Andrea Mitchell’s Interview with DNI Coats

Andrea Mitchell interviewed Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats this afternoon at the Aspen Institute. Some news was made.

This is very, very important information that the DNI decided to share. Specifically, he is not in the loop, at least in regard to matters pertaining to Russia, in regard to what the President is and is not doing! That’s astounding. And it reinforces Susan Glasser’s reporting in The New Yorker (emphasis mine):

Days after the Helsinki summit, Trump’s advisers have offered no information—literally zero—about any such agreements. His own government apparently remains unaware of any deals that Trump made with Putin, or any plans for a second meeting, and public briefings from the State Department and Pentagon have offered no elaboration except to make clear that they are embarrassingly uninformed days after the summit.

Unlike Putin, Trump did not brief his own diplomats on the Helsinki meeting. The American Secretary of State, national-security adviser, and Ambassador to Moscow, who attended the lunch after Trump and Putin’s private session, have been publicly silent on the substance of the meetings, leaving it to the Russians, for now, to make claims about what was actually said and done behind closed doors between the two Presidents.

The information provided to America’s top diplomats, those whose job it is to deal with Russia, was just as sparse and potentially incomplete. The Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Russia, Wess Mitchell, on Tuesday briefed the State Department group that has been pulled together to discuss Russia policy before and after the summit. There was no mention of any agreements. “There is no word on agreements,” a senior U.S. official told me. “There is no information on the U.S. side about any agreements.” So was Putin lying? Was Trump? Was it possible there was a misunderstanding, and that Trump thinks he made no commitments and Putin thinks he did? “It is terribly disturbing,” the senior official said. “The point is that we don’t know.”

A U.S. Ambassador in Europe, who has extensive experience dealing with Russia, told me that he and other State Department officials who would need to know have received no post-summit briefings, or even talking points about what happened, both of which would be standard practice after such an important encounter. “Nothing,” he told me. “We are completely in the dark. Completely.”

I’ve twice written about how, because the President is considered to be a security risk when it comes to intelligence/information by US, allied, and partnered intelligence officials, the US was going to be at a disadvantage in regard to intelligence matters. What we know from both Andrea Mitchell’s interview with DNI Coats and Susan Glasser’s reporting, is that the President is compounding this problem by not telling his own senior appointees what they need to know to actually do their jobs effectively.

Here’s the video of the interview. Since I wasn’t around to see the whole thing, I’m not sure exactly when this happened, but the parts of the interview I saw were very informative.

We are off the map and through the looking glass!

Open thread.

The White House Needs to Knock Back Putin’s Offer of Assistance in Exchange for Interviewing/Investigating Ambassador McFaul, Several Other US Officials, and Bill Browder

One of the strange things at the President’s joint press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was the President’s references to an offer of assistance from Putin to Special Counsel Mueller. Specifically that Putin would be happy to allow the Special Counsel’s investigators come to Russia and observe his own counterintelligence officers interview the twelve GRU officers that were indicted last week. Aside from the fact that this would be pointless, which we know because the Brits actually took Putin up on a similar offer when they were investigating Alexander Litvinenko’s assassination by Russian operatives. The British investigators were harassed during their trip to Moscow and generally given little cooperation while having their time wasted. But this offer was even stranger than it first appeared as, apparently, Putin offered it in exchange for access to the former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, several Federal law enforcement officers involved with looking into the death of Sergei Magnitski, the congressional staffer tasked with drafting the text of the Magnitski Act, and US expat Bill Browder who was Magnitsky’s employer and who has spearheaded the push for the US Magnitsky Act, as well as similar legislation in numerous other countries.

Here’s the translation of what AMB McFaul was quoting:

The Prosecutor General’s Office announced the desire to interrogate the former US Ambassador McFaul in the Browder case

This was strange enough. After a day or so of Russian state controlled news media pushing for this to happen, today it got even stranger.

The former US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, stepped in to call for the Secretary of State to take action:

To her credit, Heather Nauert, the State Department Spokesperson, did unequivocally push back on this today:

This, however, is not good enough. The White House, specifically Sarah Huckabee Sanders who, as the Press Secretary speaks for the President, needs to come out and unequivocally state that this is not going to happen and that US officials, whether political appointees, term appointees, civil servants regardless of agency or department, members of Congress and their staffs, and military personnel are off limits to harassment by foreign powers, let alone hostile foreign powers, for simply performing their lawfully defined and delineated duties. And that US citizens are also off limits to such harassment for petitioning their government to redress their grievances, as Browder did in seeking to get the Magnitsky Act drafted, passed, and signed into law. And she must make it clear that what she is stating and conveying comes directly from the President himself. Moreover, the President then needs to publicly, clearly, and without equivocation back up this statement. Otherwise, no US official or US citizen will be safe from this type of harassment under the color of law ever again. 

My professional estimate here, for whatever it is worth, is that Putin made this offer as a dangle. If he can even get even the remotest traction from the President on this trial balloon, he will eventually adjust his claim that Ambassador McFaul tried to interfere in his election in 2011 to Ambassador McFaul did so on the direct orders of Secretary of State Clinton. And therefore he’s happy to help his good friend the President out by indicting her and trying her, since his own Department of Justice seems to be unable or unwilling to do so, if the President will just allow his investigators to have access to her and then extraditing her when they find sufficient cause to try her.

We are once again off the looking glass and through the map!

Open thread!

The President’s Remarks on His Meeting with Vladimir Putin Live Feed

Here tis…

Updated at 2:53 PM EDT

The remarks, which have just started, were recorded. This is not being broadcast live. They were made at the start at the beginning of the President’s meeting with members of the Ways and Means committees. And he is reading from a prepared script, so you need to keep an eye out for if or when he goes off script.

Updated at 2:56 PM EDT

The President is going with the misspoke explanation that Hans Nichols reported on about a 1/2 hour or so ago. The explanation is he misspoke and said “would” when he intended to/meant to state “wouldn’t” in his answer to who was responsible for interfering with the election. So the intent, according to this, was for the President to have said “I see no reason why it wouldn’t be Russia”, but he misspoke and said “I see no reason why it would be Russia”. I don’t think that’s going to fly, but we’ll have to see how the news media covers it.

Open thread!

Breaking News: The Department of Justice Has Arrested Maria Butina

From the Department of Justice:

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

Monday, July 16, 2018

Russian National Charged in Conspiracy to Act as an Agent of the Russian Federation Within the United States

A criminal complaint was unsealed today in the District of Columbia charging a Russian national with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu, and Nancy McNamara, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

Mariia Butina, 29, a Russian citizen residing in Washington D.C., was arrested on July 15, 2018, in Washington, D.C., and made her initial appearance this afternoon before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She was ordered held pending a hearing set for July 18, 2018.

According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, from as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017, Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank.  This Russian official was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control in April 2018.

The court filings detail the Russian official’s and Butina’s efforts for Butina to act as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation. The filings also describe certain actions taken by Butina to further this effort during multiple visits from Russia and, later, when she entered and resided in the United States on a student visa. The filings allege that she undertook her activities without officially disclosing the fact that she was acting as an agent of Russian government, as required by law.

The charges in criminal complaints are merely allegations and every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The maximum penalty for conspiracy is five years.  The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes.  If convicted of any offense, a defendant’s sentence will be determined by the court based on the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The investigation into this matter was conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. The case is being prosecuted by the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Here’s the link to the complaint and to the affidavit.

This is a huge arrest. Butina was a go between for Alexander Torshin on behalf of Putin and the National Rifle Association. As I wrote in December 2017:

In the Russian case a lot of the penetration that is being reported on and made public appears to have been focused solely on more politically, socially, economically, and religiously conservative sectors, groups, and organizations in the US. The Daily Beast first reported on Russia’s connections to the NRA back in February 2017. This was the first of three articles that delineated the creation of a Russian firearms sporting organization partially led by Marina Butina. Specifically:

Two of Butina’s friendships in particular have raised eyebrows. She started a business with Paul Erickson, a decades-long Republican Party activist. And she served as a special assistant to the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, a former Russian senator belonging to Vladimir Putin’s political party with alleged ties to the Russian mob world.

 As chilled vodka flowed through an ice sculpture—a bottle imprinted with the Soviet hammer and sickle—she took some time to brag. She brazenly claimed that she had been part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia, two individuals who were present said. On other occasions, in one of her graduate classes, she repeated this claim.

Erickson and Butina have been seen in public frequently, at the invitation-only Freedom Ball after Trump’s inauguration; and holding court at Russia House, a Russian-themed bar in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle. At one such gathering in the fall of 2016 Erickson bragged that he was advising the Trump transition team, according to two sources who were present; he is also said to have told a story about introducing Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47, to former NRA president David Keene. (Kalashnikov allegedly inspired the creation of “The Right to Bear Arms,” Butina’s gun rights group.)

The two appear to have gotten close: Erickson formed a limited liability corporation with Butina in February 2016, according to the South Dakota secretary of state. It is unclear what this organization, Bridges, LLC, actually does. (Despite living in Washington, D.C., Butina has a cellphone number with a South Dakota area code.)

In The Daily Beast‘s second report, Tim Mak expands on his reporting from February 2017 by digging into the meeting between members of the NRA and Dmitry Rogozin, one of Putin’s hard line deputies and the head of the Russian Shooting Federation, which would make him either Butina’s partner or boss. The Daily Beast‘s third article on this topic delves even deeper to who was at the meeting with Rogozin. Specifically former Milwaukee County Sheriff, Fox News analyst, extremist anti-US government Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officer Association Sheriff of the Year, campaign proxy and Republican National Convention prime time speaker, and withdrawn nominee for political appointment at the Department of Homeland Security David Clarke. And former NRA President and current board member David Keene.

Here’s Rogozin’s tweet about the event. You’ll notice Clarke’s in the second photo. Keene is in the first standing next to Rogozin.

Butina, and her patron Torshin, were connected to the NRA by long time GOP operative Paul Erickson. Erickson sent the email to Trump campaign official Rick Dearborn, as well as reaching out to now Attorney General Sessions seeking a meeting between then candidate Trump and Torshin at the NRA annual meeting. That meeting was scheduled and then cancelled. Instead Torshin met briefly with Donald Trump Jr at the NRA annual meeting banquet. Erickson set up a LLC in South Dakota to, allegedly, pay for Butina’s doctoral studies in DC.

This arrest and indictment is a very big deal. It, like Friday’s indictments, is further evidence that Special Counsel Mueller’s team has complete visibility on the network around the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign even as this case was brought by the DC office, not the Special Counsel’s. Both the ongoing Russian activities and their involvement in the 2016 campaign. And as was the case with Friday’s indictments. If I was part of the NRA’s leadership or one of the NRA officials who went on the junket to Russia, let alone a host of GOP elected and appointed officials, with ties to Erickson, I’d be very, very nervous right now.

Stay weapons free!

Open thread.

Helsinki Summit News Conference Live

Here’s the live feed for the President’s news conference with Putin at the end of their Helsinki summit.


I’ve been away from the news most of the morning and am just now getting caught up. I think the real concern with the Helsinki meetings, as was the case with the Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un, is that we will only find out what the President said or agreed to in the one on one when either he tells us or when Putin does. An immediate worry has to do with US operations in Syria. As Josh Marshall highlighted yesterday, The Jerusalem Post, which builds on Adam Entous’s reporting in The New Yorker, has reported that the Israelis working with the Saudis and the Emiratis have been pushing the President to strike a grand bargain regarding Syria. Specifically that the US will withdraw from Syria, which the President has wanted to do for months, freeing up Russia and their local proxy Assad to control Syria and crush the rebels. The cost would be that Putin must push Iran, which is Assad’s other patron, out of Syria. In March the President froze all humanitarian aid to Syria and in the past month the US Special Forces that had been conducted an advise and assist mission with the Syrian rebels in Daraa have been pulled out. This is why Assad, with Putin’s backing, felt comfortable attacking the rebel strongholds in and around Daraa. This left not just the rebels, but the people in the region at Assad’s tender mercies.

The reason that this deal would be terrible is that the US led coalition has not defeated ISIS in Syria or Iraq. What has happened, is that free of having to function as both a military and political/social organization because of the loss of the physical caliphate, ISIS has been able to focus on the terrorist attacks that were its hallmark prior to trying to build an actual state. And because ISIS hasn’t been defeated, should the US pull out of Syria it leaves those in Syria seeking to remove the dictatorial Assad from power with only two choices: capitulate to Assad’s government or support ISIS. If the US stops its unconventional warfare strategy, a strategy of working by, with, and through our Syrian Arab and Kurdish partners on a train, advise, and assist mission, it removes the viable alternatives to Assad or ISIS. Moreover, a premature end to the US operations in Syria would once again be a betrayal of our Kurdish allies in the region, which will further cement the belief that the US cannot be counted on to finish what it either starts or encourages others to start with the promise of support. Finally, Putin doesn’t have a tremendous amount of leverage over Iran. If anyone thinks that Putin can, let alone would, push Iran out of Syria is delusional. Iran has far more personnel in Iran than Russia does. Iran is fighting in its own region, where it seeks to be the regional hegemon. And it has the best strategist within the region on the battlefield in Syria coordinating efforts, which is why things started turning around in Syria’s favor back in 2013. Prematurely ending the unconventional warfare strategy in Syria by removing US Special Forces and stopping their train, advise, and assist mission would be strategic malpractice. It will only serve to strengthen both Assad and ISIS, which will make things worse for actual Syrians. And despite the inane assessment of Benjamin Netanyahi, Muhammed bin Salman, and Muhammed bin Zayed, it is highly unlikely to get Iran out of Syria and contained within Iran’s borders.

Open thread!