Friday News Dump the First: Michael Cohen’s Tapes of Conversations with the President About Karen McDougal

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation with Mr. Trump two months before the presidential election in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump, according to lawyers and others familiar with the recording.

The F.B.I. seized the recording this year during a raid on Mr. Cohen’s office. The Justice Department is investigating Mr. Cohen’s involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Mr. Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them.

The recording’s existence further draws Mr. Trump into questions about tactics he and his associates used to keep aspects of his personal and business life a secret. And it highlights the potential legal and political danger that Mr. Cohen represents to Mr. Trump. Once the keeper of many of Mr. Trump’s secrets, Mr. Cohen is now seen as increasingly willing to consider cooperating with prosecutors.

The former model, Karen McDougal, says she began a nearly yearlong affair with Mr. Trump in 2006, shortly after Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, gave birth to their son Barron. Ms. McDougal sold her story to The National Enquirer for $150,000 during the final months of the presidential campaign, but the tabloid sat on the story, which kept it from becoming public. The practice, known as “catch and kill,” effectively silenced Ms. McDougal for the remainder of the campaign.

David J. Pecker, the chairman of The Enquirer’s parent company, is a friend of Mr. Trump’s, and Ms. McDougal has accused Mr. Cohen of secretly taking part in the deal — an allegation that is now part of the F.B.I. investigation.

When The Wall Street Journal revealed the existence of the paymentdays before the election, Mr. Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, said, “We have no knowledge of any of this.” She said Ms. McDougal’s claim of an affair was “totally untrue.”

More at the link.

Some reactions:

I’m guessing that right now Paul Campos over at LGM is reattacking his investigation into Elliott Broidy and another Playboy model Shera Bechard.

But the bigger takeaway here is that Michael Cohen is going to be the gift that keeps on giving for a variety of investigation into the President, his campaign, his businesses, and his personal life.

Given how the week went, it’s going to be a long day, so stay hydrated!

Open thread.



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.

Summit 2: The Putinining

Trump is so pleased with the outcome of the last summit that he’s asking Putin to join him in DC for another:

Assuming the White House doesn’t issue a correction stating that Trump asked Bolton to NOT invite Putin to hole up in the Emoluments Suite of the Trump International Hotel Washington, DC, we Americans will have an opportunity to stage a massive protest to express our displeasure with the foreign autocrat who conspired to install a buffoon in the Oval Office.

The UK activists behind the Trump Baby blimp from the London protests (was that really just last week?!?) have given permission for Americans to make a fleet of the blimps to follow Trump around the US. They’d be ideal for the DC protest. Maybe someone can design a Putin blimp too. Hey, it beats giant puppet heads.

Anyhoo, one wonders what the fuck Trump is thinking. Breaking news reports say the second summit is planned for this fall. Maybe Trump thinks another summit will dissipate the stench from the Helsinki Humiliation before the midterm elections? Maybe it was Putin’s suggestion?

I have no idea. But if the Beltway isn’t a gigantic sea of angry humanity during Putin’s visit, I’ll be disappointed in us.

Open thread.

Now They’re Just Screwing With Us! High End Russian Prostitution Ring Edition

From The New York Post (emphasis mine):

A flamboyant husband-and-wife pimp team orchestrated a high-end prostitution ring through a website called Russian Dolls, Manhattan authorities said Wednesday.

Yevgen Rizanov and Ksenia Khodukina, both 29, flew women from Russia to New York as part of a “sophisticated long-term operation promoting prostitution,” said Assistant District Attorney James Lynch.

The couple and a third defendant, Arkadiy Bashkatov, housed the sex workers in Brooklyn and dispatched them on jobs throughout New York, booking their hotels and hiring drivers, from June 2015 to June 2018, according to Manhattan prosecutors.

“The defendants split the money with the women but dictated the percentage they could keep,” the ADA said.

The Russian nationals were picked up last week in Miami at their tony beachfront pad inside the Trump Towers III*, where they allegedly ran their illicit enterprise remotely.

They moved from Brighton Beach to Florida a few months earlier, according to their attorney.

I don’t know who thought this script was going to fly, but they need to have their head examined and it needs to be sent back to rewrite.

Never before have the Balloon Juice categories of domestic affairs and foreign affairs been so literally applicable to a post. Yeah us!!!!

Open thread!

* You can find excellent reporting on all of the Russian criminal activities being run out of the President’s properties, both owned and branded, here and here. Surely a series of coincidences…

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!

Document Dump (Open Thread)

This hasn’t been a good week for Paul Erickson, also known as “US Person 1” in the court documents charging alleged Russian spy Mariia Butina. Erickson is a lifelong GOP operative who had a “personal relationship” with Butina, squiring her around DC and NRA conventions and introducing her to many Republican bigwigs. But he found out, presumably through the indictment, that Butina just wasn’t that into him. Via the BBC:

“But this relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Butina appears to treat it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities,” said the court papers.

In some of her photos on social media, Ms Butina is seen with Paul Erickson, a South Dakota-based conservative political activist who is listed in public records as being 56 years old.

She had “expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with” the American man, according to documents seized by the FBI.

Prosecutors said she did not appear to take the attachment seriously because “on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than US Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organisation”.

The documents do not name the organisation in question. But her social media accounts show she frequented National Rifle Association (NRA) events.

So she was ready to dump Erickson for Ted Nugent or some other gross old ghoul who could help her more efficiently funnel money from the Kremlin to Republican campaign coffers via the NRA. Ouch. Earlier today, someone vandalized Erickson’s Wikipedia page:

The “traitor to the American people” bit has since been removed. But still, that had to hurt. Open thread!

He’s Nuts

I’m not sure how else to make sense of it:

BREAKING NEWS: President Trump, who has been under fire for not aggressively confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin over election interference, said Russia is no longer targeting the United States.

“Thank you very much, no,” Trump said in response to a question about whether Russia is still targeting the United States.

Last week, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said that Russia and other countries are continuing to target American businesses, the government and other institutions and that “the warning lights are blinking red.”

Being a slobbering authoritarian fanboy and wannabe may explain some of Trump’s behavior. Being captive to Putin’s will due to compromising information and/or debt to the Russian mob, etc., is a plausible explanation for many of his actions. But this ping-ponging back and forth shit? The absurd back-to-back performances Monday and Tuesday? And now this? It doesn’t make sense in any universe. Earlier today:

But there WAS a boxing match, and Putin knocked Trump on his ass in front of the entire world. Big results will come, all right. Just not the results this deranged schmuck in expecting.

Now, we can let this drive us nuts too. I’ve felt detached from reality more than once during this shit-show. But for now, at least, I’ll just take care of what I can do, i.e., do things to get more Democrats elected in November, and enjoy the fact that propping up this nutcase must be driving some of the very worst people in America insane.