Monday, May 29, 2017

The Scandal Puzzle Is Finally Fitting Together. It's Even Worse Than We Thought.

STEPHEN CROWLEY / THE NEW YORK TIMES
If you think of the Russia scandal as a big jigsaw puzzle with lots of seemingly unconnected pieces when they are first spread out before you, several things become apparent as the pieces begin to fit together. 
The easy pieces are the corners and edges of the puzzle, which scandal investigators and certain reporters figured out some time ago as they painstakingly connected them.  But it has only been recently that the heart of the puzzle -- those funny shaped pieces in the middle from which a comprehensive picture of the scandal is emerging -- have begun to be connected. 
And behold, that is a picture of mutual backscratching on a mindbogglingly grand scale: Team Putin made Team Trump an offer it couldn't refuse.  You help us and we'll help elect your man by sabotaging Hillary Clinton, which will be Кусок пирога (a piece of cake) for us with you in the game.   
Oh, and when our little scheme works out, President Trump can relax those nasty Russia sanctions and our banks can offer some great financing for your Yankee capitalist business ventures.
Those middle pieces are falling into place because of recent disclosures, in most cases leaks by intel sources furious over Trump's flirtation with treason.  These disclosures reveal that about the time Trump campaign associates -- starting with Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn -- began meeting with Russians of interest, as investigators call them, the Kremlin's plan to throw the 2016 presidential election got off the ground, and that was not a coincidence.   
The way those middle pieces interconnect also is anything but coincidental, and the cause-and-effect relationship between what Team Trump was doing and Team Putin was doing is impossible to ignore even if it is not yet particularly clear.  But of one thing we can be sure: This relationship was not merely an astonishing series of events that have innocent explanations. 
Kushner, who is attracting a lot of attention these days as an American of interest as those middle pieces are connected, is a case in point. 
He is not merely Trump's son-in-law.  He wields enormous if ill-defined power as the president's closest adviser and takes the scandal to a new heights because of his proximity to him. When you understand that Kushner and his father-in-law have benefitted enormously from a culture where dealmaking, deceit and lying are as familiar to them as breathing, Kushner's serial prevarications -- no, let's just call them lies -- regarding his contacts with Russians of interest are telling.   
There were at least five contacts between Kushner and those Russians of interest, including three face-to-face meetings, that reflect a staggering naiveté -- or perhaps stupidity blinded by greed -- since it is widely known that the FBI monitors the communications of Russian officials in the U.S. and the NSA monitors the communications of Russian officials abroad.
The first meeting was in April 2016 as Trump was pulling away from a crowded Republican primary field.  That was when Kushner and campaign adviser Flynn met at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the U.S. and a man widely considered to be a spy in diplomat's clothing.   
Little is known about that meeting except for one hugely important thing: About the same time as the meeting -- speaking of non-coincidences -- U.S. intelligence intercepted the first communications among Russian in which they had shifted into higher gear and were now aggressively discussing putting their election meddling plan into action, and they indicated the centerpiece of that plan was sabotaging Clinton.   
Kislyak was to meet with several Trump associates, including twice with future Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in the intervening months prior to the second meeting between he and Kushner, again with Flynn present, on December 1 or 2 at Trump Tower in Manhattan. 
That was about three weeks after Trump's election victory and shortly before the Obama administration imposed tougher sanctions on Russia because it had solid evidence that the Kremlin had interfered in the election.    
There were two topics of discussion at the second meeting: Easing sanctions when Trump took office and, apparently at the suggestion of Kushner, having Kislyak set up a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin using Russian diplomatic facilities to shield their discussions from monitoring.  It would be a slam-dunk case of espionage if an American intelligence officer had done anything like that.   
And then there was this: Any number of foreign dignitaries were being paraded before the news media as they arrived at Trump Tower to pay their respects to the president-elect during the transition, but Kislyak was snuck in a back door and the meeting remained a secret.
In mid-December 2016, Kushner met with close Vladimir Putin associate Sergey N. Gorkov, the chief executive of Vnesheconombak, at its New York offices.   
The development bank, in street parlance, is mobbed up.  It has close ties to the Russian intelligence services and had been sanctioned by the Obama administration in 2014 prior to the arrest of Evgeny Buryakov, a spy working undercover as a bank executive who had met with onetime Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page in 2013 in an effort to have him engage in clandestine intelligence activities for Moscow.   Buryakov was prosecuted for espionage in 2015 and did prison time, while Page was the subject of a FISA Court warrant, a distinction typically reserved for suspected terrorists.    
Kushner's legendary attention to detail failed him repeatedly in January of this year when it came time to fill out a background form so he could be granted a high-level security clearance that would give him access to the nation's most closely guarded secrets.   He somehow completely forgot about his meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov, as well as business contacts with dozens of other foreign officials.  And then forgot that Flynn had accompanied him to the Kislyak meetings after eventually acknowledging they had occurred.   
(This amnesia was contagious.  Jeff Sessions forgot about his own meetings with Kislyak when it came time for him to fill out the background form.) 
We have learned a great deal about Trump, Kushner and their associates as the Russia scandal has grown from a lot of smoke to a nasty fire and on to a general-alarm conflagration.  All of it is bad and all of it is about money: Ruthless profiteering, shadow corporations, phantom tax returns, emoluments, money laundering, dealmaking with authoritarians.  And Flynn. There is almost always the presence of Michael Flynn.  
Perhaps the biggest lesson of the scandal is that Team Trump knew that a batshit crazy billionaire celebrity TV star could not win fair and square.  But because of their culture of dealmaking, deceit and lying, they would not hesitate to help undermine the bedrock of American democracy for political and monetary gain, and that made them ideal co-conspirators for Team Putin. 

CLICK HERE FOR A TIMELINE OF THE RUSSIA SCANDAL.

A Comprehensive Timeline Of The Russia Scandal, 2007 ~ 2017

GETTY 
The Russian effort to elect Donald Trump was an unprecedented assault from America's greatest foe on the bedrock of its democracy.  It is the most explosive scandal since Soviet spies stole atomic bomb secrets over 70 years ago. 
As early as 2007, Trump had made clear his affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin and by 2015 U.S. intelligence agencies were aware of contacts by Trump's inner circle with Russians with ties to the Kremlin's intelligence services, as well as Trump's own dealings with Russians. 
A timeline of the Russia scandal has slowly come into focus.  This is what is known:
October 15, 2007: Trump, speaking publicly of Putin for the first of many times, tells Larry King on CNN that Putin "is doing a great job . . . he's doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period." 
2008: Donald Trump Jr. tells a real estate conference in New York, "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. . . . We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia," although his father will insist when the first inklings of a scandal appear in 2016 that he has no Russian investments, a claim he will repeatedly make despite substantial evidence to the contrary. 
June 19, 2012: As President Obama meets with Putin, Trump tweets, "Putin has no respect for our president -- really bad body language." 
April 17, 2014: Trump tweets that Obama is a weakling compared to Putin.  "America is at a great disadvantage.  Putin is ex-KGB.  Obama is a community organizer.  Unfair." 
June 16, 2015: Trump announces that he is running for the Republican presidential nomination.
September 2015: A wealthy Republican donor who opposes Trump's candidacy hires Fusion GPS, an American research firm, to gather information about Trump.  
October 11, 2015: Speaking on Face the Nation, Trump brags about sharing air time with Putin on 60 Minutes although they were on separate continents. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Trump says there isn't enough proof to blame Russian separatists for shooting down a Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine the previous year.
Late 2015: Britain's GCHQ, which is equivalent to the U.S.'s NSA, first becomes aware of suspicious interactions between individuals connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents.  This intelligence is passed on to the U.S. as part of a routine exchange of information. 
December 2015: Trump campaign adviser Michael Flynn is paid $45,000 by RT,  Vladimir Putin's state propaganda network, for a three-day Moscow trip in which he gives a speech criticizing Obama's Russia policy. 
December 17, 2015: Putin praises Trump and Trump quickly returns the favor, saying "It's always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected in his own country and beyond." 
Spring 2016: Carter Page, a businessman with extensive Russian ties and previous contacts with Russian intelligence agents,  is hired by the Trump campaign as a quick fix for its lack of foreign policy expertise.
April 2016: Jared Kushner, Trump's son in law, accompanied by Flynn, meets with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who is widely considered to be a spy, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., the first of several meetings by Trump associates with Russian officials that are monitored by U.S. intelligence.   
April 2016: At about the same time as the Mayflower meeting, the CIA intercepts the first communications among Russians who discuss aggressively trying to influence the presidential election by sabotaging Hillary Clinton.
May 2016: An unidentified Democratic client takes over the Fusion GPS contract.  The client hires Orbis Business Intelligence, a British intelligence firm co-founded by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele, to investigate Russia-Trump connections.  Steele delivers confidential reports until his contract is terminated following Trump's election.    
Early June 2016: The CIA concludes in an internal report that Russia is actively engaged in meddling in the presidential election, including the goal of getting Trump elected, not merely disrupting the U.S. political system. 
June 15, 2016: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tells fellow Republican leaders that "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump." Dana Rohrabacher is a California Republican.  House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately interjects and swears those present to secrecy. 
Summer of 2016: U.S. intelligence collect information revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political operatives are discussing how to influence Trump through Flynn and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.  
July 5, 2016: FBI Director James Comey rebukes Clinton for being "extremely careless" but recommends no criminal charges in connection with her handling of classified information, including emails on a private server, as secretary of state, ostensibly lifting a cloud from her presidential campaign. 
Mid-July 2016: Working behind the scenes, the Trump campaign rewrites the Republican National Convention platform on Ukraine, removing a pledge to provide lethal weapons in its fight with Russia over Crimea and a call for maintaining or increasing sanctions against Russia.   
July 19, 2016: Trump is nominated for president at the convention after he, Flynn and other surrogates declare, in what becomes an oft-repeated campaign theme in the coming weeks, that Clinton should be "in jail" for her use of the private email server. 
July 22, 2016: WikiLeaks, which is friendly with Putin, begins releasing 44,000 hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails.  
July 25, 2016: Trump suggests that the Russians were behind the DNC hack because Putin "likes" him. 
July 27, 2016: Trump calls on Russia to hack 30,000 so-called "missing" Hillary Clinton emails.  
Late July 2016: The FBI opens an investigation to examine possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia, but its existence is kept secret even from high ranking members of Congress colloquially known as the Gang of Eight, who by law are to be briefed on important intelligence matters. 
Late July 2016: The FBI obtains and then renews a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court warrant allowing it to monitor Page, whom it believes is in touch with Russian agents and had been used in previous years by Moscow spies to obtain information.   
August 2016: The CIA concludes that unnamed Trump campaign advisers might be working with Russia to interfere in the election by sabotaging the Clinton campaign through a multi-pronged attack approved by Putin that includes email hacking, disinformation and false news stories. 
August 14, 2016: Dirty trickster and Trump confidante Roger Stone engages in direct messages with Russian military intelligence operative and DNC hacker Guccifer 2.0, according to separate media reports. 
August 19, 2016: Manafort is forced out as Trump's campaign manager, ostensibly over concerns about his ties with Russian officials.
Late August 2016: CIA Director John Brennan is so concerned about Trump-Russia links that he initiates urgent, one-on-one briefings with the Gang of Eight. 
Late August 2016: Stone boasts that he has communicated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who he says has materials including "deleted" Clinton emails that would be embarrassing to her.      
August 25, 2016: Brennan briefs Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, then the highest ranking Democrat.  With Congress in recess, Brennan explains to Reid over a secure phone link that the FBI and not the CIA would have to take the lead in what is a domestic intelligence matter. 
Late August 2016: Reid writes to Comey without mentioning the CIA briefing. He expresses great concern over what he calls mounting evidence "of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump's presidential campaign."     
September 2016: Intelligence shows that although Republican sites are also being hacked by Russians, only DNC emails are being publicized by WikiLeaks. 
September 2016: Aaron Nevins, a Republican political operative with ties to Stone, receives valuable Democratic turnout analyses hacked by Guccifer 2.0 and publishes them online under a pseudonym. 
September 22, 2016: Two other Gang of Eight members -- Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam B. Schiff, the ranking Senate and House intelligence committee Democrats -- release a statement stating that Russian intelligence agencies are "making a serious and concerted effort" to influence the election. 
Late September 2016: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, at the behind-the-scenes urging of the Obama administration, is asked to warn state election officials of possible attempts to penetrate their computer systems by Russian hackers.  McConnell resists, questioning the veracity of the intelligence.   
September 25, 2016: McConnell writes to state election officials.  He does not mention the Russian connection, but warns of unnamed "malefactors" who might seek to disrupt elections through online intrusions.     
October 28, 2016: Comey tells Congress that the FBI is reopening its Clinton investigation because of emails found on a computer belonging to former Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose estranged wife is a top Clinton aide.  The  Clinton campaign is thrown into crisis only 11 days before the election.
October 30, 2016: Reid writes a letter to Comey angrily accusing him of a "double standard" in renewing the Clinton investigation so close to the election while sitting on "explosive information" on ties between Trump and Russia.  Comey's response, if any, is not known. 
October 31, 2016: Mother Jones magazine reports without identifying former British spy Steele by name that he had produced a dossier that concluded Moscow had been "cultivating, supporting and assisting" Trump for years and had compromising information on him that could be used as blackmail.  
November 6, 2016: Comey announces that after a intensive review of the "new" emails, they were found to be either personal or duplicates of those previously examined, and that the FBI had not changed the conclusions it reached in July in exonerating Clinton. 
November 8, 2016: Sergei Krivov suffers fatal blunt force injuries after calling from the roof of the Russian consulate in New York.  Krivov was widely believed to be a counter spy who coordinated efforts to prevent U.S. eavesdropping. Russian officials claim he died of a heart attack.
November 8, 2016: Trump defeats Clinton decisively in the Election College but loses the popular vote in a close race that pundits widely agree was decided by voters who were influenced by Trump's repeated characterization of Clinton as being a criminal and Comey's October 28 announcement. 
November 10, 2016: Obama, meeting with Trump at the White House, expresses profound concerns about Flynn becoming a top national security aide because of his previous management of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the 2015 trip to Moscow and other Russia ties.    
Mid-November 2016: Marshall Billingslea, a former Bush administration national security official, is named to head Trump's national security transition team.  Unlike Trump, he has deep skepticism about Russian intentions and concerns about contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials.  
Late November 2016: Obama administration officials provide Billingslea with a CIA file on Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak because of Billingslea's belief that Flynn is not taking seriously the implications of his contacts with Kislyak. 
December 1or 2, 2016: Trump son-in-law Kushner and Flynn meet with Kislyak at Trump Towers.  They discuss easing  sanctions while Kushner proposes that a secret communications channel be set up between the Trump transition team and Kremlin using Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S. to shield their discussions from monitoring.     
Mid-December 2016: Kushner meets with Sergey Gorkov, a close associate of Putin and chief executive of Vnesheconombank, a development bank with close ties to Russian intelligence services although it has been sanctioned by the Obama administration and one of its executives was convicted of espionage.  
December 13, 2016: Senator John McCain delivers a copy of the Steele dossier to Comey that includes information that there had been discussions between the Trump campaign and Russians about how to pay hackers who penetrated the DNC computer system and cover up the operation. 
December 26, 2016: Oleg Erovinkin, believed to be instrumental in helping former British spy Christopher Steele compile his dossier, is found dead in the back seat of his car in Moscow in another suspicious death of an individual linked to the scandal. 
December 29, 2016: Obama announces new sanctions against Russia because of its election meddling.
December 29, 2017: Flynn talks with Kislyak about easing sanctions. 
Early January 2017: The CIA and FBI are said to have "high confidence" that Russia was trying to help Trump through a hacking campaign, while the NSA has only "moderate confidence."  The agencies also believe that Russia gained election board computer access in a number of states. 
January 4, 2017: Flynn tells Trump's transition team that he is under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign. 
January 5, 2017: Obama's national security director releases a report stating that the CIA, FBI and NSA believe that Russia hacked Democratic email accounts and then passed the emails on to WikiLeaks to try to tip the election to Trump because he would be friendlier to their interests. 
January 10, 2017: BuzzFeed News publishes a story stating that the Steele dossier has been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents and journalists.  
January 11, 2017: Former Blackwater boss Erik Prince, working as an emissary for Trump, meets secretly with a man close to Putin in the Seychelles islands in an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and the president-elect. 
January 15, 2017: Vice President Pence states on Face the Nation that Flynn, whom Trump has named national security adviser, did not discuss sanctions with Kislyak. 
Mid-January 2017: Former Trump campaign manager Manfort tells Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus that the Steele dossier is "garbage" and suggests it was motivated by Democratic activists and donors working with Ukrainian government officials who supported Clinton. 
January 20, 2017: Trump becomes president.  He insists that the Russia scandal is "fake news" while naming Flynn an other people to key positions in his administration who had secret contacts with Russians involved in the meddling effort. 
January 22, 2017: Trump singles out Comey at a White House event, hugs him and declares, "Oh, and there's Jim.  He's become more famous than me." 
January 24, 2017: Flynn is interviewed by the FBI at the White House, possibly about his contacts with Kislyak.  
January 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates tells White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II that misstatements made by Flynn to the Trump administration regarding his meetings with Russians make him vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow. 
January 27, 2017: Yates, responding to a query from McGahn, says that Flynn could be criminally prosecuted. 
January 27, 2017: Trump asks Comey to pledge his personal loyalty when they meet for dinner.  Comey, according to a memo he made of the meeting, replies that he can pledge "honesty" but not pledge "loyalty." 
Late January: Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer, Felix Sater, an ex-con and fixer for Trump who has helped him scout business deals in Russia, and Andrii Artemenko, a wealthy oligarch and Ukrainian lawmaker, meet at the Loews Regency Hotel in Manhattan where a "peace plan" for control of Russian-held Crimea is hatched.   
Late January: Cohen delivers the "peace plan" to Flynn at the White House, reports The New York Times.
January 30, 2017: McGahn asks Yates if the Trump administration can see the underlying intelligence data about Flynn.  She agrees to provide it. 
January 30, 2017: Trump fires Yates, allegedly over a matter not related to the scandal -- her conclusion that Trump's Muslim ban is unconstitutional, which is later upheld by the courts.
February 13, 2017: Flynn is forced to resign as national security director when it is revealed he misled Vice President Pence about his communications with Kislyak concerning easing Obama administration Russia sanctions. 
February 14, 2017: Trump tells Comey in an Oval Office meeting that he wants him to drop the FBI's investigation of Flynn. 
February 15, 2017: White House Chief of Priebus asks Comey and his top deputy, Andrew McCabe, to refute news reports about Trump campaign ties with Russian government officials.  They demur. 
February 24, 2017: Comey rejects requests from the Trump administration to publicly rebut reports about Trump associates' contacts with Russians.  Trump counters by tweeting that FBI sources are leaking information to the press and demands that stop.   
March 2, 2017: Alex Oronov, a naturalized U.S. citizen, dies under unexplained circumstances in his native Ukraine.  He reportedly helped set up the late January meeting between Cohen, Sater and Artemenko. 
March 2, 2017: Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuses himself from the Justice Department's investigation into Russia-Trump connections after acknowledging that he failed to disclose his own meetings with Kislyak while he was advising the Trump campaign. 
March 4, 2017: Trump tweets that Obama ordered the phones at Trump Tower to be wiretapped.   
March 5, 2017: Comey asks the Justice Department to deny Trump's wiretapping claim.  Justice refuses and Comey's request is leaked to the news media.
March 20, 2017: Comey in effect calls Trump a liar in publicly acknowledging for the first time in testimony before Congress that the FBI's investigation into Russian election meddling includes Trump associates' contacts with Russians who were working to sabotage Clinton.
March 2017: In the wake of Comey's testimony, Trump makes separate appeals to Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Admiral Michael S. Rogers, director of the NSA to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.  They refuse.  
Late March 2017: Flynn offers to be interviewed by investigators for Senate and House committees examining Trump campaign ties to Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution.  The offer is later withdrawn. 
April 7, 2017: Spanish authorities arrest Pyotr Levashov at the request of U.S. authorities, who believe he is one of the Russia election meddlers who distributed "fake news" to try to influence voters through sendings billions of spambot messages by infecting tens of thousands of computers. 
April 8, 2017: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes recuses himself from the panel's investigation after it is revealed that White House security staffers fed him information in an effort to bolster Trump's false claim that Obama had personally ordered that his Trump Tower phones be tapped.  
April 2017: The Senate and House intelligence committees secure access to top-level intelligence from the FBI, CIA,  NSA and other agencies on Russia-Trump ties that in theory will enable them to dig deeper. 
April 25, 2017: House Oversight Committee members assert that Flynn may have violated federal law by not fully disclosing his business dealings with Russians. 
April 28, 2017: The Senate Intelligence Committee asks four Trump campaign associates -- Flynn, Page, Manafort and Stone -- to hand over emails and other records of their dealings with Russians and says it is prepared to subpoena those who refuse to cooperate.  
Early May 2017: Comey meets with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to request a substantial increase in funding and personnel to expand the FBI's investigation in light of information showing possible evidence of Trump-Russia collusion. 
Early May 2017: Stone, who is being investigated for his Russia ties, reportedly lobbies the president to fire Comey. 
Early May 2017: White House lawyers warn Trump that it would be inappropriate for him to reach out to Flynn, which he tells them he wants to do, because Flynn is under investigation. 
May 2, 2017: Trump agrees in a phone conversation with Putin to meet with his foreign minister, who will be meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in coming days.  Putin neglects to tell Trump that the Lavrov-Tillerson meeting with be 4,100 miles away in Alaska, while the White House keeps secret the forthcoming visit. 
May 2, 2017: Clinton says Comey's decision to tell Congress of the "new" Clinton emails and WikiLeaks email disclosures helped alter the outcome of the election because people inclined to vote for her "got scared off" while Trump again tweets that the scandal is"phony." 
May 2, 2017: Trump criticizes Comey in a tweet, saying "[He] was the best thing to ever happen to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds." 
May 3, 2017: Comey tells Congress, "It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election" because of his Clinton case disclosure.  He says the Russia investigation is continuing.
 May 8, 2017: Yates testifies before a Senate subcommittee about the repeated warnings given Trump and his White House legal counsel about Flynn being a security risk and possibly liable for criminal prosecution because of his Russia ties. 
May 9, 2017: Trump hires a Washington law firm to send a letter to Senator Lindsey Graham, who says he intends to look into Trump's extensive business dealings with Russians.  Trump claims yet again that he has no connections to Russia. 
May 9, 2017: The Senate Intelligence Committee issues a subpoena to Flynn demanding that he turn over records of his interactions with Russians after he refuses to do so.  A federal grand in Alexandria, Virginia issues subpoenas to a number of Flynn's business associates.  
May 9, 2017: Trump, who had effusively praised FBI Director Comey's handling of the Clinton email investigations, summarily fires him.  He asserts that Comey mishandled the investigations, but it is widely believed that he is trying to quash the bureau's Russia investigation. 
May 9, 2017: Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who drafted the Justice Department memo justifying the dismissal of Comey, threatens to resign after the White House portrays him as the mastermind behind the firing. 
May 10, 2017: Trump, meeting with  Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Kislyak at the White House, boasts about highly classified information from an ally about ISIS he was not permitted to disclose, let alone to an adversary.  
May 11, 2017: Testifying before Congress, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe rejects White House assertions that Comey had lost the backing of rank-and-file agents, and says the bureau's Russia investigation will continue. 
May 12, 2017: Trump issues a veiled threat to Comey to not leak any information that he may have and indicates he may have tapes of their conversations. 
May 12, 2017: A "close associate" of Comey's states that the fired FBI director is willing to testify before Congress, but only in an open hearing. 
May 15, 2017: The Washington Post publishes a story on Trump's boast to Lavrov and Kislyak.  The White House denies that the president revealed sensitive intelligence. 
May 16, 2017: Trump, in early morning tweets, contradicts his aides and appears to acknowledge that The Post story is accurate, while the White House refuses to release a transcript of the Lavrov and Kislyak meeting. 
May 17, 2017: In a remarkable offer, Putin says he is willing to provide Congress with a transcript of the meeting.  Democrats and Republicans reject the offer. 
May 17, 2017: Deputy AG Rosenstein  names Robert Mueller, who preceded Comey as FBI director, as special counsel to oversee its Russia investigation.  Trump calls the appointment the "greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history." 
May 18, 2017: FBI and congressional investigators say Flynn and other Trump campaign advisers were in contact with Russians in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the presidential race, according to Reuters. 
May 18, 2017: Trump yet again calls the Russia investigation a "witch hunt," but for the first time equivocates, saying that "I cannot speak for others." 
May 19, 2017: Rosenstein tells members of Congress that Mueller has been given the authority to investigate the possibility of a cover-up.
May 19, 2017: The Washington Post reports that a senior White House adviser close to the president is a "significant person of interest" to investigators. 
May 19, 2017: A transcript of the May 10 Lavrov-Kislyak meeting shows that Trump told them that firing "real nut job" Comey had relieved "great pressure" on him.  "I faced great pressure because of Russia.  That's taken off." 
May 19, 2017: Russian officials bragged in conversations during the presidential campaign that they could use Flynn to influence Trump and his team, according to CNN.
May 20, 2017: The House Intelligence Committee asks Michael Caputo to submit to a voluntary interview, reports The New York Times.  Caputo, who worked for the Trump campaign for six months, had extensive dealings with Kremlin officials in the 1990s. 
May 22, 2017: Flynn's lawyers tell the Senate Intelligence Committee that he is invoking the Fifth Amendment rather than comply with a subpoena to produce documents regarding his contacts with Russians.  
May 23, 2017: Brennan, Obama's CIA director, tells the House Intelligence Committee that the Trump campaign may have been successfully recruited by Russia and said there is evidence of "troubling" contacts between the campaign and Russian officials.
May 23, 2017: Trump retains the services of lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz in connection with the Russia scandal.  He previously represented Trump in fraud, divorce and numerous other cases. 

SOURCES: The Atlantic, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Buzzfeed, CNN, Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Independent UK, Krebson Security, McClatchy News, Mother Jones, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Reuters,Talking Points Memo, Vox, The Washington Post, Wired.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Reflections On Memorial Day 2017


It is Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. 
The holiday originally was called Decoration Day and was a day of remembrance for Union soldiers who died in the American Civil War. After World War I, it was expanded to include soldiers who died in any war.  It more recently was expanded to allow retailers to shamelessly peddle their stuff at those ubiquitous if dying monuments to rampant capitalism -- the shopping mall.  
As always, I've hung an American flag outside of Kiko's House this Memorial Day, a 48-star banner that long waved outside the rural Minnesota farmhouse of my love's Norwegian immigrant forebears.  
As always, I will keep the weekend simple and go for a hike and perhaps a swim in our spring-fed mountain pool (brr!). 
As always, I will remember that freedom of speech is not protected by journalists like myself but by the men and women who have given their lives to defend American values. 
As always, I will feel a sadness over loved ones and friends who will not be with us  because of their sacrifices.  
But this Memorial Day is different.  So have too many holidays of remembrance as I have slouched into my dotage.   Besides being sad, I also am angry -- a slow burn, I suppose -- over the mess that we've made of our once great country.    
As my cousin County Bumpkin was fond of saying, dissent and bickering are the soundtrack of a democracy. But this should be a golden age for America and it is anything but.  I cannot recall a time in my life when so few have so much and so many are struggling.   
When an unrelenting fear rules our lives and the president's narcissistic craziness indelibly colors our country and culture. 
When America's heart and soul -- its middle class -- is so beleaguered. 
When we are so incapable of a national consensus on anything beyond the belief that government and many of our institutions have failed us. That things only will get worse before they get better, if they ever get better.    
So what’s to be done about this dismal state of affairs?  
Nothing.  
Such pessimism is uncharacteristic of me, let alone Americans in general, and I feel a twinge of shame that I am unable to be more upbeat this Memorial Day weekend.  But my glass is well below half empty, especially when I reflect on the sacrifices our men and woman at arms are asked to make.
Sacrifices for what? An ill-focused War on Terror? The mess in Mesopotamia? The pathetic war in Afghanistan? Preparing for the next war with an evil nut who has access to the nuclear codes as commander in chief? 
You tell me.  
-- Love and Peace, SHAUN

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Laws To Get Trump Are Working, For The Most Part. But Will They Be Enough?

MARIAN KAMENSKY
It is not that the trickle of news leaks staining Donald Trump's shiny black Guccis from the outset of his presidency have become a flood.  Nor that this flood has been a counterbalance to Trump's outrages, deceits and extraconstitutional forays since congressional Republicans have taken to the fainting couch en masse as evidence of his collusion with Russia in its effort to influence the 2016 presidential election has piled up.  It is that the leaks have become so damning that they might have been crafted by a prosecutor seeking Trump's impeachment. Which come to think of it, is a fine idea.  But, alas, a bit premature.   
On Monday and Tuesday, a senior intelligence official was quoted as saying Trump's goal has been to "muddy the waters" about the true scope of the FBI's Russia scandal investigation, a former CIA general counsel called Trump's actions "an appalling abuse of power," and an administration insider said Trump does not care about "maintaining legal boundaries." 
And then came the Mother of All Leaks on Wednesday. 
That is when The New York Times reported that U.S. spies collected credible information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political operatives were discussing how to influence Trump through then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and adviser Michael Flynn.  Both men, the operatives said, could be used to help shape Trump's views on Russia.  Hет проблем.  (No problem).
Meanwhile, the scope of the president's efforts to shut down the FBI's Russia scandal investigation has finally hoved into view and it is just as bad as even the most rabid Trump hater could hope it to be.   
That scope is far reaching, begs comparison with Richard Nixon's not dissimilar and ultimately disastrous efforts to try to quash the Watergate probe, and further cements the gut-wrenching reality that Russia not only "brazenly interfered" in the election, as John Brennan, Obama's CIA director, told Congress on Tuesday in what is by now accepted wisdom, but that Team Trump may have been successfully recruited by the Kremlin to help undermine a bedrock of American democracy, which The Times has now all but confirmed. 
Brennan, who chose his words with great care, stopped short of saying the Trump campaign had actively helped the Kremlin.  But he did not have to be explicit in circumspectly noting there was evidence of "troubling" contacts between Russian officials and the campaign in his testimony before  the rejuvenated, Devin Nunes-free House Intelligence Committee. 
His gripping appearance came only hours after The Washington Post reported in yet another leak-based scoop that Trump had asked two of the U.S.'s top intel officials to make public statements saying there was no evidence of collusion, which is about all the evidence you need to confirm that there was indeed collusion since the president has consistently refused to open his books -- literally and figuratively -- to investigators and obviously believes he has a great deal to hide.     
Trump, said The Post, made the requests in late March of Dan Coats, the director of national security, and NSA chief Admiral Michael S. Rogers following the March 20 testimony of then-FBI Director James Comey, who in effect called Trump a liar in publicly acknowledging for the first time in testimony before Congress that the FBI's investigation included Trump associates' contacts with Russians who were working to sabotage Hillary Clinton.
Coats and Rogers politely declined to do the president's dirty work. 
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Is there any doubt that Trump should resign, face impeachment or invocation of the 25th Amendment? 
No, unless you are a hair-splitting legal eagle who can't see the president's blatant and repeated attempts at obstruction of justice for the trees, or are part of the Republican fainting couch set that is fervently praying he hangs on long enough for him to help enact their Reverse Robin Hood legislative agenda.
Trump's biggest problem at this point is not belatedly coming clean (which is not in his genes), containing the damage (a fight he already has lost) or co-opting the Republicans (which he has never needed to do), but the reality that the laws designed to flush him out and perhaps bring him down -- they're called checks and balances, Donald -- actually are working.   
The exception is Congress -- and primarily the House of Representatives -- being MIA instead of being a check on a runaway president as mandated by the Constitution.  (More about this later.) 
For what it's worth -- and public opinion is tangental at this point -- in September 2006, nearly six years into George W. Bush's presidency, 29 percent of voters thought he should be impeached.  In November 2014, six years into Barack Obama's presidency, 30 percent were so inclined, while Trump hit 30 percent only one month after taking office and is now at a robust 48 percent. 
In any event, Congress can go screw itself for the time being because overall the scandal investigations are accelerating nicely, and there is all this in addition to the cavalcade of damaging leaks and Brennan's testimony: 
* The Senate and House intelligence committees have the deeply corrupt Michael Flynn in their crosshairs.  Flynn, who was appointed by Trump to be national security director despite repeated warnings of his Russia-tied toxicity, has repeatedly refused a subpoena from the Senate committee to hand over Russia-related business records and a House subpoena is in the works.
On Monday, Flynn invoked the Fifth Amendment against self incrimination in response to the Senate missive, although he had said last year that such an act was tantamount to an admission of guilt.  On Tuesday he refused again, was told by the committee that businesses cannot take the Fifth, and then on Wednesday refused yet again. 
* The circumstances under which Carter Page got easy access to the Trump campaign in the spring of 2016 is being examined by the FBI and Senate Intelligence Committee.  Page, a businessman with extensive Russian ties, supposedly was hired as a quick fix for the campaign's lack of foreign policy expertise.   
Investigators are especially interested in what conversations Page may have had with Russian officials about their effort to interfere in the election.  The FBI obtained and then renewed a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court warrant allowing it to monitor Page, whom it believes had been in touch with Russian agents in previous years. 
* Trump's ham-handed efforts to squelch the FBI investigation as it gained serious traction are blowing up in his face big time.  When Comey resisted the president's personal arm-twisting to get him to stop investigating Flynn, Trump unsuccessfully tried to roll Coats and Rogers and of course eventually resorted to firing Comey under false pretenses.   
What Trump got for his exertions was Robert Mueller, Comey's no-nonsense predecessor at the FBI, who was named a special prosecutor to head the Justice Department's foundering investigation.  Trump can fire Mueller, but does so at his own peril, a gambit that earned Richard Nixon a one-way trip home to San Clemente aboard Air Force One. 
* Trump knows that he needs more than his White House legal staff, so he has hired longtime pal and defense attorney Marc E. Kasowitz -- with emphasis on  defense -- to hold his hand as the various investigations dredge that cesspool.  (Bill Clinton hired his own legal sharpshooter in the Monica Lewinski scandal.) 
Kasowitz has represented the litigious Trump in numerous other cases, including his divorces (where he repeatedly took the Fifth), Trump University lawsuits, all of which eventually were settled out of court, and several sexual harassment lawsuits, one of which is still pending.       
Put all this together -- that a once manageable political embarrassment has become a full course meal of a scandal that is increasingly focused on Trump with Flynn and Manafort as the appetizers -- and you might be excused for a high five or two.   
Sorry, but like I said at the top, that would be premature.   
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Just because the laws being used to corner Trump by dredging his cesspool are working for the most part is not the same thing as saying they will result in his early departure from the Oval Office. 
By design (thank you, James Madison), these checks and balances make employing the 25th Amendment or the more traditional use of impeachment extremely difficult even though Trump certainly is in a league of his own.  Remember that in 228 years, only one president has resigned, two have been impeached but did not resign, and eight died in office.   
Therein lies a cautionary tale, and this leads us back to Congress and specifically the House.   
The likelihood of the investigations being derailed at this point is minute.  It is my guess that one or more of these investigations will hit pay dirt, but even though they will confirm the acts that were committed are criminal, it would be in the political arena that the president would be brought down. 
In other words, Flynn and Manafort could be nailed by a federal criminal prosecutor, but Trump . . . well, it's complicated. 
This is because by law (thank you again, Mr. Madison) any evidence of wrongdoing by Trump must be referred to the House, not a criminal prosecutor.  And although it is all but certain that Trump has committed the "high crimes and misdemeanors," that are requirements for impeachment under the Constitution, the House will take the only way out it knows.   
That is the cowardly way.   
Trump may yet resign, perhaps on a medical pretext, and may yet become so crazy that even his most ardent supporters -- Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan -- will have no choice but to invoke the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and congressional leaders to remove the president if he is deemed unfit.   
But at this point we may have to wait until the 2018 midterm elections when the Democrats could retake the House, which (finally) would then vote for impeachment, and the Senate, as well, where an impeachment trial would then be held.   
If Trump hasn't destroyed the country by then. 

Click HERE for a timeline of the Trump-Russia scandal.