In states under the control of legislatures radicalized by the T-party, citizens watched Republican lawmakers hyper-gerrymander congressional and state districts, constrict access to voting, and impose on cities measures designed to weaken them both financially and politically. Where the GOP gained power during the Obama presidency, it moved swiftly to consolidate it and lock it in for as long as possible into the future.
The sitting president's Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity promises to attempt at the national level what voter "integrity" measures have done in the states: limit the franchise to the right (the right's) voters.
Politico now reports that the White House will propose Thomas Brunell as deputy director of the Census Bureau with the power to oversee the 2020 census:
Brunell, a political science professor, has testified more than half a dozen times on behalf of Republican efforts to redraw congressional districts, and is the author of a 2008 book titled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.”
The pick would break with the long-standing precedent of choosing a nonpolitical government official as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The job has typically been held by a career civil servant with a background in statistics. It does not require Senate confirmation, so Congress would have no power to block the hire.
When in power, consolidate.
Jonathan Chait sees such efforts and the flogging of the "IRS scandal" as the Republican "blueprint for the use of government as an implement of partisan domination and revenge."
He writes about the "retaliatory state" at New York magazine, drawing on Richard Hofstadter's classic analysis:
“The enemy seems to be on many counts a projection of the self: both the ideal and unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. A fundamental paradox of the paranoid style is the imitation of the enemy.” Conservatives simultaneously suspect that Democrats have perverted government as a tool of partisan domination and that this is a proper and normal — or at least inevitable — use of executive power.
Here in the provinces, small-government conservatism now seems quaint. In state after state, conservative legislatures with the power to do so have sought to privatize local infrastructure, gerrymander local government, target uppity cities audacious enough to pass minimum wage laws or restrictions on fracking, and in some cases effectively abolish local governance.
With their proposed tax bill, conservatives are no longer being coy about its design. Chait cites Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation on the tax bill. Some of the "pay fors" in the bill, Moore chuckles, "help defund the left." Chait adds:
Moore argues that subjecting income spent on state and local taxes to federal taxation — a change Republicans might be expected to oppose as a form of double taxation — will have the delicious secondary effect of pressuring state government to shrink. “The big blue states either cut their taxes and costs, or the stampede of high-income residents from these states accelerates,” he gloats. “The big losers here are the public employee unions — the mortal enemies of Republicans. This all works out nicely.”
Not to mention (Moore does) the tax provisions targeting universities that "indoctrinate 21-year olds with an increasingly vacuous and illiberal education." Education is on the enemies list too. Chait observes, "Supply-side economics has given way to revenge-o-nomics."
It would be a saving grace if, as Jamelle Bouie suggests, Republicans displayed "an inability not just to govern but to do much of anything outside of ideological posturing." But that assumes governing as their goal. They want to rule.
To that end, the GOP strategy in Washington, D.C. and in state capitols is do unto others before they can do unto you. It is not just policy debates conservative leaders practice in bad faith, but citizenship.
* * * * * * * *
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The United States says it was one of three countries to vote against a U.N. resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism over freedom of speech issues and concerns that Russia was using it to carry out political attacks against its neighbors.
The resolution entitled "Combating glorification of Nazism, Neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance," was approved by the U.N.'s human rights committee on Friday with 131 in favor, 3 against with 48 abstentions.
Ukraine and Palau were the other no votes.
Apparently, the Obama administration also voted against this resolution in the name of free speech. Of course when they did that Nazis weren't marching with torches in the streets of America shouting "Jews will not replace us" and the president wasn't calling them "fine people" who were just trying to preserve their heritage and threatening to shut down the free press.
David Corn runs down the story of Hope Hicks' involvement in the Russia scandal. She is right in the middle of it. So Mueller's interview is not a benign little exercise in understanding her boss's schedule. He concludes with this:
Hicks was putting out false information—but it was a line consistent with the campaign’s stonewall. Its top officials had been informed that the Kremlin was trying to covertly assist Trump, yet Trump and his aides constantly denied Putin was meddling in the election. And some of the contacts between Trump campaigners and Russians—particularly those of Papadopoulos and Page—were known by senior campaign officials. Yet the campaign revealed none of these interactions during the election, when Russia’s involvement was a major controversy.
Is it possible Hicks was unaware of all this activity? She did know about Page’s trip to Moscow; she commented on it publicly. And she was directly informed that Trump Jr. had been in contact with WikiLeaks. According to The Atlantic, after Trump Jr. received the first message from WikiLeaks, he emailed other senior campaign aides, including Kushner, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Brad Parscale to tell them WikiLeaks had reached out to him. Kushner forwarded this email to Hicks.
Hicks has been by Trump’s side since 2014, when she went to work for the Trump Organization. (Prior to that she was at a New York public relations firm contracted by Ivanka Trump.) She was with Trump when he decided to fire FBI chief James Comey. She was on Air Force One when Trump reportedly got involved in drafting a misleading White House statement regarding the meeting between Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort and the Russian emissary. Mueller and his crew have much to talk about with Hicks. But she is not just any witness. She is part of the cover-up.
I find her to be one of the more intriguing characters in the Trump inner circle. She is a very beautiful, young woman who came into the Trump organization via a job at Ivanka's clothing brand company. Her relationship with Trump is apparently quite close although I've never heard that it's anything beyond professional.
But whatever it is, she's privy to a lot of information and there's no doubt that the special prosecutor will have many questions for her. She should not be so foolish as to protect her boss. She is in serious legal jeopardy which I'm sure her lawyer has told her. Let's hope she's smart enough to listen. Trump wouldn't stick by her if the roles were reversed.
It's fine to seduce 14 years olds because they are so pure
Right Wing Watch caught a pastor who supports Moore in a radio show this week. It's hard to believe he actually said this, but he did:
“I think that, number one, you need to understand, 40 years ago, what the Sitz im Leben was like in Alabama,” Benham said. “Judge Roy Moore graduated from West Point and then went on into the service, served in Vietnam and then came back and was in law school. All of the ladies, or many of the ladies that he possibly could have married were not available then, they were already married, maybe, somewhere. So he looked in a different direction and always with the [permission of the] parents of younger ladies … He did that because there is something about a purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that’s true, that’s straight and he looked for that.”
When the hosts pointed out that Moore’s wife, Kayla, was divorced when she married Moore, which rather undermined Benham’s contention that he was looking for “purity” in a potential mate, Benham tried to change the subject by asking the hosts if it is acceptable for an adult man “to date and court a young lady who is 14 year old with their parents’ consent.” Benham clearly thinks that it is, but that line of questioning did not work out particularly well, since it prompted Murphy to ask Benham if he thinks it is acceptable for a man to date a 10-year-old girl if he receives permission from her parents, which caused Benham to angrily stumble around for a reasonable response.
“I don’t think that that would happen,” was all Benham could come up with while meekly insisting that the question was just “another logical fallacy.”
When Murphy explained he was asking the exact same question that Benham had posed but had simply changed the age of the girl in question, Benham endlessly protested and tried to dodge the question before eventually agreeing that a grown man dating a 10-year-old girl would be inappropriate.
“Congratulations, Flip,” said Murphy. “Now you are in the modern world.”
It's nice that he doesn't think it would be ok or a grown man to date a 10 year old girl. That's very reassuring.
People really need to keep their young girls away from conservative Christians.
This is where we are now. Trump says Moore has denied it (as he himself has) and that Doug Jones is very bad on crime. What he means by that is that Doug Jones was a prosecutor who got convictions for the white KKK members who blew up a church. Those men were undoubtedly "fine people" who just wanted to preserve their heritage and Trump and his white supremacist followers don't think it's right that they had to go to jail for that. After all, they only killed four little black girls.
He says there's no proof and you have to take his word as much as the long line of accusers and witnesses. One might say that Trump is just standing up for due process but that would be the first time he's ever done that. In the past even DNA exoneration hasn't been enough for him:
My opinion on the settlement of the Central Park Jogger case is that it’s a disgrace. A detective close to the case, and who has followed it since 1989, calls it “the heist of the century.”
Settling doesn’t mean innocence, but it indicates incompetence on several levels. This case has not been dormant, and many people have asked why it took so long to settle? It is politics at its lowest and worst form.
What about the other people who were brutalized that night, in addition to the jogger?
One thing we know is that the amount of time, energy and money that has been spent on this case is unacceptable. The justice system has a lot to answer for, as does the City of New York regarding this very mishandled disaster.
Information was being leaked to newspapers by someone on the case from the beginning, and the blunders were frequent and obvious.
As a long-time resident of New York City, I think it is ridiculous for this case to be settled — and I hope that has not yet taken place.
Forty million dollars is a lot of money for the taxpayers of New York to pay when we are already the highest taxed city and state in the country. The recipients must be laughing out loud at the stupidity of the city.
Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.
What about all the people who were so desperately hurt and affected? I hope it’s not too late to continue to fight and that this unfortunate event will not have a repeat episode any time soon — or ever.
These guys are guilty no matter what. Roy Moore deserves the benefit of the doubt. Doug Jones is soft on crime because he prosecuted KKK members.
HOLY SHIT. Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation just tried to "both sides" the Alabama Senate race and compared Doug Jones' stance on abortion to Roy Moore molesting kids. pic.twitter.com/0shFpNOgXB
Surprisingly he didn't name the turkeys Manafort and Flynn.
Trump pardoning the turkey today was strange. He's just not good at the ceremonial stuff. He barely looked at his 11 year old son standing next to him. (Their relationship is strange.) And he "joked" that he had reversed many of his predecessors actions and had looked into reversing the pardons of the turkeys last year but was told he couldn't do it.
So, much as he's taking credit for saving the elephants he had planned to be killed, he acted like he was some kind of benevolent dictator for not executing Obama's turkeys which he joked that he wanted to do. I think that speech was written by Mike Huckabee. It's his kind of nasty...
There is only one turkey pardon ceremony ever worth watching:
I was hanging out in a freshman dorm with some friends, next door to Donald Jr.'s room. I walked out of the room to find Donald Trump at his son's door, there to pick him up for a baseball game. There were quite a few students standing around watching, trying to catch a glimpse of the famed real estate magnate. Don Jr. opened the door, wearing a Yankee jersey. Without saying a word, his father slapped him across the face, knocking him to the floor in front of all of his classmates. He simply said "put on a suit and meet me outside," and closed the door.
The Foreign Relations Committee is working for the Resistance
I wrote about one little pocket of bipartisan resistance in Washington for Salon today:
President Trump has been back from his embarrassing Asian trip for a week now and is still embarrassing the nation by declaring that he should have left some American athletes in jail in China because one of their father's failed to show him proper personal fealty:
Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!
Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar. Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful!
Trump has always been petty, but this was particularly obnoxious. He had already demanded gratitude from the players themselves, and they had thanked him publicly for speaking to the Chinese president on their behalf. He simply couldn't rise above his voracious need for approbation to let LaVar Ball's criticism go and behave like a mature statesman. Worse, he showed foreign leaders once again that he can be manipulated through even the smallest slights or granting of favors. The man simply cannot play it cool.
His trips overseas have shown that he knows nothing of diplomacy and has no natural instinct for it. He's been rude and aggressive toward America's European allies until they figured out that he needs to be treated like a spoiled dauphin and treated to big spectacles, as French president Macron did when he invited him to the Bastille Day celebrations in July.
The British had originally planned for him to come for the traditional state visit but had to rescind the invitation after Trump demanded to ride in the golden carriage with the queen and security measures became too onerous. (The British people largely hate Trump and massive protests were expected.) But Middle Eastern and Asian leaders had his number from the beginning. They fêted Trump with parades and pageants and had him eating out of their hands.
But our president isn't just clueless when it comes to diplomacy and statesmanship. He's clueless about all of foreign policy and national security. The Washington Post reported last week that many Europeans now believe that "President Trump in person is no longer the voice of the free Western world" because “the problem is that people don’t know anything. They are quite open about it. . . . It doesn’t matter what level. It is all levels.”
As we already know, last summer Secretary of State Rex Tillerson became so exasperated by Trump's unwillingness to listen to anyone who knows anything that after a particularly frustrating meeting -- in which the president expressed a desire for what would amount to nearly a tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal -- Tillerson told some of the people in the room that the president was a "f***ing moron."
Not long after that, Sen. Bob Corker began to speak out about the president's behavior, saying that Trump had "not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful." Corker later told The New York Times that he feared Trump was in danger of starting World War III. On Monday, BuzzFeed reported that during that same period, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster called the president an “idiot” and a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartener," at a private dinner.
Corker is the only one of these people who's on the record. Tillerson has refused to comment on what he did or didn't say, and McMaster has denied the BuzzFeed report. But the reason people believe this so easily is because the reported comments are so obviously accurate. The president is clearly way in over his head.
Susan Glasser at Politico magazine reported on Monday that this has brought about what she terms "an example of a surprising and unintended side effect of Trump’s disruptive approach to the world": bipartisan agreement. Granted, that is only manifesting itself on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but that may be where it's most needed to deal with the national security challenges posed by Russia, North Korea and Iran, all of which are being bungled by Trump in dangerous ways.
Corker is the committee chairman, and as mentioned has been vocal in his concerns about the president's ability to deal with these problems. Glasser interviewed Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, who listed a number of issues on which the panel has achieved consensus in opposition to the Trump administration. These include the mandatory Russian sanctions in response to the election interference, which passed the Senate 98-2; insisting on diplomatic efforts in North Korea; and maintaining the Iran nuclear deal, all of which have been opposed by the president.
In more than two decades of observing Capitol Hill, I can’t remember a comparable moment when the generally staid Foreign Relations panel has been so assertive toward the president, especially given that Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party. To do so, you’d probably have to reach all the way back to the Vietnam era, and the skeptical hearings about the war held by the late, legendary Chairman William Fulbright.
This is, to say the least, unusual in our current state of polarized partisan warfare.
This does not mean that the Congress can easily reverse the effects of decades of abdication of its duty to participate equally in the national security policy of the country, however. The presidency is now tremendously powerful in these matters, and it has more often than not been true that the "foreign policy consensus" in Washington led us down the path to bad wars and immoral policies. But in this case, it is a welcome exercise of what power they have, which can perhaps mitigate Trump's worst instincts.
The committee sent a loud message last week when it convened a hearing on the president’s authority to order a nuclear strike. Cardin told Glasser that this was meant as a "senatorial rebuke" of the president's reckless “fire and fury” rhetoric. He said, “Congress is looking for a way to assert itself in that regard."
Trump has told the press that he listens to everyone, but his decision on North Korea is the only one that matters. That's actually not true. Last weekend, the man in charge of carrying out the order to launch a nuclear strike, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of Strategic Command, said that he would tell Trump he couldn't carry out an illegal strike. Lawmakers haven't spent much time in recent years contemplating the possibility that an unstable, temperamental president would launch a first strike. Now that we have one, they have no choice.
A strong bipartisan message that Trump does not have unlimited power to start a nuclear war isn't really meant for him -- it's meant for the general who must decide whether or not he's been given a legal order. For the sake of the planet, he needs all the clarity he can get.
"We are engaged in class warfare. My side is winning." — Warren Buffett
Reading the details of the GOP tax plan is like watching that Volkswagen commercial where people look at zero scores and ask, "Really?"
Politicians who complain Americans are not competitive enough in the global marketplace want to tax tuition waivers for graduate students. Ben Miller of the Center for American Progress explains in Fortune that the bill eliminates credits and deductions for tuition, retraining and post-doctoral work to help pay for seven years of reduced taxes for millionaires and billionaires. And for the tax-free inheritances of the children of Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
By 2017, families annually earning between $10,000 and $75,000 will face increased taxes while those earning much more see their taxes go down. The mortgage interest deduction families use to pay for their homes and build wealth (supposedly a virtuous practice in the Conservative faith) goes away, as do deductions for state and local taxes that help families keep them, particularly in bluer states.
Tax cuts for workers are temporary. Tax cuts for corporations are permanent, and paid for in part by hundreds of billions of dollars of cuts to Medicare and Medicaid over 10 years.
Stan Collender at Forbes calls it "the start of a decades-long economic policy disaster unlike any other that has occurred in American history." Not to put too fine a point on it.
There's no economic justification whatsoever for a tax cut at this time. U.S. GDP is growing, unemployment is close to 4 percent (below what is commonly considered "full employment"), corporate profits are at record levels and stock markets are soaring. It makes no sense to add any federal government-induced stimulus to all this private sector-caused economic activity, let alone a tax cut as big as this one.
Nevertheless, the GOP is forging ahead with no idea what the impacts will be on the economy other than the unicorns and rainbows of trickle-down economics. No, the sitting president's alma mater isn't buying it either.
The details themselves can be distractions. Forest for the trees and all that. One thing not to be distracted by is the pearl clutching at the mention of "class war" by the people winning it.
Ryan Cooper writes at The Week, that if the "Republican donor class and their employees" want a class war, it's on:
It's honestly quite surprising to me that Republicans didn't just figure out the biggest deficit increase they could get away with, hand almost all of it to the top 1 percent, and throw a couple of pennies to everyone else to claim it's a "middle class tax cut." That was the George W. Bush political formula, and it worked quite well.
The only possible conclusion is that the plutocracy is no longer satisfied with taking almost all the income growth. They now want to diminish everyone else's share; as George Carlin once said, "they want more for themselves, and less for everybody else." The most notable victims reflect the cultural enemies that the Republican Grievance Industrial Complex has been whipping its base up in a frenzy over for decades — college students, coastal elites, and comfortable liberals — but the pain will be broadly shared. As Mike Konczal details, in broad terms it is an assault on workers to benefit capitalists: people who own things instead of working.
Once asked why he was bothering to steal a few barrels of oil out from under Native Americans in trailer homes, Charles Koch reportedly said, "I want my fair share – and that's all of it."
Some of the wealthiest and most privileged people who've ever existed are attempting to loot the pockets of penniless grad students so they can have even more money to spend on stuff like $450-million paintings. They've forfeited any right to deference or consideration.
Now that they have a rich, industrial-grade dupe in the White House and control of both houses of Congress, Collender believes Republicans are committing the economic equivalent of dousing the Capitol and themselves in gasoline and setting it all alight to watch it burn. In the 1960s, the tools of such people were turning fire hoses on black people. Time to return the favor.
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As a TV host, Donald Trump loved ratings. As president, he loves polls — as long as they show him on the upswing.
He crowed on Twitter hours after landing back in Washington from his 12-day Asia tour about his Rasmussen number — 46 percent — noting it was “one of the most accurate” in 2016, and decried “fake news” polls showing his approval in the 30s while also suggesting, with no evidence, that “some people” think his numbers could be in the 50s. (The Rasmussen poll sank to 42 percent on Friday.)
Aides in the White House often show Trump polls designed to make him feel good, according to aides and advisers. Usually they’re the ones that focus just on voters who cast ballots for him in 2016 or are potential Trump supporters —Trump’s base — but occasionally include public polls like Rasmussen, depending on what the numbers say.
Concerns grow in the White House when the support slides among voters who picked Trump in 2016, several senior aides and advisers said. Aides in Trump’s political affairs shop shrug off public polls that survey the general public. Most of the public pollsters are seen as “not understanding him,” one senior White House official said, a position carried over from the campaign, when many polls underestimated support for Trump and showed him losing in key counties that he won.
Adviser Jared Kushner often tells Trump not to trust traditional data, while former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon used to tell Trump to focus only on the 40 percent or so of Americans who make up his base.
John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, has limited interest in polling data and doesn’t get deeply involved in parsing it, aides said.
Yet several senior officials said they don’t trust the internal polls because they are “delusional” or “just not accurate,” in the words of two officials. The numbers Trump are shown are almost always higher than his public polling numbers. “I wouldn’t trust our polling on that,” one senior aide said, after ticking off numbers on health care earlier this year.
I wonder what they think that big poll on election day across the country this month told them? Fake returns?
He needs to be coddled and feted as a winner or ... what? The staff seems to have convinced themselves that this is a smart way to slice and dice the data for the purpose of getting congress to vote in their alleged best interest. But members of congress know what the poll numbers are. They don't need Trump's phony polling about the base to see what the stakes are. And they also know that mid-terms are referendums on the president and he is a huge orange albatross around their necks.
Here's a list of Trump associates' Russian contacts during the campaign. Well, the ones we know about anyway:
October 2015: Russian developer Giorgi Rtskhiladze emails Michael Cohen hoping to begin a development deal with the Trump Organization. Cohen passes, because the organization was already working on a project in Moscow.
Dec. 10: Michael Flynn, an early Trump supporter who would eventually be named national security adviser, travels to Moscow for an event honoring the Kremlin-backed news outlet RT. There, he participates in a banquet during which he shares a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
January 2016: Cohen emails Putin’s spokesman seeking help with the real estate development project in Moscow. That project is eventually abandoned.
March 24: George Papadopoulos, recently tapped by the campaign to serve as a foreign policy adviser, meets in London with a Russia-connected professor and a woman introduced to him as “Putin‘s niece” — in reality, a student named Olga Polonskaya.
April 11: Paul Manafort emails Konstantin Kilimnik about leveraging his position with the campaign.
April 18: Papadopoulos is introduced to Ivan Timofeev of the Russian International Affairs Council. Over the next few weeks, Timofeev and Papadopoulos try to work out a meeting between Trump and Putin.
April 26: Papadopoulos is told that the Russians have “dirt” on Clinton in the form of emails.
April 27: Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, meets with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a campaign event at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel. Jeff Sessions, then a senator and eventually Trump’s attorney general, may have greeted Kislyak as well.
May: Alexander Torshin, a senior official in the Russian central bank, expresses his desire for a Trump-Putin meeting by asking a friend to contact the campaign. The emailed offer is titled, “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” and includes an invitation for Trump to meet Torshin at an NRA convention in Louisville, later in the month.
Kushner rejects the overture, reportedly writing: “Most likely these people then go back home and claim they have special access to gain importance for themselves. Be careful.”
May 20 or 21: Donald Trump Jr. sits next to Torshin at an event associated with the National Rifle Association convention.
May 21: Manafort forwards an email from Papadopoulos about a Trump-Putin meeting to his colleague, saying that any such trip “should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
June: Cohen is invited to attend an economic forum in St. Petersburg, where “he could be introduced to Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, top financial leaders and perhaps to Putin.” He declines.
June 6: Trump Jr. may have spoken by phone with Emin Agalarov, a musician and developer who worked with the Trumps on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Trump Jr. and Agalarov each claim not to remember speaking, but the following day a meeting is set up between Trump Jr. and other campaign staffers predicated on the sharing of information detrimental to Democrat Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
June 9: That meeting happens. It includes Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort. They meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer linked to the Russian government, and Rinat Akhmetshin, who has ties to Russian intelligence.
July 7: Manafort offers to brief Deripaska.
July 7: Carter Page, identified by Trump as an adviser on foreign policy, travels to Moscow — with the campaign’s blessing — for an event.
July 18: At an event at the Republican National Convention, Sessions and Kislyak greet each other.
July 20: At another convention event, Page and Kislyak talk.
Sept. 8: Sessions and Kislyak meet again, this time in Sessions’s Senate office. At some point, Sessions and Kislyak apparently discuss the campaign.
Oct. 11: Trump Jr. gives a speech in Paris to a group linked to Russian interests. One of the organizers later briefs the Kremlin on the event.
Dec. 1: Flynn and Kushner meet with Kislyak at Trump Tower. At this meeting, they allegedly discuss setting up a secret communications system between Trump’s team and Moscow.
Dec. 8: Page again travels to Moscow for an event.
Dec. 13: Kushner, apparently at Kislyak’s urging, meets with Sergey Gorkov, head of the Russian bank VEB, which is under sanctions. The next day, Gorkov travels to Japan, where Putin was visiting.
Dec. 25: Flynn texts Kislyak.
Dec. 29: Flynn speaks with Kislyak multiple times, apparently discussing the imminent imposition of new sanctions by the U.S. government, partly in response to Russian meddling in the campaign.
We don't know the extent to which the campaign was in on the various Russian propaganda and hacking operations. But it's very clear that they were in contact and that Russian actors were eager to work with them on something.
Also, keep in mind that Trump himself simply cannot say a bad word about Putin or indicate that there was anything wrong with what happened in 2016. Some of that can theoretically be attributed to ego and vanity --- but the Putin worship was there from the beginning of the campaign and he has never deviated from it even a little.
They can say he didn't say it, but it's true nonetheless
I'm talking about this report that H.R. McMaster said his boss is dumb:
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster mocked President Trump’s intelligence at a private dinner with a powerful tech CEO, according to five sources with knowledge of the conversation.
Over a July dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz — who has been mentioned as a candidate for several potential administration jobs — McMaster bluntly trashed his boss, said the sources, four of whom told BuzzFeed News they heard about the exchange directly from Catz. The top national security official dismissed the president variously as an “idiot” and a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner,” the sources said.
A sixth source who was not familiar with the details of the dinner told BuzzFeed News that McMaster had made similarly derogatory comments about Trump’s intelligence to him in private, including that the president lacked the necessary brainpower to understand the matters before the National Security Council.
Both Oracle and the Trump administration heatedly denied the comments that Catz later recounted.
“Actual participants in the dinner deny that General McMaster made any of the comments attributed to him by anonymous sources. Those false comments represent the diametric opposite of General McMaster's actual views,” said Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
I could easily see him saying it. I could just as easily see someone lying about it to cause a rift between McMaster and Trump. But it doesn't really matter. He is an idiot and a dope who has the intelligence of a kindergartener and he does not have the necessary brainpower to understand matter before the NSC. Nobody needs McMaster to say it privately. He's a fucking moron and everyone knows it.
She truly is soulless. A week ago she said, "there is no Senate seat worth more than a child."
Now she's changed her mind:
Conway: Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don't be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime. Weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners ---
Kilmeade: So vote Roy Moore?
Conway: -- Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal, which is why he is not saying anything and why the media are trying to boost him.
Kilmeade: So, vote Roy Moore?
Conway: I'm telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through. And the media --- if the media were really concerned about all these allegation, and that's what this is truly about, and the Democrats, Al Franken would be on the heap of bygone half funny comedians. He wouldn't be here on Capitol Hill. He still has his job. What's Bob Menendez doing back here? That's the best my state of New Jersey can do huh, Doocy? You live there. Let me tell you something, this guy, Doug Jones, is a doctrinaire liberal.
There you have it. No word on how much fun it is to work for the admitted pussy-grabber in the White House. But he'll sign tax cuts so it's all good.
I wish I believed that this would finally end the right's self-righteous blather about "family values" and "honor and dignity" but it won't. You can see how that works with Conway blithely saying that Franken and Menendez should be drummed out of the Senate in the same breath that she defends a former district attorney and judge who preyed upon underage girls so blatantly that the people at the mall were warned about him. And, again, she works for the man who was credibly accused of the same kind of physical assault he bragged about on tape by at least 16 women.
None of this will change their sanctimonious attacks on liberals in the future. They are unconcerned with being called hypocrites. It's simply a weapon they use to bludgeon the other side which does care about hypocrisy. This has been obvious for many years but this episode illustrates their game in living color. They are able to twist their opponents into pretzels with this sort of thing.
I'm sure Trump laughed when Kellyanne did her little projection jiujitsu this morning and gave her a big kiss when he saw her. She was talking directly to him.
But in all the merriment about Ivanka's questionable taste and the juxtaposition between the tax cuts for the wealthy she's helping to sell and the lives of all those blue collar workers her father supposedly represented with his allegedly "populist" campaign, few people have stopped to ask how it can possibly be that a top adviser to the president still owns a "lifestyle" company in the first place. We have become so inured to the outright corruption of this White House that we simply accept the tact that all the Trumps and Kushners have merged their business interests with their jobs working for the president.
It's not just the first family either. The NRCC is just coming right out and putting money directly into Donald Trump's pocket now:
Scions Don Jr and Eric are handling the business with Trump himself looking over some quarterly reports while Ivanka has supposedly withdrawn from day to day involvement with the family business and her own company. Nonetheless, Ivanka's brand is everywhere and she is still looked upon by the media as the quintessential Trump woman: a beautiful, brilliant businesswoman with great style and exceptional savvy.
But it turns out that her brand, like her father's, is more hype than substance. She is beautiful and and her style is admired by many. But her business history is nothing to be proud of. Recent investigations into the Trump real estate empire show that she had been involved in the company's most suspicious dealings with shady oligarchs and mobbed up money launderers. If Donald Trump is in the crosshairs of federal investigators for nefarious financial transactions with disreputable characters, his daughter will inevitably be caught in that same net.
Reuters and NBC reported over the week-end on a particularly unsavory deal in Panama called the Trump Ocean Club, which Donald Trump dubbed Ivanka's "baby." It was the Trump organization's first international hotel venture in 2007 and she was the lead family member on the project working closely with a Brazilian development broker named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira. He put together much of the financing for the deal and let's just say it wasn't exactly on the up and up.
Involved in Ivanka's "baby" was a money launderer from Colombia, currently in jail in the US, a Ukranian human trafficker and a Russian investor who was jailed just a few years before for kidnapping and threatening murder in Israel. Noquiera himself was arrested in Panama on unrelated fraud charges and fled the country and there are still four criminal cases pending over the Trump project. Ivanka claims to not remember the man despite the fact that she even made a promotional video with him.
Another notorious Ivanka project was the 2014 Trump Tower Baku in Azerbaijan which she personally oversaw. This was the project that the New Yorker reported a few months ago was partially funded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and served as a cash laundromat for the country's dictatorship. And this was no hands-off arrangement. She and the company were heavily involved in all the details from the type of wood paneling to be used to the landscaping. According to experts this was unusual for this sort of deal and indicates a level of personal attention that exposed the Trump organization to serious legal trouble.
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act requires that American companies not make profits from illegal activities overseas and simply saying you didn't know where the money was coming from isn't good enough. They have put people in jail for doing business with money launderers in Azerbaijan in recent years. The courts have held that a company needn't be aware of specific criminal behavior but only that corruption was pervasive. It's not reasonable to believe that the Trumps were unaware of the business culture in the country. Neither is it likely that they were unaware that the family they were in business with were known as “The Corleones of the Caspian." After all, as the New Yorker reported:
In May, 2012, the month the Baku deal was finalized, the F.C.P.A. was evidently on Donald Trump’s mind. In a phone-in appearance on CNBC, he expressed frustration with the law. “Every other country goes into these places and they do what they have to do,” he said. “It’s a horrible law and it should be changed.” If American companies refused to give bribes, he said, “you’ll do business nowhere.”
Clearly, he knew exactly what kind of assignment he'd given his daughter.
When you look into the rest of her historyin business the story repeats itself over and over again. The company has licensed the Trump name in places known for networks of money launderers and as the anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness reported, "the result is that Trump’s current wealth has depended in part on securing significant infusions of untraceable foreign funds.”
It's very difficult to believe that the Trumps didn't know that they were involved in these massive corruption schemes. The evidence was right in front of their eyes. And now that evidence is right in front of an investigative team that has a mandate to go wherever the evidence takes them and Ivanka Trump is as legally vulnerable as her husband and the rest of her family.
From the "I could shoot someone on 5th Avenue" files
Trump voter panelist: "If Jesus Christ gets down off the cross and told me Trump is with Russia, I would tell him, 'Hold on a second. I need to check with the President if it's true.'" pic.twitter.com/4f8bXkXzhY
Just put your fingers in your ears and sing "lalalalalala" and everything is fine.
. digby 11/20/2017 08:30:00 AM
Shooting gallery America
by Tom Sullivan
Yemen has the second-highest per capita firearm ownership in the world. The country with the highest in the world is the U.S. Us.
Researcher Adam Lankford of the University of Alabama examined databases for mass shootings across the world starting with the University of Texas clock tower shooting in 1966. The criminologist wanted to verify which country had the most mass shootings. He defined them as acts by individuals, not groups, who attacked others in public with firearms, "killing not only someone they had a grudge against, but also random strangers or bystanders." Organized terrorism or acts of genocide fall outside the definition.
As one might expect, the United States came in first. Lankford spoke to Public Radio International's "The World":
"We had 31 percent of these offenders, despite the fact that we only have about 5 percent of the world's population. So, we have well more than our share. And of course, that's very concerning for a variety of reasons."
Lankford says comparing the US with other large countries shows how serious America's gun problem is: "China and India would be two clear examples, and yet they don't have anywhere near the public mass shooter problem that we do."
"I was a little surprised that it wasn't attributable to other things, like homicide rate or suicide rate. So, if you look at this on an individual level, these people are committing acts of homicide and they're often committing acts of murder-suicide and they're using firearms. But if you look cross-nationally, there are a lot of countries with more homicides and suicides than we have. And yet, they don't have this problem. It really was the firearms, and I was surprised at the strength of that statistical association."
Yemen ranks second in the rate of gun ownership, but with half the U.S. ownership rates. Yet the 11 mass shootings Lankford counted are not only different in number, as reporter Tik Root explained:
“The shootings that happen seem to have more relation to either tribal conflict or an ongoing dispute with something,” Root says. “The shootings that I heard about or saw in Yemen usually had maybe more of an explanation than they do in the US. You didn’t hear the mental health argument as much as usually a clear reason why somebody had used their gun.”
Root had lived in Yemen before civil war broke out in 2015, and told "The World" at open-air gun markets, one could buy most anything "from pistols to automatic weapons to [rocket-propelled grenades] RPGs. I saw tank shells and I’m told if you ask the right person you could get a tank itself."
There is something else that makes the U.S different from other countries Lankford studied, something he didn't mention on air: the National Rifle Association. Yemen sounds like an NRA wet dream.
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Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.
Joe Conason took on the thankless task of explaining why the "Uranium One" psuedo-scandal is total nonsense. He does a good job of it:
As special counsel Robert Mueller prepared to indict two of the President's top former aides last month, and began to subpoena information from the White House, his campaign and members of his family about possible collusion with Russia, Donald Trump issued a tweet that bordered on hysteria:
"The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R's are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!"
Responding to that presidential scream, Republicans on Capitol Hill, right-wing media outlets and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are doing something. Working together, they have revived the discredited "Russian uranium" accusations against Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as the foundation that bears their names.
Their unsubtle purpose is to distract public and press attention from the ongoing probe of connections between Trump and the Kremlin with a conspiracy theory that envelops the Clintons, the Obama administration, the FBI, and Mueller himself — all with the aim of discrediting the investigation of Trump.
It is an implausible tale, full of logical inconsistencies and false assertions, that dates back to 2015, when Steve Bannon was head of Breitbart News and also ran a small Florida nonprofit called the Government Accountability Institute.
Looking ahead to Hillary Clinton's likely nomination for President on the Democratic ticket, Bannon and author Peter Schweizer had put together a book called "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich," which charged that the former President and his wife had benefited from corrupt deals involving their foundation.
The book was a tendentious work, replete with errors and omissions, but it benefited from a pre-publication bonanza when the New York Times publicized one of its most sensational charges on the paper of record's front page. For reasons best known to its editors, the Times agreed to an "exclusive deal" with Schweizer that led to a 4,400-word front-page article with the vague but suggestive headline "Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal." The story hinted at serious wrongdoing with implications for national security.
These were the dots connected:
Through a complex series of business deals, Russia had obtained control of a portion of U.S. uranium reserves, using a Vancouver-based company called Uranium One. Some of the Canadian investors who profited from the sale of Uranium One to Rosatom, the Russian state-owned atomic energy corporation, had given millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation.
Russia's acquisition of American uranium had been approved by the State Department while Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State. And Bill Clinton had received a $500,000 fee for a speech delivered in Moscow at a bank that had some connection with Uranium One.
What weakened that apparently damning story was a single big flaw: Hillary Clinton never had the sole authority to sign off on the sale of Uranium One to the Russians, but held only a single seat on a government panel that included members from nine agencies, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
That committee had voted unanimously in favor of the deal, which had also required and obtained the approval of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state of Texas, then governed by Republican Rick Perry (later chosen by Trump to serve as secretary of energy).
Although "Clinton Cash" attributed a "central role" to Hillary, she hadn't participated at all in the Uranium One decision. According to the assistant secretary of state who represented her on the inter-agency panel, "Mrs. Clinton never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter."
Knowledgeable observers of CFIUS say that its decisions are dominated by the Pentagon and the Treasury Department, which chairs the committee, not by State.
And those nine agencies had approved the sale of the remainder of Uranium One to the Russians in 2013, again unanimously, several months after Hillary Clinton had left government. That sale also required additional approvals from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Canadian regulators.
So neither of the Clintons could have been bribed to approve Uranium One, because they had nothing to sell. And Frank Giustra, the billionaire Canadian mining investor who was by far the biggest foundation donor connected with Uranium One, had divested his holdings in the company years before it was sold.
Lame as it was, however, the Uranium One story helped launch "Clinton Cash" onto the bestseller lists and stoked the Hillary-hating narrative of the Trump campaign. After Trump's election victory the story faded — until its recent reappearance on in right-wing media outlets like Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting and, of course, the presidential Twitter feed, as a cudgel against Mueller and his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
Now, it is hyped by Fox talking heads as "the biggest scandal of the century," which former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka says should send Hillary Clinton to the electric chair like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the Soviet spies who stole American atomic secrets.
But in order to discredit Mueller, right-wing journalists have expanded the initial version into an even more convoluted and mysterious tale.
Unfortunately, there's more. It's what Roger Stone and David Bossie call "the bank shot" to use this trumped up story to discredit Robert Mueller who was the FBI Director at the time. But in order to follow this convoluted bullshit tale, you should probably read it. This whole mess is only going to get worse. They cannot govern. This is what they do.
That hilarious chart at the top is not a joke. It was prepared by Louis Gohmert, the stupidest man in the House, to "explain" the scandal. In case you don't find it to be obvious, here's Stephen Colbert to explain it all to you:
I'm fascinated by this latest twist in the Mueller investigation about Trump, Flynn and the 15 million dollar kidnapping plot. Trump obviously knew about it and tried to get Comey to go easy on his pal anyway. But what if he actually ok'd it? It sure seems to be something he'd think was so much winning...
When President Donald Trump allegedly tried to stop the FBI investigation of his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, was Trump aware of Flynn’s meetings with Turkish officials? If so, it could significantly increase the president’s exposure to political liability and legal wrongdoing involving obstruction of justice.
A crucial part of the timeline is the reported efforts of the White House to stop the investigation of Flynn in late March.
On Valentine’s Day, the president asked FBI Director James Comey if he could see his “way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” according to Comey’s congressional testimony and contemporaneous notes (Trump has denied this, but Donald Trump Jr. has essentially confirmed it). What would Trump have wanted Comey to let go exactly? So far the media has focused on federal investigators’ probe at the time into whether Flynn lied to the FBI. But at the same time there was also a federal investigation into Flynn’s work on behalf of Turkey—and the White House knew about it. We also now know that on Sept. 19, 2016, and in mid-December, Flynn reportedly met with senior Turkish officials, and is alleged to have discussed the prospect of kidnapping and secretly removing a U.S. resident, cleric Fethullah
Gülen, from the United States into Turkey’s custody. If Trump knew about the Turkey meetings—or what might have been discussed—at the time of the Feb. 14 exchange with Comey, that would raise a “different order of problem for the president,” Ben Wittes exclaimed on Lawfare’s podcast. Wittes is right.
Here are a number of data points on the timeline, as well as statements provided to Just Security by former CIA Director James Woolsey’s spokesperson, that might clarify what the White House knew and when it knew it.
It is not only important to understand what the president knew on Feb. 14, but also what he became aware of in the weeks and months afterward. That’s because Trump reportedly took additional steps to try to stop the investigation of Flynn following the Oval Office meeting with Comey. A crucial part of the timeline, for example, is the reported efforts of the White House to stop the investigation of Flynn in late March 2017 and the revelation of Flynn’s September 2016 meeting with Turkish officials around that same time.
Even if the president had no knowledge of the potential kidnapping meetings, if he tried to obstruct the federal investigation into Flynn’s work as an agent of a foreign government (Turkey), it would significantly raise the prospect of legal and political liability beyond his potential liability for obstructing the Russia-related investigation.
Reviewing this timeline, the mounting evidence of Flynn having been a paid foreign agent for Turkey seems likely to have figured into Trump’s calculus in relieving him of duty. The White House knew of the threatening nature of an active federal investigation of Flynn’s work on behalf of Turkey when the president allegedly asked Comey to “let Flynn go” on Feb. 14. Finally, the information contained in Flynn’s filing as a foreign agent in early March was likely on the minds of White House senior officials when they reportedly attempted to get top intelligence officials to intervene with Comey to drop the Flynn investigation that month.
These claims may sound strong when stacked together. But they are also each qualified and relatively modest all things considered. That’s because we don’t know the full picture. Even if Flynn’s foreign agent filings were on senior officials’ minds, they may have acted for other reasons, for example. And when they reportedly asked top intelligence officials to get Comey to halt the Flynn investigation, maybe they limited their inquiry to the Russia-related part. All that said, there’s a mountain of information here that raise serious questions and lend circumstantial support to our conclusions.
This seems like Trump all the way down to me. Flynn is crazy and Trump believed that as president he was immune from all laws. (He still thinks that if the president does it it's not illegal when it comes to outright corruption.) I find it entirely plausible that he thought this was an awesome plan and told Flynn to go for it.
Update on Church Shooter: No Charges, Keeps Gun and Carry Permit
TELLICO PLAINS, Tenn. — An 81-year-old man who accidentally shot his wife and himself at church while showing off his gun won't face charges or lose his carry permit, police said Friday.
Wayne Reid shot himself in the hand and his 80-year-old wife, Kathy, through the abdomen around 1 p.m. ET Thursday while showing off his Ruger pistol to a fellow parishioner at First United Methodist Church.
"As far as I know, he'll get to keep it," police Chief Russ Parks said of the firearm. "No one who was in the church is wishing to press charges, and we in the police department think they've suffered enough." USA Today
After a church shooting congregations talk about what should be done to prepare. They talk about the benefits and costs of various responses.
Congregations in different parts of the country choose different solutions. For example, The River at Tampa Bay Church, choose to be heavily armed.
If you are a member of a church discussing the issue this week, you should look at all the costs and benefits of various responses. In addition to talking to experts in safety and security, you should contact your insurance agent AND your legal counsel.
I've been contacting insurance companies this week wondering what they recommend to congregations. Off duty police? Licensed private security? Their own security force composed of people with concealed guns?
I've asked them how they calculate the risks and then the premium costs for the different configurations.
In the meantime I've been looking at other costs. I don't know all the details of Wayne Reid's case in Tennessee. Maybe he's a super rich guy with great insurance, but I wonder:
Who pays for that 50 mile helicopter flight to Knoxville for his wife? The average patient bill from Air Methods, according to an analysis of national research in Consumer Reports, rose from $13,000 in 2007 to $50,000 in 2016. (Tennessean )
If they are on Medicare, how much of this flight is covered?
Did the man have extra insurance because he is carrying a concealed weapon in public? Doubtful. Remember, gun owners aren't required to have any liability insurance.
Does the Church have liability coverage?
Maybe the entire community is fine with absorbing the medical costs instead of putting the financial responsibility back on the man who brought his gun to church, or on the church that decided to allow this person, with his level of training, in the church while carrying a gun.
This isn't an uncommon rap in politics but it's fatuous no matter who gives it. Here's Steve Bannon preparing to lose --- and saying that he's actually winning because he "forced" the people he challenged to reckon with his big swinging movement. It's the wingnut version of win-win.
Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News and former White House chief strategist, said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is "picking up his game" amid threats to his power posed by the "insurgency movement" led by President Trump.
In an interview with radio host John Catsimatidis that aired Sunday, Bannon blasted McConnell for what he described as lackluster support for Trump's agenda, but noted that the majority leader has worked more aggressively in recent weeks to confirm judicial nominees, pass a budget and push forward a tax-reform plan.
"Now that he's afraid, now that he sees that the grass-roots movement — whether it's in Alabama or Arizona or Tennessee or Mississippi — is going to replace his cronies like [Sens.] Jeff Flake [R-Ariz.] and Bob Corker [R-Tenn.], now he's scared, and now he's trying to move more federal judges through the system and really trying to cleave to President Trump's plan," Bannon said.
Bannon, who left his White House post in August, has railed against McConnell — and the GOP establishment more broadly — vowing to oust him as majority leader and install lawmakers more closely aligned with Trump's brand of conservatism.
Movements can change a party, obviously. Trumpism isn't one them unless you believe that massive tax cuts for the rich have become a GOP priority because Trump is more openly cretinous and incompetent than any other president in history. That's what he's brought to the table, nothing else. Old Mitch is just doing what they would have done if Jeb Bush or John McCain were president. Trumpism had nothing to do with it.
On this date in 1863, President Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg address, which opens with: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Earlier today, channeling the spirit of this rich tradition of presidential eloquence, our current commander-in-chief Donald Trump tweeted:
I’m sorry, memory fails … what was that Civil War all about again?
“I never thought I’d be quoted as looking like villains from the 'James Bond' [movies]. I guess I should take that as a compliment that I look like a villain in a great, successful 'James Bond' movie,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday."
The Guardian's Luke Harding has written a book about how Trump walked into Putin’s web. This long read about "the inside story of how a former British spy was hired to investigate Russia’s influence on Trump – and uncovered explosive evidence that Moscow had been cultivating Trump for years" is well worth your time.
After Trump became the presumptive nominee in May 2016, Singer’s involvement ended and senior Democrats seeking to elect Hillary Clinton took over the Trump contract. The new client was the Democratic National Committee. A lawyer working for Clinton’s campaign, Marc E Elias, retained Fusion and received its reports. The world of private investigation was a morally ambiguous one – a sort of open market in dirt. Information on Trump was of no further use to Republicans, but it could be of value to Democrats, Trump’s next set of opponents.
Before this, in early spring 2016, Simpson approached Steele, his friend and colleague. Steele began to scrutinise Paul Manafort, who would soon become Trump’s new campaign manager. From April, Steele investigated Trump on behalf of the DNC, Fusion’s anonymous client. All Steele knew at first was that the client was a law firm. He had no idea what he would find. He later told David Corn, Washington editor of the magazine Mother Jones: “It started off as a fairly general inquiry.” Trump’s organisation owned luxury hotels around the world. Trump had, as far back as 1987, sought to do real estate deals in Moscow. One obvious question for him, Steele said, was: “Are there business ties to Russia?”
Paul Manafort, who Steele started investigating in spring 2016. Last month Manafort was indicted on 12 charges including conspiracy against the United States.
Paul Manafort, who Steele started investigating in spring 2016. Last month Manafort was indicted on 12 charges including conspiracy against the United States. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP
Over time, Steele had built up a network of sources. He was protective of them: who they were he would never say. It could be someone well-known – a foreign government official or diplomat with access to secret material. Or it could be someone obscure – a lowly chambermaid cleaning the penthouse suite and emptying the bins in a five-star hotel.
Normally an intelligence officer would debrief sources directly, but since Steele could no longer visit Russia, this had to be done by others, or in third countries. There were intermediaries, subsources, operators – a sensitive chain. Only one of Steele’s sources on Trump knew of Steele. Steele put out his Trump-Russia query and waited for answers. His sources started reporting back. The information was astonishing; “hair-raising”. As he told friends: “For anyone who reads it, this is a life-changing experience.”
Steele had stumbled upon a well-advanced conspiracy that went beyond anything he had discovered with Litvinenko or Fifa. It was the boldest plot yet. It involved the Kremlin and Trump. Their relationship, Steele’s sources claimed, went back a long way. For at least the past five years, Russian intelligence had been secretly cultivating Trump. This operation had succeeded beyond Moscow’s wildest expectations. Not only had Trump upended political debate in the US – raining chaos wherever he went and winning the nomination – but it was just possible that he might become the next president. This opened all sorts of intriguing options for Putin.
In June 2016, Steele typed up his first memo. He sent it to Fusion. It arrived via enciphered mail. The headline read: US Presidential Election: Republican Candidate Donald Trump’s Activities in Russia and Compromising Relationship with the Kremlin. Its text began: “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in the western alliance.”
“So far TRUMP has declined various sweetener real estate business deals, offered him in Russia to further the Kremlin’s cultivation of him. However he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.
“Former top Russian intelligence officer claims FSB has compromised TRUMP through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him. According to several knowledgeable sources, his conduct in Moscow has included perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB.
“A dossier of compromising material on Hillary CLINTON has been collated by the Russian Intelligence Services over many years and mainly comprises bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls rather than any embarrassing conduct. The dossier is controlled by Kremlin spokesman, PESKOV, directly on Putin’s orders. However, it has not yet been distributed abroad, including to TRUMP. Russian intentions for its deployment still unclear.”
The memo was sensational. There would be others, 16 in all, sent to Fusion between June and early November 2016.
In December of last year, Steele informed Luke Harding, a journalist for the Guardian, that “the contracts for the hotel deals and land deals” between Trump and individuals with the Kremlin ties warrant investigation. “Check their values against the money Trump secured via loans,” the former spy said, according to a conversation detailed in Harding’s new book, Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win. “The difference is what’s important.”
According to his book, Steele did not elaborate on this point to Harding, but his implication was clear: it’s possible that Trump was indebted to Russian interests when he descended Trump Tower’s golden escalator to declare his candidacy. After the real-estate mogul suffered a series of bankruptcies related to the 2008 financial crisis, traditional banks became reluctant to loan him money—a reality he has acknowledged in past interviews. As a result, the Trump Organization reportedly became increasingly reliant on foreign investors, notably Russian ones. As Donald Trump Jr. famously said in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
The significance of such transactions is not lost on Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Citing a person familiar with the F.B.I. probe, Bloomberg reported in July that Mueller’s team is investigating a series of deals Trump struck, including the Trump Organization’s failed SoHo development that involved Russian nationals, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and the president’s sale of a Palm Beach estate in 2008. All three deals have drawn scrutiny for their ties to Russian interests; as Craig Unger outlined for the Hive, the 2014 Trump SoHo development is likely of interest to Mueller thanks to the involvement of Felix Sater—a Moscow-born, Russian-American businessman who did time for stabbing a man in the face with a margarita glass—and the now-defunct company he worked for, the Bayrock Group. Similarly, Russian developer Aras Agalarov, whose son Emin helped broker the controversial Trump Tower meeting last June between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, paid $20 million to bring Miss Universe to Moscow. And Russian fertilizer magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the Florida mansion for a staggering sum of $95 million in 2008—despite Trump having paid just $41 million for the property four years prior.
Trump has cautioned that he would view any attempt by Mueller to dig into his past business deals as out of bounds. But the former F.B.I. director has a broad mandate from the D.O.J. to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign” and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”—suggesting that Trump’s deals with Russians fall under Mueller’s purview. Nor is Mueller’s tack in following the money limited to Trump. The indictments the special prosecutor brought against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy and longtime business associate Rick Gates included conspiracy to launder money and seven counts of improper foreign banking and financial reporting. (Both Manafort and Gate have denied the charges.)
Since media outlets published the Steele dossier last January, Republican lawmakers and conservative pundits alike have sought to discredit it. In recent weeks, Trumpworld has latched onto the revelation that the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign indirectly bankrolled Steele’s investigative work—which he conducted for Washington-based intelligence firm Fusion G.P.S.—through the law firm Perkins Coie. They have argued that the dossier’s origins not only make it invalid, but are indicative of a larger anti-Trump conspiracy. Steele, however, stands by his work. While the former MI6 agent acknowledged that no piece of intelligence is 100 percent airtight, Harding noted that Steele told friends he believes the 16 memos he delivered to Fusion to be “70 to 90 percent accurate.”
MSNBC is reporting that Rob Goldstone, the publicist who set up the Trump Tower meeting and helped arrange the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013 is going to be speaking with Mueller soon. I'd imagine he'll be quite the interesting witness.