Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time, Con't

We've got a lot to cover, ranging into the "absolute crapton" of information on the Mueller investigation front today, it was a busy day indeed.  First, fomer Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos reported to prison this week to serve out his two-week prison sentence, but as The Atlantic's Natasha Bertrand and Scott Stedman report, his troubles are far from over.

George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his interactions with a Russia-linked professor in 2016, went to jail on Monday after fighting, and failing, to delay the start of his two-week prison sentence. But a letter now being investigated by the House Intelligence Committee and the FBI indicates that Papadopoulos is still in the crosshairs of investigators probing a potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The letter, obtained last week by The Atlantic, was sent to Democratic Representative Adam Schiff’s office on November 19 by an individual who claims to have been close to Papadopoulos in late 2016 and early 2017. The letter was brought to the attention of Schiff and House Intelligence Committee staff, according to an aide who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. The letter was also obtained by federal authorities, who are taking its claims “very seriously,” said two U.S. officials who also requested anonymity due to the sensitivities of the probe.

The statement makes a series of explosive but uncorroborated claims about Papadopoulos’s alleged coordination with Russians in the weeks following Trump’s election in November 2016, including that Papadopoulos said he was “doing a business deal with Russians which would result in large financial gains for himself and Mr. Trump.” The confidant said they were willing to take a polygraph test “to prove that I am being truthful” and had come forward now after seeing Papadopoulos “become increasingly hostile towards those who are investigating him and his associates.” A lawyer for Papadopoulos declined to comment.

If corroborated, the claims in the letter would add to an emerging portrait of Trump and his associates’ eagerness to strike backdoor deals with Russia even after the intelligence community concluded that Moscow had interfered in the 2016 election. (Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, tried to set up a “backchannel” to Russia in the weeks after the election and met with the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank during the transition period. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, meanwhile, negotiated with the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions before Trump was inaugurated.)

Again, if the FBI and Schiff are looking into this, then there must be some evidence backing this up.  But again, we know that the Russians like to plant fake stories in order to get journalists to bite, and it's very possible that this is one of them, along with yesterday's Manafort/WikiLeaks story.

Luke Harding and Dan Collyns, the reporters behind the Guardian story, do not name their sources, although they claim to have multiple, and they write that they have seen an internal document from Ecuador’s intelligence service listing “Paul Manaford [sic]” as a visitor to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Manafort, for his part, has called the Guardian’s report “totally false and deliberately libelous.” And White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Certainly I remain confident in the White House’s assertion that the president was involved in no wrongdoing, was not involved in any collusion.”

While the immediate reaction to the story was a collective “Wow!”, it is fair to take a step back and remain wary. Rather than being the bombshell smoking gun that directly connects the Trump campaign to WikiLeaks, perhaps the report is something else entirely: a disinformation campaign. Is it possible someone planted this story as a means to discredit the journalists?

A number of parties in the Trump-Russia circus have an interest in discrediting the media. Russia President Vladimir Putin has solidified his power in Russia by systematically quashing the free press and controlling the message through friendly media outlets, including the likes of RT and Sputnik. Trump, too, has consistently shouted “Fake News!” at any story he doesn’t like and has made it a theme of late to refer to the media as “the enemy of the people,” a term that has been used by dictators throughout time, including to devastating effect by Joseph Stalin.

Harding is likely a major target for anyone wrapped up in Russia’s intelligence operation against the West’s democratic institutions. He has written a book about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia—literally titled Collusion, as well as numerous articles related to the case, including about the Steele Dossier, Russia’s plans to help rescue Assange from London and spirit him away to Moscow, Russia’s novichok poisoning operation against Sergei Skripal, and a slew of other “Russia-is-up-to-no-good” stories.

If this latest story about Manafort and Assange is false, that is, if, for example, the sources lied to Harding and Collyns (or if the sources themselves were lied to and thus thought they were being truthful in their statements to the journalists), or if the Ecuadorian intelligence document is a fake, the most logical explanation is that it is an attempt to make Harding look bad. This, in turn, would put into question any of Harding’s past reporting and could be raised any time someone mentions his reporting as evidence of wrongdoing. Any mention of Harding going forward would include the caveat, “according to a reporter who was once duped.” The underlying question would always be: How can anything he writes be trusted?

Still, if this is true, then that's only the beginning of Trump's troubles this week.  Not that anybody doubted it, but now we know for sure that Paul Manafort was feeding information about his cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller directly to Trump's lawyers in an attempt to serve as a mole for Trump and to undermine the investigation.

A lawyer for Paul Manafort, the president’s onetime campaign chairman, repeatedly briefed President Trump’s lawyers on his client’s discussions with federal investigators after Mr. Manafort agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, according to one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers and two other people familiar with the conversations.

The arrangement was highly unusual and inflamed tensions with the special counsel’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began cooperating two months ago, the people said. Some legal experts speculated that it was a bid by Mr. Manafort for a presidential pardon even as he worked with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in hopes of a lighter sentence.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers, acknowledged the arrangement on Tuesday and defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed. Such information could help shape a legal defense strategy, and it also appeared to give Mr. Trump and his legal advisers ammunition in their public relations campaign against Mr. Mueller’s office.

For example, Mr. Giuliani said, Mr. Manafort’s lawyer Kevin M. Downing told him that prosecutors hammered away at whether the president knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians promised to deliver damaging information on Hillary Clinton to his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. The president has long denied knowing about the meeting in advance. “He wants Manafort to incriminate Trump,” Mr. Giuliani declared of Mr. Mueller.

While Mr. Downing’s discussions with the president’s team violated no laws, they helped contribute to a deteriorating relationship between lawyers for Mr. Manafort and Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors, who accused Mr. Manafort of holding out on them despite his pledge to assist them in any matter they deemed relevant, according to the people. That conflict spilled into public view on Monday when the prosecutors took the rare step of declaring that Mr. Manafort had breached his plea agreement by lying to them about a variety of subjects.

Mr. Manafort’s lawyers insisted that their client had been truthful but acknowledged that the two sides were at an impasse. Mr. Manafort will now face sentencing on two conspiracy charges and eight counts of financial fraud — crimes that could put him behind bars for at least 10 years.

Of course as I mentioned yesterday, the reality is that now Donald Trump knows the end is near as Mueller knew all along that Manafort was feeding Trump information from the probe, and he knew Manafort was lying to him straight up.

Paul Manafort’s alleged misstatements to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators include comments about his personal business dealings and about his contacts with a former associate in Ukraine, say people familiar with the matter.

Those statements—among those described by Mr. Mueller as “lies” and Mr. Manafort as “truthful information” in a court filing Monday—are what led the special counsel this week to take the unusual step of ending the former Trump campaign chairman’s plea agreement 2½ months after it was reached, the people said.

The content of those statements don’t appear to be central to the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election that Mr. Mueller is investigating. It is unclear if prosecutors plan to accuse Mr. Manafort of additional lies.

But Mr. Mueller’s move to end the cooperation deal reflects more broadly a combative relationship that has developed between Mr. Manafort and Mr. Mueller’s investigators, as well as the special counsel’s conclusion that Mr. Manafort fell short of his cooperation agreement, court filings show.

In interviews with Mr. Mueller’s team, Mr. Manafort allegedly made inaccurate statements about his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, said the people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Kilimnik, who Mr. Mueller charged earlier this year along with Mr. Manafort with trying to influence the testimony of two witnesses against Mr. Manafort, had worked for Mr. Manafort’s lobbying firm in Ukraine. Messrs. Manafort and Kilimnik communicated earlier this year about contacting others who worked with them in an alleged effort to coordinate their stories, according to an indictment Mr. Mueller filed against them.

Mr. Kilimnik, whom the FBI has assessed to have ties to Russian intelligence, according to a filing by the special counsel’s office, isn’t in custody and hasn’t responded to the charges in court.

SO it's a pretty safe bet that if Manafort was lying all along, the information Mueller's people gave to Manafort was a test that both Manafort and Trump failed and that Trump almost certainly lied on his questionnaire to Mueller

President Donald Trump told special counsel Robert Mueller in writing that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks, nor was he told about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to two sources familiar with the matter. 
One source described the President's answers without providing any direct quotes and said the President made clear he was answering to the best of his recollection. 
This is the first insight into how the President responded to the Mueller team's written questions -- a key unknown as Mueller aims to wrap up his investigation and prepare his final report. 
These two points -- WikiLeaks and the Trump Tower meeting -- are critical to Mueller's central mission: investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians during the 2016 campaign. 
The President's lawyers previously told CNN the answers would match his public statements. Still, these written answers could be subject to criminal charges if false
A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment. CNN did not get a full readout of all of the President's answers to Mueller's questions.

Again, if Mueller has evidence to prove these answers wrong, then that's lying to federal investigators, and that's not going to be good for Trump.  He's toast, he knows it, and he's doing everything to rally his cult for war.

President Donald Trump appeared to accuse his own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, of treason on Wednesday, posting a meme to his twitter feed that shows an image of Rosenstein and a slew of Trump critics behind bars.

The image also included special counsel Robert Mueller, former FBI Director James Comey, former national intelligence director James Clapper, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Their picture was overlaid with the words, “Now that Russia collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?”

Trump retweeted the image after separately ripping Mueller, whose investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election appears to be closing in on several Trump associates, including longtime ally Roger Stone and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi.

Trump has ramped up his attacks on Mueller in recent days, after a quiet few weeks ahead of the November midterm elections.

It's far from the first time Trump has tweeted nonsense from one of his follower accounts, and as Steve M. tells us, Trump has been preparing his base for war against reality for two years now.  Tens of millions of Trump fans will go to their graves thinking Trump never did anything wrong.  But when the person in the Oval Office tweets about putting his critics and his Deputy AG behind bars for treason, well, that's a whole new level of authoritarianism.

Trump is committing obstruction of justice out in the open now, he's priming his base to take to the streets to defend him, and he's preparing to pardon Paul Manafort to start with.

President Donald Trump declined in a new interview to rule out the possibility that he could pardon Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman. 
"It was never discussed, but I wouldn't take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?" Trump told the New York Post. 
The President's comments come following special counsel Robert Mueller's accusation that Manafort violated his plea agreement and lied to Mueller's team after being found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes in August. 
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said there had been no conversations about a potential presidential pardon for Manafort. 
Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani told CNN on Tuesday that he and Trump had discussed a Manafort pardon in the spring and decided it was not a proper move at this time, he added. 
"The last time we talked pardon was April or May, when I first came on," Giuliani said. "We decided it should be off the boards -- not exercised now and no one should make a decision based on any expectation."

It's clearly not "off the boards" there Rudy.  Trump clearly wants to pardon Manafort and start putting his enemies in jail. It's only a matter of time before he calls for mass arrests of his enemies.  The only question is whether he'll actually start doing it as Mueller closes in.

Donald Trump's behavior isn't doing much to bolster White House assurances that he's got nothing to worry about from Robert Mueller's probe, after a series of potentially ominous turns in the Russia investigation. 
The President's recent barrage of tweets and comments and testimony from sources close to him -- coinciding with thickening intrigue around the special counsel -- hint instead at deep concern on Trump's part. 
"While the disgusting Fake News is doing everything within their power not to report it that way, at least 3 major players are intimating that the Angry Mueller Gang of Dems is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts & they will get relief. This is our Joseph McCarthy Era!" Trump tweeted Wednesday, a day after blasting the special counsel as a "conflicted prosecutor gone rogue." 
Despite this outburst of fury, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders painted a portrait of a President who was serenely awaiting Mueller's findings.
"I don't think the President has any concerns about the report because he knows that there was no wrongdoing by him and that there was no collusion," Sanders told reporters at her first daily briefing in a month. 
The explanation for Trump's angst over his predicament seems to lie in a flurry of startling and potentially significant developments and reports swirling around his jailed ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other associates. 
Trump, the most powerful man in the world who crafted a self-flattering image as the ultimate strongman boss, is in a deeply vulnerable spot and appears to feel cornered and in increasing peril. 
He has no choice but to watch as Mueller, an adversary whose discrete public profile makes him an elusive target, grinds away, apparently getting ever closer to Trump's inner circle and perhaps even to the President himself. 

We're deep into "Nixon in the bunker" mode now.  What Trump's response will be remains to be seen, but if you think he's going to go quietly, that's never going to happen.

When he starts giving orders to have people arrested or worse -- and he will -- there will be some willing to follow those orders.

Stay tuned.

Deportation Nation, Con't

As Greg Sargent notes, incoming Democratic House committee chairs means actual oversight of the Trump regime, and the chair with one of the biggest piles of garbage to pick through is Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who will be taking over the House Homeland Security Committee.

In an interview with me, the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee vowed that when Democrats take over in January, they will undertake thorough and wide-ranging scrutiny of the justifications behind — and executions of — the top items in Trump’s immigration agenda, from the family separations, to the thinly veiled Muslim ban, to the handling of the current turmoil involving migrants at the border.

“We will visit the border,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who is expected to chair the committee, which has jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security, told me. “We will hold hearings in committee on any and all aspects of DHS. … We will not back off of this issue.”

This oversight — which could result in calling for testimony from Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s immigration agenda — will include scrutiny of the administration’s justifications for its policies. Importantly, Thompson tells me Democrats will seek to grill officials on what went into Trump’s public statements on various aspects of the issue, many of which are falsehoods.

On asylum seekers, for instance, Trump’s public rationale for his various efforts to restrict their ability to apply (which is their legal right), is based on lies about the criminal threat they supposedly pose and absurd exaggerations about the rates at which they don’t show up for hearings.

To be clear, Trump has used these rationales to justify actual policies with real-world impact, such as the effort to cruelly restrict asylum-applications to only official points of entry. Trump has also threatened a total border shutdown. Hearings could reveal that the justifications are nonsense, and spotlight their true arbitrary and cruel nature (putting aside for now that their real motive is ethno-nationalism).

“All this innuendo we hear about criminals coming in the caravan, we just want to know, how did you validate this?” Thompson told me, adding that DHS officials would be called on in hearings to account for Trump’s claims. “Policy has to be backed up with evidence. So we will do rigorous oversight.”

This will also include a look at the recent tear-gassing of migrants, and the administration’s public statements about it and justifications, Thompson said. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has defended the fact that tear gas appears to have impacted children by claiming they were used as “human shields.”

I'm not sure how much Johnson will be able to do as far as actually stopping Trump from splitting up families, blocking asylum-seekers, putting troops on the border in violation of Posse Comitatus, and tear gassing toddlers (after all, the cruelty here is the point) but it's going to be ugly press for him worldwide.

I think of course by next year Trump will have far larger problems, of course.

Rock The Trumpbah

Trump may think he's immune to any repercussions from continuing to pretend Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's war machine in Yemen isn't a major issue, but for the first time during this regime, it looks like there's enough support in the Senate to rein Trump in.

Senators are planning to vote this week on a measure to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, shortly after two Cabinet officials head to Capitol Hill to brief them on the situation — a briefing House members say they are being denied.

The expected vote on a measure to invoke the War Powers Resolution — likely to take place Wednesday or Thursday — will be the first test of whether the slaying of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi has broken Congress’s long-standing pattern of prioritizing the sanctity of the U.S.-Saudi alliance through weapons sales and other cooperative military ventures over repeated, documented human rights violations.

Key senators are hinting they are done turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s transgressions, even if President Trump is still sticking by Saudi leaders.

“I’ve laid in the railroad tracks in the past to keep us from blocking arms to Saudi Arabia,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Monday. “I’m in a real different place right now as it relates to Saudi Arabia.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are scheduled to speak to senators Wednesday about Saudi Arabia’s continued engagement in Yemen’s civil war, as well as last month’s killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. But many senators, including Corker, are dissatisfied that CIA Director Gina Haspel will not be present at the briefing.

Thus far the White House has also refused to schedule a similar session with the House, according to Republican and Democratic aides in that chamber. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi is apparently a bridge too far, and as Republicans found out the hard way earlier this month, Trump can't shield the rest of the GOP from the fallout from his unpopularity.

The CIA recently assessed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman almost certainly directed Khashoggi’s killing — an assessment Trump has repeatedly sought to downplay as he has defended the crown prince’s denials.

Lawmakers of both parties have been growing increasingly angry with Trump for siding with Saudi leaders over his own intelligence officials. For a group of senators, that frustration presents an opportunity to end U.S. military, intelligence and air support for Saudi Arabia until it ceases military activities in Yemen amid the worsening humanitarian crisis there.

This March, 44 senators voted in favor of an effort to invoke the War Powers Resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition. Sponsors of that legislation said over the weekend that they were sure that this time they could amass enough support to clear the 50-vote hurdle to pass such a resolution on the Senate floor.

Getting it through the Senate is one thing, but a House vote will never happen.  At least...not until the new management takes over in January.

We'll see.


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