What If – Trump And Others Are Guilty?

David Rothkopf asked a good question on Twitter:

He provides a short thread of subsidiary questions, but I’d like to take a different approach.

The investigations will take time. Many things can happen between now and when the results come out. The bottom line is what the Russians did to influence the election results, how much of an effect they had, and who in the administration was involved. Read more

Interesting Read: “The Original Russia Connection”

(Put this post together last weekend, but… stuff happened.)

Andrew Rice, at NYMag“Felix Sater has cut deals with the FBI, Russian oligarchs, and Donald Trump. He’s also quite a talker”:

On June 19 in a courtroom in Downtown Brooklyn, a federal judge took up the enigmatic case of an individual known as John Doe. According to the heavily redacted court record, Doe was an expert money launderer, convicted in connection with a stock swindle almost 20 years ago. But many other facts about his strange and sordid case remained obscured. The courtroom was filled with investigative journalists from numerous outlets along with lawyers petitioning to unseal documents related to the prosecution. “This case,” argued John Langford, a First Amendment specialist from Yale Law School who represented a Forbes editor, implicates an “integrity interest of the highest order.” The public had a right to know more about Doe’s history, Langford argued, especially in light of “the relationship between the defendant in this case and the president of the United States.”

John Doe’s real name, everyone in the courtroom knew, was Felix Sater. Born in Moscow and raised in Brooklyn, Sater was Donald Trump’s original conduit to Russia. As a real-estate deal-maker, he was the moving force behind the Trump Soho tower, which was built by developers from the former Soviet Union a decade ago. Long before Donald Trump Jr. sat down to talk about kompromat with a group of Kremlin-connected Russians, Sater squired him and Ivanka around on their first business trip to Moscow. And long before their father struck up a bizarrely chummy relationship with Vladimir Putin, Sater was the one who introduced the future president to a byzantine world of oligarchs and mysterious money.

Sater was a canny operator and a colorful bullshitter, and there were always many rumors about his background: that he was a spy, that he was an FBI informant, that he was tied to organized crime. Like a lot of aspects of the stranger-than-fiction era of President Trump, these stories were both conspiratorial on their face and, it turns out, verifiably true. Langford read aloud from the transcript of a 2011 court hearing, only recently disclosed, in which the Justice Department acknowledged Sater’s assistance in investigations of the Mafia, the Russian mob, Al Qaeda, and unspecified “foreign governments.” A prosecutor once called Sater, in another secret proceeding, “the key to open a hundred different doors.” Many were wondering now whether he could unlock the truth about Trump and Russia.

In the universe of what the president has called, with telling self-centrism, his “satellite” associates, Sater spins in an unmapped orbit. The president has said under oath that he “really wouldn’t know what he looked like” if they were in the same room. (For the record, Sater is 51 years old and olive-complexioned, with heavy-lidded eyes.) Yet their paths have intersected frequently over the years. Most recently, in February, the Times reported that Sater had attempted to broker a pro-Russian peace deal in Ukraine, handing a proposal to Michael Cohen, the president’s personal attorney, to pass to Michael Flynn, who was then still the national-security adviser. Both Cohen and Flynn are now reported to be under scrutiny by the FBI, in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s election interference and Trump’s campaign.

If there really is a sinister explanation for the mutual affinity between Trump and Putin, it almost certainly traces back to money…

And if there is any kind of a logical explanation for Trump’s successful-so-far maneuvers to avoid actual pauperism / serious legal consequences, I’m guessing it rides along the murky confluences where the lures of big money intersect with the desire of “Great Powers” to influence and undermine each other. Like pilot fish and sharksuckers, crime lords and talented grifters are naturally attracted — and attractive — to the “intelligence” services, to a degree where sorting individual actors between legal and illicit becomes more of a timeline than a definition. The biggest barrier to getting honest answers may end up being that no one agency trusts any other (even, especially, its ‘partners’) to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sure, they don’t want the criminals to escape… but even more important, they don’t want the other teams in the home league to get more credit and/or information. (She says, as someone living in Whitey Bulger’s and the Tsarnaev brothers’ stomping grounds.)

Tonight’s Russia News

The Washington Post tonight says that a junior member of the Trump campaign team, George Papadopoulos, was trying to set up a meeting with Russians back in Spring 2016, not always to the agreement of other team members. But he seems to have kept trying.

But Papadopoulos, a campaign volunteer with scant foreign policy experience, persisted. Between March and September, the self-described energy consultant sent at least a half-dozen requests for Trump, as he turned from primary candidate to party nominee, or for members of his team to meet with Russian officials. Among those to express concern about the effort was then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who rejected in May 2016 a proposal from Papadopoulos for Trump to do so.

Who was Papadopoulos, and why was he so eager to set up a meeting with the Russians? What could they do for the campaign? Papadopoulos claimed to be an intermediary for the Russian government. If I were his boss in the campaign, I would have had some questions about that.

The Don Jr. – Kushner – Manafort meeting with the Russians was June 9, and there were other interactions between campaign personnel during the summer. There seems to be no connection between Papadopoulos and those meetings, but there’s not a lot of information here.

The leaks keep coming. This looks like a part of a Russian campaign to get into the Trump campaign. It would not be surprising if they were working on multiple levels.

Seems to me that we need to know who all these people are that walked into the Trump campaign off the street.

The Russian International Affairs Council is mentioned toward the end of the article as one more point of contact for Papadopoulos. I looked at their discussion board on LinkedIn for a while a couple of years back. It had one of the weirdest combinations of blind ideologues and just plain goofy people that I’ve seen, along with a moderator who kept appealing for reasonable discussion. I didn’t spend much time on it.



Interesting Read: “Trump’s Legal Team Is No Match for Mueller’s”

Just as the Cold War turned us all into Kremlinologists, dissecting every news release to seek out hidden agendas and changes in bureaucratic positioning, the 2016 election disaster has turned us into Trumpologists. In that murky light, this is a most dissectable article from Bloomberg Businessweek:

When news broke on Aug. 3 that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had begun using a grand jury in Washington to gather evidence related to his Russia probe, it appeared to catch the White House off guard. Although many news outlets were reporting the story, Ty Cobb, just four days on the job as the president’s lawyer, issued a statement saying he didn’t know about it, even as Jay Sekulow, another member of Trump’s legal staff, went on Fox News to say once again that the president himself wasn’t under investigation.

As Mueller adds experienced prosecutors and broadens his investigation, Trump’s legal team still appears disorganized and understaffed. An army of well-paid lawyers would help the president get in front of the investigation: preparing responses to allegations before hearing about them from prosecutors or reporters, anticipating where Mueller is going, and developing a counternarrative to stymie him. Junior staffers could spend all night researching case law or obstruction of justice and conspiracy statutes; they could be available at a moment’s notice to draft pleadings challenging Mueller’s requests to interview witnesses or gather documents.

Instead, Trump’s defense has been almost entirely reactive—responding to the latest bombshell report with uninformed statements by surrogates. The strategy adopted by those close to Trump, if not his legal team, has been to try to discredit Mueller’s investigation by pointing out potential conflicts of interest or political biases that may exist among his investigators. “I don’t get any sense that they’re trying to get ahead of anything,” says Don Goldberg, who worked in the White House Counsel’s Office during the Clinton administration. “You wonder about whether the top people at the White House really understand what they’re stepping into.”…

…[T]he legal team largely consists of three people: John Dowd, who replaced Kasowitz as Trump’s chief personal attorney; Sekulow, a Christian-rights lawyer who serves as the public face of the defense team; and, as of July 31, Cobb, who will oversee the White House response to the probe. Both Dowd and Cobb spent the bulk of their careers at top-notch D.C. firms. Dowd, 76, was a longtime partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, while Cobb, 66, spent 28 years at Hogan Lovells. Neither brings the resources of those big firms with them in their defense of the president. Dowd left Akin Gump two years ago to strike out on his own, while Cobb had to resign from Hogan Lovells to take the White House job. Dowd represented Senator John McCain in the 1989 Keating Five investigation of lawmakers improperly intervening to save a failing bank during the savings and loan crisis. More recently he defended hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, who was convicted of insider-trading charges. “I know John Dowd, and he’s a very fine lawyer, but it’s a job that usually requires backup,” says Amy Sabrin, a retired Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom partner who worked for Bill Clinton on the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. Dowd, Cobb, and the White House declined to comment for this article…

If Mueller’s prosecutors eventually get into the president’s business dealings and start following the money, Trump would also need experts, such as forensic accountants, says Sabrin, the retired Skadden attorney. He’d have to be willing to open his files to people outside his inner circle. For a president known for keeping his financial records under wraps, some lawyers in Washington say that’s unlikely….

The whole article is well worth reading, but IMO the main message seems to be Dear WH occupants: You guys have NO IDEA what a world of hurt you’ve blundered into.


Pre-Dawn Open Thread: Paul Manafort & the Mills of Fate

Which, proverbially, grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.

Maybe I’m just a cockeyed optimist, but the news of last month’s pre-dawn raid feels parallel to that little 1973 news filler about a security guard detaining a couple of guys illicitly prowling the Watergate halls. It’s possible Manafort hasn’t yet flipped for Mueller’s investigators, but Paul was always much more interested in the payment than the politics, so why would he waste time laying down cover for a bunch of nitwit amateurs like J-Kush and Donny Jr?

Politico, in the evening:

Federal investigators sought cooperation from Paul Manafort’s son-in-law in an effort to increase pressure on President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, according to three people familiar with the probe.

Investigators approached Jeffrey Yohai, who has partnered in business deals with Manafort, earlier this summer, setting off “real waves” in Manafort’s orbit, one of these people said. Another of these people said investigators are trying to get “into Manafort’s head.”

Manafort, who is a focus of the broad federal and congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, is also under investigation for his business and real estate transactions, including some that involve Yohai…

Manafort’s team has repeatedly pushed back on suggestions he’s cooperating with federal investigators. “Paul’s been forthcoming, but he’s not a cooperating witness and any suggestion to that effect is silly,” Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said in a July interview when asked about concerns from former colleagues that Manafort had turned against the Trump team.

People close to Manafort reiterated Wednesday that he has no plans to become a cooperating witness…

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said cooperating witnesses are “often very significant to make your case” when it gets to trial.

“They can provide direct evidence of what the defendant said or did,” he said. “That’s usually far more compelling to a jury than just looking at documents.”

Mariotti also brushed aside comments by Manafort associates who insist the former Trump campaign manager has nothing about Trump that would matter to investigators. “I wouldn’t take much from it,” he said. “I’d take it with a grain of salt.”…

Late Night Open Thread: Somebody’s Neck Is Sweating…


But maybe it’s just prickly heat — always makes babies cranky!

Monday Morning Open Thread: NO CHAOS YOU’RE THE CHAOS!!!1!!

(Drew Sheneman via GoComics.com)

Himself being on vacation, and the other Repubs busy hiding out from their voters, maybe we’ll get some peace this week. Rod Rosenstein’s busily trying to clean up some of the nastiest recent messes left behind.

According to the NYTimes, “Reporters Not Being Pursued in Leak Investigations, Justice Dept. Says”:

Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, said on Sunday that the Justice Department was not pursuing reporters as part of its growing number of leak investigations, just two days after he and other department officials had appeared to signal a harsher line toward journalists.

“We don’t prosecute journalists for doing their jobs,” Mr. Rosenstein said on “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s not our goal here.”…

On Sunday, Mr. Rosenstein left open the possibility that reporters could carry some legal responsibility for information published, but said the department had not revised any policy on reporters.

“Generally speaking, reporters who publish information are not committing a crime. But there might be a circumstance where they do,” Mr. Rosenstein said on Fox. “I haven’t seen any of those today, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the event that there were a case where a reporter was purposely violating the law.”…

From the Washington Post, “Rosenstein: Special counsel Mueller can investigate any crimes he uncovers in Russia probe”:

“The special counsel is subject to the rules and regulations of the Department of Justice, and we don’t engage in fishing expeditions,” Rosenstein said when asked about the probe in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

Rosenstein declined to comment on reports that Mueller is using a grand jury in a court in Washington to aid in his investigation but he said that such a step is a routine part of “many investigations.”

“It’s an appropriate way to gather documents, sometimes to bring witnesses in, to make sure that you get their full testimony,” Rosenstein said. “It’s just a tool that we use like any other tool in the course of our investigations. “…

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called Mueller’s impaneling of a D.C. grand jury “a significant development,” noting that it has been more than a year since former FBI director James B. Comey launched a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

“That means one year later, rather than turning that investigation off, rather than concluding ‘We’ve looked at this for a year; there’s really nothing to see here,’ as the president would claim, instead . . . it’s moving into a new phase,” Schiff said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “That wouldn’t be taking place if there was really no evidence, no evidentiary basis to move forward.”…

Apart from wishing for a summer respite, what’s on the agenda as we start the week?