Paul Manafort Will Still Die in Prison

While everyone is correctly pointing out the terrible discrepancies in our criminal justice system, it is important to remember that Paul Manafort’s sentencing today is not the end of this story. Next week Manafort will appear before Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Federal district court in DC. It was Judge Jackson who ruled that Manafort had, in fact, lied, obstructed, and witness tampered in regard to the Special Counsel, his investigators, and his prosecutors post trial and conviction in her court. And it is Judge Jackson who will sentence Paul Manafort next week. Unlike Judge Ellis, who is a well known crank and who, in a properly functioning political system with two actually functional political parties concerned about the general welfare, the rule of law, and the common weal, would have been removed from the bench a long time ago, Judge Jackson is considered to be a jurist who takes her responsibilities seriously. Do not expect Judge Jackson to be lenient. And don’t expect her to ignore actual facts to state that Manafort had previously led a blameless life. Do expect her to hand down a sentence with teeth in it. It is entirely possible that Judge Ellis departed from the sentencing guidelines because he knew Judge Jackson wouldn’t. Doing something like that fits with his history of contrarianism masquerading as jurisprudence. Regardless, Paul Manafort will die in prison. And we should all be thankful for that.

Open thread!








Other felony news (NC-09 edition)

He is not the only one being charged. From the Raleigh News and Observer:

Four other people — Caitlyn E. Croom, Matthew Monroe Mathis, Tonia Gordon and Rebecca Thompson — also face charges related to absentee ballot collection in Bladen County over the past two elections, Freeman said.



Unweaving The Tangled Web

Over the weekend, Will Bunch did a great tweet stream linking Jeff Bezos, National Enquirer, the Saudis, Jamal Khashoggi, and Donald Trump, along with others. He promised he would put it into a column, and here it is. It’s more cautious than the tweet stream, but fairly interesting. He introduces a number of possibilities by asking questions, a relatively safe way to introduce thoughts that you don’t have journalistic confirmation for. They are good questions, worth keeping in mind as things proceed.

Only now is the world figuring out that making up stories to sell papers may have been the least of the sins committed by the Enquirer, which was propped up in its 1950s’ infancy by Mafia money and which later forged a close relationship with Roy Cohn, the notorious New York fixer attorney who took an up-and-coming New York developer named Donald Trump under his wing while fighting off allegations including (wait for it) extortion and blackmail.

He gives a fair bit of background. It’s not entirely clear how the Enquirer got the material on Bezos. Joel Zamel runs a company or two that do both intelligence and propaganda and may be involved in that and other areas of Trump corruption. It’s becoming clear that blackmail is a major tool of associates of Trump. The National Enquirer has been involved in information operations for Trump for some time. That’s most recently what got them in trouble – buying up stories from a Trump mistress, which amounts to hush money and not quite legal.

As a result of that, the judge gave them a lenient sentence under the condition they not violate the law again. Legal Twitter is somewhat divided, but leaning toward the latest antics being blackmail, extortion, or possibly both.

Trump thinks Bezos is an enemy because the Washington Post has not glorified his reign and has been tweeting against him for some time. So it wouldn’t be surprising if he sent his attack dog National Enquirer after him. Bezos, of course, put an end to that in his own way.

Any link between the Bezos phone hack and the Saudis or their allies (UAE, Team Trump) would be devastating — but what if de Gavin is on the trail of something darker? Like the truth behind Khashoggi’s murder? Or — given the ties between Team Trump, the Saudis, UAE and ex-Israeli intelligence that go back to the summer of 2016 — the truth behind the election of an American president?

This is what occurred to me over the weekend, as this all played out. An international ring of grifters and blackmailers has taken over several important countries, including our own.

Meanwhile, all this talk of blackmail and extortion is a reminder that two years into the Trump administration a president who promised America “the art of the deal” has instead tried to run the country the way he ran his business in the mobbed-up New York of the 1980s — with bullying, bluster, and personal threats. But when forced to play that hand over the border wall and the government shutdown recently, it failed miserably. Would it be a surprise if Trump continues to fall back on the only tactic that’s worked for him and his allies to get things done over the years, the dark art of the blackmailer?

Anyhow, read the whole thing. There’s a lot more there. Enough information is becoming available to start to build narratives of the Trump corruption and how other countries helped him in the 2016 election. But there are still lots of holes and multiple possible narratives. The questions Bunch poses are useful.

The latest New Yorker has a long article by Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow about Joel Zamel’s organizations and others, “Private Mossad For Hire,” and some of their interference in the 2016 elections.

Also, James Bamford, who has written reasonably competently about spying in the past, inadvertently demonstrates for us how disinformation works in an article in The New Republic, which finds that Maria Butina was merely an ambitious and gun-loving student who never should have been arrested. A friend of mine who knows a great deal about Soviet spying during the Cold War commented that what he sees today is complete amateurism. That amateurism could have helped to throw Bamford off the trail.








Nancy Pelosi’s Questions On Russia

Nancy Pelosi released a remarkable statement last night. Since she is a strategist, we can analyze it in terms of a strategy, a refreshing change from the last two years.

We have become accustomed to the idea that Donald Trump and his people have connections to Russia. The news has trickled out, first to surprise, now to boredom. But the number and type of connections are remarkable for a President of the United States, and they may well have been unlawful.

The general outlines of the story have been visible since the 2016 Republican primary, and there is a circumstantial case that Trump has been working with Russians and Russian money for a long time and had Russian help in the 2016 election. We have become inured to this and no longer hear it.

Pelosi’s statement is short and to the point.

The indictment of Roger Stone makes clear that there was a deliberate, coordinated attempt by top Trump campaign officials to influence the 2016 election and subvert the will of the American people.  It is staggering that the President has chosen to surround himself with people who violated the integrity of our democracy and lied to the FBI and Congress about it.

In the face of 37 indictments, the President’s continued actions to undermine the Special Counsel investigation raise the questions: what does Putin have on the President, politically, personally or financially? Why has the Trump Administration continued to discuss pulling the U.S. out of NATO, which would be a massive victory for Putin?

Lying to Congress and witness tampering constitute grave crimes.  All who commit these illegal acts should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.  We cannot allow any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from appearing before Congress.

The Special Counsel investigation is working, and the House will continue to exercise our constitutional oversight responsibility and ensure that the Special Counsel investigation can continue free from interference from the White House.

Why did Pelosi release that statement last night? Certainly to further rattle Trump, after her victory over his demand for his wall. But I think there is more to it.

Robert Mueller’s team first established that there was a Russian operation to interfere in the 2016 election. Now Stone’s indictment connects that operation to the Trump campaign.

There is little evidence to support a counternarrative. The New York Times diagrams more than 100 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians from the his announcement of candidacy in June 2016 through his inauguration. That is far more than can be accounted for by coincidence, and several of his campaign operatives have been charged or found guilty of lying about these contacts. If the contacts were innocuous, there would be no reason to lie.

Russia, sadly, is our adversary. After the Soviet Union broke up, there was a period of time in which Americans could believe that our two countries could work together. The two countries’ interests will always diverge, and Vladimir Putin is currently emphasizing those divergences.

Partnering with an adversary, with their illegal help in a campaign, is something new in a president. Further, we now know that Trump continued negotiations to build a Trump Tower Moscow, with bribery of Vladimir Putin, through most of 2016.

Trump’s behavior toward Russia since becoming President is also abnormal. He refuses to criticize Russia or Putin and has said that he takes Putin’s word over that of the American intelligence services. He is weak in supporting NATO’s mutual assistance Article V and disruptive at NATO and other international meetings. His domestic actions, notably the recent government shutdown, are damaging to the country. All of this can be read as favorable to Russia.

And we become inured to this because it continues, now for two years. But inordinate Russian influence on the President of the United States must be stopped.

That is what Pelosi is telling us. She has been at leadership briefings on the investigations into Russian influence and thus knows more than has been made public. She is an acute politician and understands that the people must be brought along in something this serious. Although it can be argued that much of Trump’s behavior as president qualifies for bringing impeachment now, there are additional qualifications that I believe Pelosi is considering.

One is that an impeachment investigation could interfere with Mueller’s investigation of crimes. Trials and jail for the guilty may be the best way to heal the nation. Pelosi’s statement recognizes the problem while leaving the heavy lifting to Mueller’s investigation.

The country is not prepared for the consequences of what we may learn. If Trump is clearly connected to Russian actions and influence, he should be removed. But Vice President Mike Pence was selected by Paul Manafort. Publicly, he has managed to stay relatively clean of Russian interaction, but it is hard to believe that an investigation would completely absolve anyone in the administration. Further, there is evidence that Russian influence extends into the Republican Party.

A worst-case scenario would be that Russian influence deeply contaminated the 2016 election and much of the Republican Party. Besides the President and Vice President, Senators and Representatives would have to be removed from office. There is a clear line of presidential succession to Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, but the states would have to deal with replacing members of Congress.

There would be questions of legitimacy of the judges and Supreme Court Justices nominated and approved by those Russian-influenced officials. Trump supporters would be up in arms, although I think this factor has been exaggerated.

It would be a difficult time. That is why some are suggesting that we wait for the next election. But that is a form of ignoring the problem, just as letting the torturers of the Iraq War off in the name of national unity was. We are seeing bad actors who should long ago have been punished, like Roger Stone and Eliot Abrams, resurfacing. This time we need to deal fully with the problems.

 

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner.








Floriduh! Man: The Spirits of the Holiday Edition!

Several Floriduh! Men decided to get into the spirits of the holidays!

Fox 13 Tampa Bay blends up the story for us:

 – Half a million dollars’ worth of tequila was stolen from a truck driver in Hillsborough County, and four men are charged with the crime.

Sheriff’s deputies said a truck driver was heading from Miami to Tampa when his trailer went missing after he went into the Tampa Truck Stop for dinner off U.S. Highway 301 around 11 p.m. Sunday.

“We do know it was organized, and this had been planned because the box truck was there to meet them,” said Danny Alvarez, a spokesperson for Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies arrested Vidal Estrada, Lemuel Escobar, Humberto Ramirez and Alberto Obaya for burglary and other crimes related to the liquor theft. They are accused of detaching and stealing a trailer with 966 cases of Patron tequila inside – worth $507,105 in retail value.

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the truck driver went into the truck stop for dinner around 11. The owner of the convenience store told FOX 13 they close their restaurant at 5 p.m. So it’s unclear how long the driver was inside before he noticed his trailer was missing.

Deputies said the driver called to report it missing around midnight.

“When he comes outside, that trailer is gone. His cab is there, but his trailer is gone,” said Alvarez. “So, he calls the police, we respond. We send out aviation. We send out dogs, and we were looking.”

The thieves somehow managed to get roughly 11 miles away to Ike Smith Road and McIntosh Road in Thonotosassa.

“Around 12:30 a.m., we had located the trailer being off loaded into a box truck by four individuals,” Alvarez said.

By the time of their arrests, the suspects had moved 20 cases. Deputies said it was lucky the thieves stayed close by.

“Since it was right there near the highway, that truck could have easily gotten on the highway and headed north, south, east, or west and would have been out of our county in no amount of time,” said Alvarez.

As for the liquor, deputies recovered it all and are figuring out where the tequila was supposed to end up.

Deputies said the truck driver hauling the tequila is working with them to answer any other questions about the crime.

No word on whether they were also in possession of triple sec, limes, and salt.

Open thread.