Schadenfreude Open Thread: Hire A Grifter, Prepare to Be Scammed

Oh, look, “No Labels” is up to their old tricks…

My sincere thanks to commentor TenguPhule for this link from the Washington Post“Contractors sue nonpartisan group No Labels”:

The nonpartisan political group No Labels, along with a number of affiliated super PACs, is facing a lawsuit from contractors who say they were stiffed for millions of dollars of work in the 2018 cycle, let go in favor of political strategists with ties to the group’s president, Nancy Jacobson — and her husband, Mark Penn.

In the complaint, which was filed in the Supreme Court of New York this week, strategists Matthew Kalmans and Sacha Samotin say that their firm, Applecart, helped conceive No Labels’s current strategy of creating PACs that can invest in primaries and general elections to boost centrist candidates; they seek $3.7 million in damages, saying that money they were owed was shunted away from them, in breach of contract…

Penn, a former political strategist for both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has gained new national attention for criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of the Trump administration. While not affiliated with No Labels, he used a Tuesday appearance on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” to talk up a plan — advanced by No Labels — to elect a speaker of the House with bipartisan support.

“There’s a problem-solvers group that is looking to have some influence, if the result is close, in terms of changing the rules and naming the speaker,” Penn said.

The 45-page complaint tells a story of political blunders that Applecart blames on Penn and that No Labels affiliates blame on Applecart. According to the complaint, it was Kalmans and Samotin, Republicans who identified as moderates, who presided over the group’s first political successes…

… Former senator Joseph I. Lieberman, a No Labels co-chair, said that Applecart had looked promising but wilted under inspection.

“They were charging us for things they had not even done,” Lieberman said.

Kalmans and Samotin say the pushback is simply false — that Applecart was simply not paid for 1,714 hours of completed work … That debacle, they say, was “a pretext on which to hand over strategic oversight of No Labels’ super PAC campaign to Penn.” And the rest will be fought out in court.

“No Labels” was a Repub scam from the get-go, with “Independent” Droopy Dawg Lieberman’s involvement as a leading indicator.

Nice to see the GOP is dumb or venal enough to pick up a guy who could outpush even the Clintons’ notorious loyalty to long-time associates, just in time for him to further sully the GOP’s “Okay, Trump’s A Criminal But Hey, Tax Cuts!” message for the midterms.



Russiagate Open Thread: Follow the Money, Again

The classics, evergreen:

The documents show Aras Agalarov, a billionaire real estate developer close to both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, at the center of this vast network and how he used accounts overseas to filter money to himself, his son, and at least two people who attended the Trump Tower meeting. The records also offer new insight into the murky financial world inhabited by many of Trump’s associates, who use shell companies and secret bank accounts to quickly and quietly move money across the globe.

Now, four federal law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed News, investigators are focused on two bursts of transactions that bank examiners deemed suspicious: one a short time after the meeting and another immediately after the November 2016 presidential election.

The first set came just 11 days after the June 9 meeting, when an offshore company controlled by Agalarov wired more than $19.5 million to his account at a bank in New York.

The second flurry began shortly after Trump was elected. The Agalarov family started sending what would amount to $1.2 million from their bank in Russia to an account in New Jersey controlled by the billionaire’s son, pop singer Emin Agalarov, and two of his friends. The account had been virtually dormant since the summer of 2015, according to records reviewed by BuzzFeed News, and bankers found it strange that activity in Emin Agalarov’s checking account surged after Trump’s victory.

After the election, that New Jersey account sent money to a company controlled by Irakly “Ike” Kaveladze, a longtime business associate of the Agalarovs and their representative at the Trump Tower meeting. Kaveladze’s company, meanwhile, had long funded a music business set up by the person who first proposed the meeting to the Trump camp, Emin Agalarov’s brash British publicist, Rob Goldstone…

The transactions came to light after law enforcement officials instructed financial institutions in mid-2017 to go back through their records to look for suspicious behavior by people connected to the broader Trump-Russia investigation. The bankers filed “suspicious activity reports” to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which in turn shared them with the FBI, the IRS, congressional committees investigating Russian interference, and members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Suspicious activity reports are not evidence of wrongdoing, but they can provide clues to investigators looking into possible money laundering, tax evasion, or other misconduct. In the case of the Agalarovs and their associates, bankers raised red flags about the transactions but were unable to definitively say how the funds were used.

Federal prosecutors have used suspicious activity reports not only to investigate possible election interference and collusion, but also to charge people, such as Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, with financial and other white-collar crimes. Manafort was convicted last month of bank and tax fraud, and Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia…

***********
Beginning 13 days after the election, the Agalarovs’ bank account in Russia made 19 separate wire transfers to a New Jersey personal checking account belonging to Emin Agalarov and two friends from high school. That checking account, held at TD Bank, had been opened in 2012. Bank examiners thought it was unusual that the account had never before received a Russian wire transfer and that its only deposit since the summer of 2015 was for $200, in January 2016.

The postelection transfers to the checking account were in large, round-dollar amounts ranging from $15,000 to $175,000. Between November 2016 and July 2017, the sum topped $1.2 million.

But what triggered alarms wasn’t just that activity in the account had jumped since Trump’s election. It was also how the checking account handled the money. While some of it went toward credit card bills, mortgage installments, and other run-of-the-mill payments, TD Bank officials also saw the checking account quickly pass funds to an account controlled by another participant in the Trump Tower meeting.

On Nov. 21, 2016, Emin Agalarov’s checking account received $165,000 from an account based in Russia belonging to his family. The following day, the account sent $107,000 to Corsy International, a company run by Kaveladze, the longtime Agalarov associate who attended the Trump Tower meeting.

Bankers were suspicious for a number of reasons. For one, Kaveladze was an employee of the Agalarovs’ Crocus Group, their sprawling construction and real estate empire based in Russia. Why, bankers wondered, would the funds start in Russia, briefly make a pit stop in Emin Agalarov’s New Jersey account, and finally be sent to Corsy International? Balber, the attorney for Kaveladze and the Agalarovs, would not address questions about specific transactions, but said they were all legitimate.

Second, bankers noted that Kaveladze — who after the election pushed for an additional get-together with the Trumps and some of the original Tower meeting participants — had previously been investigated for money laundering. According to a Government Accountability Office report published in 2000, Kaveladze established more than 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian real estate brokers, then set up bank accounts for them in the US. The brokers used these accounts to launder about $1.4 billion, the report found. Kaveladze was never charged with a crime and he referred to the GAO’s probe as a “witch hunt.”…

 
Such comparatively penny-ante sums, considering the stakes involved. Just gives the whole process the genuine Trump Touch.



Repub Stupidity / Cupidity Open Thread: Nobody Loves An Anonymous “Hero”…

Not that he’ll be anonymous for long, which I’m presuming was part of the grift. This is the single best response I’ve seen so far…

See — you can be old and reliant on young staffers and yet not be a total dick!


Read more



Floriduh! Man Goes to the White House: QAnon Edition

The QAnon conspiracy monger in the picture goes by the name of Lionel (he’s the one with the beard). He is an attorney from the Tampa area – not sure if he lives in Hillsborough or Pinellas County – who had a local call in radio show where he was pretty left of center. He then went to Air America for a bit and is now in syndication. Or he went to syndication, then Air America, and then back to syndication. And he was on CourtTV for a while too. And my Dad knew him – at one time way back in the day he took one or more of my Dad’s classes in the criminology/criminal justice program at USF. I had no idea he’d undergone an ideological inversion or become a conspiracy theorist and monger.

The Daily Beast has the details:

On Thursday, President Donald Trump posed for an Oval Office photo with one of the leading promoters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims that top Democrats are part of a global pedophile cult.

YouTube conspiracy theorist Lionel Lebron was in the White House for an event on Thursday, according to a video Lebron posted online. During the visit, Lebron and his wife posed for a smiling picture with Trump in the Oval Office.

Lebron is one of the internet’s leading promoters of QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory based on a series of anonymous clues posted to internet forums. QAnon believers have interpreted the clues, which they claim without evidence are coming from a highly placed source in the Trump administration, to mean that Trump and the military are engaged in a high-stakes shadow war against a supposed globalist pedophile cult. The conspiracy theory has caught on with Trump supporters, who have held up QAnon-related signs and wear QAnon shirts to the president’s rallies.

Lebron claimed to have received a “special guided tour of the White House” before posing for pictures with Trump. In a video posted Friday, Lebron said he didn’t use the brief encounter with the president to ask Trump about QAnon or its slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.”

“I think we all know he knows about it,” Lebron said in the video, sipping from a coffee mug he claimed to have received as a gift at the White House.

Crazy days!

Open thread.



#QAnon and ‘the Church of Trump’: A Grifter Runs Through It

“Pushing the theory on to bigger platforms proved to be the key to Qanon’s spread — and the originators’ financial gain”:

In November 2017, a small-time YouTube video creator and two moderators of the 4chan website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet, banded together and plucked out of obscurity an anonymous and cryptic post from the many conspiracy theories that populated the website’s message board.

Over the next several months, they would create videos, a Reddit community, a business and an entire mythology based off the 4chan posts of “Q,” the pseudonym of a person claiming to be a high-ranking military officer. The theory they espoused would become Qanon, and it would eventually make its way from those message boards to national media stories and the rallies of President Donald Trump.

Now, the people behind that effort are at the center of a fractious debate among conspiracy enthusiasts, some of whom believe the three people who first popularized the Qanon theory are promoting it in order to make a living. Others suggest that these original followers actually wrote Q’s mysterious posts.

While the identity of the original author or authors behind “Q” is still unknown, the history of the conspiracy theory’s spread is well-documented — through YouTube videos, social media posts, Reddit archives, and public records reviewed by NBC News.

NBC News has found that the theory can be traced back to three people who sparked some of the first conversation about Qanon and, in doing so, attracted followers who they then asked to help fund Qanon “research.”…

The hell of it is… #QAnon’s true believers probably wouldn’t find its grift-based foundation disqualifying. Believers are notorious for being able to hand-wave away much worse behavior, and it’s been argued that the hardcore Deplorables of Trump’s base are already using his rallies as a substitute for the communal bonding they can’t find in more ‘mainstream’ churches. Alex Wagner, in the Atlantic:

Last spring, my colleague Peter Beinart looked at the increasing secularization of American society and how it had contributed to the rise of political tribalism:

As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.

Non-college-educated whites are the Trump base, now set adrift:

Establishing causation is difficult, but we know that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful.

You could draw a straight line from a disenfranchised, pessimistic, resentful audience to Trump’s brand of fear-driven, divisive politics, but this would leave out an equally important part of the Trump phenomenon, and something critical to its success: the elation. Go to a Trump rally, speak to Trump supporters, and the devotion is nearly evangelical…

Durkheim’s theory—that a gathering of the tribe can create a certain energy that renders particular people or objects sacred—goes a long way toward explaining Trump’s infallibility among his supporters. But it also brings to the fore something that Trump critics have missed so far when focusing on his (not insignificant) negatives: Trumpism, like many forms of non-secular worship, makes its believers feel good

Organized worship, cultish or not, has been a method of social bonding for as long as humans have come together in groups. And for as far back as we have records, there’s been satires about the failings of the local clerical class — satires that in no way measure the actual religious belief of the worshippers laughing at them. If the Proud Deplorables are really treating Trump as the figurehead of their communal worship, then the self-interested profit-seeking of #QAnon’s “experts” are not necessarily going to wean them off the conspiracy fantasy, any more than the steady parade of Evangelical preachers exposed as grifting frauds / sexual abusers has weaned their base away.



Late Night Open Thread: Well, That Explains Tuesday…

 
… but this was Monday:



Late Night Mockery Open Thread: SPACE. FARCE.

I was pleased that, on its national segment Thursday evening, ABC News made it clear that Trump’s new! improved! separate but equal! (yes, he said that) Space Force was (a) impossible without an act of Congress; and (b) intended, for the moment, to sell logo-branded gear to Trump supporters. Can’t stop the Grifter-in-Chief from fleecing his deplorables, but at least we stop pretending it’s anything but a short-term distraction…


WARNING: If you don’t ‘get’ this last one, here is the Urban Dictionary definition you need. For the sake of your nightmares, do *not* google the word itself!