Russiagate Open Thread: Alas, Poor Manafort, We Hardly Knew Him…


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Schadenfreude Open Thread: On Below D-List!

*This* is the most significant BE BEST youth outreach the Oval Office Occupancy can come up with?

Kirk raises millions of dollars from Republican donors for his group Turning Point USA — an organization that fights liberalism (Kirk prefers the label “socialist”) on university campuses. Owens, 29, who works with Kirk at TPUSA and like him is a diehard Trumpist, caught the President’s eye recently when Kanye West tweeted “I love the way Candace Owens thinks.”

Behind the scenes: Kirk told me he and Owens talked to Trump about “black America, Kanye West, and the intersection of culture and politics,” and the “incredible progress being made for black America by President Trump and also historic pardon yesterday.”…

Charlie Kirk, of course, is the Wile E. Coyote Supergeenius responsible for Talking Points USA. Candace Owens, well…

Ten months ago, the 26-year-old posted her first politically themed video to YouTube, a reenactment of “coming out” as conservative to her parents. In November, amid allegations of racial bias, the conservative campus advocacy group Turning Point USA hired Owens, who is black, as its director of urban engagement. Last month, Kanye West tweeted his approval of Owens’ thoughts. Last week, President Trump tweeted that Owens was part of a group of “very smart ‘thinkers’” and that she is “having a big impact on politics.” And this week, Owens mingled with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at the dedication of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.

Yet Owens, suddenly a new face of the American right, was less than two years ago the CEO of an online publication that frequently mocked then-candidate Trump, including conducting a mock “investigation” into his penis size. (The story determined that it was likely very small.) And in a 2015 column for the site lambasting conservative Republicans, Owens wrote that it was “good news” that the “Republican Tea Party … will eventually die off (peacefully in their sleep, we hope).”

Indeed, the speed with which Owens has gone from running a frequently anti-Trump, anti-conservative website to being one of the president’s most prominent new supporters illustrates the wild land grab still going on for influence in the pro-Trump ecosystem….


 
Hey, Repubs — You can have Charlie and Candace. We’ll keep standing with Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg.



Russiagate Open Thread: Buying the King’s Favor, Via His Chief Minister

It starts with a little old-school, home-grown ‘request for attention’ stipend…


 
… next thing ya know, there’s talk about Russian oligarchs funneling money…

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have questioned a Russian oligarch about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments his company’s US affiliate made to President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, after the election, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Viktor Vekselberg, chairman of asset manager Renova Group, is an oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, and last month the Trump administration placed him on a list of sanctioned Russians for activities including election interference. The purpose of the payments, which predate the sanctions, and the nature of the business relationship between Vekselberg and Cohen is unclear.

The questions asked of Vekselberg suggest that Mueller investigators have been examining some of Cohen’s business relationships as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Vekselberg is one of two Russian oligarchs the FBI stopped earlier this year after their private jets landed in New York-area airports as part of Mueller’s investigation…

FBI agents asked Vekselberg about payments his company’s American affiliate, Columbus Nova, made to Cohen, according to one source. The Russian was questioned as well about $300,000 in political donations by Andrew Intrater, Vekselberg’s American cousin who is the head of Columbus Nova, sources said…

From 2007 until March 2012, Vekselberg was a shareholder and chairman of the board of Rusal, the aluminum company controlled by Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska has business ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has been indicted on fraud and tax related charges as part of Mueller’s investigation. Manafort has pleaded not guilty. Deripaska, who also was added to the US sanctions list last month, has sued Manafort over a soured investment deal.

Lamesa Investments Ltd, an affiliate of Renova, acquired a large stake in the Bank of Cyprus at the same time Wilbur Ross, then a private equity investor, made a capital infusion into the then-struggling bank. Lamesa now holds a 9.2% stake in the Bank of Cyprus. Ross resigned from his position as vice chairman of the bank after he was confirmed as Trump’s commerce secretary.

Vekselberg also attended the December 2015 dinner in Moscow for RT, the state-controlled television channel, where Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, sat beside Putin, according to NBC News. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying about a call he had with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition and is cooperating with the Mueller investigation…

Say this for the Trump Occupation, they’re not shy about advertising what you can get for your money:



Important Read: Laundering Whose Dirty Dollars?

Be kinda nice if this scheduled post is outdated by the time it appears, but…

Trump’s vast outlay of cash, tracked through public records and totaled publicly here for the first time, provides a new window into the president’s private company, which discloses few details about its finances.

It shows that Trump had access to far more cash than previously known, despite his string of commercial bankruptcies and the Great Recession’s hammering of the real estate industry.

Why did the “King of Debt,” as he has called himself in interviews, turn away from that strategy, defying the real estate wisdom that it’s unwise to risk so much of one’s own money in a few projects?

And how did Trump — who had money tied up in golf courses and buildings — raise enough liquid assets to go on this cash buying spree?…

To total up Trump’s cash payments in real estate transactions, The Washington Post examined land records and corporate reports from six U.S. states, Ireland and the United Kingdom. These records show purchase prices for Trump’s properties, details about any mortgages and — in the United Kingdom and Ireland — the amount of cash Trump plowed into his clubs after he bought them. The Post provided the figures it used to the Trump Organization, which did not dispute them…

During the 2016 campaign, Trump continued to brag about how he’d mastered the art of spending other people’s cash.

“I do that all the time in business: It’s called other people’s money. There’s nothing like doing things with other people’s money because it takes the risk,” Trump told a campaign-trail audience in North Carolina in September 2016. “You get a good chunk of it, and it takes the risk.”


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Republican Venality Open Thread: Just A Clean-Cut Midwestern Prince, Our Erik

“Frontier Services”. If we’re being honest, Erik Prince figures more mercenary “security” is exactly what America needs, too. Another excellent Washington Post expose — “The Blackwater founder has cut a lucrative security-training deal with Chinese insiders. But is it against U.S. interests?”:

Beijing’s International Security Defense College, which boasts of becoming “the largest private security training school in China,” sits behind a 45-foot-high exterior wall and a barricade. Inside the compound, trainers with police and military experience teach classes on tackling detainees, handling hostage situations and thwarting terrorist attacks.

The school is overseen by Frontier Services Group, a Hong Kong-based company founded by Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL who created Blackwater, a security firm that played a major and controversial role in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…

Prince spent more than a decade at the helm of Blackwater, which won hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts to guard U.S. officials and facilities, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan. After the company ran into legal and political problems stemming from its work for the U.S. military — including an incident in 2007 in which Blackwater workers killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians — Prince has lived and worked around the world, creating businesses based on providing security and handling logistics for enterprises on several continents.

Some members of Congress, military officials and people who do similar security work say that Prince’s role as chairman of Frontier puts him in the unsettling position of advancing the strategic agenda of the United States’ largest rival.

“He cloaks himself in the American flag when he’s seeking a U.S. contract, but he is the hood ornament of the new era of the military industrial complex and a set of mercenaries who work for countries, oligarchs and random billionaires,” said Sean McFate, a former military contractor who wrote a book about private armies, “The Modern Mercenary.” “The Pentagon and national security establishment view Erik as a pariah.”…
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Russiagate Open Thread: Every Trump “Friend” Has His Own Little Grift

White House aides were worried enough about a visit last year by Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, under investigation by American prosecutors who say he embezzled $3.5 billion from a state investment fund, that he was denied the customary photo in the Oval Office with President Trump.

But that did not stop a top Republican fund-raiser, Elliott Broidy, from seeking to use his White House ties to press for Mr. Trump to play a golf game with Mr. Najib, who had the authority over negotiations for a lucrative Malaysian contract with Mr. Broidy’s private defense company, according to documents obtained by The New York Times…

Mr. Broidy also explored separate plans to force the exit from the United States of a Chinese billionaire and dissident, Guo Wengui, evidently to please Chinese allies in Malaysia while reaping payoffs from both the Chinese and, improbably, the United Arab Emirates. Mr. Broidy proposed working with George Nader, an adviser to the Emiratis who is cooperating in the special counsel investigation.

Mr. Broidy and Mr. Nader met around the inauguration and worked to sway the Trump administration on behalf the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia at a time when Mr. Broidy was seeking contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars from the two countries…

The Chinese dissident, Mr. Guo, made a fortune in real estate and finance in China but fled in 2014 in anticipation of charges of corruption. He has said the allegations were fabricated by business and political opponents, and he has since styled himself as a whistle-blower exposing the corruption of the Chinese elite. He lives primarily in a 9,000-square-foot apartment overlooking Central Park that he bought three years ago for more than $67 million.

One person close to Mr. Broidy said he was interested in the case because of his friendship with Steve Wynn, another top Republican fund-raiser. Mr. Wynn, a casino mogul who himself recently resigned as a Republican finance chairman after a sex scandal, had large business interests in China and also sought to persuade the United States to expel Mr. Guo.

A representative of Mr. Wynn did not respond to requests for comment, and a representative of Mr. Guo declined to comment.

Mr. Broidy wrote a draft memo dated May 6, 2017, to Mr. Nader, the Emirati adviser, laying out a complex proposal for both men to profit from an unusual three-way trade relying on their combined influence in Washington and Abu Dhabi, the capital of the U.A.E…

 
Also, too…

The disclosure by U.S. prosecutors came Thursday during a hearing on whether Mueller exceeded his authority in indicting Manafort on charges of laundering millions of dollars while acting as an unregistered agent of the Ukrainian government. Manafort’s lawyers say those alleged crimes have nothing to do with Mueller’s central mission — to determine whether anyone in the Trump campaign had links to the Russian government.
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Trump’s War Against Amazon / Bezos: Here Comes the Grift!

Grant Trump this very specific talent: Not many people could get monopoly-suspicious liberals and technology-suspicious conservatives *all* cheering for Amazon’s further success. Gabriel Sherman, in Vanity Fair:

For the first time in Donald Trump’s presidency, the West Wing soap opera appears to be in hiatus… Currently, there’s one star—a situation Trump is obviously enjoying—and his new freedom is used to focus ever more closely on his perceived enemies and obsessions. Amazon, whose owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post, is currently the main target. Trump has ripped into Amazon in recent days, claiming in a series of tweets that Jeff Bezos’s tech giant benefits from billions in subsidies from the U.S. Post office while skirting sales taxes. “Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” Trump tweeted. On Monday, he wrote: “Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon. THEY LOSE A FORTUNE, and this will be changed. Also, our fully tax paying retailers are closing stores all over the country . . . not a level playing field!” The tweets caused Amazon’s stock to plunge 5 percent on Monday.

Now, according to four sources close to the White House, Trump is discussing ways to escalate his Twitter attacks on Amazon to further damage the company. “He’s off the hook on this. It’s war,” one source told me. “He gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos,” said another source. “Trump is like, how can I fuck with him?”…

Advisers are also encouraging Trump to cancel Amazon’s pending multi-billion contract with the Pentagon to provide cloud computing services, sources say. Another line of attack would be to encourage attorneys general in red states to open investigations into Amazon’s business practices. Sources say Trump is open to the ideas. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

Even Trump’s allies acknowledge that much of what’s fueling Trump’s rage toward Amazon is that Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, sources said. “Trump doesn’t like The New York Times, but he reveres it because it’s his hometown paper. The Washington Post, he has zero respect for,” the Republican close to the White House said. While the Post says that Bezos has no involvement in newsroom decisions, Trump has told advisers he believes Bezos uses the paper as a political weapon. One former White House official said Trump looks at the Post the same way he looks at the National Enquirer. “When Bezos says he has no involvement, Trump doesn’t believe him. His experience is with the David Peckers of the world. Whether it’s right or wrong, he knows it can be done.”…


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