquiry, officials said. That does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him. 
The FBI's scrutiny of Kushner places the bureau's sprawling counterintelligence and criminal investigation not only on the doorstep of the White House, but the Trump family circle. The Washington Post first reported last week that a senior White House official close to Trump was a "person of interest," but did not name the person. The term "person of interest" has no legal meaning. 
The officials said Kushner is in a different category from former Trump aides Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who are formally considered subjects of the investigation. According to the Justice Department's U.S. Attorneys' Manual, "A 'subject' of an investigation is a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury's investigation." 
Records of both Manafort and Flynn have been demanded by grand jury subpoenas, NBC News has reported.

I said last Friday that Kushner or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would make the most sense as the "person of interest" as they are the ones who have the major ties to Russian business interests if the FBI is playing follow the money, Kushner with real estate, and Tillerson with oil.

Still, it means the grand jury investigation into Trump and Russia now has reached Kushner.  Things are moving pretty quickly at this point, and it means the investigation is expanding, not "going away" like the GOP is claiming.

Meanwhile lawmakers want to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller, and soon.

A growing number of key lawmakers in both parties are calling on Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller to detail what specifically his Russia investigation is targeting, with one Democratic senator warning bluntly that failing to do so could jeopardize the criminal probe into President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn. 
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the top Democrat on a Judiciary subcommittee, told CNN Thursday that it's possible Flynn is cooperating with the Justice Department -- and that Capitol Hill has not been kept in the loop. He warned that congressional probes that have subpoenaed Flynn for records could undercut Mueller's investigation if the former national security adviser is secretly working with the Justice Department as part of its broader investigation into possible collusion between Russian officials and Trump associates during the campaign season. 
"There is at least a reasonable hypothesis that Mike Flynn is already cooperating with the DOJ investigation and perhaps even has been for some time," said Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.

Pay attention to what Sen. Whitehouse is saying here.  Why would Flynn be cooperating with Mueller when he's not with Congress?

We know at this point that while Flynn is resisting congressional subpoenas, it doesn't mean he's not talking to Mueller, which actually makes sense.  If Flynn is trying to get a deal, things could start going south fast for Trump and the rest.  There's only one possible target that Flynn could deliver to make the FBI even begin to consider this, and it's Tang the Conqueror himself.

Question is does Flynn actually have the goods? And is everyone at the FBI willing to bet their careers on Flynn actually having enough evidence to bring down a president?

Either way, it looks like Trump's real boss is going to get his payoff soon regardless.

President Trump is weighing changes to U.S. sanctions against Russia
, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said Wednesday.

"I think the president is looking at it," Cohn told reporters aboard Air Force One, when asked about the president's position on Russian sanctions. "Right now, we don’t have a position."

Drip, drip, drip, Donny.

Slamming Home The Point

So how did Montana Republican Greg Gianforte win last night's special election to replace Trump Interior Secretary' Ryan Zinke's House seat by 7 points, despite being charged with assault the day before the election?

I'm glad you asked.

One, Montana went for Trump by 21 points in November.  Gianforte ran and won by 7.  That was a huge swing away from Trump, but it wasn't quite enough for Democrat Rob Quist to get the win.  It should still worry the hell out of the GOP though.  13-14 point swings towards the Dems in the generic Congressional ballot means a huge Dem takeover in November 2018 if that holds.

Two, Libertarian Mark Wicks got 6% of the vote.  If Wicks wasn't in the race at all, this would have been much closer.  Yes, Quist still would have lost as Gianforte got more than 50% +1 of the vote, but it would have been a 2-3 point win rather than 7-8.  And that would have been a complete shocker.  If you assume that Wicks got a healthy amount of anti-Gianforte votes that would have gone to Quist, Wicks definitely helped Gianforte.

Three, Dems gave up on this race far too early.




C'mon.  Quist was outspent almost 10-1.  And yet when Dems chose to spend money to help Dem Gov. Steve Bullock win re-election and stayed competitive on campaign spending, Bullock was able to beat Gianforte by 4 points even as Trump got a 21 point win in the state.

Dems abandoned Quist, period.  The money wasn't there.  The GOP money was and they won.  By the time the Dems realized they had a race on their hands, the GOP upped the money they spent on it again.

Yes, it cost the GOP $5 million to defend Montana's at-large House seat.  But they won.

Here endeth the lesson.


StupidiNews!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Last Call For Mitch's Big Punt

The House has passed Trumpcare 3.0, but the Senate may punt on repealing and replacing Obamacare with a disaster of a plan and put it off until 2020.

Senate Republicans are weighing a two-step process to replace Obamacare that would postpone a repeal until 2020, as they seek to draft a more modest version than a House plan that nonpartisan analysts said would undermine some insurance markets. 
Republicans -- in the early stages of private talks on the Senate plan -- say they may first take action to stabilize premium costs in Obamacare’s insurance-purchasing exchanges in 2018 and 2019. Major insurers have said they will leave the individual market in vast regions of states including North Dakota, Iowa and Missouri. 
A Senate plan is likely to continue subsidies that help low-income Americans with co-pays and deductibles, said third-ranking Republican John Thune of South Dakota. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said Thursday the administration hasn’t committed to paying subsidies due in June -- which would create additional uncertainty for insurers as they set rates for next year. 
“There clearly has to be a short-term solution that works with the transition until some of our long-term policy changes can take effect,” Thune told reporters. “There’s got to be certainty in the marketplace.” 
The private Senate GOP negotiations include a 13-member leadership-controlled working group as well as almost daily closed-door discussions among all Senate Republicans. In addition, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine has convened bipartisan talks with about a dozen senators.

How far this plan will get, I couldn't tell you.  If the Senate goes this route they can't use budget reconciliation, which means they'd have to get Democratic votes to pass it.  Whether the House GOP will go along with anything that the Senate Democrats had a hand in is again anyone's guess.

Stiil, as we've seen, the devil is in those details (and the CBO score).  We know the House plan as is will wreck health care for millions of families, and the plan is more unpopular than Obamacare ever was, even in the dark days of 2010.

And we all know what happened to the Dems in 2010 when they passed health care legislation.

We'll see.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

We already know that the Trump regime knew Mike Flynn was under FBI investigation for being a representative of a foreign government when he was hired by Trump as National Security Adviser, today we find out that, as long expected, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort remained in contact with Trump months after being fired for his Kremlin ties.

Months after the FBI began examining Paul Manafort as part of a probe into ties between President Donald Trump’s team and Russia, Manafort called Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus to push back against the mounting controversy, according to four people familiar with the call.

It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on the alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties between Russia, Trump and Trump’s associates, including Manafort.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” said a person close to Manafort.

Manafort had been forced to resign as Trump’s campaign chairman five months earlier amid scrutiny of his work for Kremlin-aligned politicians and businessmen in Eastern Europe. But he had continued talking to various members of Trump’s team, and had even had at least two conversations with Trump, according to people close to Manafort or Trump.

While the people say the conversations were mostly of a political or, in some cases, personal nature, the conversation with Priebus, described by four people familiar with it, was related to the scandal now subsuming Manafort and the Trump presidency.

It suggests that Manafort recognized months ago the potentially serious problems posed by the investigation, even as Trump himself continues to publicly dismiss it as a politically motivated witch hunt, while predicting it won’t find anything compromising.

The discussion also could provide fodder for an expanding line of inquiry for both the FBI and congressional investigators. They’ve increasingly focused on the Trump team’s handling of the investigations, including evolving explanations from the White House, and the president’s unsuccessful efforts to get the FBI to drop part of the investigation, followed by his firing of FBI director James Comey. All that has led to claims that the president and his team may have opened themselves to obstruction of justice charges.

It wasn't the Watergate hotel break-in itself that sunk Nixon, but the increasingly stupid and paranoid efforts to cover it up that ended his presidency.   Understand that since Manafort and Flynn remain under investigation and have for months now before Trump's inauguration, that these phone conversations in January have almost certainly been recorded as evidence in that investigation.

In other words, it's looking pretty bad for Trump and everyone involved with him.  And that's just the cover-up angle.  The money laundering is separate and could take down Trump too.

He is facing both.

By the way, there's reason to believe that Reince Preibus might be the next domino to fall in this mess.  As White House Chief of Staff, he would have had contact with all the players in this little game: Flynn, Manafort, Carter Page, Jared Kushner, and of course Trump himself.  James Comey talked to Priebus in February, and Comey's notes on that conversation might be the nail in his coffin as well.

Of course if it isn't Priebus, it might be Jeff Sessions who's in trouble now, as he's facing new questions about lying about his contacts with our friends in Moscow on his security clearance paperwork.

It's going to get crowded in the dock soon, I would think.

But Her Emails, Con't

Well then, it looks like we just got one of the big puzzle pieces in the whole Russia/Trump affair late on Wednesday, and our good friends the Russians were definitely in the fake news business, so much so that they even got to the FBI and James Comey about the Clintons.

In the midst of the 2016 presidential primary season, the FBI received a purported Russian intelligence document describing a tacit understanding between the campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Justice Department over the inquiry into whether she intentionally revealed classified information through her use of a private email server
The Russian document mentioned a supposed email describing how then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter — a conversation that if made public would cast doubt on the inquiry’s integrity. 
Current and former officials have said that document played a significant role in the July decision by then-FBI Director James B. Comey to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement — in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence — set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election. 
But according to the FBI’s own assessment, the document was bad intelligence — and according to people familiar with its contents, possibly even a fake sent to confuse the bureau. The Americans mentioned in the Russian document insist they do not know each other, do not speak to each other and never had any conversations remotely like the ones described in the document. Investigators have long doubted its veracity, and by August the FBI had concluded it was unreliable. 
The document, obtained by the FBI, was a piece of purported analysis by Russian intelligence, the people said. It referred to an email supposedly written by the then-chair of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.),and sent to Leonard Benardo, an official with the Open Society Foundations, an organization founded by billionaire George Soros and dedicated to promoting democracy.

The Russian document did not contain a copy of the email, but it described some of the contents of the purported message. 
In the supposed email, Wasserman Schultz claimed Lynch had been in private communication with a senior Clinton campaign staffer named Amanda Renteria during the campaign. The document indicated Lynch had told Renteria that she would not let the FBI investigation into Clinton go too far, according to people familiar with it. 
Current and former officials have argued that the secret document gave Comey good reason to take the extraordinary step over the summer of announcing the findings of the Clinton investigation himself without Justice Department involvement.

Comey had little choice, these people have said, because he feared that if Lynch announced no charges against Clinton, and then the secret document leaked, the legitimacy of the entire case would be questioned.

And that is the answer to the question of why Comey came forward with the news that Clinton was under investigation.  He thought he had to, because of Russian intel, which we now know was false.

Of course, this means that the Russians planted false info so "incriminating" on Clinton that Comey did all the work, torpedoing Clinton's campaign.  Even the FBI had figured it out by August, but by then the damage was done.  The second time Comey came forward on Anthony Weiner's laptop was the finisher, but that would not have been possible without the Russian hit job on Clinton that was first received by the FBI in March of 2016.

America was played.

We elected Trump as a result.  If this story is true, then this was most successful Russian intel operation in history, and arguably an act of war.

Trump must resign.

StupidiNews!

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