The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Continues Its Investigations of the President: Inauguration Fundraising and Spending Edition

For almost two years an important question has gone unanswered: what happened to all that money that was raised for the President’s inauguration? The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York is now officially seeking answers. (emphasis mine)

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations, people familiar with the matter said.

The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions, some of the people said.

Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws. Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.

The investigation partly arises out of materials seized in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s business dealings, according to people familiar with the matter.

In April raids of Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents obtained a recorded conversation between Mr. Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump, who worked on the inaugural events. In the recording, Ms. Wolkoff expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money, according to a person familiar with the Cohen investigation.

The Wall Street Journal couldn’t determine when the conversation between Mr. Cohen and Ms. Wolkoff took place, or why it was recorded. The recording is now in the hands of federal prosecutors in Manhattan, a person familiar with the matter said.

The inaugural committee has publicly identified vendors accounting for $61 million of the $103 million it spent, and it hasn’t provided details on those expenses, according to tax filings. As a nonprofit organization, the fund is only required to make public its top five vendors.

The committee raised more than double what former President Barack Obama’s first inaugural fund reported raising in 2009, the previous record. 

Federal prosecutors have asked Richard Gates, a former campaign aide who served as the inaugural committee’s deputy chairman, about the fund’s spending and its donors, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Gates has met with prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

Mr. Gates, who served as deputy in the inaugural fund, in February pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the U.S. involving foreign political consulting work unrelated to the campaign. The case was brought by Mr. Mueller’s office. Mr. Gates agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department in ongoing investigations.

The committee was headed by Thomas Barrack Jr., a real-estate developer and longtime friend of Mr. Trump. There is no sign the investigation is targeting Mr. Barrack, and he hasn’t been approached by investigators since he was interviewed by the special counsel’s office last year, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Mueller’s investigators, who are probing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, asked Mr. Barrack only a handful of questions about the inaugural fund, the person said.

Mr. Mueller has also probed whether any foreign money flowed to the inaugural fund, which is prohibited from accepting foreign funds. In August, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, on a referral from Mr. Mueller, obtained a guilty plea from a Washington consultant who admitted he used a U.S. citizen to serve as a “straw purchaser” so that a “prominent Ukraine oligarch” could attend the inauguration. The names were never disclosed.

Much more at the link.

I have been thinking my way through a post on Thomas Barrack for the past week, but today’s Wall Street Journal reporting has sort of forced my hand. Not only was Barrack the chair of the President’s inaugural committee, he appears to be a key central bridging node between a number of the Gulf Arab states, like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and useless idiot Jared Kushner. Barrack advises the Emirati Crown Prince, who is himself the mentor of the Saudi Crown Prince. And Barrack is the person who recommended Paul Manafort to the President for his campaign. Barrack is a key node, if not the key node, into and out of the foreign influence campaigns – from Russia to the Emirates to Saudi – and the Trump administration and campaign. Which is why Special Counsel Mueller has expanded his investigation into these other foreign contacts and connections with the President’s 2016 campaign, his transition and inauguration, and his administration. Specifically those from the Middle East.

We are off the looking glass and through the map.

Open thread!



What Was the President Like on The Apprentice and at His Beauty Pageants? Noel Casler Has Decided to Tell Us

Noel Casler, who worked on The Celebrity Apprentice and on the beauty pageants the President used to own and run, had decided that his NDA doesn’t apply to stand up routines. It would be ashamed if this video got tweeted around a lot and, perhaps, at certain people:

Enjoy!

Open thread.



Thursday Morning Open Thread: Tis the Season


 
In the spirit of letting y’all get your cranky on, a seasonal opinion: I actually like a good fruitcake, once a year. High-quality preserved fruits and nuts, in a rich batter, preferably non-alcoholic since the calories are quite enough of a dietary violation. Just because most of the products made or sold as fruitcakes aren’t any good, impugning the fruitcake has become a folk tradition — mostly, IMO, because it’s a once-a-year foodstuff released during the ‘Joyous Season’, when cooks are too busy to practice and eaters are looking for something they can jointly abuse without being called scrooges.

There’s any amount of truly lousy pizza produced every damned day of the year, but people don’t feel called to denounce the very concept of pizza because school cafeterias and Sbarros have an outsized market share. If you don’t like fruitcake, don’t eat fruitcake. More for those of us who do!








David Clarke, Useless Idiot for Putin’s Active Measures Campaign and Flair Aficionado Extraordinaire, Once Again Decides to Promote American Sedition

Everyone’s favorite flair aficionado, plagiarist, former Milwaukee County Sheriff, and useless idiot in Vladimir Putin’s active measures campaign against the United States, has once again decided to share his deep and profound thoughts promoting American sedition.

You all may remember Sheriff Clarke from his paid for by Russia visit to Russia to meet with a number of Russian government officials as part of an NRA junket that was cover for Russia’s penetration of the NRA as part of its active measures campaign against the US. Here’s some pics to jog the memory:

(David Clarke arm in arm with Mariia Butina. Also pictured on the left former NRA President David Keene and Russian oligarch and organized crime leader Alexander Torshin)

(David Clarke sitting with Mariia Butina)

(David Clarke, Mariia Butina, and David Keene)

And exactly who was it that David Clarke and that NRA delegation was meeting with in addition to Torshin and Butina?

(David Clarke and NRA officials meeting with Russian officials)

December 8th is not the first time that Clarke called for armed rebellion to achieve the political objectives he supports.

As I wrote at the time:

You remember Sheriff Clark, the (sheriffs aren’t actualyl mentioned in the) Constitutional Sheriff and Peace Officers Association Law Enforcer of the Year Award Winner? You know, the tough guy that tried to call in the Wisconsin National Guard about six weeks ago even though he was not the law enforcement officer in charge of what was happening in Milwaukee with demonstrations, protests, and riots? The actual officer in charge would be Milwaukee Chief of Police Edward A Flynn. And he had this to say about Sheriff Clarke:

“Nobody has got more to say about law enforcement and less to do with it,” Flynn said of Clarke, calling him a self-serving man who seeks “celebrity.”

Sheriff Clarke would be the tough guy that had an inmate die of thirst in the jail*, the oversight of which is one of his few actual primary responsibilities, because his subordinates specifically and purposely cut off water to the inmate’s cell – an inmate who was mentally ill.

So what is it that Sheriff Clarke actually does/is actually supposed to be doing? His actual jurisdictionis running the jail, providing security at municipal facilities, and patrolling a part of the interstate as it runs through Milwaukee County.

“By statute and by practice, the sheriff plays only a limited role as a traditional law enforcement agency,” Abele said in his budget remarks to the County Board on Sept. 29, 2011.

“For example, in 2009 the sheriff reported only 12 crimes to the FBI, compared to 41,000 for the City of Milwaukee and 3,200 for West Allis, and even 242 for the UWM Police Department.”

There are no unincorporated areas in Milwaukee County and each of these incorporated municipalities have their own police departments.

Last year, the administration of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele released some eyebrow-raising statistics on the Sheriff’s Department, noting that:

  • Milwaukee is the state’s only county with no unincorporated area, meaning there are municipal police patrolling every part of the county. Besides Milwaukee, there are 18 suburban police forces in action.
  • In 2009, the sheriff reported only 19 crimes to the FBI, compared to 41,375 for the Milwaukee police, 3,288 for West Allis police, 1,908 for Wauwatosa and even 242 for the UW-Milwaukee police. That’s right, the UWM campus police handled 12 times more criminals than the Sheriff’s Department.
  • Just 10 percent of Sheriff David Clarke’s requested property tax levy was for police services. As Abele put it, “the sheriff plays only a limited role as a traditional law enforcement agency.”

The deputy sheriffs staff the Milwaukee County Jail and County Correctional Facility South (formerly House of Correction), handle the courthouse’s system of bailiffs, and patrol the freeways.

Earlier in the day he was complaining about how long it took his NICS check to go through so he could buy a new AR pattern rifle. Insinuating that this is not how law enforcement should be treated (because, you know, they’re not just citizens too or something).

In case anyone was wondering, NICS checks for gun purchases are done by the FBI – law enforcement genius!

It remains to be seen whether Butina’s plea agreement to fully cooperate will ensnare Clarke, but one can hope.

The documents describe Butina’s efforts to build ties with a “gun rights organization,” which has been identified as the NRA, and “Political Party 1,” which the document makes clear is the Republicans.

The documents confirms previous reporting that Butina helped orchestrate a trip by NRA members to Moscow in December 2015.

During the Moscow trip, she helped set up a meeting between prominent NRA members and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

After that meeting, the agreement said, Butina sent Torshin a message, which was translated as saying, “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”

Clarke may want to spend a little less time spouting off on twitter and a little more time consulting with a high calibre attorney who specializes in national security matters.

Open thread!



Tuesday Morning Open Thread: It Gets Better



Breaking News: Maria Butina Has Reached a Plea Agreement with Federal Prosecutors

Ms. Butina has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with Federal, state, and local investigations. ABC News has the details (emphasis mine):

Maria Butina, a 30-year-old Russian gun rights activist who stands accused developing a covert influence operation in the United States, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with federal, state and local authorities in any ongoing investigations.

She admits, as part of the deal, according to a copy obtained by ABC News that is expected to be filed to the court, that she and an unnamed “U.S. Person 1,” which sources have identified as longtime Republican operative Paul Erickson, with whom she had a multiyear romantic relationship, “agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official (“Russian Official”) and at least one other person, for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General.”

Based on the description, the “Russian Official” appears to be Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under his direction, the agreement said, she “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.”

The agreement, which Butina signed on Saturday, Dec. 8, also notes that the conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison, but the deal could see Butina receive a lesser sentence, depending on the level of her cooperation, before likely being deported back to Russia.

It is unclear what Butina’s cooperation might entail, but federal prosecutors have reportedly notified Erickson that he is a target of an ongoing investigation. The target letter sent to Erickson is from federal prosecutors in Washington, sources familiar with the case told ABC News, and separate from any South Dakota-based federal fraud investigation into his business dealings that has been the subject of earlier media reports.

But now, according to the agreement, Butina has acknowledged that with U.S. Person 1’s assistance, she drafted a proposal called “Description of the Diplomacy Project” in March of 2015 which was later sent to the Russian Official, in which she said that she had already “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration” and requested $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to attend conferences and meetings to further develop those ties. The Russian Official, the agreement said, confirmed that her proposal would be at least partially supported.

The government has alleged that U.S. Person 1 “worked with Butina to arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics,” including high-ranking members of the National Rifle Association and organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast, that would ultimately give her a surprising level of access to conservative politicians, including — in one memorable interaction captured on video— to then-candidate Donald Trump.

Most notably, Butina’s Russian gun rights group “Right to Bear Arms” hosted a delegation of former NRA presidents, board members and major donors in Moscow in 2015, where she appears to have succeeded in arranging a meeting between NRA insiders and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, raising the prospect of a discussion between conservative political operatives and a powerful member of Russian President Putin’s inner circle in the midst of a presidential campaign.

After that now infamous meeting, the agreement said, Butina sent the Russian Official a message, which was translated as saying “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”

Much more at the link!

While we’ve covered Ms. Butina’s endeavors here before, one of the most interesting items in ABC’s report is that the plea deal was reached this past Saturday. There are also some non-surprises here. That US Individual is Paul Erickson who, apparently, is not very bright! And given the attempts to run a petroleum sale using funding partial raised by former NRA President David Keene’s wife, as well as her ability to get access to Governor Scott Walker, former Senator Rick Santorum, Donald Trump Jr, former sheriff and flair aficionado David Clarke, and a number of other high level Republican elected and appointed officials, as well as conservative activists, there could be multiple Federal, state, and local targets of this investigation.

And, of course, that the Russian official is Alexander Torshin and oligarch and leader within Russian organized crime circles who is close to Putin. Depending on how this proceeds, keep an eye out to see if Torshin suffers an accidental death that will clearly be anything but accidental.

What we don’t know right now is exactly what Butina is going to provide to the Federal prosecutors, as well as state and local investigators. Some of it will likely deal with Russian attempts to penetrate the NRA, the National Prayer Breakfast, and related groups and organizations in an attempt to influence the Republican Party, Republican elected officials, and the outcome of the 2016 election.

Just to be thorough, I did a quick search of the top firearms/guns/2nd Amendment sites and there’s no mention of this at all.

Always make sure to identify your target and know what’s beyond it!

Open thread!



Late Night Trump Movies: Recycled SF/Fantasy Genre


 
To continue tonight’s theme…

A growing number of Republicans fear that a battery of new revelations in the far-reaching Russia investigation has dramatically heightened the legal and political danger to Donald Trump’s presidency — and threatens to consume the rest of the party, as well.

President Trump added to the tumult Saturday by announcing the abrupt exit of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, whom he sees as lacking the political judgment and finesse to steer the White House through the treacherous months to come.

Trump remains headstrong in his belief that he can outsmart adversaries and weather any threats, according to advisers. In the Russia probe, he continues to roar denials, dubiously proclaiming that the latest allegations of wrongdoing by his former associates “totally clear” him.

But anxiety is spiking among Republican allies, who complain that Trump and the White House have no real plan for dealing with the Russia crisis while confronting a host of other troubles at home and abroad…

The White House is adopting what one official termed a “shrugged shoulders” strategy for the Mueller findings, calculating that most GOP base voters will believe whatever the president tells them to believe.

But some allies fret that the president’s coalition could crack apart under the growing pressure. Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump strategist who helped him navigate the most arduous phase of his 2016 campaign, predicted 2019 would be a year of “siege warfare” and cast the president’s inner circle as naively optimistic and unsophisticated.

“The Democrats are going to weaponize the Mueller report and the president needs a team that can go to the mattresses,” Bannon said. “The president can’t trust the GOP to be there when it counts . . . They don’t feel any sense of duty or responsibility to stand with Trump.”…

REPUBS IN DISARRAY!

He’s your very special chosen leader, my GOP dudes. You own him, and he owns you.

Even (especially) the marketing failures.