Thursday, October 10, 2019

Last Call For Graham, Cracked

So it turns out that GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, while inexplicably remaining one of Donald Trump's greatest public supporters, and the fact he's chair of the Senate Judiciary committee cannot be overlooked, is still very, very bad at this whole espionage and skullduggery thing.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has in the last year become something of a congressional point man for President Donald Trump’s negotiations with Turkey, leading discussions on everything from Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile system over the summer to their more recent incursion into northern Syria.

So when he received a call from a man he thought was Turkey’s minister of defense earlier in August, it didn’t strike him as unusual. “Thank you so much for calling me, Mr. Minister,” Graham said. “I want to make this a win-win, if we can.”

But it wasn’t the Turkish defense minister at all. Instead, it was Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, Russian pranksters with suspected ties to the country’s intelligence services who go by “Lexus and Vovan.” The duo have become notorious in recent years for their cold calls to unwitting, high-profile Western politicians, including Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, leading some to suspect that they’ve had help from the Kremlin, according to The Guardian. (A Schiff spokesman said at the time that the House Intelligence Committee “informed appropriate law enforcement and security personnel of the conversation.”)

Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Graham, confirmed the call’s authenticity to POLITICO. “We have been successful in stopping many efforts to prank Senator Graham and the office, but this one slipped through the cracks,” he said. “They got him.”

The substance of Graham’s conversation with Stolyarov, who was posing as Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, is newly relevant in light of the South Carolina senator’s push for sanctions on Turkey as punishment for their offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria. Graham labeled the Kurds a “threat” to Turkey in the call, seemingly contradicting what he has said publicly in recent days.

Graham also mentions Trump’s personal interest in a “Turkish bank case” in the call that appears to refer to a U.S. case involving Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader and client of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that Trump had asked then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017 to help persuade the Justice Department to drop the Zarrab case.

The pranksters’ conversation with Graham, a Trump ally who has the president’s ear on national security issues, also raises obvious questions about potential security breaches. While the pranks appear on their face to have been relatively harmless, the incident suggests it’s getting easier for bad actors to elicit sensitive information from policymakers. Stolyarov provided POLITICO with a recording of their call.

No doubt that Graham's about-face on Syrian Kurds and possible break from Trump is exactly why this call was released.  Expect Graham's efforts to introduce bipartisan Senate sanctions against Turkey to immediately go down the toilet.  Graham just got a very ugly reminder as to whom he really works for, and it's not the people of the Palmetto State.

Of course, Trump just got an equally ugly reminder as to whom he works for, as well.

So here's a recap of today from CNN's Jim Sciutto:

And there are only two things keeping Trump from prison right now:  AG Bill Barr, and GOP Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.  Without those two people, Trump would have been trashed months ago.

Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

Well now.  Remember Rudy's two foreign friends he was working with to fabricate dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine?  The ones who ignored House Democratic depositions on Monday?

Yesterday I talked about how Energy Secretary Rick Perry apparently was trying to get two Giuliani associates on the board of Ukraine's biggest natural gas company. Those two associates are now at the center of the latest fight between House Democrats at the Trump regime, with the two men, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, having lawyered up in record time and saying they will not comply with any House Democratic requests for documents or depositions.

The two contacted former White House Counsel John Dowd to defend them.  But then Wednesday night the two did something stupid.

They tried to skip the country.

The Feds were waiting for them at the airport...with campaign finance charges for illegally donating foreign money to Trump.

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, two foreign-born donors who gave money to a political action committee supporting President Donald Trump, were arrested Wednesday night and face charges tied to campaign-finance violations, two law enforcement officials confirmed to NBC News. 
The pair are expected to appear in federal court Thursday.

Fruman and Parnas worked with Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, Giuliani has previously said, as part of his dealings in Ukraine that involved efforts to encourage the nation to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Parnas is Ukrainian, while Fruman is Belarusian, according to the indictment unsealed Thursday. 
The Wall Street Journal was first to report on the arrests. 
According to the indictment, filed in the Southern District of New York, the two men, along with fellow defendants David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, "conspired to circumvent the federal laws against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office so that the defendants could buy potential influence with candidates, campaigns, and the candidates' governments." 
The indictment describes an elaborate scheme to conceal the real source of the political donations through the use of secret agreements, limited liability corporations and straw donors. 
The defendants deceived "the candidates, campaigns, federal regulators, and the public by entering into secret agreements, laundering foreign money through bank accounts in the name of limited liability corporations, and through the use of straw donors ... who purported to make legal campaign contributions in their own names, rather than in the name of the true source of the fund," according to the document. 
Two senior law enforcement officials told NBC News that Parnas and Fruman were arrested at Dulles airport in Washington, D.C. Wednesday. The two were slated to depart on an flight that would have taken them outside the U.S., the sources said. Their exact destination was not immediately known. Kukushkin was arrested in San Francisco Wednesday. The status of the fourth person charges in the scheme, Correia, is not immediately known. 
The Trump campaign declined to comment to NBC News while John Dowd, an attorney for the two men, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News. Reached by NBC News, Giuliani said he could not yet comment.

Now, this raises a whole lot of questions here.  Parnas and Fruman were obviously on the FEC and DOJ's radar for a long time to have these charges ready to go, but trying to flee the country to avoid the House impeachment depositions subpoena meant that the SDNY had to act.

Now with these two in pocket, a LOT can happen, things that have to be making Trumpworld very, very nervous.  The indictment says that these two (on top of being Rudy's two intel gophers on Biden) are in fact connected to "Foreign-National-1", a Russian, pouring money into the Trump campaign.  We've kinda come full circle, really, as Marcy Wheeler discusses.

What the indictment is less clear about is who the Russian bankrolling all this is. A key part of Parnas and Fruman’s crime is that they were laundering funds for “a foreign national Russian citizen and businessman.”

From in or about June 2018 through April 2019, LEV PARNAS, IGOR FRUMAN, DAVID CORREIA, and ANDREY KUKUSHKIN, the defendants, and others known and unknown, conspired to make political donations — funded by Foreign National-1 [the Russian] — to politicians and candidates for federal and State office to gain influence with candidates as to policies that would benefit a future business venture.

Putting together the Dowd letter and the indictment, it becomes clear that the John Solomon propaganda that Trump was pushing (and which Rudy sent to Mike Pompeo’s State Department as part of the effort to get rid of Yovanovitch and which Lindsey Graham just invited Rudy to come present to the Senate Judiciary Committee) was funded by an as yet unnamed Russian.

There are US congressmen mentioned in the indictment too as getting money from this scam, one of them is apparently former Rep. Pete Sessions, the other is current House GOP minority leader Kevin McCarthy.  Tada!

Oh, and House Republicans have issued subpoenas for these two due October 16.

It's all connected to Trump and Russia.  It always is.

The Reach To Impeach, Con't

As FiveThirtyEight's Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux reminds us, it took more than two years for Republicans to abandon Nixon, but when it happened, it happened in the span of two weeks.

On July 23, 1974, Rep. Lawrence Hogan, Sr., a Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, bought airtime on TV networks across his home state of Maryland. He had a big announcement to share: Hogan was the first Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to publicly say he would vote to impeach Nixon. It was just over two weeks before Nixon would announce his resignation, and the Judiciary Committee was poised to approve three articles of impeachment against the president — except nobody knew that yet.

Today, as another impeachment drama unfolds, it’s easy to see Republicans like Hogan, who were willing to break ranks with their party, as a fundamental difference between Watergate and today. And it’s true that Republicans are currently staying in President Trump’s corner. But while we tend to focus on the bipartisan rebellion that led to Nixon’s resignation, it’s also worth understanding how public opinion and the party eventually turned against the president.

Support for impeachment had grown slowly over the course of 1974, but there still wasn’t an overwhelming public consensus behind it until right before Nixon left office in early August. And Republican support for Nixon had remained mostly strong, even in the face of a scandal that consumed his second term. As the truth about the scope of Nixon’s misconduct emerged, though, impeachment became increasingly popular and the president lost even his most fervent defenders in Congress. Of course, there are many differences between the Nixon impeachment and the Democrats’ current inquiry, which is still in its early stages, and each impeachment investigation will unfold differently. But as today’s Republicans are scrutinized for signs that they might turn on Trump, it’s important to remember that even in Watergate, it took more than a year of investigation — and a lot of evidence against Nixon — to reach the point where Republicans like Hogan were voting for impeachment.

When the House of Representatives voted in February 1974 to give the House Judiciary Committee subpoena power to investigate Nixon, it did not have the weight of public opinion behind it. According to a poll conducted by Gallup just days before the vote, only 38 percent of Americans were in favor of impeachment. And although a solid majority of Americans did eventually come to support impeachment, that moment didn’t arrive until quite late in the game.
But this didn’t mean the public wasn’t souring on Nixon as the Watergate scandal unfolded. After winning a sweeping victory in the 1972 election, the president began his second term with an approval rating around 60 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker of presidential approval. Then that spring saw a stunning 30-point drop in Nixon’s support starting around when one of the people charged with breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters confessed to a judge that he and the other conspirators had been pressured to stay silent.

Support for Nixon continued to plunge throughout the long summer of 1973, while former White House lawyer John Dean testified in Senate hearings that the president had been involved in a cover-up of the burglary and a White House aide confirmed in closed-door testimony that Nixon had set up a secret White House taping system. And by the time of October’s Saturday Night Massacre — where Nixon ordered the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who had been demanding those tapes, and the closing of the special prosecutor’s investigation — his approval rating had plunged to 27 percent, which is about where it stayed until Nixon resigned.

As Nixon’s approval ratings fell, support for impeachment was rising more gradually, reaching solid majority support by early August 1974. That was right in the midst of the crucial two-week period when the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the White House tapes, the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve three articles of impeachment and Nixon released the transcript of what became known as the “smoking gun” tape, which showed that he had helped orchestrate the cover-up. His support among his allies (who had included some conservative southern Democrats as well as Republicans) had already started to erode significantly, but it was the “smoking gun” tape that finally forced his resignation on August 8, before the House could vote on impeachment. At that point, the public was clearly behind impeachment, although a significant minority of Americans — including most Republicans — still didn’t think Nixon should be removed from office.

Of course, the biggest difference today is that there are zero moderate Republicans, they're all zombies who have enabled Trump for three years...or lost their jobs trying.

Still, the poll numbers now show a slim majority for both impeachment and removal from FOX News State TV.

More than half of US voters want President Donald Trump impeached and removed from office, according to a Fox News Poll out on Wednesday. 
The poll marks the fourth in two days that showed public opinion is shifting on the impeachment inquiry. A formal impeachment inquiry, launched by the House last month, centers on Trump's July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, after a whistleblower filed a complaint about the call. A transcript of the conversation released by the White House shows Trump repeatedly pushed Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden in Ukraine. 
The Fox News poll found 51% of registered voters want Trump impeached and removed from office and another 4% want the President impeached but not removed from office. Forty percent of respondents were opposed to impeachment altogether.

The breakdown of that poll is fascinating:

39% of independent voters, 38% of rural white voters, 39% of white non-college voters, and 28% of white evangelical voters all say Trump should be impeached and removed.  Even 12% of Trump voters say he should go, and considering Trump effectively won by less than half of one percent, that's dismal news for him.

And remember, Democrats haven't even gotten to hearings yet, really.

If these numbers get worse...and they will, mainly because Trump can't stop criming... then even the Senate GOP may have to dump him.  We'll see.
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