Lock them up

It was not a good day for Donald Trump yesterday. Paul Manafort, who was his campaign manager for five months, was convicted on eight counts:

Manafort was convicted of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining 10 counts, and the judge declared a mistrial on those charges.

This one seems like a building block case for the possible Russian collusion-it doesn’t talk about the collusion directly but it shows Manafort committed crimes while working with people who worked with Russians, if there was collusion he was probably involved.

In the second case, Michael Cohen pled guilty to counts of breaking campaign finance laws, tax evasion, and bank fraud. This seems less related to Russian collusion but was more directly damaging to Trump:

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, made the extraordinary admission in court Tuesday that Trump had directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about affairs they said they had with Trump.

The whole Mueller probe seems like a classic mob prosecution. It started with lesser figures and is working it’s way in (see who has been charged so far here). There is already enough so that the House should be talking about impeachment, but that’s unlikely as long as Republicans hold the majority. Vote in November.

Really, what does Putin have on Trump?

The intelligence community strikes back:

Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.


According to nearly a dozen people who either attended the meeting with the president-elect or were later briefed on it, the four primary intelligence officials described the streams of intelligence that convinced them of Mr. Putin’s role in the election interference.

They included stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee that had been seen in Russian military intelligence networks by the British, Dutch and American intelligence services. Officers of the Russian intelligence agency formerly known as the G.R.U. had plotted with groups like WikiLeaks on how to release the email stash.

And ultimately, several human sources had confirmed Mr. Putin’s own role.

That included one particularly valuable source, who was considered so sensitive that Mr. Brennan had declined to refer to it in any way in the Presidential Daily Brief during the final months of the Obama administration, as the Russia investigation intensified.

So, Trump was shown almost incontrovertible evidence before his inauguration and yet he still continuously questions it. It really makes one wonder what Putin has on him.

And this makes one think about it even more:

At this week’s summit in Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed what President Trump described as an “incredible offer” — the Kremlin would give special counsel Robert S. Mueller III access to interviews with Russians who were indicted after they allegedly hacked Democrats in 2016. In return, Russia would be allowed to question certain U.S. officials it suspects of interfering in Russian affairs.

One of those U.S. officials is a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, a nemesis of the Kremlin because of his criticisms of Russia’s human rights record.

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to rule out the Kremlin’s request to question McFaul and other Americans. Asked during the daily press briefing whether Trump is open to the idea of having McFaul questioned by Russia, Sanders said President Trump is “going to meet with his team” to discuss the offer.

There are a bunch of comebacks here, including this one from John Kerry:

The administration needs to make it unequivocally clear that in a million years this wouldn’t be under consideration, period. Full stop,” adding that the proposal is “not something that should require a half second of consultation. Dangerous.

This is what happens when you don’t prepare for a summit–you say stupid things because you don’t know what you’re talking about. Or, at least, you can claim that so people are a bit less likely to wonder what Putin has on him.

President Trump: traitor or just Russian apologist?

President Trump thinks both the US and Russia are to blame for bad relations:

Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago — a long time, frankly, before I got to office. And I think we’re all to blame. I think that the United States now has stepped forward, along with Russia. And we’re getting together. And we have a chance to do some great things, whether it’s nuclear proliferation, in terms of stopping — because we have to do it. Ultimately, that’s probably the most important thing that we can be working on.

But I do feel that we have both made some mistakes. I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart. It’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it. People are being brought out to the fore.

And he believes both Putin and the US intelligence agencies:

So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months, and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server? And what is the server saying?

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me — Dan Coats came to me and some others — they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have — I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? Thirty-three thousand emails gone — just gone. I think, in Russia, they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer; he offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.

Ok, I have to admit I’m not sure if he’s saying that he trusts them both or squirrel.

For fun Putin implied that Trump wants to help prop up oil and gas prices:

If I may, I’d throw in some two cents. We talked to Mr. President, including this subject as well. We are aware of the stance of President Trump. And I think that we, as a major oil and gas power — and the United States, as a major oil and gas power as well — we could work together on regulation of international markets, because neither of us is actually interested in the plummeting of the prices.

Trump: America first after Putin

Here’s one direct consequence of President Trump’s America First policy:

A group of 11 countries announced Saturday that they had committed to resurrecting a sweeping multinational trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, without the United States.

Other countries are slowly but surely making progress on their own sweeping trade deals, without any participation from the United States. China is negotiating a potential deal with 16 Asia-Pacific countries, including Japan, India, and South Korea.

The European Union and Japan hope to strike separate trade pacts with a group of South American countries, Brazil and Argentina among them.

The rest of the world seems to have decided that they can make deals without the US which will put the US at a disadvantage.

But Trump backs away from the America First policy in some key places:

Trump heaped disdain on the former leaders of three US intelligence agencies — John O. Brennan, the former CIA director; James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence; and James Comey, the FBI director he fired this year — appearing to suggest that they were less trustworthy than Putin.
“I mean, give me a break — they’re political hacks,” Trump said. “You have Brennan, you have Clapper, and you have Comey. Comey’s proven now to be a liar, and he’s proven to be a leaker, so you look at that. And you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that.”

Putin has spoken nicely about Trump and, in general, Trump likes people who speak nicely about him … even if that person tried to disrupt elections in the US.

 

Donald Trump Jr. seems to tweet evidence that he committed a crime

The NY Times was ready to publish emails from Donald Jr, so he put them out himself and it’s not pretty (I reversed the order so they are in order they were sent):

Good morning

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting 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 your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government‘s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Best
Rob Goldstone

Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?

Best,
Don

Hope all is well

Emin asked that l schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday.

I believe you are aware of the meeting – and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you?

i assume it would be at your office.

Best
Rob Goldstone

How about 3 at our offices? Thanks rob appreciate you helping set it up.

D

Perfect… I won’t sit in on the meeting, but will bring them at 3pm and introduce you etc.

I will send the names of the two people meeting with you for security when l have them later today.

Best
Rob

Great.  It will likely be Paul Manafort (campaign boss) my brother in law and me. 725 Fifth Ave 25th floor.

Now let’s look at the law on campaign finance at Election Law Blog:

It is illegal for a person to solicit a contribution to a campaign from a foreign individual or entity.

Hard to see how there is not a serious case here of solicitation. Trump Jr. appears to have knowledge of the foreign source and is asking to see it. As I explained earlier, such information can be considered a “thing of value” for purposes of the campaign finance law.

And it’s not just Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort also went to the meeting.

How stupid are these people? I wonder how much money they sent to those nice Nigerians?

Trump associates talk about the weather with Russian intelligence

It’s getting even more ridiculous with the Trump administration:

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.

The intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. During those calls, which led to Mr. Flynn’s resignation on Monday night, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December.

Gee, I wonder why Russia wanted Trump to win the election? Of course you have to trust the NSA and the anonymous officials to fully believe this, but the fact that this is believable tells us exactly what type of world we’re living in. Still, at least we didn’t elect someone who had a private email server.

Interesting point

So, it seems that Michael T. Flynn likes calling up Russia:

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, cultivates close Russian contacts. He has appeared on Russia Today and received a speaking fee from the cable network, which was described in last week’s unclassified intelligence briefing on Russian hacking as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”

According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

It seems the Trump administration has commented on this:

A first Trump official confirmed that Flynn had spoken with Kislyak by phone, but said the calls were before sanctions were announced and didn’t cover that topic. This official later added that Flynn’s initial call was to express condolences to Kislyak after the terrorist killing of the Russian ambassador to Ankara Dec. 19, and that Flynn made a second call Dec. 28 to express condolences for the shoot-down of a Russian plane carrying a choir to Syria. In that second call, Flynn also discussed plans for a Trump-Putin conversation sometime after the inauguration. In addition, a second Trump official said the Dec. 28 call included an invitation from Kislyak for a Trump administration official to visit Kazakhstan for a conference in late January.

Nancy Letourneau makes an interesting point:

But it also reminded me of this from Julian Borger a few days ago:

The Guardian has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation.

It is very likely that the four members of Trump’s team that are referred to include Flynn, Manafort, Page and Cohen. Given that a U.S. official knows that Flynn had telephone contact with the Russian ambassador on Dec. 29th, it appears that the FBI got the warrant approved and has been surveilling these four men as recently as two weeks ago. That indicates that an investigation into the allegations made in the dossier is very much alive and ongoing. What happens to it after January 20th remains to be seen.

It could be that Flynn’s phone was being tapped. If so, we very well might soon know if the Trump official was telling the truth.

Update: It seems the Trump team is backtracking already:

Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Trump’s pick to be national security adviser, did speak to Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak by telephone on Dec. 29, the same day the Obama administration announced measures retaliating against Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign, two Trump transition officials confirm to NPR.

And there were multiple calls:

Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser, held five phone calls with Russia’s ambassador to Washington on the day the United States retaliated for Moscow’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, three sources familiar with the matter said.

That’s a lot of calls to set up a conversation.

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