Bannon, Gorka and the Fall of Trump’s ‘Alpha Males’
First went Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser departed in February, after his extensive ties to Russia came to light; March brought the demise of Boris Epshteyn, a boorish media representative who once assaulted a man in a Scottsdale …
WASHINGTON — There comes a point in the unspooling of every complex political-financial-legal scandal when the story becomes so complicated that it’s easy to lose the thread of what matters. The facts dribble out, in ever more confusing increments. The lengthy cast of characters resembles a Russian novel. Competing news demands our attention.
That is where we are now when it comes to the investigation of President Trump and Russia. Harvey deluged the Gulf Coast, drowning out the news about Trump’s involvement with Russia. Still, that news is, or should be, huge. The latest revelations feel, at least for now, like more of a political bombshell than a legal problem, but the two are closely related; consider how many public officials have landed themselves in legal jeopardy trying to save their political hides.
To recap, what we know now that we did not know a week ago:
While he ran for president, Trump was simultaneously — and secretly — pursuing financial opportunities with a foreign adversary. Not just any adversary, but Russia, a country described by his party’s previous presidential nominee as the United States’ “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” And not just pursuing financial opportunities in Russia, but actively seeking the help of at least one senior Russian official to gain government approval for the project.
Once again: This is not OK. When you run for president, you cannot — you should not — put yourself in the position of using that candidacy as a door-opening business opportunity. You cannot — even if the prospect of winning seems remote — put yourself in a position of being financially beholden to a hostile foreign power.
Trump Tower Moscow was not another instance of Trump as unabashed cross-promoter-in-chief, like using the campaign press corps to help tout the reopening of his Scottish golf course. It represented something much more disturbing, even unpatriotic.
It was possible, when The Washington Post first broke the news of the failed deal, to discount the proposal as braggadocio from Felix Sater, the Russian-born real estate developer pushing the deal. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater emailed Trump Organization executive vice president Michael Cohen, detailed by The New York Times.
But as it turned out, this was more than Sater freelancing in Trump’s name. The Post next reported that Cohen emailed Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in January 2016 in a bid to save the languishing deal; that Cohen discussed the project with Trump on three occasions; and that the effort was dropped when Russian government permission was unforthcoming.
The Trump Organization not only pursued this opportunity in secret, it — indeed, Trump himself — actively misled the public. Imagine how much more sharply people would have responded to Trump’s already repulsive praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin during that time — “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country” — if they knew that Trump had just signed a letter of intent with a Russian firm to develop a Trump-branded tower in Moscow.
And as the question of Trump’s Russian connections became increasingly controversial, he somehow omitted the just-abandoned deal. “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” he tweeted in July 2016. This past January, as Trump prepared to take office, he reiterated, “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” Shades of Bill Clinton — it depends on what the meaning of “have” is.
As recently as his interview this summer with The New York Times, Trump disingenuously downplayed his financial interests in Russia. “I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? …They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one.” Including the one he was pursuing while running for president, but failed to mention.
We have become inured to Trumpian self-dealing, from doubling membership fees at Mar-a-Lago to profiting off his government-owned D.C. hotel. This one goes beyond pure greed. It edges into serious questions about whether Trump’s positions on Putin and Russia have been and remain tainted by considerations not of what is best for the nation but what benefits Trump’s bottom line.
Ruth Marcus’ email address is email@example.com.
The Daily Dot–17 hours ago
Power Line (blog)–11 hours ago
MSNBC–20 hours ago
The National Law Journal (registration)–17 hours ago
Opinion–Washington Post–19 hours ago
A small plane crashed during a flight demonstration near Moscow, plunging in front of a crowd of spectators, footage of the incident shows. The two people on board were killed in the crash, but nobody was hurt on the ground.
Footage of the incident published online shows the An-2 trying to make a left turn and crashing into the ground. The plane then exploded in a bust of fire and black smoke.
The Antonov An-2 plane was taking part in an event in the area of Balashikha, Moscow Region dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the model.
Local police say the two pilots were killed in the incident, adding that an investigation into the cause of the crash is under way.
The airshow organizers told TASS that the demonstration flights were stopped after the crash.
A statement from the local emergency service said it deployed 10 vehicles and 36 rescue service members to the site, but would not immediately confirm the number of casualties.
The An-2 is one of the oldest fixed-wing aircraft remaining in service. The biplane is called the ‘kukuruznik’ (corn crop duster) in Russia for its role in agriculture. The plane made its maiden flight on August 31, 1947 and remained in production until 2001, with over 18,000 An-2s built over the decades.
More details are emerging about the air disaster in the Black Sea involving a famous Russian military choir.
An ageing Tu-154 airliner came down off the Russian coast with the loss of all 92 passengers and crew.
This was no ordinary flight. The plane belonged to the Russian defence ministry and was en route from Moscow to Syria, where the Alexandrov Ensemble was due to perform for soldiers stationed overseas.
As the official investigation gets under way and the flight recorders are analysed, here are some of the facts and theories.
At 05:23 (02:23 GMT) on Sunday, 25 December, the jet took off in good weather from Adler airport near the city of Sochi, where it had been refuelling, for the next leg of its flight to Latakia in western Syria.
Two minutes into the flight the plane disappeared from radar.
A recording of the final conversation between air traffic controllers and the pilot revealed no difficulties.
But Russian media have reported a cockpit conversation between the two pilots, apparently transcribed from one of the flight recorders, which indicates they were taken by surprise when an alarm began to sound.
Wreckage was found about 1.5km (about one mile) from the shore.
Fragments of the plane were found across a radius of about 500m (1,640ft), the defence ministry said, after a vast search operation involving a submarine, 45 other vessels, 12 planes, 10 helicopters, three drones and more than 3,500 personnel.
Who was on the plane?
In addition to the eight crew members, there were:
- Sixty-four men and women of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the official choir of the Russian armed forces
- One of Russia’s best-known humanitarian figures, Yelizaveta Glinka – known popularly as “Dr Liza” – who was due to deliver medicines to a Syrian hospital
- Nine members of the Russian media including TV crews from Channel One, NTV and the military TV channel Zvezda
- Eight military figures among whom is listed Lt-Gen Valeri Khalilov, the choir’s conductor
- Two civil servants
As of 29 December, at least 19 bodies had been recovered.
What do the ‘black boxes’ reveal?
Russian media say the plane was equipped with three flight recorders: a Flight Data Recorder (FDR), a Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and a third “box” which duplicates recordings from both of the others (and is said to have been badly damaged).
A transcript of what is said to be the pilots’ final conversation was leaked to Russian media:
- “Speed 300 [inaudible].”
- “I’ve pulled in the landing gear, commander.”
- “Oh bloody hell!”
Piercing alarm sounds
- “The flaps, hell, what a…!”
- “The altimeter [altitude meter]!”
- “We’re in… [inaudible].”
Alarm sounds about dangerous proximity to the ground
- “Commander, we’re falling!”
This suggests that the jet’s wing flaps – panels which help lift an aircraft – were not moving together, causing the crew to lose control.
If the transcript proves to be genuine, it could indicate either a mechanical fault or a fault by the crew, such as mistakenly retracting the flaps instead of the undercarriage.
Russian newspaper Kommersant quotes a source as saying a flight recorder registered the failure of the plane’s flap retraction system.
The crew’s actions “only further worsened an emergency”, it suggests.
Who was at the controls?
The crew was commanded by an experienced pilot, Maj Roman Volkov, who had more than 3,000 flight hours behind him.
He was flying with his regular crew, the Russian Armed Forces flight safety service says, including co-pilot Capt Alexander Rovensky, who had 10 years of aviation service.
Could it have been an attack?
The plane was flying to an air base in Syria, where Russia has been waging an air campaign on the side of President Bashar al-Assad for more than a year.
So-called Islamic State, one of Russia’s deadliest enemies in Syria, claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian airliner returning from Egypt just over a year ago, when 224 people were killed.
A bomb has been ruled out this time because there is no evidence of an explosion on-board but Lt-Gen Sergei Bainetov, the Russian air force’s head of flight safety, told reporters there were other forms of “terrorist attack”.
“It could have been any type of mechanical impact, so we don’t rule out a terrorist act,” he told reporters.
A missile attack downed Flight MH17 over neighbouring Ukraine in July 2014, with the loss of 283 lives.
However, other Russian officials have sought to downplay the possibility of an attack from the very start of the investigation.
What are the other theories?
Lt-Gen Sergei Bainetov said there were multiple theories which ranged from poor quality fuel causing engine failure to a bird getting caught up in the engines.
“There is no leading theory,” he stressed.
The advanced age of the plane may have been a factor – it was 33 years old.
That said, few of the 39 fatal accidents involving this model of the Tupolev have been attributed to technical problems. Many were lost as a result of difficult weather conditions and poor air traffic control.
Another factor in past air crashes in Russia has been overloaded planes.
The full analysis of the “black boxes” is expected to take at least until the end of January.
MOSCOW: Two crew members were killed Saturday after their Soviet-era biplane ploughed into the ground at an airshow near Moscow, local police said.
The vintage An-2 aircraft crashed as it was performing an aerial acrobatics routine in front of a crowd at an airfield near the satellite town of Balashikha on the edge of Moscow.
“We confirm the crash and that according to our preliminary information two people onboard were killed,” a spokesman for the Moscow region police told AFP.
The spokesman said the plane came down in a field and no spectators were hurt. Police were at the scene working to establish the causes of the crash.
A source in the emergency services told TASS news agency that pilot error was viewed as the most likely cause of the crash.
Russian media published video it said was from eyewitnesses showing the Antonov propeller plane bursting into flames after hitting the ground and then thick black smoke pouring into the air.
The single-engine plane An-2 went into production shortly after World War II and was typically used for transport or crop dusting. — AFP
Putin, who seeks the productive and the beneficial for him relations with the U.S., and who sets the tone for everything in Russia, including very much the foreign policy, does not really know the U.S., and he does not understand the psychology and spirit of the American people at all, although he pays the empty lip service in extolling them.
He hopes and intends, and maybe already does, to rule the U.S. through and by Trump, it looks like. However, this makes things much worse. I think, he and his ruling circles just started to realize that these strategies and tactics are not only futile but they are dangerous and disastrous for the U.S. – Russian relations. You cannot rule America by the cooptation of the parts of her financial and political elites, this will cause the disbalance in the system, with the eventual restoration of the status quo and homeostasis, the balance, with the powerful, strong, natural and the inevitable political and the geopolitical push-back against this invasive attempt.
“America” is a very complex phenomenon, very viable and adaptable, it is a phenomenon in the making, in the process of development, just like Russia is. The analysis of these comparison reveals many diverging factors, and the most of them are not in the Russia’s favor.
The sooner and deeper Putin and his circles understand this, the better it will be for them, but most likely this big and grave error will be for the next generation of the Russian leaders to correct.
If they want a real autopsy, they need more resources.
Perspective Discussion of news topics with a point of view, including narratives by individuals regarding their own experiences
Since the Justice Department named a special investigator, Robert Mueller, to handle the government’s official inquiry into Russian meddling in the U.S. election, the weight of public expectation has largely fallen on his shoulders. While the two congressional panels, the Senate and House intelligence committees, continue to hold hearings and question witnesses, including Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, both are led by members of a party that is, with the exception of Charlottesville, skittish about criticizing the president. The greatest hope for an aggressive and impartial inquest seems to lie with Mueller, whose bosses have either recused themselves from the Russia probe (as Attorney General Jeff Sessions did) or volunteered that he would have autonomy to follow the facts wherever they led (as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein did). The pressure, it seems, is off Congress to act as the primary body holding the president to account.
This is a dangerous sentiment. The two intelligence committees should act as if their investigations will be the final (and possibly the only) ones — because they may be. President Trump has worked hard to undermine Mueller’s effort, not only berating it as beholden to a partisan “hoax” but also belittling Sessions in humiliating terms on Twitter in a transparent attempt to force the attorney general’s resignation. That way, the president could replace him with an appointee who would stymie Mueller’s work. A central role for Congress is the only real way to guarantee a full report, with conclusions and recommendations, for the American people.
I oversaw a similarly complex and politically fraught inquiry as co-chairman of the joint congressional inquiry into 9/11, so I know what it takes — as a matter of resources, time, perseverance and, yes, occasional political courage — to run an investigation of this size and importance. And I know this, too: The congressional intelligence committees, as they are constituted today, are not ready for this burden.
They must tackle three problems.
First, the committees need substantially more capacity. After 9/11, the Senate and House leadership decided to merge the two intelligence committees so they could collaboratively and thoroughly investigate the intelligence issues raised by the attacks. The joint committee had a staff of 24 experienced professionals who were dedicated to the inquiry, independent from the regular professional staff of either the House or the Senate intelligence committee. They’d worked at key intelligence and law enforcement agencies and had knowledge of forensic accounting, investigation and intelligence analysis. Staff director Eleanor Hill had previously prosecuted organized crime for the Justice Department and served as staff director and chief counsel for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
Given the number of highly classified documents under review, the joint inquiry also had its own secure office space, separate from each chamber’s committee office. It had its own budget of at least $5 million, dedicated solely to the one-year inquiry. By comparison, the Senate committee had $8.1 million and the House panel $8.6 million to address regular legislative and oversight responsibilities for the two years of the 107th Congress.
Right now, the Senate has 38 staffers and the House 31 devoted to the intelligence committees, with budgets for the 115th Congress of $11 million and $12.1 million, respectively. Those personnel and funds are intended to cover all the legislative and oversight work of the intelligence committees, including the Russia investigation. Early in the inquiry, the Senate committee reportedly had only seven staffers working on the probe. It needs many more.
To complete the Russia investigation, the committees need independent staff members who are solely dedicated to this topic: forensic accountants and specialists in international law, financial crimes, counterintelligence investigations, and cybersecurity and coding. Those devoted to Russian meddling should not be regular committee staffers on overtime, unfamiliar with the tasks unique to the Russian inquiry.
After more than six months of separate activity, it is probably too late to merge the current congressional committees. It is not too late, however, to create independent, experienced and substantially larger staffs capable of fulfilling the committees’ responsibilities, particularly in a post-Mueller era.
Second, the House and Senate intelligence committees must quickly begin planning for post-Mueller scenarios. Yes, perhaps Sessions will stick around and Rosenstein will continue to guard Mueller’s autonomy. But the congressional committees need to devise protocols now that would be activated if Mueller were fired to ensure the protection of, and access to, all documents, transcripts, communications and other materials amassed by the Mueller and James Comey probes. The protocols should ensure that these materials are made available to the congressional committees in their original form. If Mueller is dismissed, the congressional inquiry would probably expand, as in the Watergate investigation, to the consideration of impeachment.
Third, Congress must embrace its investigatory role with renewed urgency. The 9/11 inquiry had a deadline of December 2002, the end of the 107th Congress. This investigation has no such finale. But there are serious consequences to procrastination. If Russia has in fact attempted to interfere with democratic elections in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, disclosing that reality and repelling further intrusions are crucial. Preventing future tampering in elections will require the support of an informed American public, which should be told of Congress’s definitive conclusions as soon as possible. Any delay in publicly sharing clear and convincing evidence will add to the already staggering distrust of many Americans in their government. (Portions of the 9/11 inquiry report remain classified even today, limiting the public’s understanding of the tragic event and its ability to influence policy, especially regarding U.S.-Saudi relations.)
The nation’s best option is for Mueller to continue his investigation until it ends, wherever it leads. Should Trump find some way to remove him, it would spark a constitutional crisis unlike anything since Watergate; Congress must be ready for this worst-case scenario. In our constitutional system of checks and balances, it has the right and duty to exercise full oversight. Now is the time to start preparing for the execution of that responsibility.
Over the past three days the media has been demonstrating just how aggressively Donald Trump and his team were working to build a Trump Tower in Moscow while Trump was running for President of the United States. Now, when Trump is at a particularly vulnerable point in his Russia scandal, and could use the help of the Kremlin more than ever, Vladimir Putin has instead decided to rather cravenly throw him under the bus by making the scandal bigger.
As the New York Times and Washington Post have raced each other to flesh out the Trump Tower Moscow story this week, one of the key details has been that Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen had reached out to Putin through his spokesman for help. The Kremlin could have helped out Trump and Cohen quite a bit by claiming that it never received the email. But instead, according to an on-air report today by NBC News, the Kremlin has released a statement today confirming that it did in fact receive the email.
Michael Cohen admits that he discussed the Trump Tower Moscow project with Donald Trump on several occasions, but he’s claiming that Trump didn’t know he sent the email request for help to Putin’s spokesman. However, Cohen has worked for Trump for decades, and he never would have done something that major unless Trump signed off on it first. So now we know that Trump reached out to Putin for help with a real estate project in Moscow during the election, and that Putin received that message. It proves that Trump and Putin were communication about matters of personal finance during the election, which in turn demonstrates that Trump was using his campaign to try to curry personal favor with Putin. But there’s more.
Vladimir Putin is cutthroat and calculating. He made a clear decision to throw Donald Trump under the bus today, when he could have helped him instead. Either Putin is trying to punish Trump for failing to come through on sanctions relief, or he’s given up on his failed Trump experiement and he’s now trying to finish him off entirely.
The post Vladimir Putin throws Donald Trump under the bus in Russia scandal appeared first on Palmer Report.
Washington Examiner–21 hours ago
Politico–21 hours ago
BuzzFeed News–15 hours ago
Newsweek–19 hours ago
Highly Cited–Fox News Insider–Aug 29, 2017
Sanford J. Ungar is director of the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University and a Lumina Foundation Fellow.
Leaks and leakers. Just the words seem to have a negative aura about them, with unappealing connotations of plumbing problems and weak bladders. Surely, they are a scourge that disgraces journalism and weakens government.
When President Trump wants to discredit the FBI director he fired, James B. Comey, who acknowledged in Senate testimony that he had shared with a friend private memoranda he wrote about his strange meetings with the president, it’s easy: “He’s a leaker,” said Trump, his voice dripping with contempt.
When Jeff Sessions, who, perhaps foolishly, gave up his safe Senate seat from Alabama to become Trump’s attorney general, finds himself facing a barrage of unfair criticism from his patron and is desperately seeking a way back into his good graces, there is a simple path: promise to be relentless about tracking down and punishing the evil leakers. “This culture of leaking must stop,” said Sessionsindignantly.
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What right-thinking American could not be repelled by these appalling people and practices?
But wait a minute. What if leaks — more attractively labeled “inside information” or “revelations” — and leakers — more euphemistically called “sources” or “whistleblowers” — are part of the lifeblood of American democracy, one of the few reliable ways we find out what is actually going on?
Anyone practicing real journalism in this country (and quite a few other places, too) learns right away that he or she cannot necessarily count on government always to offer the full, or truthful, story about what it is doing. The same holds for business, the nonprofit sector, even the art world and sometimes journalistic institutions themselves. The job is not to be a simple transcriber, and leaks are one vehicle for getting things right.
I remember vividly the advice a wise and experienced FBI agent gave me when I was writing a book about the bureau: “Be careful not to get a bad case of the ‘for-reals,’ ” he said. In other words, do not assume that everything happens according to the rulebook or the way officials say it does.
Indeed, during that project and many others, I benefited professionally from leaks, admittedly some more reliable than others. I sometimes made use of those that checked out, fully realizing that I might be denounced by the same people who had given me the information. That’s what they had to do to protect themselves from discovery.
Not all leaks are equal, of course. Many leakers have patriotic motivations, but one must always weigh the intentions of the leaker and deploy a healthy dose of common sense to avoid the risk of being burned or used by a source.
When it comes to national security information, which is what Sessions seems to be particularly worked up about, the record is far different from what he would have us believe. Many well-respected editors and reporters in the mainstream media, including The Post, have consulted with officials before publishing sensitive stories, and they have sometimes held them back from publication, rather than risk damage to national security.
And there are few, if any, examples where it can be shown that leaks did any genuine harm, beyond embarrassment and awkwardness for politicians or policy makers. Not the stories of the United States cracking the Japanese military’s codes early in World War II. Or reports of training Cuban exiles for the Bay of Pigs invasion. Or the publication of the Pentagon Papers. Or more recent revelations of electronic espionage by the U.S. government.
In fact, despite the tougher stance on the issue begun under the Obama administration, to this day the federal government has never tried to prosecute a reporter for revealing classified information.
Is it useful, on balance, for us to learn from secret transcripts that Trump bullied the leaders of Mexico and Australia in phone conversations with them shortly after taking office? Different people may draw the line in different places, but I would say that’s an easy “yes” and wish for more such transcripts to be leaked — if only to give us an alternative to the president’s self-promoting tweets as a source of information about current U.S. policy.
As for Sessions’s boasts that it will be easy to identify the leakers, skepticism is in order. “Leak investigations” are often long, frustrating dead-ends. That is why J. Edgar Hoover, who usually wasn’t shy about abusing his power during his 48 years running the FBI, was famously reluctant to take on leakers. Hoover didn’t like to fail, and he knew that quite often the source of a national security leak could be the president himself.
The Trump administration is not the first to make the empty threat of leak investigations. When things got bad 45 years ago, President Richard Nixon and his Justice Department tried that, too, but it didn’t work. It intimidated some and struck fear in the hearts of others, but so far as we know, it did not prevent a single leak. Most citizens, including those who serve in Congress, realize the importance of preserving a free press and their own ability to speak (and yes, sometimes leak) freely, even at the risk of displeasing a president and his beleaguered attorney general.