Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

A big one tonight for you folks, Ronan Farrow may not have been ready for primetime on MSNBC as a host, but as a reporter for the New Yorker, he's brought down the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Eric Schniederman, and now he's taking a crack at a presidential lawyer and quite possibly a president.

Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration. In the days since, there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, and the Treasury Department’s inspector general has launched a probe to find the source. That source, a law-enforcement official, is speaking publicly for the first time, to The New Yorker, to explain the motivation: the official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen’s financial activity in a government database. The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents.

The payments to Cohen that have emerged in the past week come primarily from a single document, a “suspicious-activity report” filed by First Republic Bank, where Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, L.L.C., maintained an account. The document detailed sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Cohen by the pharmaceutical company Novartis, the telecommunications giant A.T. & T., and an investment firm with ties to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The general counsel for Novartis, Felix Ehrat, abruptly resigned earlier today.  Now we know why.

The report also refers to two previous suspicious-activity reports, or SARS, that the bank had filed, which documented even larger flows of questionable money into Cohen’s account. Those two reports detail more than three million dollars in additional transactions—triple the amount in the report released last week. Which individuals or corporations were involved remains a mystery. But, according to the official who leaked the report, these SARS were absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN. The official, who has spent a career in law enforcement, told me, “I have never seen something pulled off the system. . . . That system is a safeguard for the bank. It’s a stockpile of information. When something’s not there that should be, I immediately became concerned.” The official added, “That’s why I came forward.”

Seven former government officials and other experts familiar with the Treasury Department’s FINCEN database expressed varying levels of concern about the missing reports. Some speculated that FINCEN may have restricted access to the reports due to the sensitivity of their content, which they said would be nearly unprecedented. One called the possibility “explosive.” A record-retention policy on FINCEN’s Web site notes that false documents or those “deemed highly sensitive” and “requiring strict limitations on access” may be transferred out of its master file. Nevertheless, a former prosecutor who spent years working with the FINCEN database said that she knew of no mechanism for restricting access to SARS. She speculated that FINCEN may have taken the extraordinary step of restricting access “because of the highly sensitive nature of a potential investigation. It may be that someone reached out to FINCEN to ask to limit disclosure of certain SARS related to an investigation, whether it was the special counsel or the Southern District of New York.” (The special counsel, Robert Mueller, is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. The Southern District is investigating Cohen, and the F.B.I. raided his office and hotel room last month.)

Whatever the explanation for the missing reports, the appearance that some, but not all, had been removed or restricted troubled the official who released the report last week. “Why just those two missing?” the official, who feared that the contents of those two reports might be permanently withheld, said. “That’s what alarms me the most.

So we have a whistleblower with accusations of "nitroglycerine factory in an earthquake" level of explosiveness here.  They are facing five years in prison and a quarter-million dollar fine, possibly.  But the fact is that the two missing reports could very well be the details of a massive bribery scandal that reaches the Oval Office.

By January of this year, First Republic had filed the three suspicious-activity reports about Cohen’s account. The most recent report—the only one made public so far—examined Cohen’s transactions from September of 2017 to January of 2018, and included activity totalling almost a million dollars. It alludes to the two previous reports that the official could not find in the FINCEN database. The first report that the official was unable to locate, which covered almost seven months, appears to have listed a little over a million dollars in activity. The second report that the official was unable to locate, which investigated a three-month period between June and September of 2017, found suspect transfers totalling more than two million dollars.

A substantial portion of this money seems to have ended up in Cohen’s personal accounts. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney filed a separate SARS showing that, during that same three-month period, Cohen set up two accounts with the firm, into which he deposited three checks from his Essential Consultants account, two in the amount of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and one in the amount of five hundred and five thousand dollars. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney marked those transactions, which added up to more than a million dollars, as possible signs of “bribery or gratuity” and “suspicious use of third-party transactors (straw-man).

This is pretty huge.  Cohen was already in a boatload of trouble from accusations of bribery from earlier today.  Now things just got exponentially worse in a matter of hours.

Holy crap.

Trump Faces The Storm, Con't

Over the weekend, Stormy Daniels's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, made several tweets intimating that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had been involved in a Trump Tower meeting with a Qatari investor in December 2016. The Qatari, Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, later bragged that he had given Cohen quite a bit of money in order to get access to Donald Trump.

So CNN followed up on the story and it turns out that yes, both Al-Rumaihi and Cohen were at Trump Tower on December 12, 2016.

After the story published, Qatar's media attaché in Washington, Jassim Al-Thani, explained in a statement that the meetings with the incoming administration in December 2016 were to discuss "many critical areas, including: regional security, military cooperation, counterterrorism, and economic partnership." 
Al-Thani said Al-Rumaihi "was present at Trump Tower but did not participate in any meetings" with the government delegation. 
A person familiar with the Qatari delegation's meetings at Trump Tower that day said, "There were several meetings that took place between the delegation and Trump transition officials. During one, Michael Cohen briefly popped in.
The statement is Al-Rumaihi's first acknowledgment of why he was at Trump Tower on December 12, 2016, since Avenatti, a lawyer for Stormy Daniels, made an issue of it in his tweets. It also sheds new light on Cohen's conduct during the Trump transition as he was pitching to clients on his proximity to the President-elect. 
Avenatti alleged Al-Rumaihi had met with Cohen and Flynn, Trump's longtime attorney and former national security adviser, respectively. Avenatti also claimed Al-Rumaihi boasted about bribing administration officials in a "sworn declaration filed in court" -- a reference to a declaration from Jeff Kwatinetz, an entertainment executive who is currently in a legal battle with Al-Rumaihi. 
"Why was Ahmed Al-Rumaihi meeting with Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn in December 2016 and why did Mr. Al-Rumaihi later brag about bribing administration officials according to a sworn declaration filed in court?" Avenatti tweeted. 
Kwatinetz said in the filing that Al-Rumaihi, after agreeing to invest in Kwatinetz's basketball league, repeatedly showed interest in meeting Steve Bannon, Kwatinetz's friend and President Donald Trump's former chief strategist. Kwatinetz and Al-Rumaihi are engaged in a business dispute over Kwatinetz's basketball league, BIG3. 
In one particular instance in January 2018, Kwatinetz alleged Al-Rumaihi "wanted me to convey a message from the Qatari government to Steve Bannon" and hoped Kwatinetz would set up a meeting between Al-Rumaihi, the Qatari government and Bannon. He was asked to "tell Steve Bannon that Qatar would underwrite all of his political efforts in return for his support." 
Kwatinetz wrote in the filing he was "offended" and "appalled" by the request. In response, Al-Rumaihi allegedly laughed and responded that Kwatinetz shouldn't be naive. 
"Do you think (Michael) Flynn turned down our money?" Al-Rumaihi responded, according to Kwatinetz, referring to Trump's former campaign adviser and White House national security adviser

If this is all true, then yeah, Cohen was basically Trump's shakedown man and Flynn was the gatekeeper in their little pay-to-play scheme.  The Daily Mail makes an even bigger claim: that Cohen asked Al-Rumaihi for cash directly for the Trumps.

Donald Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, is facing claims he asked a Middle Eastern official for millions of dollars to give to 'Trump family members' in a meeting at Trump Tower weeks after the president's election victory, can reveal.

Cohen is alleged to have asked Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, a former diplomat in charge of a $100bn Qatari investment fund, to send 'millions' through him to Trump family members. A source told that the Qatari said he refused.

Al-Rumaihi on Tuesday issued a statement agreeing that he was at Trump Tower and a source with knowledge of the daysaid that Cohen had 'popped in' briefly to a meeting. Photographs show that he was part of a group greeted by Cohen, who went up in an elevator with them. can disclose that the group also included Qatar's foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

The claims of a demand for 'millions' were made by a senior Kuwaiti government source close to Al-Rumaihi.

I have no clue where Avenatti and the Daily Mail are getting this info, but again, if this is true, then Mueller already knows about it and is already looking into it, and if Mueller somehow isn't, the US Attorneys in New York most certainly are.

We'll see how this pans out, but Avenatti seems to know an awful lot of things he shouldn't know, well before other people know them and he sure as hell isn't shy about saying so.

Dems Don't Get No Respect

Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman is 100% correct here: the perpetual right-wing outrage machine will always, always move the goalposts on "respect" and will always portray liberals as snotty elitists who hate Republicans.

In the endless search for the magic key that Democrats can use to unlock the hearts of white people who vote Republican, the hot new candidate is “respect.” If only they cast off their snooty liberal elitism and show respect to people who voted for Donald Trump, Democrats can win them over and take back Congress and the White House.

The assumption is that if Democrats simply choose to deploy this powerful tool of respect, then minds will be changed and votes will follow. This belief, widespread though it may be, is stunningly naive. It ignores decades of history and everything about our current political environment. There’s almost nothing more foolish Democrats could do than follow that advice.

Before we proceed, let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that the desire for respect isn’t real. As a voter says in “The Great Revolt,” a new book by conservative journalist Salena Zito and Republican operative Brad Todd, “One of the things I really don’t get about the Democratic Party or the news media is the lack of respect they give to people who work hard all of their lives to get themselves out of the hole.”

Nor am I saying there aren’t some liberals who express elitist ideas, because there are.

But the mistake is to ignore where the belief in Democratic disrespect actually comes from and to assume that Democrats have it in their power to banish it.

It doesn’t come from the policies advocated by the Democratic Party, and it doesn’t come from the things Democratic politicians say. Where does it come from? An entire industry that’s devoted to convincing white people that liberal elitists look down on them.

It’s more than an industry, actually; it’s an industry, plus a political movement. The right has a gigantic media apparatus that is devoted to convincing people that liberals disrespect them, plus a political party whose leaders all understand that that idea is key to their political project and so join in the chorus at every opportunity.

If you doubt this, I’d encourage you to tune in to Fox News or listen to conservative talk radio for a week. When you do, you’ll find that again and again you’re told stories of some excess of campus political correctness, some obscure liberal professor who said something offensive, some liberal celebrity who said something crude about rednecks or some Democratic politician who displayed a lack of knowledge of a conservative cultural marker. The message is pounded home over and over: They hate you and everything you stand for.

Now, readers know I've been yelling about the right-wing noise machine for years during the Obama presidency, and I'm glad to see that Waldman not only successfully identifies the problem, but the answer as well.

We see this again and again: Democrats bend over backward to show conservative white voters respect, only to see some remark taken out of context and their entire agenda characterized as stealing from hard-working white people to give undeserved benefits to shiftless minorities. And then pundits demand, “Why aren’t you showing those whites more respect?”

So when we say that, what exactly are we asking Democrats to do? It can only be one of two things. Either Democrats are supposed to abandon their values and change their policies, despite the fact that many of those policies provide enormous help to the very people who say Democrats look down on them, or they’re supposed to take symbolic steps to demonstrate their respect, which always fail anyway. How many times have we seen Democrats try to show respect by going to a NASCAR event or on a hunting trip, only to be mocked for their insincerity?

In the world Republicans have constructed, a Democrat who wants to give you health care and a higher wage is disrespectful, while a Republican who opposes those things but engages in a vigorous round of campaign race-baiting is respectful. The person who’s holding you back isn’t the politician who just voted to give a trillion-dollar tax break to the wealthy and corporations, it’s an East Coast college professor who said something condescending on Twitter.

So what are Democrats to do? The answer is simple: This is a game they cannot win, so they have to stop playing. Know at the outset that no matter what you say or do, Republicans will cry that you’re disrespecting good heartland voters. There is no bit of PR razzle-dazzle that will stop them. Remember that white Republicans are not going to vote for you anyway, and their votes are no more valuable or virtuous than the votes of any other American. Don’t try to come up with photo ops showing you genuflecting before the totems of the white working class, because that won’t work. Advocate for what you believe in, and explain why it actually helps people.

Finally — and this is critical — never stop telling voters how Republicans are screwing them over. The two successful Democratic presidents of recent years were both called liberal elitists, and they countered by relentlessly hammering the GOP over its advocacy for the wealthy. And it worked


One million times this.  Quit getting bogged down trying to win over white voters who have spent the last ten years hearing how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the antichrists.  Show them how the GOP has rigged the game and tell them how you're going to fix it.  And in primaries last night, we'll get to test this theory as FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich explains.

The Democratic Party woke up this morning with a clear signal from Tuesday’s primary elections: The #Resistance means business. The more progressive candidate won in Democratic primaries around the country. The question, however, is whether those more liberal candidates will hurt the party’s chances in November. 
The biggest — and most surprising — news of the night was nonprofit executive Kara Eastman’s nomination in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. Although former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford had both the money and the backing of national Democrats, Eastman defeated him 51 percent to 49 percent. Like many of yesterday’s victorious Democrats, Eastman won by throwing red (blue?) meat to the liberal base: Where Ashford touted his ability to build consensus in Congress, Eastman promised confrontation and, well, resistance to President Trump.

Can a true blue anti-Trump unashamed liberal win in a state like Nebraska?  We'll find out.

And Eastman wasn’t alone. In Idaho, state Rep. Paulette Jordan surprisingly cruised to the Democratic nomination for governor, 59 percent to 40 percent, over a more moderate, wealthier and better-known (he was the party’s nominee in 2014) rival. Jordan, who would become the first Native American governor in U.S. history if she pulls off the upset win, was endorsed by Democracy for America, Indivisible and Cher — three entities not usually known for their influence with Idaho voters.

I've talked about Paulette Jordan before in Idaho.  She just won her primary by nearly 20 points. It wasn't even close.

Two Pennsylvania congressional primaries also pitted progressivism against pragmatism, and the progressives went two for two. In the 1st District, philanthropist Scott Wallace, the grandson of the Progressive Party’s 1948 presidential nominee, defeated former Navy prosecutor Rachel Reddick 56 percent to 35 percent. Reddick had made her conversion from the GOP a centerpiece of her campaign. In the 7th District, a split in the progressive vote nearly caused Democrats to nominate Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who has made comments friendly to Trump and not so friendly to undocumented immigrants. However, Allentown City Solicitor Susan Wild defeated him 33 to 30 percent, with Bernie Sanders-endorsed pastor Greg Edwards in third with 26 percent. More than Nebraska’s 2nd District, both the 1st and 7th Districts in Pennsylvania are true swing districts, with a partisan lean of R+1 and D+0.04, respectively — in other words, they’re almost perfect bellwethers for the nation as a whole. So Democrats have a little more margin for error there in such a Democratic-leaning political environment. (Of course, if that environment changes … ) 
Eastman’s, Jordan’s and Wild’s victories were part of another trend on Tuesday night: Women dominated. They won 11 out of the 16 contested Democratic primaries for Senate, House or governor that featured at least one female candidate and no incumbent. In Pennsylvania alone — currently the largest state with no women in its congressional delegation — three women won Democratic primaries in seats likely to elect them in November: Madeleine Dean in the 4th District, Mary Gay Scanlon in the 5th District and Chrissy Houlahan (though it was uncontested) in the 6th District. Tuesday also represented the continuation of a strong election cycle for Emily’s List, the progressive political action committee that works to elect pro-choice women. Three of the five candidates they endorsed triumphed on Tuesday, as did one (Scanlon) that they spoke highly of.

Rakich's lazy "tea party" headline aside, it's time to stop playing the GOP's game and win like Democrats.

Let's do this.


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