Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time

There's the theory on the left, mostly fronted by a certain Vermont independent senator, that the Stormy Daniels story is worthless and that there's no reason for Democrats to pay attention to it, because it's not important.  

Only, well, we keep finding out more and more about the man Trump used to try to make the Daniels story go away, his longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, and just how bad Cohen is at his job, and how looking deeper into Cohen and his business affairs reveals things like payments Cohen apparently arranged for Donald Trump for a lot of things besides just hush money to porn stars.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, faced explosive claims about his business dealings on Tuesday, prompting AT&T and a company with ties to a Russian oligarch to acknowledge retaining him after the 2016 election.

The companies disclosed the business relationships after lawyer Michael Avenatti claimed they made payments to Essential Consultants, a company Cohen also used to make a hush-money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels just weeks before the 2016 presidential election.

In a seven-page document he distributed online, Avenatti claimed that the same Cohen bank account was involved in transactions totaling more than $4.4 million and made from October 2016 through January 2018. Those transactions included $200,000 from AT&T and some $500,000 in deposits from Columbus Nova, a company linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who was sanctioned last month by the U.S. as punishment for Kremlin meddling in the U.S. election. The company on Tuesday said Vekselberg was not involved in the transactions.

POLITICO could not independently confirm some of Avenatti’s allegations, but if they prove true, they could show links between the Daniels affair, which is under investigation by prosecutors in New York, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. They also appear to show businesses seeking intelligence on how to operate under a Trump administration.

“Michael Cohen should not be selling access to the president of the United States. I mean, this is a big deal,” Avenatti told CNN.

The money from AT&T appeared to be unrelated to the investigations but came as the Trump administration announced it would seek to block an $85 billion merger between AT&T and Time Warner.

So the same shell company Cohen set up for the Daniels payments was apparently the same shell company used to set up other payments, including from AT&T, and from other parties.  It wasn't just the $130,000 for Daniels, it was millions in slush fund goodness.

In other words, everything Trump accused "Crooked Hillary" of doing, Trump was actually involved in.  Oh yeah...and some of the money came from the goddamn Russians.

And hey, of course Mueller knows about it.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators have questioned a Russian oligarch about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments his company's US affiliate made to President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, after the election, according to a source familiar with the matter. 
Viktor Vekselberg, chairman of asset manager Renova Group, is an oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, and last month the Trump administration placed him on a list of sanctioned Russians for activities including election interference. The purpose of the payments, which predate the sanctions, and the nature of the business relationship between Vekselberg and Cohen is unclear. 
The scrutiny of the payments could add to the legal troubles for Cohen, whose home and office were raided last month as part of a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. In court documents, the prosecutors said at least part of their inquiry stemmed from a referral from Mueller's office. 
The questions asked of Vekselberg suggest that Mueller investigators have been examining some of Cohen's business relationships as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Vekselberg is one of two Russian oligarchs the FBI stopped earlier this year after their private jets landed in New York-area airports as part of Mueller's investigation. 
Investigators also asked Vekselberg about donations the head of his US affiliate made to Trump's inaugural fund and campaign funds, sources said. 

I mean, let's recap here: Cohen's shell company is used to launder money for Trump.  Cohen handles the money, and bam, companies and individuals get access to Trump.   Some of these individuals were reportedly Russian oligarchs.

I mean, guys?  Hello?

Stay tuned.  This one's going to end up being big.

Iran It All Down The Drain

And it's official: Donald Trump is scrapping years of US and EU, Russia, and China allied diplomacy and immediately slapping punitive sanctions on Iran, something that will almost certainly lead to disaster.

The president said he is removing the U.S from the Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and will reimpose economic sanctions on Iran at "the highest level of economic sanction" and target "any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons" with sanctions, too.

Trump announced his decision at the White House after a last-ditch effort by European allies to urge Trump to stay in the agreement and build upon it. Trump instead argued the deal was so bad that it had to be discarded to move forward.

"It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement," Trump said. "The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen."

The nuclear deal was negotiated and agreed to by Iran and the P5+1 – the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia, and Germany – in 2015, granting Iran sanctions relief and returning frozen assets in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program and international inspections.

The Saudis are the big winners here, as is Israel, and as with the TPP trade deal, the US will simply be excluded while Iran deals with Russia, China, and the EU. 

As to what happens next, well certainly Iran will resume its nuclear program if a deal can't be worked out with the remaining powers, who of course will be directly threatened by Trump if they don't back him.  I fully expect new sanctions will be announced on top of the penalty sanctions in the nuclear deal, which will of course cause Iran to leave the table. Either way, America's credibility is shot for a generation. 

The good scenario is that our stupidly self-forced isolationism ends in 2021 and we can get back to mending bridges that Trump burnt.  The bad scenario, well, there's plenty of them, and a lot of them involve the words "regime change".

We'll see where all this goes, but I think this is going to be one of those generational things that defines the Trump regime's lasting damage upon this earth.

Primary Evidence

Voters go to the polls today for primaries in Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, and West Virginia, where the race to watch is whether or not Republicans will nominate a convicted felon of a mine owner whose safety practices were so bad they killed 29 miners. 

The last-minute push to scuttle Blankenship’s bid — including Trump’s tweet on Monday — is a good barometer of GOP concern. While there’s been no public polling in the final two weeks of the race, internal surveys indicate Blankenship has bounced back into contention for the Republican nomination after an initial GOP barrage knocked him off his perch in April.

There’s also concern that the two other major candidates — Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — will split the anti-Blankenship vote evenly. Trump’s tweet notably did not take sides, instead urging voters to back either alternative.

Blankenship’s baggage is obvious: He was convicted of violating safety standards after the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which killed 29 miners, and was only released from jail a year ago. After his release, he settled in Nevada, not West Virginia. More recently, he’s referred to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) in television ads as “Cocaine Mitch” and made racially charged comments about McConnell’s family.

Manchin has won five statewide elections in his career: one for secretary of state, two for governor, a special election for Senate and a full term two years later. Seeking reelection in a state Trump carried by a whopping 42 percentage points, Manchin could be in the fight of his political life — unless the GOP nominates the wrong candidate.

In Ohio, there are primaries for Governor and for the special election to replace GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi, who up and quit last year to take a lucrative lobbyist job.

A proxy battle between former House colleagues has stirred up the special election to replace Rep. Pat Tiberi in Ohio, pitting old foes against each other in this Republican primary.

Rep. Jim Jordan, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, has lined up behind Melanie Leneghan in the Republican primary, while Tiberi is boosting Troy Balderson, a state senator. Multiple outside groups are involved on both sides, and Jordan and Tiberi appeared in dueling TV ads for their endorsed candidates. Tim Kane, a first-time candidate and veteran who’s self-funding his bid, could also win, having avoided the increasingly bitter back-and-forth between Balderson, Leneghan and their allies.

But Balderson backers say that if Leneghan gets the GOP nomination, she’ll put Ohio’s 12th District — a Republican seat for decades — at risk in the Aug. 7 special election, by alienating suburban Columbus voters in a district that President Donald Trump won by 11 points in 2016.

Republicans are closely watching the Democratic primary, where Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor led the pack in fundraising. O’Connor told POLITICO in March that he wouldn’t be supporting Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, a move that mirrors Rep. Conor Lamb’s strategy in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Like it or not, Nancy Pelosi isn't too popular here in the Rust Belt.  Conor Lamb showed you can run against her as a Dem and still win, although all that ended up doing for Lamb was to open the door for Republicans calling on him to switch parties.  The real race here is the Democratic primary for Governor though.

The Democratic gubernatorial primary in Ohio has basically come down to two contenders: Richard Cordray, the buttoned-up former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief, and Dennis Kucinich, the left-leaning former congressman. Cordray has support from a broad range of “establishment” Democrats as well as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and he has talked up his time protecting Americans’ wallets at the CFPB, but Kucinich has framed himself as the only candidate who can energize grassroots progressives in the primary — and blue-collar voters in the general. A number of Bernie Sanders backers have jumped behind Kucinich, including the nonprofit group Our Revolution.

Both candidates have hit each other for various progressive apostasies — Cordray’s old “A” rating from the NRA, Kucinich’s words of praise for Trump in the past — but the primary has largely been a contest about which type of populism best fits the political moment in the Democratic Party, and whether the candidates can muster sufficient enthusiasm from general election voters to give Democrats a new foothold in the heart of the Midwest this November.

Cordray has more money, more endorsements, and more support in the sparse public polling that’s been available — but Kucinich has lurked within striking distance.

Kucinich is a freight train full of toxic waste, and the fact that Bernie and Nina Turner and Our Revolution are backing him -- despite the fact that he openly thinks DOnald Trump is right on a number of "economic anxiety" issues -- tells me everything I need to know about how utterly worthless Kucinich, Sanders, and Our Revelution all are.

I hope Cordray wins by 90 points, because there's zero way ol' Dennis the Menace here doesn't hand the state back to the GOP for another four years.  Cordray will probably not win in November, but Kucinich will lose guaranteed.

We'll see.


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