Repub Venality Open Thread: Manafort Trial, Day Three

The Oval Office Occupation seems to be shaping up its final defense: Trump has decompensated so much since 2016 — ask his old frenemy, Omarosa! — that he can’t be held responsible any longer. The Reagan Defense, sped up for our modern social-media age. Per Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair, ““The Manafort Trial Is Spinning Him into a Frenzy””:

Sources say Trump is increasingly taking his legal defense into his own hands—very much at his own peril. The Sessions tweet crossed a line into what many interpreted to be outright obstruction of justice. Trump also is arguing that he wants to sit for an interview with Mueller, against his lawyers’ advice, The New York Times reported. This is partly driven by Trump’s frustration with his legal team’s inability to end the Mueller probe. As I reported this week, Trump is angry with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani for giving a series of erratic television interviews that seemed to disclose a previously unknown strategy meeting at Trump Tower that took place days before Don Jr.’s infamous sit-down with a Russian lawyer to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Trump is also unhappy with White House counsel Don McGahn, who in the past stood in the way of Trump’s effort to fire Mueller…

Inside the White House, West Wing advisers fear that Trump is careening toward disaster with few guardrails. One prominent Republican close to the White House told me Chief of Staff John Kelly made his decision to stay on past his one-year mark, in part, to be present in case Trump makes a calamitous decision. “Kelly knows he’s the last bulwark against insanity in that White House,” the Republican said…

Paul Manafort’s longtime bookkeeper testified against him Thursday, telling a Virginia jury that his seven-figure lifestyle lasted until about 2015 when the cash ran out, the bills piled up and he and his business partner began trying to fudge numbers to secure loans.

The dry but potentially damaging testimony from the bookkeeper, Heather Washkuhn, appeared to undercut Manafort’s defense against bank and tax charges, which is that his business partner is responsible for any financial misdeeds. But Washkuhn testified that Manafort approved “every penny.”

Washkuhn spent hours on the witness stand, describing account balances, bills received and payments. Her testimony is critical to the case being heard by a six-man, six-woman jury in Alexandria, Va., as Manafort, who was then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign chairman for a period in 2016, is charged with running a years-long scheme to hide millions of dollars from the Internal Revenue Service, and then, when his income dried up, lying to get bank loans so he could continue living the good life.

Washkuhn characterized Manafort as a “very knowledgeable” client. “He was very detail-oriented. He approved every penny of everything we paid,” she said.

That point could prove vital in jury deliberations because Manafort’s lawyers have made clear they aim to place blame on the case’s star witness, former Manafort right-hand man Rick Gates, portraying Gates as a liar and embezzler who is responsible for any financial chicanery the FBI uncovered.

On the witness stand, Washkuhn said she prepared ledgers for Manafort’s finances, which she would eventually hand off to his accountants to file his tax returns. She said she sometimes saw transactions in those accounts from other accounts to which she did not have access.

Critically, Washkuhn testified that she did not have any records of foreign accounts controlled by Manafort and had not been aware of such accounts. Prosecutors have introduced evidence that Manafort used foreign accounts to pay millions of dollars for clothes, cars, real estate and home remodeling…

Prosecutors also said Gates, the key witness in the case, could testify as early as Friday.

Gates pleaded guilty this year to lying to the FBI and conspiring against the United States, and he agreed to cooperate against his former boss and partner in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence.

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Trumplosion Open Thread: Tick, Tick, Tick…


Of course this is not exactly new “news”, but if true, it would certainly explain this morning’s xtra-spatial tweet-rants…

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office wants to ask President Donald Trump about obstruction of justice, sources close to the White House tell ABC News. According to sources, the president learned within the last day that the special counsel will limit the scope of questioning and would like to ask questions both orally and written for the President to respond to.

According to sources familiar with the President’s reaction Wednesday morning, that was the genesis for his early morning tweet storm…

Negotiations over a potential presidential interview have gone on for months, through several different iterations of the Trump legal team. Current lead attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told ABC News a week ago that his team had submitted a response to Mueller asking to limit the scope of an interview with Trump especially as it relates to obstruction of justice…

The president’s legal team declined to comment when reached by ABC News about specific details on the special counsel’s responses.

The special counsel’s office has not responded to a request for comment from ABC News…

I wouldn’t buy a car or a political campaign from Rick Wilson, but he *is* a longtime professional at this stuff:


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Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Dumbfellas

Throughout Monday, President Donald Trump’s lawyer and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani went on a chaotic media tour, with each subsequent interview seeming to atone or clean up for a key element laid out in a previous appearance.

In an interview with The Daily Beast on Monday night, Giuliani appeared to blame the maelstrom he kicked up on inquisitive New York Times reporters who he suggested had compelled him to proactively spin a potentially damaging story that may or may not actually be real. Several veterans of the Trump campaign, like much of the viewing public, were left befuddled…

The day began with a morning interview with Fox & Friends, during which Giuliani insisted that “collusion [with Russian election-meddlers] is not a crime” in the first place. He then headed to CNN where he proceeded to, ostensibly, break a bit of news about the infamous Trump Tower meeting that the president’s son took with a Russian lawyer reportedly tied to Kremlin officials.

Two days before that meeting, Giuliani relayed, former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen claimed that there was a separate meeting; this one, involving five people, including Cohen himself. According to Giuliani, three of the five people in that supposed meeting told him “it didn’t take place.” Not only that, they had done so “under oath on it and the other two couldn’t possibly reveal it because [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller never asked us about it.” …

To numerous observers, this was incredibly confusing and potentially damaging. There had never been reports of a planning meeting. And the Trump team had long insisted that the actual meeting itself was so innocent and irrelevant as to barely even register in their memories—which likely would not have been the case if they had been planning for it…

Giuliani told The Daily Beast that this included reporters from The New York Times, such as the paper’s star Trump reporter Maggie Haberman, who had reached out about the alleged pre-meeting meeting. So, he added, “Jay [Sekulow] and I spent a great deal of [Sunday] trying to run it down.”…


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C.R.E.A.M. Open Thread: “A Theory of Trump Kompromat

Our own Adam Silverman and other knowledgeable cynics have been long said this, but the working theory that financial failures might be more embarrassing than sexual peccadilloes to Trump — and his handlers — is finally getting some traction among the Very Serious People:

There is no need to assume that Trump was a formal agent of Russian intelligence to make sense of Trump’s solicitousness toward Putin. Keith Darden, an international-relations professor at American University, has studied the Russian use of kompromat—compromising material—and told me that he thinks it is likely that the President believes the Russians have something on him. “He’s never said a bad word about Putin,” Darden said. “He’s exercised a degree of self-control with respect to Russia that he doesn’t with anything else.” Darden said that this is evidence that Trump isn’t uniformly reckless in his words: “He is capable of being strategic. He knows there are limits, there are bounds on what he can say and do with respect to Russia.”…

Trump has made a lot of money doing deals with businesspeople from the former Soviet Union, and at least some of these deals bear many of the warning signs of money laundering and other financial crimes. Deals in Toronto, Panama, New York, and Miami involved money from sources in the former Soviet Union who hid their identities through shell companies and exhibited other indications of money laundering. In the years before he became a political figure, Trump acted with impunity, conducting minimal corporate due diligence and working with people whom few other American businesspeople would consider fit partners. During that period, he may have felt protected by the fact that U.S. law-enforcement officials rarely investigate or prosecute Americans who engage in financial crimes overseas. Such cases are also maddeningly difficult to prove, and the F.B.I. has no subpoena power in other countries. If, however, someone had evidence that proved financial crimes and shared it with, say, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, other American law-enforcement officials, or the press, it could significantly damage Trump’s business, his family, and his Presidency.

Alena Ledeneva, a professor of politics at University College London and an expert on Russia’s political and business practices, describes kompromat as being more than a single powerful figure weaponizing damning evidence to blackmail a target. She explained that to make sense of kompromat it is essential to understand the weakness of formal legal institutions in Russia and other former Soviet states. Ledeneva argued that wealth and power are distributed through networks of political figures and businesspeople who follow unspoken rules, in an informal hierarchy that she calls sistema, or system. Sistema has a few clear rules—do not defy Putin being the most obvious one—and a toolkit for controlling potentially errant members. It is primarily a system of ambiguity. Each person in sistema wonders where he stands and monitors the relative positions of friends and rivals…

The scenario that, to my mind, makes the most sense of the given facts and requires the fewest fantastical leaps is that, a decade or so ago, Trump, naïve, covetous, and struggling for cash, may have laundered money for a business partner from the former Soviet Union or engaged in some other financial crime. This placed him, unawares, squarely within sistema, where he remained, conducting business with other members of a handful of overlapping Central Asian networks. Had he never sought the Presidency, he may never have had to come to terms with these decisions. But now he is much like everyone else in sistema. He fears there is kompromat out there—maybe a lot of it—but he doesn’t know precisely what it is, who has it, or what might set them off.
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Russiagate Open Thread: COMPLICIT


 
But it’s not just Trump who’s acting just like someone whose career relies on keeping a foreign oligarch happy…



Open Thread: Today’s GOP, the ‘Treason in Defence of Its Perquisites’ Party


 
Never forget: Whatever the label disclaimers, Trump is the Republican Party, and the Republican Party is Trump. His goals are their goals, their goals are his goals — and none of them have anything to do with ‘patriotism’ or their fellow Americans.

(Sidebar: Adelson says he wants to build a casino in North Korea… )



Pre-Dawn Treason CREEPster Open Thread: Oh, Please… Please

At first he tried to bluff it out, but an hour later that statement (to quote from history) was “no longer operative”…

A federal indictment filed Friday accusing a dozen Russian military intelligence officers of conspiring to hack Democrats during the 2016 campaign spotlights communications between Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to President Trump, and an online persona allegedly operated by the Russians.

Stone has previously acknowledged exchanging direct messages on Twitter in August and September 2016 with Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to be a Romanian hacker. Stone has said there is no proof the account was connected to the Russians.

But according to criminal charges filed Friday by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Guccifer 2.0 was actually operated by a group of Russian military intelligence officers based in Moscow. The Russians used Guccifer 2.0’s Twitter account to send multiple messages to “a person who was in regular contact with senior members” of Trump’s campaign, Mueller wrote in the indictment.

The messages quoted in court papers match exchanges that Stone had with the account, according to an image he posted on his personal website. A person familiar with the investigation also confirmed that the Trump campaign associate referred to in the indictment is Stone…