There’s an image that probably comes to mind anytime there are big headlines about the FBI: A lawman in a dark suit, crisp white shirt, sensible shoes and a sharp crew cut. Basically, the exact look James Cagney sported in the 1935 classic film G-Men — except his included a fedora because … the 1930s.
That archetype of the clean-cut, indefatigable and incorruptible agent was largely the invention of J. Edgar Hoover, who led the FBI for 48 years, from May 1924 to May 1972. In addition to his position leading the Department of Justice’s top law enforcement unit, Hoover also championed it as a pseudo-Hollywood producer.
The early years of the FBI coincided with the start of the comic book era, which inspired Hoover to take advantage of the new medium. According to Ronald Kessler, author of The Secrets of the FBI, Hoover correctly perceived this was a direct channel to shaping the hearts and minds of young Americans, and that led him to take an active role in creating characters that depicted FBI agents as modern-day knights.
“He realized that he could create these images of the G-Men as superheroes like Superman,” said Kessler. They had a brand of their own: “G-Man” stands for “Government Man.”
And it worked, Kessler argued — Hoover’s foresight, use of comics, radio and movies helped to instill a deep trust in the agency and its mission among a whole new generation.
“That helped him stay in office and also helped the FBI do its work, because if people trust the FBI they’re going to be more likely to cooperate and give tips,” said Kessler.
Luckily for Hoover, said Kessler, the truth about the infamous FBI director’s illegal investigations, instances of possible blackmail and improper espionage against Americans didn’t come to light until after his death.
More recently, and without Hoover’s guiding hand, Hollywood has suggested that there are special agents devoted to the paranormal — as in an “X-Files” division.
But when pressed if that kind of department exists today or ever did, Kessler delivered an unequivocal and emphatic, “No!”
A second source, however, wasn’t so definitive.
Annie Jacobsen, a journalist who covers national security and author of Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations Into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis, believes the FBI must have had a department like the one for which TV’s Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully worked. And it still could.
“My reasoning is that we know there is that department inside the CIA and also inside the Pentagon. And history tells us that this department existed in [the FBI] in the 50s,” she said.
Her book is a deep dive into the CIA and Pentagon programs that sought to train people in the arts of mind-reading and moving objects with their minds.
“The FBI always likes to keep up with what’s going on in the intelligence community and their partners over at the Pentagon,” said Jacobsen. “To imagine that the department went away is sort of less believable.”
Then there are the fictionalized representations of the Bureau’s profilers, whom audiences love — and network executives love that audiences love them. Perhaps the most famous of these was, technically, a trainee — Clarice Starling, a dogged naif pulled from the FBI Academy and assigned with trying to track down a skin-suit-making serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs.
Funny-not-funny side-note: Clarice, in all of her padded-shoulder glory, would not have been able to go after Buffalo Bill under Hoover’s leadership of the FBI. Women were not allowed to become special agents until 1972, after Hoover died and L. Patrick Gray took over. Until then, women at the FBI were relegated to secretarial positions, which, we’ve learned from Martha on The Americans, could be a difficult workplace for women.
(Martha, if you’re reading this, send us a postcard from Russia!)
Obviously, neither Starling nor Scully and Mulder nor even surfer/undercover Agent Johnny Utah will be reporting to Christopher Wray, the man on track to be confirmed by the Senate to take over the FBI after former Director James Comey was fired two months ago. But one man who could be is acting Director Andrew McCabe — who looks like he’s straight out of central casting, complete with those horn-rimmed glasses.
In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in May, just days after Comey was sacked by President Trump, McCabe had this to say about the agency: “You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.”
Now that’s a line worthy of the movies.
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FBI’s ‘G-Man’ Image: From Comic Books To ‘The X-Files’ And ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’
But one man who could be is acting Director Andrew McCabe — who looks like he’s straight out of central casting, complete with those horn-rimmed glasses. In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in May, just days after Comey was sacked by …
Andrew McCabe – Google News
Laughter as FBI Cointelpro Weapon: was that woman an FBI informant or the FBI secret agent on assignment? Does FBI use laughter as a psychological weapon? Investigate the investigators! Send the FOI requests to the FBI on this subject en mass.
“When asked by the prosecutor, Coronado maintained that the laugh was loud and disruptive, but Fairooz said it was simply an involuntary reaction to a ludicrous claim.”
I have an “involuntary reaction” to laugh at the FBI’s “ludicrous claims”, and I will. Prepare the spittoons and the handkerchiefs for the other reactions too. Thank you, fast, furious, considerate, aspiring FBI secret agents! What would we do without you?!
Another option: just laugh at the little nincompoops!
Laughter as FBI Cointelpro Weapon – 7.15.17
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- Jeff Sessions: Judge Tosses Conviction of Laughing Protester | Time.com
- Fairooz – Google Search The Department of Justice Is Really Prosecuting a Woman for Laughing at Jeff Sessions | Alternet
Under the plans, U.S. Cyber Command would eventually be split off from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency.
Details are still being worked out, but officials say they expect a decision and announcement in the coming weeks. The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter so requested anonymity.
The goal, they said, is to give U.S. Cyber Command more autonomy, freeing it from any constraints that stem from working alongside the NSA, which is responsible for monitoring and collecting telephone, internet and other intelligence data from around the world – a responsibility that can sometimes clash with military operations against enemy forces.
Making cyber an independent military command will put the fight in digital space on the same footing as more traditional realms of battle on land, in the air, at sea and in space. The move reflects the escalating threat of cyberattacks and intrusions from other nation states, terrorist groups and hackers, and comes as the U.S. faces ever-widening fears about Russian hacking following Moscow’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 American election.
The U.S. has long operated quietly in cyberspace, using it to collect information, disrupt enemy networks and aid conventional military missions. But as other nations and foes expand their use of cyber-spying and attacks, the U.S. is determined to improve its ability to incorporate cyber operations into its everyday warfighting.
Experts said the command will need time to find its footing.“Right now I think it’s inevitable, but it’s on a very slow glide path,” said Jim Lewis, a cybersecurity expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But, he added, “A new entity is not going to be able to duplicate NSA’s capabilities.”
The NSA, for example, has 300 of the country’s leading mathematicians “and a gigantic super computer,” Lewis said. “Things like this are hard to duplicate.”
He added, however, that over time, the U.S. has increasingly used cyber as a tactical weapon, bolstering the argument for separating it from the NSA.
The two highly secretive organizations, based at Fort Meade, Maryland, have been under the same four-star commander since Cyber Command’s creation in 2009.
But the Defense Department has been agitating for a separation, perceiving the NSA and intelligence community as resistant to more aggressive cyberwarfare, particularly after the Islamic State’s transformation in recent years from an obscure insurgent force into an organization holding significant territory across Iraq and Syria and with a worldwide recruiting network.
While the military wanted to attack IS networks, intelligence objectives prioritized gathering information from them, according to U.S. officials familiar with the debate. They weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly and requested anonymity.
FILE – National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command Director Adm. Mike Rogers testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 9, 2017.
Then-defense secretary Ash Carter sent a plan to president Barack Obama last year to make Cyber Command an independent military headquarters and break it away from the NSA, believing that the agency’s desire to collect intelligence was at times preventing the military from eliminating IS’ ability to raise money, inspire attacks and command its widely dispersed network of fighters.
Carter, at the time, also pushed for the ouster of Adm. Mike Rogers, who still heads both bodies. The Pentagon, he warned, was losing the war in the cyber domain, focusing on cyber threats from nations such as Iran, Russia and China, rather than on countering the communications and propaganda campaigns of internet-savvy insurgents.
Officials also grew alarmed by the growing number of cyberattacks against the U.S. government, including several serious, high-level Defense Department breaches that occurred under Rogers’ watch.
“NSA is truly an intelligence-collection organization,” said Lauren Fish, a research associate with the Center for a New American Security. “It should be collecting information, writing reports on it. Cyber Command is meant to be an organization that uses tools to have military operational effect.”
After President Donald Trump’s inauguration, officials said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis endorsed much of the plan. But debate over details has dragged on for months.
It’s unclear how fast the Cyber Command will break off on its own. Some officials believe the new command isn’t battle-ready, given its current reliance on the NSA’s expertise, staff and equipment. That effort will require the department to continue to attract and retain cyber experts.
Cyber Command was created in 2009 by the Obama administration to address threats of cyber espionage and other attacks. It was set up as a sub-unit under U.S. Strategic Command to coordinate the Pentagon’s ability to conduct cyberwarfare and to defend its own networks, including those that are used by combat forces in battle.
Officials originally said the new cyber effort would likely involve hundreds, rather than thousands, of new employees.
Since then, the command has grown to more than 700 military and civilian employees. The military services also have their own cyber units, with a goal of having 133 fully operational teams with as many as 6,200 personnel.
Its proposed budget for next year is $647 million. Rogers told Congress in May that represents a 16 percent increase over this year’s budget to cover costs associated with building the cyber force, fighting IS and becoming an independent command.
Under the new plan being forwarded by the Pentagon to the White House, officials said Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville would be nominated to lead Cyber Command. Leadership of the NSA could be turned over to a civilian.
Mayville is currently the director of the military’s joint staff and has extensive experience as a combat-hardened commander. He deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, leading the 173rd Airborne Brigade when it made its assault into Iraq in March 2003 and later heading coalition operations in eastern Afghanistan.
We quickly lose sight of how exceptional the bizarre moments of the past six months have been. It would have seemed ludicrous one week ago that we’d be sitting here today holding an email in which Donald Trump Jr. cops to seeking out negative information about Hillary Clinton from someone he believed was a Russian government official. Yet here we are.
Trump’s base of support has already appeared to brush aside the obvious demonstration of a willingness to collude in the transfer of information that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” as the first email to Trump Jr. read. President Trump once said that he could shoot someone dead in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any support. That no longer seems much like hyperbole.
Trump: ‘Most people would have taken that meeting’
President Trump spoke at a news conference in Paris on July 13 and defended Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer. President Trump spoke at a news conference in Paris on July 13 and defended Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer. (The Washington Post)
President Trump spoke at a news conference in Paris on July 13 and defended Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer. (The Washington Post)
Still, others will note, it’s not as if Trump is popular. His approval rating remains mired in the low-40s, with most Americans viewing his job performance negatively. Doesn’t that alone mean that, if some other significant revelation occurs over the next seven days, Trump’s position must surely grow wobblier?
Nope. Despite a Democratic member of the House initiating the process to remove Trump from office, there’s almost no chance at all that the president would be impeached this year, no matter what happens.
Why? Politics. Impeachment takes the form of a trial, but it isn’t one. It’s a political vote by politicians, all of whom would like to themselves avoid the fate of being thrown out of office. And Trump’s political career both relied on and thrives because of the nature of the moment that he launched it.
Let’s go back to those approval ratings. Here are the average ratings by party for each day on which a poll was conducted for the first six months or so of Trump’s presidency (via Huffington Post Pollster).
There’s been a distinct downward trend, both among all voters and in Trump’s base, members of the Republican Party. But the drop-off hasn’t been all that steep; he’s polling about seven or eight points lower now than he did in January, with a similar decline among Republicans. It varies by pollster and methodology, as you might expect.
As we’ve noted before, though, the only number that really matters is that approval rating among Republicans, for reasons we’ll get into below. If your job depended largely on majority approval from a group of 10 of your peers, you probably wouldn’t start updating your résumé just because you went from having nine of them love you to only eight.
Let’s dive in a little by looking at the numbers from Gallup. The weekly average of approval ratings for Trump by party looks like this. In Gallup’s numbers, he’s down seven points from his January polling among all voters — and down only four with Republicans.
But there’s a critically important split in those Republican opinions. Conservative Republicans are muchmore likely to view Trump positively. With that group, he’s consistently been at around 90 percent approval.
Remember, we noted that impeachment is a political process. It requires having members of the House pass articles of impeachment that then go to the Senate where punishment is determined. And every single one of those 435 members of the House have to face their own constituents next year in an effort to keep their jobs. Most (but certainly not all) will face challengers from within their own parties who they’ll need to defeat in primaries in order to be on the ballot in November.
And that is why Trump isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
In 2014, Pew Research Center looked at the composition of the primary electorate. It found that in the 2010 and 2014 off-year elections, the people who came out to vote in the Republican primaries were much more conservative than Republican voters overall. In 2010, the voting pool was 12 points more likely to espouse consistent conservative views on policy issues than Republican Party voters overall. Three years ago, the voting pool was 11 points more conservative.
To break it down explicitly: Republicans control the House, so nothing’s passing there without their support. Republican House members are all up for reelection next year. To get on the ballot in November, they need to win their primaries. Their primary fights will be against other Republicans (in most states), and be determined by the most conservative voters in their party.
And those conservative Republicans have a 90 percent approval rating for President Trump, even after all of the things that have emerged over the last six months.
Those hoping for a Trump impeachment, then, might wonder what happens after the primaries. After all, it’s not a coincidence that Richard Nixon resigned in August of 1974, after his party’s primaries that year — and after a visit to his office from congressional leaders who warned that his support on Capitol Hill had collapsed. Part of the concern, clearly, was that Nixon’s unpopularity was going to lead to a bruising defeat for House Republicans that November.
That may be a concern for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan next year, too, but there are two big differences. First, Republicans have a very healthy margin in the House that would allow them to lose more than 20 seats while still maintaining a majority. Second, there are a lot fewer close House races now than there were then — a function of a lot of things including population sorting and gerrymandering.
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In 1974, the winners of 90 House seats were settled by margins of 10 points or less (including the Republican minority leader in the House who’d met with Nixon). In 2016, it was a third of that.
In 2016, only 15 Republicans were elected with margins of under 10 points.
To put a fine point on it: Far fewer House Republicans are dependent on cobbling together support from voters outside of their party in order to win reelection. And since the most fervent supporters within their party stand strongly behind Trump, that may offer them all of the political cover they’d seek.
Theoretically, something else could emerge that would cause Trump’s support from those Republicans to crumble. But it’s very, very hard to imagine what that might be.
Source: Democrats Push Probe Into Trump, Deutsche Bank and Russia – TheStreet
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House Democrats are using a new tactic to gather information on Deutsche Bank (DB) as part of a broader party effort to push action on inquiries into President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
Democrats will offer measures known as resolutions of inquiry, an investigative procedure that House of Representatives members can employ to make a direct request for information to the executive branch. The resolutions automatically trigger floor votes if they don’t get action in committee within 14 legislative days. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) on Friday will file a resolution to push for information on Trump, those in his orbit and Deutsche Bank.
The resolution, introduced by Waters and Representatives Daniel Kildee (R-MI), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Al Green (D-TX) and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), asks Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to provide records from his department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network that detail Trump’s ties to Russia as well as those of his family members and associates.
House Democrats have sent four letters requesting information on Trump and Deutsche Bank since March — two to Deutche Bank directly, one to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and one to Mnuchin.
“We have to get all the information we can find about [President Trump] and his business relationships,” Waters said in a recent interview with TheStreet. “It is extremely important, and I don’t care where it comes from.”
Specifically, Democrats are seeking details on the bank’s conduct in the Russian mirror trading scandal, through which it helped wealthy Russians move $10 billion out of the country from 2011 to 2014, and its relationship with Trump.
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The German banks is one of the few banks that still lends money to the president after his bankruptcies and financial woes. His financial disclosure, released by the U.s. Office of Government Ethics last month, shows liabilities for Trump of at least $130 million to Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, including at least $50 million for the Old Post Office that houses Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel.
Waters, ranking member on the Financial Services Committee, and fellow committee Democrats will request through resolution of inquiry from the Treasury Department information on credit extended by Russian banks and Russian government officials to Trump and those in his orbit and information on the Russian mirror trading scandal. They are seeking information on money laundering and sanctions violations by those in the president’s orbit as well.
The ROI lists off Trump’s properties, past and present, including the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Trump National Doral in Miami and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. It also targets properties owned by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Democrats also specify several figures of interest. Trump’s family members are listed, as well as figures such as campaign chairman Paul Manafort, activist investor Carl Icahn, Russian-born associate Felix Sater, operative Roger Stone and attorney Michael Cohen. They also list members of the administration, including Gary Cohn, Wilbur Ross, Rex Tillerson and Jeff Sessions.
The resolution also requests information on the president’s long-time assistant, Rhona Graff, and publicist Rob Goldstone, two figures tied into the brewing scandal surrounding Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer last summer. Emails released by Trump Jr. earlier this week just minutes before The New York Times was set to break a story on them revealed he accepted a meeting last year with a Russian lawyer on the promise that she could offer damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The emails also said the Russian government was supporting his father’s presidential bid.
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The challenge for President Trump’s attorneys has become, at its core, managing the unmanageable — their client.
He won’t follow instructions. After one meeting in which they urged Trump to steer clear of a certain topic, he sent a tweet about that very theme before they arrived back at their office.
He won’t compartmentalize. With aides, advisers and friends breezing in and out of the Oval Office, it is not uncommon for the president to suddenly turn the conversation to Russia — a subject that perpetually gnaws at him — in a meeting about something else entirely.
And he won’t discipline himself. Trump’s legal team, led by Marc E. Kasowitz of New York, is laboring to underscore the potential risk to the president if he engages without a lawyer in discussions with other people under scrutiny in widening Russia inquiries, including Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser.
Nearly two months after Trump retained outside counsel to represent him in the investigations of alleged Russian meddling in last year’s election, his and Kushner’s attorneys are struggling to enforce traditional legal boundaries to protect their clients, according to half a dozen people with knowledge of the internal dynamics and ongoing interactions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter candidly.
Compounding the challenges have been tensions between Trump’s and Kushner’s legal teams in a frenzied, siege-like environment. Senior White House officials are increasingly reluctant to discuss the issue internally or publicly and worry about overhearing sensitive conversations, for fear of legal exposure.
“Stuff is moving fast and furious,” said one person familiar with the work of the legal teams. “The tensions are just the tensions that would normally exist between two groups of lawyers starting to work together and struggling with facts that we don’t all know yet.”
A third faction could complicate the dynamic further. Trump’s eldest child, Donald Trump Jr., hired his own criminal defense attorney this week amid disclosures that he met with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin who he thought could provide incriminating information about Democrat Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Trump Jr. also is considering hiring his own outside public relations team.
In remarks to reporters on Air Force One before his arrival in Paris on Thursday, Trump defended his son as “a good boy” who had done nothing wrong and suggested he would support Trump Jr. testifying about the case “if he wants to.”
As in Trump’s West Wing, lawyers on the outside teams have been deeply distrustful of one another and suspicious of motivations. They also are engaged in a circular firing squad of private speculation about who may have disclosed information about Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer to the New York Times, said people familiar with the situation.
Michael J. Bowe, a partner at Kasowitz’s firm and a member of Trump’s legal team, said the lawyers are collaborating effectively. “The legal teams have worked together smoothly and professionally from the start,” he said.
Trump’s lawyer denies Trump asked Comey to drop the Flynn probe
President Trump’s personal attorney Marc Kasowitz hit back at former FBI director James Comey’s testimony on June 8, saying that Trump never asked Comey to let the Flynn investigation go or for Comey’s “loyalty.” President Trump’s personal attorney Marc Kasowitz hit back at former FBI director James Comey’s testimony on June 8. (Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post/Reuters)
Another question is who will pay the legal fees for the president and administration officials involved in the Russia inquiries. Some in Trump’s orbit are pushing the Republican National Committee to bear the costs, said three people with knowledge of the situation, including one who euphemistically described the debate as a “robust discussion.”
Although the RNC does have a legal defense fund, it well predates the Russia investigations and is intended to be used for legal challenges facing the Republican Party, such as a potential election recount.
The RNC has not made a decision, in part because the committee is still researching whether the money could legally be used to help pay legal costs related to Russia. But many within the organization are resisting the effort, thinking it would be more appropriate to create a separate legal defense fund for the case.
RNC officials declined requests for comment. The White House has not said whether Trump, Kushner and other officials are paying their legal bills themselves or whether they are being covered by an outside entity.
Those retained by the parties involved include Kasowitz, Bowe and Jay Sekulow for Trump; Jamie S. Gorelick and Abbe Lowell for Kushner; and Alan Futerfas for Trump Jr.
The president has been irritated with Kasowitz, which the Times first reported this week. The two men have known each other for decades, and both are hard-charging, prideful and brash.
But people briefed on the evolving relationship said Trump has made Kasowitz absorb his fury about the Russia inquiries — in keeping with how the president treats his White House staff, quick to blame aides when things go awry.
The lawyers are now faced with the challenge of trying to force change on Trump, 71, who throughout his life has often thrived amid freewheeling chaos. He made his name as a flamboyant Manhattan developer, trafficking in hyperbole and mistruth — or “puffery,” as one former aide put it — while exhibiting little discretion in his daily conversations. For Trump, this was a formula for success.
“There’s no question that Donald Trump has lied flagrantly and almost pathologically his entire life,” said Timothy L. O’Brien, author of the Trump biography “TrumpNation” and a Bloomberg View columnist. “For good parts of his life, he’s been insulated from the consequences of doing that.”
Trump is now the highest elected official in the nation, and with that outsize perch comes potentially outsize consequences. His legal team is trying to impress upon him and those in his orbit that there could be severe ramifications for lying to federal investigators or congressional committees.
O’Brien said, “He is now in a completely different world, and it’s a world unlike any he’s ever existed in before — both in terms of the sophistication and honesty that’s required of him to do his job well, and most especially the titanic legal and reputational consequences of Donald Trump continuing to be the same old Donald Trump.”
The president, however, believes he has done nothing wrong and is the target of what he repeatedly has called “a witch hunt.” His instinct, those close to him have said, is to trust his gut and punch back.
Barry Bennett, who was a Trump campaign adviser, said that Trump isn’t used to losing and that “he never stops fighting. That’s what life has taught him. In Washington, politics is a full-
contact sport, and it’s certainly tougher than having it out with a magazine. It’s a new arena for him and he’s treating it like every arena he’s ever been in. He may be right, but it’s messy.”
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During last year’s campaign, Bennett recalled, “do you know how many times people came to him and said, ‘That was lethal, you’re never going to survive it’? Every time, he survived. When somebody tells him he can’t do something, he’s at a minimum circumspect.”
When it comes to Twitter, however, the president is hardly circumspect. His political advisers have long urged him to restrain his first impulses on social media and to think twice before tweeting — and now, his lawyers are asking the same.
Still, the president persists.
“It’s my voice,’’ Trump said in a recent interview with the New York Times Magazine. ‘‘They want to take away my voice. They’re not going to take away my social media.’’
Robert Costa, Rosalind S. Helderman and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.
Biographies describe a man intent on making his fortune and not afraid of skating near the edge to do so. At one point, according to Politico, federal investigators found that Frederick used various accounting measures to collect an extra $15 million in rent (in today’s dollars) from a government housing program, on top of paying himself a large “architect’s fee.” He was hauled before investigating committees on at least two occasions, apparently was arrested at a K.K.K. rally in Queens (though it’s not clear he was a member), got involved in a slush fund scandal with Robert Wagner and faced discrimination allegations.
I repeat this history because I don’t think moral obliviousness is built in a day. It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a person’s mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing; to take the normal human yearning to be good and replace it with a single-minded desire for material conquest; to take the normal human instinct for kindness and replace it with a law-of-the-jungle mentality.
It took a few generations of the House of Trump, in other words, to produce Donald Jr.
The Donald Trump Jr. we see through the Russia scandal story is not malevolent: He seems to be simply oblivious to the idea that ethical concerns could possibly play a role in everyday life. When the Russian government offer came across his email, there doesn’t seem to have been a flicker of concern. Instead, he replied with that tone of simple bro glee that we remember from other scandals.
“Can you smell money?!?!?!?!” Jack Abramoff emailed a co-conspirator during his lobbying and casino fraud shenanigans. That’s the same tone as Don Jr.’s “I love it” when offered a chance to conspire with a hostile power. A person capable of this instant joy and enthusiasm isn’t overcoming any internal ethical hurdles. It’s just a greedy boy grabbing sweets.
Once the scandal broke you would think Don Jr. would have some awareness that there were ethical stakes involved. You’d think there would be some sense of embarrassment at having been caught lying so blatantly.
But in his interview with Sean Hannity he appeared incapable of even entertaining any moral consideration. “That’s what we do in business,” the younger Trump said. “If there’s information out there, you want it.” As William Saletan pointed out in Slate, Don Jr. doesn’t seem to possess the internal qualities necessary to consider the possibility that he could have done anything wrong.
That to me is the central takeaway of this week’s revelations. It’s not that the Russia scandal may bring down the administration. It’s that over the past few generations the Trump family has built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.
The Trumps have an ethic of loyalty to one another. “They can’t stand that we are extremely close and will ALWAYS support each other,” Eric Trump tweeted this week. But beyond that there is no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code. There is just naked capitalism.
Successful business people, like successful politicians, are very ambitious, but they generally have some complementary moral code that checks their greed and channels their drive. The House of Trump has sprayed an insecticide on any possible complementary code, and so they are continually trampling basic decency. Their scandals may not build to anything impeachable, but the scandals will never end.
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On Air Force One on Thursday, President Trump actually took questions from reporters but there was some confusion about whether or not the exchange was on the record. The White House later released a transcript that left out a couple of things. Since reporters were released from their agreement to keep it off the record, they filled in the blanks:
So we are getting closer to an admission that our president knew that representatives of the Russian government wanted to help him win the election. He simply doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with that.
We know for sure that he doesn’t think there’s anything unusual about it. He told the reporters:
Honestly, in a world of politics, most people are going to take that meeting. If somebody called and said, hey — and you’re a Democrat — and by the way, they have taken them — hey, I have really some information on Donald Trump. You’re running against Donald Trump. Can I see you? I mean, how many people are not going to take the meeting?
When asked about it again during his press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, he said the same thing.
Donald Trump used to brag about doing business with Russians. He told David Letterman back in 2013 “I’ve done a lot of business with the Russians, I know the Russians very well. They’re smart and they’re tough and they’re not looking so dumb right now.” That was around the time of the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, when Trump was tight with billionaire oligarch Aras Agalarov, also known as Putin’s builder, and his pop star son Emin, both of whom were instrumental in the “Hillary dirt” meeting with Donald Jr. After years of trying fruitlessly to get a Trump project off the ground in the country, he had finally succeeded in making the contact who could make his dream come true.
According to Michael Isikoff at Yahoo, it was a typical Trump arrangement in which Agalarov would build the tower and license Trump’s name for big dollars. Donald Jr. was put it charge and Ivanka even made a trip in 2014 to see the proposed property. Unfortunately for the Trumps, the project got shelved when the Russian economy went south due to the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union following the Russian incursion into Crimea (something President Trump is now in a position to “fix”).
Agalarov told Forbes back in March that he was still on board the Trump train and that “anything Trump related I would be interested to pursue. I think today the Trump brand is stronger all over the world. And him being the president; I mean, it’s a big brand now.” Indeed it is.
Nonethless, Trump was all over the map about his involvement with Russia during the campaign, saying in one breath that he was good pals with Vladimir Putin and another denying that he’d ever had anything to do with Russia in any way, shape or form. In his first press conference as president he said, “I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.”
But asking if Trump has investments in Russia was never the right question. The question to ask was whether any Russians had investments in Donald Trump. Some years back Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” When writer James Dodson asked how the Trumps were able to finance their purchase of golf courses during the recession when credit had all dried up, Eric Trump told him, “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” (Eric Trump has denied he ever said this.)
Nonetheless it has been difficult to analyze Trump’s financing arrangements since his company is family-owned and he refuses to release his tax returns or detail his holdings in any useful way. We know Trump was cited numerous times for money-laundering in his Atlantic City casinos. (I wrote about that here.) But this blockbuster article by Craig Unger in the New Republic confirms that Trump has been financed for years by Russian mobsters who have laundered money through his high-end real estate projects. And when I say Russian mobsters I’m talking about the most powerful Russian mobsters in the world.
Unger makes clear that he can find no evidence that Trump was ever involved in criminal activity, or knew exactly where the money pouring into his buildings was coming from. He didn’t need to know or want to; if nothing else Trump has finely honed survival instincts. But Unger also documents that criminals and oligarchs lived in and ran illegal activities out of Trump properties, including Trump Tower in Manhattan, for more than 30 years. They provided Trump with some of his most lucrative branding deals, the ones in which he was not required to make any personal investment. The unending flow of Russian money, Unger writes, that “provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics.”
It’s hard to believe that anyone with that kind of criminal exposure would think it was a good idea to run for president. But Trump had been in the public spotlight and had gotten away with it for years. Books were written about his ties to criminals and he’s been sued thousands of time for fraudulent business practices. In his experience, this is just how the world works.
Trump’s comments about his son’s nefarious meeting shows that he believes everyone does whatever it takes to win and use any means at their disposal. He’s so casual about it that it’s obvious that if at some point before he ran for president he was personally offered the help of the Russian FSB, he would have taken it without a second thought. He simply assumes that everyone in the world is exactly like him.
I’m sure there is a clinical term for this but it’s just as easy to simply say that he has the ethos of a mobster. Why wouldn’t he? He’s been doing business with them for years.
WASHINGTON — The Russian lawyer who met with the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist — a former Soviet counter intelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, NBC News has learned.
NBC News is not naming the lobbyist, who denies any current ties to Russian spy agencies. He accompanied the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.
The Russian-born American lobbyist served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U.S., where he holds dual citizenship.
Donald Trump Jr. meeting with Russian attorney: Another person attended 2:49
Veselnitskaya acknowledged to NBC News that she was accompanied by at least one other man, though she declined to identify him.
The presence at the meeting of a Russian-American with suspected intelligence ties is likely to be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate panels investigating the Russian election interference campaign.
Contacted by NBC News, representatives for Kushner and Manafort declined to comment.
Alan Futerfas, the attorney retained by Donald Trump Jr., confirmed he has spoken to the individual.
“It’s very simple,” Futerfas said. “The person was described as a friend of Emin [Agalarov]’s and maybe as a friend of Natalia [Veselnitskaya]’s.”
Agalarov is a pop star and a client of Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who arranged the meeting with Trump Jr. Agalarov appeared in a music video with Trump when the Miss Universe pageant, which Trump owned at the time, was held in Moscow in 2013.
Futerfas said he has talked with that individual who came to the meeting with Veselnitskaya. “He is a U.S. citizen. He told me specifically he was not working for the Russian government, and in fact laughed when I asked him that question.”
Futerfas confirmed that, “for the purpose of security or otherwise, the names were reviewed” but said Trump Jr. knew nothing about the man’s background at the time of the meeting.
When asked about whether he had concerns, knowing what he knows now, Futerfas responded: “I have absolutely no concerns about what was said in that meeting.”
Veselnitskaya, in an exclusive interview with NBC News, denied having any connection to the Kremlin and insisted the meeting was to discuss sanctions, not the presidential campaign.
Exclusive: Russian Lawyer Responds to Trump Jr. Emails 2:09
In an email exchange released by Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son wrote “I love it” to Goldstone when told about possibly getting his hands on material potentially damaging to the Clinton campaign.
Goldstone told Trump Jr. that the meeting would be with a “Russian government attorney” and that the information was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. responded enthusiastically, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Trump Jr. said after releasing the emails that, “in retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently.”
President Trump has defended his son’s decision to meet with Veselnitskaya, saying “most people would have taken that meeting.”
“My son is a wonderful young man. He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer but a Russian lawyer,” Trump said Thursday in a joint press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron. “From a practical standpoint most people would have taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research or research into your opponent.”
Ken Dilanian and Natasha Lebedeva reported from Washington. Hallie Jackson reported from Paris.
Romanian static-line paratroopers enter a KC-130T Hercules Aircraft from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, on the flight line of Campia Turzii, Romania, June 3, 2010. A pair of KC-130 Hercules aircraft, from VMGR-452, out of Newburgh, N.Y., and VMGR-234, out of Fort Worth, Texas, are currently deployed as the air combat element of the Black Sea Rotational Force Security Cooperation Marine Air-Ground Task Force. US Marine Corps photo.
The Marine Corps KC-130T that crashed Monday afternoon likely experienced a failure at cruising altitude and fell to the ground in two main pieces, the service announced today.
The Marines have still not commented on potential causes of the crash, as the investigation is ongoing. But Brig. Gen. Bradley James, Commanding General of the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, told reporters in a press conference in Mississippi today that there are “two large impact areas” and that “indications are something went wrong at cruise altitude. There is a large debris pattern.”
James said at the press conference that the families of the victims – nine Marines from the reserve unit Marine Air Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 452 based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., along with six Marines and a Navy corpsman from 2nd Raider Battalion based at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. – had been notified but that the names of those 16 service members would not be released until “the next few days” out of respect for their families.
The Marines from VMGR-452, which falls under James’ 4th MAW, were tasked with transporting the 2nd Raider Battalion special operations personnel from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., to Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif. Around 4 p.m., the Federal Aviation Administration notified the Marine Corps that the plane had dropped off local radar readings. Around that time, large plumes of smoke were noticed by local residents in fields in Northwest Mississippi.
Two U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 Hercules refueling aircraft with the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452 prior to departing for a refueling mission in support of exercise Northern Edge 2011 June 13, 2011, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. US Marine Corps photo.
The fact that the KC-130T would experience issues at cruising altitude leading to a crash is unusual in that the airplane has among the best safety records of anything the military flies today. USNI News previously reported the Marines’ KC-130 fleet, which has included three older models before the introduction of today’s KC-130J, has experienced just two in-flight Class A mishaps before this week. Class A mishaps involve a fatality or more than $2 million in damages. In the two previous mishaps, one involved a flash fire breaking out as a plane was coming in for a landing in Pakistan, leading to a fatal crash into a mountainside, and the other occurred just after takeoff, leading to a crash landing that all personnel survived. The Marines have not seen any similar instances of a KC-130 having issues at cruising altitude.
This post has been corrected to reflect that the KC-130 itself has experienced only three in-flight mishaps, rather than four in-flight mishaps as was previously reported. A fourth entry provided by the Naval Safety Center was mistakenly labeled as a KC-130 mishap; rather, the Naval Safety Center told USNI News…
July 11, 2017
The U.S. has increased its role in an air combat exercise, featuring its largest contribution of airpower in more than a decade from the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps in a practical demonstration of Washington’s, “rebalance to the Pacific.” Codenamed Pitch Black 2016, the biannual exercise in the first…
August 23, 2016
GREENWOOD, Miss. — A Marine Corps transport plane that crashed in Mississippi, killing 16 service members, experienced an emergency at high altitude and left two debris fields a mile apart, a Marine general said Wednesday, bolstering witness accounts that the plane broke up or exploded while in the air.
“Two large impact areas are half a mile north of Highway 82 and a half a mile south of Highway 82,” said Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James, commander of the Fourth Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve.
“Indications are something went wrong at cruise altitude,” he said. “There is a large debris pattern.”
The KC-130T, en route from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina to Naval Air Facility El Centro in California, crashed Monday into a soybean field between the towns of Itta Bena and Moorhead, in the Mississippi Delta. It was ferrying members of the elite Marine Raiders special operations force and their equipment, who were scheduled to proceed from El Centro to Yuma, Ariz., James said at a news conference a few miles from the crash site.
James did not specify what he meant by “cruise altitude.” As a propeller-driven craft, the KC-130 family of aircraft does not fly as high as jet planes of similar size. It can go above 30,000 feet with a relatively light load, but it generally cruises below that level.
Appearing with James, Marshall L. Fisher, commissioner of Mississippi’s Department of Public Safety, warned that the wreckage contained explosives. He cautioned people in the rural area not to touch any debris, both for safety’s sake and because removal of it could be a crime.
“There are items that are going to be recovered by teams on the ground; some of them may be unsafe,” he said. He later noted that “there are ordnance disposal teams in the area” who may be causing controlled explosions throughout the search.
The KC-130 family, consisting of four-engine turboprops, is a variant of C-130 transport, a venerable mainstay of the U.S. military. The KC-130T is designed for aerial refueling of other aircraft but can also be used to carry people and gear.
The aircraft that crashed bore registration number 165000 and was nicknamed “Triple Nuts” for the three zeros. It belonged to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, or VMGR-452, nicknamed the Yankees, a Reserve unit based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., about 60 miles north of New York City.
The plane was built in 1993. In its life, it refueled fighter jets patrolling the no-fly zone in Iraq before the 2003 invasion, and later it ferried troops and equipment into and out of the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Alan Stinar, a former Marine mechanic who worked on this and other KC-130s, and who is a historian of the model, said it also took part in at least two missions in Africa.
“These things are workhorses that can do almost any job the Marines need them to do, and during the war they were very, very busy,” Stinar said.
Military plane crash victims: ‘These were the cream of the crop’
(CNN) A painter who loved to fly, a father who married his high school sweetheart, and a former football star who was living his dream of being in the Navy were among the 16 service members killed in Monday’s military plane crash in Mississippi …
Marine plane had emergency at high altitude, general saysTampabay.com
Marine KC-130T Experienced Problems at Cruising Altitude, Broke Into At Least 2 PiecesUSNI News
Woes said to hit plane at ‘cruise altitude’NWAOnlineall 116 news articles »
Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire Russia’s most advanced missile defense system, a senior Turkish official said, in a deal that signals a turn away from the NATO military alliance that has anchored Turkey to the West for more than six decades.
The preliminary agreement sees Turkey receiving two S-400 missile batteries from Russia within the next year, and then producing another two inside Turkey, according to the Turkish official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. A spokesman for Russia’s arms-export company Rosoboronexport OJSC said he couldn’t immediately comment on details of a deal with Turkey.
Turkey has reached the point of an agreement on a missile defense system before, only to scupper the deal later amid protests and condemnation from NATO. Under pressure from the U.S., Turkey gave up an earlier plan to buy a similar missile-defense system from a state-run Chinese company, which had been sanctioned by the U.S. for alleged missile sales to Iran.
Turkey has been in NATO since the early years of the Cold War, playing a key role as a frontline state bordering the Soviet Union. But ties with fellow members have been strained in recent years, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pursuing a more assertive and independent foreign policy as conflict engulfed neighboring Iraq and Syria. Tensions with the U.S. mounted over U.S. support for Kurdish militants in Syria that Turkey considers terrorists, and the relationship with the European Union soured as the bloc pushed back against what it sees as Turkey’s increasingly autocratic turn. Last month, Germany decided to withdraw from the main NATO base in Turkey, Incirlik, after Turkey refused to allow German lawmakers to visit troops there.
The missile deal with Russia “is a clear sign that Turkey is disappointed in the U.S. and Europe,” said Konstantin Makienko, an analyst at the Center for Analysis and Technology, a Moscow think-tank. “But until the advance is paid and the assembly begins, we can’t be sure of anything.”
The Russian system would not be compatible with other NATO defense systems, but also wouldn’t be subject to the same constraints imposed by the alliance, which prevents Turkey from deploying such systems on the Armenian border, Aegean coast or Greek border, the official said. The Russian deal would allow Turkey to deploy the missile defense systems anywhere in the country, the official said.
For Turkey, the key aspect of any deal is transfer of technology or know-how, the Turkish official said. Turkey wants to be able to produce its own advanced defense systems, and the Russian agreement to allow two of the S-400 batteries to be produced in Turkey would serve that aim, the official said.
“There are a lot of different levels of technology transfer,” and any offer to Turkey would probably be limited in terms of sophistication, said Makienko, the Moscow-based analyst. “For Turkey to be able to copy the S-400 system, it would have to spend billions to create a whole new industry.”
The S-400 is designed to detect, track and then destroy aircraft, drones or missiles. It’s Russia’s most advanced integrated air defense system, and can hit targets as far as 250 miles away. Russia has also agreed to sell them to China and India.
The sides are currently sorting out technical details and it could take about one year to finalize the project, the Turkish official said. One battery may be available earlier if Russia decides to divert it from another country, the official added. The missiles are not ready to sell off-the-shelf and Russia will have to produce the batteries before delivering them, the official said.
The official said the systems delivered to Turkey would not have a friend-or-foe identification system, which means they could be deployed against any threat without restriction.
U.S. and European rivals have also bid to co-produce missile defense systems with Turkey, as it seeks partnerships allowing it to enhance its domestic arms production amid a military buildup in the region.
Disagreements between Turkey, which has the second-largest army by personnel numbers in NATO, and the U.S., the bloc’s biggest military, have also impacted business. No U.S. companies bid for a Turkish attack helicopter contract in 2006 after Turkey insisted on full access to specific software codes, which the U.S. refused to share, considering it a security risk. Turkey partnered with Italy instead in a $3 billion project to co-produce 50 attack helicopters for its army.
Turkey Chooses Russia Over NATO for Missile Defense
Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire Russia’s most advanced missile defense system, a senior Turkish official said, in a deal that signals a turn away from the NATO military alliance that has anchored Turkey to the West for more than six …and more »
Russia – Google News
WASHINGTON, DC -: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
On Tuesday, the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism took on the challenge of analyzing how the Senate can investigate Russian hacking at the same time as the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, is operating. I was one of the four witnesses. The hearing’s focus was on the lessons of past similar investigations. About a half-dozen Senators came. The Chair, Lindsay Graham, and his ranking minority member, Sheldon Whitehouse, seemed to arrive at a common-sense mode of operating, after working in the Judiciary Committee’s naturally sophisticated way through a range of legal issues.
Senator Graham, who clearly was the architect of the hearing, was, if not haunted, then concerned, by the history of the Iran-Contra investigation. (Indeed, the main reason I was there, was that I had been Special Deputy Chief Counsel of the House Iran-Contra committee, and could answer his questions directly about the legal issues that emerged from that investigation.) In that investigation, the Congressional committees needed testimony about the Reagan White House from Oliver North and John M. Poindexter, the principal culprits. The committee gave them use immunity, and to everyone’s surprise, despite the concurrence and the full precautions by the special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, nevertheless an aberrant panel of the D.C. Circuit reversed the convictions of North and Poindexter.
Senator Graham wants the Senate investigators to proceed, but with care as to immunity. I left the hearing with a sense that as a former military prosecutor he would do a fine job of questioning witnesses if the Senate Republican leadership would let Judiciary move ahead like the Senate Intelligence committee.
Senator Whitehouse had many important points of his own, keeping alive the Subcommittee as a forward-leaning inquiry. He gave attention to the day’s (and week’s) excitement, the e-mails showing the top echelon of Trump’s campaign wanted to take the apparent offer by the Russian lawyer of a meeting about “dirt” on Hillary Clinton due to Russian support for Trump – a powerful indication the Trump campaign wanted rather eagerly to collude with Russia.
He also touched on the way top Trump officials, notably Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had claimed an excuse for refusing to testify as to what Trump told them – an excuse that seemed much like executive privilege. As Senator Whitehouse explored with the witnesses, only President Trump himself in writing, not his subordinates, could claim executive privilege (other than temporarily to give time to check with the President) and President Trump was obviously stalling on touching that toxic privilege.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Plans How To Coordinate Investigations With Mueller
On Tuesday, the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism took on the challenge of analyzing how the Senate can investigate Russian hacking at the same time as the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, is operating. I was one of the four witnesses.and more »
mueller – Google News
We’re a long, long, long way from a real impeachment effort
So Mueller can look at possible collusion, other crimes he might uncover and any lying or obstruction connected with his investigation. Starr began his tenure as special counsel in 1994 investigating the Whitewater land deal. He ended up recommending …and more »
mueller – Google News
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There once was a shepherd boy who was bored as he sat on the hillside watching the village sheep. To amuse himself he took a great breath and sang out, “Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!”
The unflagging tedium of the Trump-Russia-Manafort-Guccifer 2.0-Kushner-Page-Comey-Flynn-Steele-Stone-Lavrov-Mueller-WikiLeaks-Fancy Bear-Intercept-CIA-FBI-NSA-BBC-Don Jr. saga refuses to go away. Every day there are new breathless reports, fresh for-initiates-only micro-revelations that inspire screeches of “Treason!”
But there is still no smoking gun.
Now hold on, you may be rage-typing. What about his emails? You know, those emails in which Donald Trump Jr. was promised “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful” to his father; those emails about “very high-level and sensitive information” that “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”; those emails in which Trump Jr. gleefully replied, “If it’s what you say I love it.”
To which I say: This is still not a smoking gun.
This is hardly the first This is it moment the media has begged us to acknowledge. Please remember that a year ago we were expected to believe that Donald Trump had committed treason by begging the Russian government to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails live on cable television, before an audience of millions. We all know that this is exactly how espionage works and that there is no way that the smiling ex-reality television show host was making a joke about the actual documented collusion between the former secretary of state’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, which marshaled their forces against an honest public servant who could arguably have beaten Trump in a general election if the primary had not been rigged.
And so it has continued, uninterrupted without so much as a hint of self-reproach or critical reflection, and so it will continue, presumably, “from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time,” in saecula saeculorum. One week James Comey is a selfless hero for not giving in to febrile right-wing pressure groups and conspiracy theorists by recommending charges over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct official State Department business; a few months later he is a conservabro villain doing his team a solid by speaking publicly about the FBI’s ongoing investigation of Clinton’s email use; fast forward to a few weeks ago, and he is a dauntless profile in courage because he wrote down things that the president said to him. It’s one thing after another, and no one seems to be tired of it.
Today we are supposed to mouth along because Don Jr., who is not as dumb as he looks (which is not, I realize, setting the bar very high), tweeted screenshots of his Nigerian-prince-like email exchanges with a poseur who pretended in the loosest possible sense to represent the interests of the Russian government. The emails led to a meeting that went nowhere. Knock me over with a feather.
These gaspingly reported revelations about the Trumps will make you furious if you want them to. They may make you squirm if you have suddenly decided that the unfettered operation of our intelligence services is extremely important now even if it used to be boring when Jeb Bush released 40-page white papers on the subject and you tweeted about turtles instead. They may confirm your belief that the Trumps are traitors. But none of this new information offers any actual direct evidence that President Trump knowingly or otherwise colluded or in any sense partnered with Vladimir Putin or the Russian government to secure his election as president of the United States.
And really: Is anything that we actually know today about Trump and Russia worse than what we knew last year about Hillary Clinton?
Here was a presidential candidate whose husband, a former president, runs an international pseudo-charity that keeps him on a never-ending series of private jet flights to an equally interminable number of luxury hotels in exotic locales — a gruesome neoliberal shakedown machine with metal tentacles sunk into the bank accounts of shady businessmen and tinpot dictators the whole world round. An infinite number of grasping conflict-of-interest stories could have been written about the Clinton Foundation, and many were. But they didn’t matter nearly as much as TRUMP AND RUSSIA.
Which brings us to what all this is really about: the 2016 election, which will not end until its successor in 2020 formally begins, something I expect by the end of the year, if it hasn’t already happened yet. Russia did not swing the election to Trump. He won because Americans, including hundreds of thousands who had voted for President Obama eight years previously, thought he was a more compelling candidate than Clinton. Trump did a better job speaking the language of solidarity to the working class. Get over it, and pick a better candidate next time.
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is a nonpartisan American public policy think tank and grantmaking institution dedicated to promoting cooperation and understanding between North America and Europe.
Founded in 1972 through a gift from the West German government on the 25th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, GMF contributes research and analysis on transatlantic and global issues; convenes policy and business leaders at international conferences; provides exchange opportunities for emerging American and European leaders; and supports initiatives to strengthen democracies. GMF focuses on policy, leadership, and civil society.
Finding out what happened in the United States in 2016 and the impact it had is important. But that is not enough. The U.S. intelligence community assessed in January 2017 that “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes.” Russia’s efforts are also ongoing across Europe — and we also need to prepare for other state actors to replicate Putin’s tactics. Moreover, Putin does not distinguish between political parties, but rather seeks to sow and exploit divisions. When our democratic institutions are weakened, every party and democratic nation is at risk.
Meeting this challenge to our democracy demands that Republicans and Democrats in the United States unite with our democratic allies around the world to better understand Russia’s multifaceted aggression in order to defend ourselves and our democratic partners, and deter such activity in the future.
The Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan, transatlantic initiative housed at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), will develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other state actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions. The Alliance will work to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.
The Drum–Jul 10, 2017
Jared Kushner. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
All eyes are on Jared Kushner as the fallout from Donald Trump Jr.’s email disclosure continues.
Kushner is the only current White House staffer who was present for a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, ahead of which Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton that he claimed was never presented.
On Tuesday, Trump Jr. posted emails that were sent to him, Kushner, and Donald Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, setting up that meeting. And now Democrats and Republicans are questioning why Kushner still has a security clearance.
The deputy White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, did not tell reporters at Wednesday’s off-camera briefing whether Kushner still held that clearance, saying Democrats “are trying to play political games” by calling for it to be revoked.
It’s not the first time Kushner’s security clearance has come under question.
Kushner had to revise his security clearance form after he failed to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador to the US and a Russian banker, which in turn led to The New York Times‘ discovery of the Trump Tower meeting involving Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort, and the Russian lawyer. Additionally, the House and Senate intelligence committees and Department of Justice investigators are looking into whether the Kushner-led Trump campaign digital operation assisted Russia’s attacks on Clinton during the 2016 election cycle.
Though the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, told NBC News that Kushner “left the meeting after seven to 10 minutes of the 20- to 30-minute meeting,” these incidents — with the Trump Jr. meeting now at center stage — have led to calls for Kushner to be stripped of the clearance.
Trump Jr.’s “preemptive release of the emails that led to the meeting with the Russian operative puts Jared Kushner in legal peril,” Rick Tyler, the communications director for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign who is now an MSNBC contributor, told Business Insider in an email. “He has consistently failed to make mandatory discloses of meetings with foreign nationals including this one which is a felony.”
“Jared should, at a minimum, have his clearances rescinded making his utility as an advisor, which itself is suspect, impractical,” he continued.
The email disclosure revealed that Kushner was copied on Trump Jr.’s email chain with Rob Goldstone, a British music publicist who represented a Russian pop star with ties to the elder Trump and was tasked with arranging the June meeting. That email chain was titled “Russia — Clinton — private and confidential” and said a Russian official had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to” Trump.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Goldstone described the information as being “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” something that prompted Trump Jr. to respond, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
The fact that Kushner had the email chain available to him seemed to contradict an earlier statement from Trump Jr., who said over the weekend that Kushner and Manafort were told “nothing of the substance” of the meeting when he asked them to attend.
“Mr. Kushner’s decision to take this meeting raises significant questions about his judgment and his respect for the very principles that our democracy was founded on — that our elections should be sacred and free of interference from a foreign adversary,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democratic member of the House oversight committee, told Business Insider in an email.
“His reported failure to disclose this meeting — and numerous others with Russians — when he submitted his security clearance application compounds the problem and is deeply concerning.”
Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, sent a letter to Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort on Tuesday requesting all of the trio’s documents and communications related to the June meeting with Veselnitskaya, contacts with Russians during the campaign and transition, and Kushner’s security-clearance application and reporting of foreign contacts, travel, and meetings. That followed a letter last month from the Democratic members of the committee to the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, requesting documents related to the decision to allow Kushner to keep his clearance after it became public knowledge that he failed to disclose the meetings with Russian officials.
“If the White House was following its own rules regarding security clearances, it would have already suspended Mr. Kushner’s clearance pending a full investigation,” Cummings told Business Insider, additionally calling for the House oversight committee chairman, Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, to seek answers from the Trump team.
Still, some feel that Kushner’s presence at the meeting will not imperil his status or set him back in any way at the White House.
“I don’t believe it will have any effect on his role,” attorney and Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz told Business Insider in an email.
“Whether we believe Trump’s Jr.’s claim that Kushner did not know the meeting’s purpose beforehand is immaterial,” Democratic Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia said in a statement. “The fact that Jared Kushner initially omitted this meeting from his [security clearance form], and only disclosed it after coming under considerable scrutiny, implies that he knew something untoward had happened.”
“Kushner should not be permitted access to classified material, he should not be empowered to conduct official business on behalf of the American people, and he should not be allowed to continue in any capacity as a counselor to the president,” Beyer later added. “He has irrevocably betrayed the public trust. Jared Kushner must resign. If he will not, he should be fired.”
Washington Examiner–22 hours ago
Newsweek–Jul 12, 2017
The Hill–Jul 12, 2017
In-Depth–The Atlantic–21 hours ago
Business Insider–14 hours ago
International–Yahoo7 News–18 hours ago
Opinion–The New Yorker–12 hours ago
Blog–Slate Magazine (blog)–17 hours ago
Washington Examiner–22 hours ago
Newsweek–Jul 12, 2017
Opinion–New York Times–5 hours ago
Opinion–U.S. News & World Report–17 hours ago
Daily Beast–Jul 10, 2017
Highly Cited–New York Times–Jul 10, 2017
In-Depth–Daily Mail–Jul 11, 2017
Blog–Slate Magazine (blog)–Jul 11, 2017
Highly Cited–Task & Purpose–Jul 11, 2017
The Atlantic–Jul 11, 2017
TOLOnews–Jul 12, 2017
<a href=”http://BillMoyers.com” rel=”nofollow”>BillMoyers.com</a>–Jul 11, 2017
One America News Network (press release)–Jul 11, 2017
In-Depth–Washington Post–Jul 11, 2017
In 1960, the Kremlin made a similar offer to support the candidacy of John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon, but the Kennedy campaign rebuffed it. Likewise, when the Al Gore campaign in 2000 received confidential materials relating to the George W. Bush campaign, it called the F.B.I.
Trump Jr. didn’t call the F.B.I.; instead, he responded, “I love it.” He apparently arranged a phone call to discuss the material (we don’t know that the call happened or, if it did, its content), and then set up a meeting for him, Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort to meet with a person described in the emails as a “Russian government attorney.”
In other words, informed of a secret Kremlin effort to use highly sensitive information about a former secretary of state (presumably obtained by espionage, for how else?) to manipulate an American election, Trump Jr. signaled, “We’re in!”
“This was an attempt at collusion,” noted Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. It may or may not have amounted to a felony, for soliciting a foreigner to contribute something “of value” in connection with an American election. The Predict-It betting website now lists gambling odds about whether Trump Jr. will be indicted.
The Trumps’ defense is that the meeting was a “nothingburger” with no follow-up. That would be more compelling if the Trumps hadn’t previously denied at least 20 times that such a meeting had ever taken place. Their credibility is in tatters.
Crucially, this is bigger than Donald Trump Jr.
The Trumps insist that the president himself was unaware of the Russian offer. Yet the day after Trump Jr. received the first email and presumably had his phone conversation about the supposedly incriminating material, his father promised to give “a major speech” in which “we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”
That speech targeting Hillary Clinton didn’t take place. But on June 15, the first leak of stolen Democratic materials did.
Then there’s Kushner. Trump Jr. forwarded the emails to Kushner, whose response was to attend the meeting, although he apparently left within 10 minutes. Kushner later neglected to report the meeting and others with Russians on his SF-86 forms to receive national security clearance (intentional omission is a felony).
The meeting gave the Kremlin potential blackmail material against the Trumps, and thus possibly leverage over them.
In addition, McClatchy reports that investigators in Congress and the Justice Department are exploring whether the Trump campaign digital operation — supervised by Kushner — helped guide Russia’s remarkably sophisticated efforts to use internet bots to target voters with fake news attacking Hillary Clinton.
Then there was the extraordinary initiative by Kushner in the transition period to set up the secret communications channel. There’s no indication that the channel was actually established, and the assumption has been that the communications would have required visits to Russian consulates — which would be bizarre.
But Barton Gellman, a careful national security writer, has another theory. He notes that James Comey, the ousted F.B.I. director, in testimony to Congress referred to the risk that this channel could “capture all of your conversations.” Gellman suggests that this may mean that Kushner sought mobile Russian scrambling equipment to take to Trump Tower.
Look, this is a murky, complicated issue. But this much we know: Kushner attended a secret meeting whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin effort to interfere in the U.S. election, he then failed to report it, and finally he sought a secret channel to communicate with the Kremlin.
One next step is clear: Take away Jared Kushner’s security clearance immediately.
Washington Examiner–Jul 11, 2017
Opinion–The San Diego Union-Tribune–Jul 11, 2017
In-Depth–Boston Herald–16 hours ago
Opinion–MarketWatch–Jul 12, 2017
In-Depth–Chicago Tribune–22 hours ago
Reading List – 7:26 AM 7/13/2017: Investigators want to know: Did the Kushner-led digital team point out vulnerable voting districts for Russian cyber operatives? | Trump, Putin and organized crime – Google News: Trump’s Russian Laundromat – New Republic Eurasia Review: Black Is The New Red: Containing Jihad Analysis National security figures launch project to counter Russian mischief | Wire Commentary We Now Have Proof of Donald Trumps Russian Collusion trump russia treason – Google News: This isn’t Watergate. This isn’t treason. And there’s still no smoking gun. – The Week Magazine
Over the years, Trump and his sons would try and fail five times to build a new Trump Tower in Moscow. But for Trump, what mattered most were the lucrative connections he had begun to make with the Kremlin—and with the wealthy Russians who would buy so many of his properties in the years to come. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. boasted at a real estate conference in 2008. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
The money, illicit and otherwise, began to rain in earnest after the Soviet Union fell in 1991. President Boris Yeltsin’s shift to a market economy was so abrupt that cash-rich gangsters and corrupt government officials were able to privatize and loot state-held assets in oil, coal, minerals, and banking. Yeltsin himself, in fact, would later describe Russia as “the biggest mafia state in the world.” After Vladimir Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president, Russian intelligence effectively joined forces with the country’s mobsters and oligarchs, allowing them to operate freely as long as they strengthen Putin’s power and serve his personal financial interests. According to James Henry, a former chief economist at McKinsey & Company who consulted on the Panama Papers, some $1.3 trillion in illicit capital has poured out of Russia since the 1990s.
At the top of the sprawling criminal enterprise was Semion Mogilevich. Beginning in the early 1980s, according to the FBI, the short, squat Ukrainian was the key money-laundering contact for the Solntsevskaya Bratva, or Brotherhood, one of the richest criminal syndicates in the world. Before long, he was running a multibillion-dollar worldwide racket of his own. Mogilevich wasn’t feared because he was the most violent gangster, but because he was reputedly the smartest. The FBI has credited the “brainy don,” who holds a degree in economics from Lviv University, with a staggering range of crimes. He ran drug trafficking and prostitution rings on an international scale; in one characteristic deal, he bought a bankrupt airline to ship heroin from Southeast Asia into Europe. He used a jewelry business in Moscow and Budapest as a front for art that Russian gangsters stole from museums, churches, and synagogues all over Europe. He has also been accused of selling some $20 million in stolen weapons, including ground-to-air missiles and armored troop carriers, to Iran. “He uses this wealth and power to not only further his criminal enterprises,” the FBI says, “but to influence governments and their economies.”
In Russia, Mogilevich’s influence reportedly reaches all the way to the top. In 2005, Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian intelligence agent who defected to London, recorded an interview with investigators detailing his inside knowledge of the Kremlin’s ties to organized crime. “Mogilevich,” he said in broken English, “have good relationship with Putin since 1994 or 1993.” A year later Litvinenko was dead, apparently poisoned by agents of the Kremlin.
Mogilevich’s greatest talent, the one that places him at the top of the Russian mob, is finding creative ways to cleanse dirty cash. According to the FBI, he has laundered money through more than 100 front companies around the world, and held bank accounts in at least 27 countries. And in 1991, he made a move that led directly to Trump Tower. That year, the FBI says, Mogilevich paid a Russian judge to spring a fellow mob boss, Vyachelsav Kirillovich Ivankov, from a Siberian gulag. If Mogilevich was the brains, Ivankov was the enforcer—a vor v zakone, or “made man,” infamous for torturing his victims and boasting about the murders he had arranged. Sprung by Mogilevich, Ivankov made the most of his freedom. In 1992, a year after he was released from prison, he headed to New York on an illegal business visa and proceeded to set up shop in Brighton Beach.
In Red Mafiya, his book about the rise of the Russian mob in America, investigative reporter Robert I. Friedman documented how Ivankov organized a lurid and violent underworld of tattooed gangsters. When Ivankov touched down at JFK, Friedman reported, he was met by a fellow vor, who handed him a suitcase with $1.5 million in cash. Over the next three years, Ivankov oversaw the mob’s growth from a local extortion racket to a multibillion-dollar criminal enterprise. According to the FBI, he recruited two “combat brigades” of Special Forces veterans from the Soviet war in Afghanistan to run the mafia’s protection racket and kill his enemies.
Like Mogilevich, Ivankov had a lot of dirty money he needed to clean up. He bought a Rolls-Royce dealership that was used, according to The New York Times, “as a front to launder criminal proceeds.” The FBI concluded that one of Ivankov’s partners in the operation was Felix Komarov, an upscale art dealer who lived in Trump Plaza on Third Avenue. Komarov, who was not charged in the case, called the allegations baseless. He acknowledged that he had frequent phone conversations with Ivankov, but insisted the exchanges were innocent. “I had no reason not to call him,” Komarov told a reporter.
Trump Taj Mahal paid the largest fine ever levied against a casino for having “willfully violated” anti-money-laundering rules.
The feds wanted to arrest Ivankov, but he kept vanishing. “He was like a ghost to the FBI,” one agent recalls. Agents spotted him meeting with other Russian crime figures in Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, and Toronto. They also found he made frequent visits to Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, which mobsters routinely used to launder huge sums of money. In 2015, the Taj Mahal was fined $10 million—the highest penalty ever levied by the feds against a casino—and admitted to having “willfully violated” anti-money-laundering regulations for years.
The FBI also struggled to figure out where Ivankov lived. “We were looking around, looking around, looking around,” James Moody, chief of the bureau’s organized crime section, told Friedman. “We had to go out and really beat the bushes. And then we found out that he was living in a luxury condo in Trump Tower.”
There is no evidence that Trump knew Ivankov personally, even if they were neighbors. But the fact that a top Russian mafia boss lived and worked in Trump’s own building indicates just how much high-level Russian mobsters came to view the future president’s properties as a home away from home. In 2009, after being extradited to Russia to face murder charges, Ivankov was gunned down in a sniper attack on the streets of Moscow. According to The Moscow Times, his funeral was a media spectacle in Russia, attracting “1,000 people wearing black leather jackets, sunglasses, and gold chains,” along with dozens of giant wreaths from the various brotherhoods.
Throughout the 1990s, untold millions from the former Soviet Union flowed into Trump’s luxury developments and Atlantic City casinos. But all the money wasn’t enough to save Trump from his own failings as a businessman. He owed $4 billion to more than 70 banks, with a mind-boggling $800 million of it personally guaranteed. He spent much of the decade mired in litigation, filing for multiple bankruptcies and scrambling to survive. For most developers, the situation would have spelled financial ruin. But fortunately for Trump, his own economic crisis coincided with one in Russia.
In 1998, Russia defaulted on $40 billion in debt, causing the ruble to plummet and Russian banks to close. The ensuing financial panic sent the country’s oligarchs and mobsters scrambling to find a safe place to put their money. That October, just two months after the Russian economy went into a tailspin, Trump broke ground on his biggest project yet. Rising to 72 stories in midtown Manhattan, Trump World Tower would be the tallest residential building on the planet. Construction got underway in 1999—just as Trump was preparing his first run for the presidency on the Reform Party ticket— and concluded in 2001. As Bloomberg Businessweek reported earlier this year, it wasn’t long before one-third of the units on the tower’s priciest floors had been snatched up—either by individual buyers from the former Soviet Union, or by limited liability companies connected to Russia. “We had big buyers from Russia and Ukraine and Kazakhstan,” sales agent Debra Stotts told Bloomberg.
Among the new tenants was Eduard Nektalov, a diamond dealer from Uzbekistan. Nektalov, who was being investigated by a Treasury Department task force for mob-connected money laundering, bought a condo on the seventy-ninth floor, directly below Trump’s future campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. A month later he sold his unit for a $500,000 profit. The following year, after rumors circulated that Nektalov was cooperating with federal investigators, he was shot down on Sixth Avenue.
Trump had found his market. After Trump World Tower opened, Sotheby’s International Realty teamed up with a Russian real estate company to make a big sales push for the property in Russia. The “tower full of oligarchs,” as Bloomberg called it, became a model for Trump’s projects going forward. All he needed to do, it seemed, was slap the Trump name on a big building, and high-dollar customers from Russia and the former Soviet republics were guaranteed to come rushing in. Dolly Lenz, a New York real estate broker, told USA Today that she sold some 65 units in Trump World Tower to Russians. “I had contacts in Moscow looking to invest in the United States,” Lenz said. “They all wanted to meet Donald.”
To capitalize on his new business model, Trump struck a deal with a Florida developer to attach his name to six high-rises in Sunny Isles, just outside Miami. Without having to put up a dime of his own money, Trump would receive a cut of the profits. “Russians love the Trump brand,” Gil Dezer, the Sunny Isles developer, told Bloomberg. A local broker told The Washington Post that one-third of the 500 apartments he’d sold went to “Russian-speakers.” So many bought the Trump-branded apartments, in fact, that the area became known as “Little Moscow.”
Many of the units were sold by a native of Uzbekistan who had immigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1980s; her business was so brisk that she soon began bringing Russian tour groups to Sunny Isles to view the properties. According to a Reuters investigation in March, at least 63 buyers with Russian addresses or passports spent $98 million on Trump’s properties in south Florida. What’s more, another one-third of the units—more than 700 in all—were bought by shadowy shell companies that concealed the true owners.
Trump promoted and celebrated the properties. His organization continues to advertise the units; in 2011, when they first turned a profit, he attended a ceremonial mortgage-burning in Sunny Isles to toast their success. Last October, an investigation by the Miami Herald found that at least 13 buyers in the Florida complex have been the target of government investigations, either personally or through their companies, including “members of a Russian-American organized crime group.” Two buyers in Sunny Isles, Anatoly Golubchik and Michael Sall, were convicted for taking part in a massive international gambling and money-laundering syndicate that was run out of Trump Tower in New York. The ring, according to the FBI, was operating under the protection of the Russian mafia.
The influx of Russian money did more than save Trump’s business from ruin—it set the stage for the next phase of his career. By 2004, to the outside world, it appeared that Trump was back on top after his failures in Atlantic City. That January, flush with the appearance of success, Trump launched his newly burnished brand into another medium.
“My name’s Donald Trump,” he declared in his opening narration for The Apprentice, “the largest real estate developer in New York. I own buildings all over the place. Model agencies. The Miss Universe pageant. Jetliners, golf courses, casinos, and private resorts like Mar-a-Lago, one of the most spectacular estates anywhere in the world.”
But it wouldn’t be Trump without a better story than that. “It wasn’t always so easy,” he confessed, over images of him cruising around New York in a stretch limo. “About 13 years ago, I was seriously in trouble. I was billions of dollars in debt. But I fought back, and I won. Big league. I used my brain. I used my negotiating skills. And I worked it all out. Now my company’s bigger than it ever was and stronger than it ever was.… I’ve mastered the art of the deal.”
The show, which reportedly paid Trump up to $3 million per episode, instantly revived his career. “The Apprentice turned Trump from a blowhard Richie Rich who had just gone through his most difficult decade into an unlikely symbol of straight talk, an evangelist for the American gospel of success, a decider who insisted on standards in a country that had somehow slipped into handing out trophies for just showing up,” journalists Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher observe in their book Trump Revealed. “Above all, Apprentice sold an image of the host-boss as supremely competent and confident, dispensing his authority and getting immediate results. The analogy to politics was palpable.”
Russians spent at least $98 million on Trump’s properties in Florida—and another third of the units were bought by shadowy shell companies.
But the story of Donald Trump, self-made business genius, left out any mention of the shady Russian investors who had done so much to make his comeback narrative possible. And Trump’s business, despite the hype, was hardly “stronger than it ever was”—his credit was still lousy, and two more of his prized properties in Atlantic City would soon fall into bankruptcy, even as his ratings soared.
To further enhance his brand, Trump used his prime-time perch to unveil another big project. On the 2006 season finale of The Apprentice, as 11 million viewers waited to learn which of the two finalists was going to be fired, Trump prolonged the suspense by cutting to a promotional video for his latest venture. “Located in the center of Manhattan’s chic artist enclave, the Trump International Hotel and Tower in SoHo is the site of my latest development,” he narrated over swooping helicopter footage of lower Manhattan. The new building, he added, would be nothing less than a “$370 million work of art … an awe-inspiring masterpiece.”
Trump SoHo was the brainchild of two development companies—Bayrock Group LLC and the Sapir Organization—run by a pair of wealthy émigrés from the former Soviet Union who had done business with some of Russia’s richest and most notorious oligarchs. Together, their firms made Trump an offer he couldn’t refuse: The developers would finance and build Trump SoHo themselves. In return for lending his name to the project, Trump would get 18 percent of the profits—without putting up any of his own money.
One of the developers, Tamir Sapir, had followed an unlikely path to riches. After emigrating from the Soviet Union in the 1970s, he had started out driving a cab in New York City and ended up a billionaire living in Trump Tower. His big break came when he co-founded a company that sold high-tech electronics. According to the FBI, Sapir’s partner in the firm was a “member or associate” of Ivankov’s mob in Brighton Beach. No charges were ever filed, and Sapir denied having any mob ties. “It didn’t happen,” he told The New York Times. “Everything was done in the most legitimate way.”
Trump, who described Sapir as a “great friend,” bought 200 televisions from his electronics company. In 2007, he hosted the wedding of Sapir’s daughter at Mar-a-Lago, and later attended her infant son’s bris.
Sapir also introduced Trump to Tevfik Arif, his partner in the Trump SoHo deal. On paper, at least, Arif was another heartwarming immigrant success story. He had graduated from the Moscow Institute of Trade and Economics and worked as a Soviet trade and commerce official for 17 years before moving to New York and founding Bayrock. Practically overnight, Arif became a wildly successful developer in Brooklyn. In 2002, after meeting Trump, he moved Bayrock’s offices to Trump Tower, where he and his staff of Russian émigrés set up shop on the twenty-fourth floor.
Trump worked closely with Bayrock on real estate ventures in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. “Bayrock knew the investors,” he later testified. Arif “brought the people up from Moscow to meet with me.” He boasted about the deal he was getting: Arif was offering him a 20 to 25 percent cut on his overseas projects, he said, not to mention management fees. “It was almost like mass production of a car,” Trump testified.
But Bayrock and its deals quickly became mired in controversy. Forbes and other publications reportedthat the company was financed by a notoriously corrupt group of oligarchs known as The Trio. In 2010, Arif was arrested by Turkish prosecutors and charged with setting up a prostitution ring after he was found aboard a boat—chartered by one of The Trio—with nine young women, two of whom were 16 years old. The women reportedly refused to talk, and Arif was acquitted. According to a lawsuit filed that same year by two former Bayrock executives, Arif started the firm “backed by oligarchs and money they stole from the Russian people.” In addition, the suit alleges, Bayrock “was substantially and covertly mob-owned and operated.” The company’s real purpose, the executives claim, was to develop hugely expensive properties bearing the Trump brand—and then use the projects to launder money and evade taxes.
The lawsuit, which is ongoing, does not claim that Trump was complicit in the alleged scam. Bayrock dismissed the allegations as “legal conclusions to which no response is required.” But last year, after examining title deeds, bank records, and court documents, the Financial Times concluded that Trump SoHo had “multiple ties to an alleged international money-laundering network.” In one case, the paper reported, a former Kazakh energy minister is being sued in federal court for conspiring to “systematically loot hundreds of millions of dollars of public assets” and then purchasing three condos in Trump SoHo to launder his “ill-gotten funds.”
During his collaboration with Bayrock, Trump also became close to the man who ran the firm’s daily operations—a twice-convicted felon with family ties to Semion Mogilevich. In 1974, when he was eight years old, Felix Sater and his family emigrated from Moscow to Brighton Beach. According to the FBI, his father—who was convicted for extorting local restaurants, grocery stores, and a medical clinic—wasa Mogilevich boss. Sater tried making it as a stockbroker, but his career came to an abrupt end in 1991, after he stabbed a Wall Street foe in the face with a broken margarita glass during a bar fight, opening wounds that required 110 stitches. (Years later, in a deposition, Trump downplayed the incident, insisting that Sater “got into a barroom fight, which a lot of people do.”) Sater lost his trading license over the attack, and served a year in prison.
In 1998, Sater pleaded guilty to racketeering—operating a “pump and dump” stock fraud in partnership with alleged Russian mobsters that bilked investors of at least $40 million. To avoid prison time, Sater turned informer. But according to the lawsuit against Bayrock, he also resumed “his old tricks.” By 2003, the suit alleges, Sater controlled the majority of Bayrock’s shares—and proceeded to use the firm to launder hundreds of millions of dollars, while skimming and extorting millions more. The suit also claims that Sater committed fraud by concealing his racketeering conviction from banks that invested hundreds of millions in Bayrock, and that he threatened “to kill anyone at the firm he thought knew of the crimes committed there and might report it.” In court, Bayrock has denied the allegations, which Sater’s attorney characterizes as “false, fabricated, and pure garbage.”
By Sater’s account, in sworn testimony, he was very tight with Trump. He flew to Colorado with him, accompanied Donald Jr. and Ivanka on a trip to Moscow at Trump’s invitation, and met with Trump’s inner circle “constantly.” In Trump Tower, he often dropped by Trump’s office to pitch business ideas—“just me and him.”
Trump seems unable to recall any of this. “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” he told the Associated Press in 2015. Two years earlier, testifying in a video deposition, Trump took the same line. If Sater “were sitting in the room right now,” he swore under oath, “I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.” He added: “I don’t know him very well, but I don’t think he was connected to the mafia.”
Trump and his lawyers say that he was unaware of Sater’s criminal past when he signed on to do business with Bayrock. That’s plausible, since Sater’s plea deal in the stock fraud was kept secret because of his role as an informant. But even after The New York Times revealed Sater’s criminal record in 2007, he continued to use office space provided by the Trump Organization. In 2010, he was even given an official Trump Organization business card that read: FELIX H. SATER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO DONALD TRUMP.
In 2013, police burst into Unit 63A of Trump Tower and rounded up 29 suspects in a $100 million money-laundering scheme.
Sater apparently remains close to Trump’s inner circle. Earlier this year, one week before National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was fired for failing to report meetings with Russian officials, Trump’s personal attorney reportedly hand-delivered to Flynn’s office a “back-channel plan” for lifting sanctions on Russia. The co-author of the plan, according to the Times: Felix Sater.
In the end, Trump’s deals with Bayrock, like so much of his business empire, proved to be more glitter than gold. The international projects in Russia and Poland never materialized. A Trump tower being built in Fort Lauderdale ran out of money before it was completed, leaving behind a massive concrete shell. Trump SoHo ultimately had to be foreclosed and resold. But his Russian investors had left Trump with a high-profile property he could leverage. The new owners contracted with Trump to run the tower; as of April, the president and his daughter Ivanka were still listed as managers of the property. In 2015, according to the federal financial disclosure reports, Trump made $3 million from Trump SoHo.
In April 2013, a little more than two years before Trump rode the escalator to the ground floor of Trump Tower to kick off his presidential campaign, police burst into Unit 63A of the high-rise and rounded up 29 suspects in two gambling rings. The operation, which prosecutors called “the world’s largest sports book,” was run out of condos in Trump Tower—including the entire fifty-first floor of the building. In addition, unit 63A—a condo directly below one owned by Trump—served as the headquarters for a “sophisticated money-laundering scheme” that moved an estimated $100 million out of the former Soviet Union, through shell companies in Cyprus, and into investments in the United States. The entire operation, prosecutors say, was working under the protection of Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, whom the FBI identified as a top Russian vor closely allied with Semion Mogilevich. In a single two-month stretch, according to the federal indictment, the money launderers paid Tokhtakhounov $10 million.
Tokhtakhounov, who had been indicted a decade earlier for conspiring to fix the ice-skating competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics, was the only suspect to elude arrest. For the next seven months, the Russian crime boss fell off the radar of Interpol, which had issued a red alert. Then, in November 2013, he suddenly appeared live on international television—sitting in the audience at the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Tokhtakhounov was in the VIP section, just a few seats away from the pageant owner, Donald Trump.
After the pageant, Trump bragged about all the powerful Russians who had turned out that night, just to see him. “Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room,” he told Real Estate Weekly. Contacted by Mother Jones, Tokhtakhounov insisted that he had bought his own ticket and was not a VIP. He also denied being a mobster, telling The New York Times that he had been indicted in the gambling ring because FBI agents “misinterpreted his Russian slang” on their Trump Tower wiretaps, when he was merely placing $20,000 bets on soccer games.
Both the White House and the Trump Organization declined to respond to questions for this story. On the few occasions he has been questioned about his business entanglements with Russians, however, Trump has offered broad denials. “I tweeted out that I have no dealings with Russia,” he said at a press conference in January, when asked if Russia has any “leverage” over him, financial or otherwise. “I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia. I have no loans with Russia at all.” In May, when he was interviewed by NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump seemed hard-pressed to think of a single connection he had with Russia. “I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago,” he said. “I had the Miss Universe pageant—which I owned for quite a while—I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia.”
But even if Trump has no memory of the many deals that he and his business made with Russian investors, he certainly did not “stay away” from Russia. For decades, he and his organization have aggressively promoted his business there, seeking to entice investors and buyers for some of his most high-profile developments. Whether Trump knew it or not, Russian mobsters and corrupt oligarchs used his properties not only to launder vast sums of money from extortion, drugs, gambling, and racketeering, but even as a base of operations for their criminal activities. In the process, they propped up Trump’s business and enabled him to reinvent his image. Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.
Semion Mogilevich, the Russian mob’s “boss of bosses,” also declined to respond to questions from the New Republic. “My ideas are not important to anybody,” Mogilevich said in a statement provided by his attorney. “Whatever I know, I am a private person.” Mogilevich, the attorney added, “has nothing to do with President Trump. He doesn’t believe that anybody associated with him lives in Trump Tower. He has no ties to America or American citizens.”
Back in 1999, the year before Trump staged his first run for president, Mogilevich gave a rare interview to the BBC. Living up to his reputation for cleverness, the mafia boss mostly joked and double-spoke his way around his criminal activities. (Q: “Why did you set up companies in the Channel Islands?” A: “The problem was that I didn’t know any other islands. When they taught us geography at school, I was sick that day.”) But when the exasperated interviewer asked, “Do you believe there is any Russian organized crime?” the “brainy don” turned half-serious.
“How can you say that there is a Russian mafia in America?” he demanded. “The word mafia, as far as I understand the word, means a criminal group that is connected with the political organs, the police and the administration. I don’t know of a single Russian in the U.S. Senate, a single Russian in the U.S. Congress, a single Russian in the U.S. government. Where are the connections with the Russians? How can there be a Russian mafia in America? Where are their connections?”
Two decades later, we finally have an answer to Mogilevich’s question.
Trump’s Russian Laundromat
“They saved his bacon,” says Kenneth McCallion, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Reagan administration who investigated ties between organized crime and Trump’s developments in the 1980s. It’s entirely possible that Trump … After Vladimir …
Trump, Putin and organized crime – Google News
Amid all the controversy over Russian hacking, interference and propaganda efforts in the United States and Europe, there’s a growing concern among national security leaders that not enough is being done to stop the efforts. That’s why a large group of senior figures from both parties is launching a new effort to track and ultimately counter Russian political meddling, cyber-mischief and fake news.
The roster of figures who have signed onto the new project, called the Alliance for Securing Democracy, is a who’s who of former senior national security officials from both parties. The advisory council includes former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff; former acting CIA director Michael Morell; former House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers; Adm. James Stavridis, former NATO supreme Allied commander, Europe; John Podesta, former chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign; Jake Sullivan, former national security adviser to Joe Biden; and former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
The project will be housed at the German Marshall Fund (GMF) and will be run day to day by a staff led by Laura Rosenberger, a former senior State Department official in the Obama administration, and Jamie Fly, former national security counselor to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
“This threat to our democracy is a national security issue. Russia is waging a war on us. They are using different kinds of weapons than we are used to in a war,” Rosenberger said. “We need to do a much better job understanding the tools the Russians are using and that others could use in the future to undermine democratic institutions and we need to work closer with our European allies who also are subjected to this threat.”
The idea is to create a platform and repository of information about Russian political influence activities in the United States and Europe that can be the basis for cooperation and a resource for analysts on both sides of the Atlantic to push back against Russian meddling.
The project aims to be able to eventually map out Russian disinformation on social networks, cyber-efforts, financial flows, broader state-level cooperation and even Russian government support for far-left or far-right parties in other countries.
“In a perfect world, we would have a national commission that would be looking into exactly what happened, exactly what did the Russians do and what can we do as a nation to defend ourselves going forward and deter Putin from ever doing this again,” Morell told me. “We all know this is not going to happen, so things like the GMF effort are hugely important to fill the gap.”
One of the first outputs, coming soon, is going to be an online digital dashboard that will allow for tracking of Russian disinformation through fake news stories as well as narratives being pushed by Russian-sponsored social media figures. The project will attempt to map how Russian government-promoted information is spread though the American and European media landscapes.
“The Russians are playing in a broader scope of issues here than just the election,” Morell said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Russians are trying to divide us on issues from gay rights to race.”
The goal of the project is not to re-litigate the 2016 presidential election or to investigate the issue of whether the Trump campaign either colluded or was used by Russia as part of its interference campaign. The premise is that the Russian interference is ongoing and that not enough is being done to understand and ultimately counter it.
“It’s time for people who care about this issue to drop the partisanship and come together on this,” said Chertoff. “The closer we get to 2018 and we don’t see a huge amount of activity to get prepared, the more dire this is.”
The project also doesn’t want to overlap with the various investigations ongoing by the FBI and several congressional committees. But the premise is that more research can actually spur more U.S. government and congressional action to increase awareness, deterrence and resilience in the face of ongoing Russian efforts.
“Part of the problem is the administration hasn’t been presented yet with a set of recommendations about how to confront this problem,” said Fly. “The jury is still out on whether this administration will be willing to do the things necessary to secure our democracy.”
Josh Rogin is a columnist for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post. He writes about foreign policy and national security.
After months of speculation about the relationship between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, hard evidence has at last emerged which is deeply damaging to the White House. This represents a turning point in the ever-more-complex saga of what I’ve termed KremlinGate, and how the Trump White House handles the revelation will determine its future—if it even has one.
This comes on the heels of the president’s sidebar one-on-one meeting with his Russian counterpart last weekend at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Despite the fact that—as I recently noted—a meeting with the Kremlin leader (when the U.S. Intelligence Community says his spy services helped elect Trump last year) would seem to be the very last thing any sensible administration would want, Trump went ahead with it.
The meeting itself was awkwardly long, and afterwards neither side could agree on what was said. At a minimum, Trump allowed Putin to appear as his equal (and perhaps more, to examine the body language on display) and proceeded to go along with the Kremlin line that Russian intelligence played no nefarious role in keeping Hillary Clinton from the White House. That is dismissed as blatant deception by our spy agencies, yet appears to be accepted by Trump and his minions, extensive intelligence evidence to the contrary.
To make matters worse, once he was home, Trump fired off numerous combative tweets about his relationship with Putin, including the stunning idea that he and the Kremlin boss had discussed setting up a joint cybersecurity unit with Moscow to ensure the integrity of future elections. This, simply put, was the most shocking policy suggestion uttered by any American president in my lifetime—and quite possibly ever.
To get this straight: Trump wanted to share American cyber-secrets with the country whose spy services illegally and clandestinely helped put him in the White House, and which continue to cyber-pillage our government and economy right now, in real time.
Needless to add, this suggestion—which was quickly compared to establishing a joint counterterrorism unit with the Islamic State—was met with outrage and ridicule, including from prominent Republicans. As a result, the president backed off on Twitter once it became evident he had mishandled the matter. Nevertheless, the proposed joint cybersecurity initiative with Moscow stands as a telling example of the fact that Trump either has no idea that Russia represents a serious threat to our national security—or he simply doesn’t care.
Subsequent Twitter admissions from the president add to such questions. Trump admitted that he had discussed the ongoing (highly classified) counterintelligence investigation of Russia’s 2016 hacking of the Democrats with Putin and his entourage—who are the very subjects of that investigation. At this point, Trump is either broadcasting his once-secret relationship with the Kremlin or he may not be in his right mind. It’s difficult to find a third possibility to explain such unprecedentedly bizarre behavior by America’s commander-in-chief.
As if all this weren’t enough, The New York Times then broke the story that, on June 9, 2016, shortly after the president had clinched the Republican nomination for the presidency, Donald Trump, Jr. and other key members of Trump’s inner circle met in New York City with a prominent Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, ostensibly to discuss adoptions!
This flies in the face of repeated denials from the president and his inner circle—to include Don Jr.—that they had contact with Russians during last year’s campaign. It’s difficult to imagine that, at the height of said campaign, key members of Team Trump had time to chat about adoptions. It’s even more difficult to imagine that’s what they really discussed.
The lawyer in question, Nataliya Veselnitskaya, has an unsavory reputation for her links to Putin, particularly regarding efforts to get Western sanctions lifted off the ailing Russian economy. Her ties to Moscow’s spy services are hardly a secret either, per the observation of Bill Browder, one of the top Western whistleblowers about the official crime and corruption which underpin Putinism: “There’s no mystery about her background,” he stated about Veselnitskaya, adding, “I’d be surprised that anyone who had done due diligence would have agreed to meet her, considering her sketchy CV.”
Now, Veselnitskaya has ritually denied her Kremlin connections, as is de rigueur among Putin’s friends and associates. “Never believe anything until the Kremlin denies it” is a venerable old wag among Russia-watchers with good reason. However, what’s far more important is the revelation that Don Jr. and company wanted to meet with her precisely because they knew of her official ties in Moscow.
A follow-on report by the Times, which can be fairly termed a bombshell, makes clear that Team Trump sought to parley with Veselnitskaya because they believed she had incriminating information about Hillary’s Clinton’s ties to the Kremlin. They wanted what the Russian call kompromat on the Democrats—precisely what Russian hackers were in the process of stealing. It’s not difficult to imagine why Team Trump, which was grappling with its own allegations of unsavory ties to Putin, would want to counter those with information showing that Team Hillary, too, was in bed with the Kremlin.
However, Veselnitskaya reportedly brought no such gifts to the meeting, and the president’s firstborn was disappointed about the lack of kompromat after he had expressed his “love” for potentially damaging information about Hillary, according to the Times.
Now, in a truly shocking turn of events, Don Jr. has released several emails via Twitter about the background of that June 9, 2016 meeting. He did so after the Times, which had them already, asked for his comments. In the email chain, Don Jr. makes his position indelibly clear on the meeting proposed by Rob Goldstone, a shady publicist with Kremlin clients, who said the get-together was part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Goldstone promised that the “Russian government attorney”—that’s Veselnitskaya—would deliver “very high level and sensitive information” from Russian prosecutors, including “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.” To anybody sentient, that’s a promise of intelligence information about Hillary from Russian spy agencies, to be delivered through a trusted Kremlin intermediary.
There have been no denials from the Trump camp of the veracity of this account—after all, Don Jr. is the source of these emails. However, White House spokespeople are already explaining that “everybody does it” and, really, it’s no big deal to talk to Russians anyway. Besides, they note, no secret information changed hands: Veselnitskaya didn’t deliver the promised goods.
But the meeting—which was knowingly arranged with a representative of Putin’s government—may have violated a raft of Federal laws, which makes Don Jr.’s public admission of his culpability so stunning. Moreover, that no kompromat was traded makes little difference here. You don’t have to commit the crime to get arrested for it; planning and attempting to do so can be enough to get arrested—as any viewer of NBC’s popular reality show To Catch a Predator knows.
What happens next is anybody’s guess. Congress is already making noise about getting Don Jr. to testify about his now-infamous meeting. It’s telling that the president, who loves to taunt enemies with his tweets, so far has been silent on Twitter about his son’s growing legal problem. Trump’s silence here appears highly revealing, and is perhaps an indication of the panic which has descended on the White House in recent days.
A siege mentality has set in on the West Wing, according to press reports, and nobody is eager to take the fall for Don Jr., who is disliked by most White House staffers, who view him as a dangerous buffoon. It’s difficult to spin the debacle he created here as anything but utterly disastrous for the Trump administration.
The key question lingering, of course, is: What did the president know and when did he know it?—to cite the legendary Watergate line. If Trump was aware of the June 9, 2016 meeting, he too may be in grave legal jeopardy.
Regardless, months of lies from Team Trump, their repeated, flat-out denials of any links to Moscow, have been exploded by Don Jr.’s public admission. In the middle of last year’s campaign, members of the president’s inner circle wanted Moscow’s kompromat on Hillary Clinton, a fact which amounts to witting collusion with hostile foreign intelligence.
This is a game-changer for the KremlinGate inquiry and, while it’s not the beginning of the end by any means—this is such a complex case that it will likely take Special Counsel Bob Mueller and his platoons of seasoned investigators years to unravel it all—it appears to be, as Winston Churchill famously said of British victory at El Alamein in the fall of 1942, the end of the beginning.
John Schindler is a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionage and terrorism, he’s also been a Navy officer and a War College professor. He’s published four books and is on Twitter at @20committee.
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