Monday, March 12, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

As I long suspected would happen (as the GOP wants to get to the campaign trail for 2018 midterms as soon as possible) Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are now closing up the investigation into Trump and Russia and will undoubtedly find no evidence that anything was wrong.

The House Intelligence Committee has concluded its interviews for the investigation into possible collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign operation and Russia, a move that signals the beginning of the end for the panel's Russia probe, according to a source familiar with the matter. 
Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican leading the Russia investigation, is expected to announce Monday that the committee has concluded its interviews and will now be moving onto writing a final report summarizing its findings. 
The decision is expected to be met with sharp criticism from Democrats, who have said there are still scores of witnesses the committee should call, and argue that Republicans have failed to use subpoenas to obtain documents and require witnesses to answer questions that are central to the investigation. 
The committee is widely expected to issue two competing reports: one from Republicans that concludes no evidence of collusion was found, and another from Democrats that argues a case for collusion, as well as spells out all the avenues the committee did not investigate. 
Monday's expected announcement is likely to further inflame the partisanship that's consumed the House Intelligence Committee for the better part of a year, amid fights over Chairman Devin Nunes' role in the investigation and more recently over competing memos about alleged surveillance abuses at the FBI during the Obama administration. 
In another sign of the partisan tensions, the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, had not been told as of midafternoon Monday that Republicans planned to end the witness interview portion of the Russia investigation, according to a Democratic source. Conaway and Schiff do plan to speak on Monday, another source said. 
A spokeswoman for Conaway declined comment.

The last thing House Republicans want right now is an investigation going into September or October.  They want their final report written and out of the way as quickly as they can so that Mueller can be fired and the outrage that generates will be long forgotten by voters come November.

They want Mueller gone, the investigation gone, and stories like this to go away.

One of the Arab world's top spies and a shadowy conduit to Vladimir Putin's Kremlin were present at a meeting in the Seychelles being probed by Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, can disclose. 
The meeting between Erik Prince, the Trump donor and billionaire Blackwater founder whose sister is education secretary Betsy DeVos, and Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian banker close to the Kremlin, was convened by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed, who is the de factor joint ruler of the United Arab Emirates. 
But can disclose that also present were bin Zayed's spy chief and a Palestinian seen as the crown prince's personal conduit to Putin's Kremlin. 
The two men - Hamad al Mazroie, the de facto head of the UAE intelligence service, and Mohammed Dahlan, a bin Zayed adviser who is fluent in Russian - were never named by Prince when he testified to the House intelligence committee about the meeting. 
It emerged last month that George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman and Middle East expert with ties to the Trump administration was present.

Nader is now co-operating with Mueller after being stopped as he entered the U.S. in January and being served with a subpoena. 
The identities of the two newly-named attendees at the meeting were confirmed to by a source close to bin Zayed, and a Kuwaiti lawmaker with access to intelligence on the UAE. 
The source close to bin Zayed said: 'Hamad supervises all these things. Those guys supervise major secret operations.'

Ending the House Intelligence Committee investigation is the first step in creating enough cover to fire Mueller.  Besides, come November, we're probably going to have not one but two wars to worry about.

The United States is "prepared to act if we must" to stop indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Syria, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned Monday as she circulated a new draft resolution demanding an immediate cease fire. 
Addressing the Security Council 16 days after it passed a resolution demanding a cease fire that largely has failed to stop the bombing or allow humanitarian access, Haley compared the situation on Monday to last year when the United States launched airstrikes against a Syrian military base after a deadly chemical weapons attack. 
"When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action," Haley said. 
This is one of those times, she added.

"We warn any nation determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering, but most especially the outlaw Syrian regime, the United States remains prepared to act if we must," she said. "It is not a path we prefer. But it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take again."

No doubt our good Russian friends want us to do just that.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post argues (correctly) that the fact tomorrow's PA-18 special election is even close in a district that Trump won by 20 points just 16 months ago is a screamingly loud alarm signaling just how bad of a midterm the GOP is facing this fall.

In the race’s final days, much of the GOP’s messaging appears focused not so much on the Trump/GOP tax cuts, or even on Trump’s tariffs, but rather on immigration, crime and Nancy Pelosi. An outside group allied with the House GOP recently launched spots slamming Democrat Conor Lamb as a “Pelosi liberal” and for allegedly supporting “sanctuary cities and amnesty for illegals.” The National Republican Congressional Committee has recently released ads that slam Lamb, a former prosecutor, as soft on gun traffickers. A super PAC allied with Trump has an ad that mentions the tax cuts but talks more about “Pelosi liberals.” 
A Democratic strategist working with the Lamb campaign who tracks ad buy information tells me that these ads represent the main spending on the GOP side in the closing days. Indeed, last week, Dave Weigel and Josh Kraushaar both reported Republicans had previously aired ads touting the tax cuts but cycled them out of the messaging, because, as Kraushaar put it, they were “barely moving the needle in the district’s working-class confines.” 
The reason the downplaying of Trump’s tax plan — and the emphasis instead on hot-button issues such as immigration — matter can be found in the makeup of this district. This is a place where Trump’s claim that his tax cuts are good for working people should carry weight. Trump won it by 20 points, and it has many of the sort of working-class white voters who apparently looked to Trump as an economic savior. But it turns out that this fact may explain why the tax cuts are not sufficiently resonating

This is what we saw in Virginia when Ralph Northam won last November.  The initial GOP messaging of "Trump taking credit for the Obama economy failed, so they went to the foghorn racism that worked for Trump in 2016.  It failed miserably and the Democrats came within a whisker of winning back the state assembly.

“This is more of a populist district than it is a conservative district,” Mike Mikus, a Democratic strategist from southwestern Pennsylvania who ran a previous race in that district, told me today, referring to the leanings of voters in steel and coal country in places such as Washington, Westmoreland and Greene counties, which Trump carried in 2016 by 61-36, 64-33 and 70-28, respectively. Those are huge margins, a reminder that this district is mostly deep, deep, deep Trump country. 
Still, Mikus argued to me that the district is more “economically diverse” than is commonly understood, with a large chunk of the more educated voters coming from the suburbs of Pittsburgh in Allegheny County. But this, too, highlights something important. Republicans hope that the tax plan will also stanch losses among college-educated and suburban white voters who might stomach Trump’s excesses and vote their bottom lines instead. Yet it seems clear that Lamb will do well in those areas, perhaps mirroring places such as Virginia, where Trump’s sexist, racist and xenophobic provocations are shifting white suburban voters toward Democrats and supercharging turnout among them to boot
And if anything, Trump and Republicans are doubling down on those cultural provocations. In addition to the ads referenced above, Trump’s rally in Moon Township over the weekend featured full-blown race-baiting and authoritarian appeals, with brutal attacks on the media and on a prominent African American congresswoman as “a very low IQ individual.” This, apparently, is what is necessary to excite Trump country and get those Trump and GOP voters out — even amid this awesome Trump economy. 
To be clear, Saccone could still win. But if Lamb keeps it close, it will still show that the Trump/GOP tax cuts aren’t enough to get educated suburban white voters to put aside their distaste with Trump in the numbers Republicans need. What’s more, this race is shaping up as a referendum on whether Republicans can hold Trump’s blue-collar white base, including the disaffected union Democrats who defected in 2016, in Trump-like numbers. But Mikus suggested to me that Lamb, who has campaigned on a pro-labor message, may be showing how Democrats can begin to reverse that trend, because even in Trump country, he’s “bringing some of those voters home.”

If so, this will show that candidates matter, to be sure. But it will also show that Trump’s agenda — which is basically Orthodox Ryanism overlaid with reckless protectionism in the form of the tariffs, plus a lot of bombast — isn’t enough to prevent good Democratic candidates from bringing back some of those voters. And that could have an impact on Democratic chances of winning the House this fall, since that turns in part on whether they can put some of these more working-class districts in play.

I still remained convinced that for the Dems to put more districts like PA-18 in play, Democrats need to try to get back 2012 Obama voters that dropped out in 2016, not the ones who voted for Trump.  But keep in mind if a district that Trump won by 20 points is competitive now, then there is no truly safe district for the GOP in November.

Not a one.

And they know it.

Oh, and one last thing:  Monmouth University has Lamb up by six in their final poll in the race today.

Here's hoping that holds up for tomorrow.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

As I've said before, there's three aspects to the Mueller investigation into the Trump regime, the Russian conspiracy to collude with Trump's team in order to affect the 2016 election, the long-time money laundering through Trump's international holdings, and the obstruction of justice to cover up evidence of the first two parts of the story.

It was a very busy weekend on the Mueller front, we've got four for your today.  Since Trump and his compatriots are terrible liars, the obstruction of justice investigation is proceeding faster than the other two sections of the probe, and the theory from Bloomberg News this morning is that Mueller will sit on any charges against Trump and/or his family until the rest of the investigation is completed.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice is said to be close to completion, but he may set it aside while he finishes other key parts of his probe, such as possible collusion and the hacking of Democrats, according to current and former U.S. officials.

That’s because Mueller may calculate that if he tries to bring charges in the obstruction case -- the part that may hit closest to Trump personally -- witnesses may become less cooperative in other parts of the probe, or the president may move to shut it down altogether.

The revelation is a peek into Muller’s calculations as he proceeds with his many-headed probe, while pressure builds from the president’s advisers and other Republicans to show progress or wrap it up.

The obstruction portion of the probe could likely be completed after several key outstanding interviews, including with the president and his son, Donald Trump Jr. The president’s lawyers have been negotiating with Mueller’s team over such an encounter since late last year. But even if Trump testifies in the coming weeks, Mueller may make a strategic calculation to keep his findings on obstruction secret, according to the current and former U.S. officials, who discussed the strategy on condition of anonymity.

Any clear outcome of the obstruction inquiry could be used against Mueller: Filing charges against Trump or his family could prompt the president to take action to fire him. Publicly clearing Trump of obstruction charges -- as the president’s lawyers have requested -- could be used by his allies to build pressure for the broader investigation to be shut down

Other key matters under investigation by Mueller’s team, with its 17 career prosecutors, include whether Trump or any of his associates helped Russia meddle in the 2016 campaign. Mueller is also expected to indict some of those responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee before the election and publicly leaking stolen material in an effort to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The timing for whether -- and when -- to interview Trump or his family members is one of the most sensitive decisions Mueller faces at this stage of his investigation. The special counsel’s office declined to comment for this story.

This is a weird story, which heavily implies that Mueller has more than enough to start charging the President and his inner circle with obstruction of justice, but the second Mueller makes a move either way on it, the fear is that Trump will fire Mueller.

I'm assuming the story is to inform people to hold on and to expect Mueller's team to go dark again after a relative whirlwind of action over the last several weeks.  It's also a reminder that the investigation in total is far, far from over.

Connect the dots in public reporting on Trump’s financial dealings, and a business model comes to light, one based on association with crooks, money launderers — and lots of Russians.

Take Trump’s Panama tower. The project’s lead broker, Alexandre Henrique Ventura Nogueira, was a criminal; in 2009, he admitted to money laundering and was arrested for fraud and forgery in other projects. He fled the country.

All-cash deals for condos — a red flag for money laundering — were commonplace at Trump Panama. Convicted drug-money launderer Colombian David Helmut Murcia Guzm├ín bought 10 condos. Suspected Russian money launderers Andrey Bogdanov and Ivan Kazanikov bought a dozen others. A former financial crimes prosecutor in Panama, Mauricio Ceballos, called Trump Ocean Club Panama “a vehicle for money laundering.”

Are financial crimes the kompromat (compromising evidence) that gives Russians leverage over him?

Panama is not an isolated instance — the business model started with his casinos.

The U.S. Bank Secrecy Act requires that the gambling industry (notorious for money laundering) keep strict records to detect and prevent “cleansing” of mobsters’ ill-gotten gains. The Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J., once paid a $10 million fine for willful violations of that act. It admitted doing it on purpose! What was the company hiding then?

Associations with criminals and Russians accelerated as the Trump Organization began licensing its name on hotel-condo projects.

Trump’s partners in its SoHo project in Manhattan, as in other deals, were crooks. Felix Sater, a Russian, had pleaded guilty to money laundering and stock manipulation and a stabbing with the stem of wine glass. The FBI considered partner Tamir Sapir part of a Russian mob. Financing for that hotel came from an Icelandic bank close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Three-fourths of the sales were all-cash.

At Trump Tower Toronto, the Trump Organization first partnered with Leib Waldman, who had fled the United States after pleading guilty to bankruptcy fraud and embezzlement. Then a Russian-born Canadian, Alex Shnaider, replaced Waldman. Shnaider had made fast money in the former Soviet Union and dealt with a Russian bank connected to Putin. Another foreign bank, accused previously of acting as a conduit for Russian money laundering, financed the project. The project incurred excessive construction costs — a trademark of money laundering — and went bankrupt while 400 other similar condo towers in Toronto succeeded.

In 2012, the Trump Organization partnered with a family referred to as “the Corleones of the Caspian, after the fictional Mafia family in “The Godfather” films,” to launch a hotel-condo project in Azerbaijan. Duffel bags of cash were used to pay contractors. Was money laundering during construction its real purpose? One thing’s for sure: No one who intended a luxury hotel to succeed would ever locate it on the wrong side of the tracks, where this one stood. It never opened.

With evidence of so many financial crimes, the Russians may not need the salacious acts recounted in the Steele dossier to compromise Trump. A few major felonies might do quite nicely.

Remember, it's not just Trump, his entire family is in on the business, and business is good.

Donald Trump Jr. has a previously undisclosed business relationship with a longtime hunting buddy who helped raise millions of dollars for his father’s 2016 presidential campaign and has had special access to top government officials since the election, records obtained by The Associated Press show
The president’s eldest son and Texas hedge fund manager Gentry Beach have been involved in business deals together dating back to the mid-2000s and recently formed a company — Future Venture LLC — despite past claims by both men that they were just friends, according to previously unreported court records and other documents obtained by AP. 
Beach last year met with top National Security Council officials to push a plan that would curb U.S. sanctions in Venezuela and open up business for U.S. companies in the oil-rich nation. 
Ethics experts said their financial entanglements raised questions about whether Beach’s access to government officials and advocacy for policy changes were made possible by the president’s son’s influence — and could also benefit the Trump family’s bottom line. 
“This feeds into the same concerns that we’ve had all along: The really fuzzy line between the presidency and the Trumps’ companies,” said Noah Bookbinder, who leads Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a public policy group. “Donald Trump Jr. sort of straddles that line all the time.” 
Last February, just as Trump Sr. was settling into office, Beach and an Iraqi-American businessman met with top officials at the National Security Council to present their plan for lightening U.S. sanctions in Venezuela in exchange for opening business opportunities for U.S. companies, according to a former U.S. official with direct knowledge of the proposal.

The Trumps are corrupt to the core.  It'll be easy to jump on the obstruction of justice and call it a day, but the real issue remains the repeated criminal violations of corruption and influence peddling.  If Mueller has to sit on an open-and-shut obstruction case to get to the slimy middle of this garbage mountain, then so be it.

And finally, let's not forget that the White House staff could be facing plenty of criminal liability for enabling the Trump regime.

If special counsel Robert S. Mueller III one day proves that someone on the 2016 Trump campaign colluded with Russia, a top White House spokesman may live to regret what he said Sunday. 
Appearing on ABC's “This Week,” deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said President Trump would have been aware of any such collusion if it did occur. 
“There's been zero evidence, after a year of investigation, that we've seen of actual collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,” Shah said. “The president, who would be aware of any types of efforts, has been pretty clear, understands and knows that there is no collusion. 
“And so, as he has said, this investigation is everything from a hoax to a witch hunt. It's not going to find any evidence of collusion.” 
Okay, but what if it does? Shah has just ruled out the idea that someone else could have colluded with Russia without Trump's knowledge. If we find out one day that someone within the campaign did collude, Shah's remarks suggest that Trump had to have known about it. There's no other way to read them.

They're crooks and they're stupid crooks.  And hey if the story gives Trump's people heartburn, well. We'll see.


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