Sunday, March 18, 2018

Psychedelic Donald: How LSD Prepared Me For The Hallucinatory Age Of Trump

have a confession to make: My experimentation with psychedelic drugs as a young man has unexpectedly prepared me for The Age of Trump.  This is because ingesting LSD altered perceptions of the "straight" world in strange, insightful and sometimes incredible ways that are helping me to better understand and survive the hallucinatory times in which we live. 
But lest we confuse what Trump says with what the dormouse said, to riff off the lyrics of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," which is perhaps the ultimate tripping song, strains the analogy.  What I mean is that Trump's statements and actions regarding the bummer known as the Russia scandal -- as well as those of his Republican congressional sycophancy -- aren't merely obfuscations and lies in the face of the now widely accepted wisdom that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help elect him.  They are utterly psychedelic.  
Go ask Alice, I think she'll know.  
AS IT WAS, IN THE FIFTH WEEK OF THE SECOND YEAR of the Trump presidency, the man with the small hands and peculiar hair inched over so slightly away from his oft-stated claim that the Russia scandal is a "hoax" as members of his own administration and even a few dues-paying members of the congressional sycophancy acknowledged that the Kremlin not only interfered in the election, but did so with the goal of sabotaging Hillary Clinton to get Trump elected.  And is actively plotting new cyberattacks on the U.S. 
Trump's baby steps toward reality actually were a quantum leap when you consider his fawning allegiance to Mother Russia and his favorite autocrat, Vladimir Putin, who was reelected handily on Sunday after stifling all opposition and barring his only serious opponent from running.
Belatedly responding to the news that a Russian-made nerve agent had felled a former Kremlin double agent and his daughter nine days earlier in Salisbury, England, Trump mumbled that "As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be." 
Then 48 hours later, under growing pressure from members of his own Cabinet and others to grow a pair, Trump allowed that "It looks like [it was Russia] . . . and we are taking it very seriously, as I think are many others."  That still was a far cry from the condemnations issued by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the latter only hours before Trump fired him by Tweet for yet again crossing swords with the boss.   
Then a day later, Trump was "studiously silent," as The New York Times chose to describe it, when the Treasury Department finally was moved to impose the sanctions Congress had approved over his objections in nearly unanimous votes a year earlier.   
But those blown-deadline sanctions are as pathetic as Trump's mumble words.   They target 19 Russians and five Russian organizations for spreading disinformation and propaganda to disrupt the election, but all with two exceptions are the very individuals and entities identified by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller in a recent indictment and in some cases were targeted in 2016 sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.  
Is this the best the Trump administration can do?   
Yes, because to do any more -- as in impose penalties with real teeth on Putin's inner circle of cronies with travel bans and asset freezes -- would only serve to amplify the president's disconnect with reality. 
AS SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS GO, the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee has displayed a masochism that would make the Marquis de Sade proud. 
Not content with having bombed with the so-called Nunes memo, a piece of fiction cobbled together by Devin Nunes, the recused but not recused committee chairman and Trump poodle caught out last year concocting phony intelligence to embarrass former President Obama, the committee gave new meaning to the word "oversight" in solemnly announcing the other day that it had concluded there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, nor did Russia try to get Trump elected, and therefore its job was done. 
Contradicting U.S. intelligence agencies, intel committee Republicans stated in a draft report that there merely poor judgment by campaign team members in some instances. But it turns out the poor judgment was epidemic, because the Republicans refused to subpoena witnesses and documents that would have told a very different story, committee Democrats were not allowed to contribute to the report and they had no interest in Mueller first concluding his investigation before they wrapped up theirs.   
The central irony of the hijinks of intel committee Republicans is that they tried to deceive in precisely the same way they (falsely) accused the FBI of deceiving the FISA Court.  This glittering example of democracy in action was timed -- and these Repubs have done nothing without first getting instructions from the big guy's handlers -- to be a prologue to another flurry of White House garment rending.   
This took the form of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe being fired for telling the truth 26 hours before he could retire and Trump criminal defense lawyer John Dowd insisting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller after Trump axed McCabe's boss for refusing to shut down the Russia probe, should end the special counsel's inquiry immediately.  This, he explained, is because collusion allegations were "manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt dossier."     
This was reinforced in a Trump sieg heil tweet to his base on Sunday morning in which he lashed out at Mueller, McCabe and Comey in terms that called to mind a wild animal caught in a trap as his pursuers close in on him.   
The result of all this is that we have reached yet another tipping point in a slo-mo constitutional crisis.  Perhaps we should call this chapter the saga of McCabe and Mr. Mueller. 
And so Nunes has put another nail in Trump's coffin, Dowd made a fool of himself, Paul Ryan suffered further whiplash looking the other way, Saturday Night Live continued to struggle to be more absurd than what actually is going on, and with the energized Democrats' electoral fortunes running high, the intel committee will order a redo when (and if) the party recaptures the House, and the business of impeaching Trump finally can be addressed. 
Then perhaps America's bad trip can finally begin to end. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related events. 

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Friday, March 16, 2018

Why Gina Haspel Is The Perfect Nominee For Donald Trump To Head The CIA

Writ large, Donald Trump's nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the CIA is a victory for torturers and a defeat for women.  Do not allow anyone to try to tell you otherwise. 
Haspel, known among her CIA peers as"Bloody Gina," was a big cog -- a franchise player, in baseball lingo -- in the Bush Torture Regime machine.  As an undercover CIA officer, she played a hands-on role in the agency's so-called extraordinary rendition program, which routinely kidnapped, detained and interrogated terrorism suspects with Nazi-like techniques including waterboarding, imprisonment in small boxes, slapping and punching, sleep deprivation, being doused with icy cold water, mock execution threats that detainees' children would be killed and their mothers raped, and forced rectal feeding. 
Most of these evil and blatantly unconstitutional techniques, adopted after the 9/11 attacks, were carried out in so-called black sites.  Haspel, for her part, ran the "Cat's Eye," a secret detention facility in Thailand where the torture of Abu Zubaydah, a senior lieutenant to Osama bin Laden captured in Pakistan earlier in 2002, began on August 1 of that year. 
The torture was supposed to begin with open-palm slaps to the belly and face, according to John Kiriakou, a former CIA counterterrorism officer who became a senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  
But the interrogators decided to start with the toughest method -- waterboarding.  They waterboarded Zabaydah 83 times in the course of one month and later subjected him to sleep deprivation and locked him in a large dog cage for weeks at a time.  He also was placed in a coffin-sized box and, knowing that he had an irrational fear of insects, put bugs in with him. 
Haspel's boss, the notorious Jose Rodriguez, later claimed that the torture worked and provided intelligence that saved America lives, but this was false. 
There is not a shred of evidence that Zabayda or any other torture victim provided valuable intelligence, while the story that torture led to locating and assassinating Osama bin Laden is simply false.  In fact, all it did was tank America's standing in the civilized world as it ran roughshod over the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties. 
After being brutalized in Thailand, Zubaydah was transferred from prison to prison in Afghanistan, Poland, North Africa and Diego Garcia, losing his left eye along the way, and landed in Guant├ínamo Bay, where he has moldered in isolation in the notorious Camp 7 lockup since 2006. 
When the public started to get wise to the torture regime, videotapes and recordings of the interrogations were ordered destroyed.  By then, Haspel was back at CIA headquarters and was a party to if not the person who drafted and carried out the destruction orders.
Haspel, 61, is a perfect nominee for Trump and yet another example of him not draining the Washington swamp. 
The president's enthusiasm for brutality seems boundless.  He has instructed police to treat suspects roughly, praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines for murdering people suspected of having drug ties and recently advocated executing drug dealers.  There's also evidence that Trump likes rough sex -- as in being on the receiving end -- something that has come up in connection with the Stormy Daniels scandal and in anecdotal evidence from acquaintances down through the years. 
Haspel was named deputy CIA director in February 2017, prompting the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights to ask German prosecutors to issue a warrant for her arrest because of her role in the interrogations, which puts her at risk of being arrested when she travels abroad.   
Lest anyone think otherwise, her nomination will sail through the Senate despite some isolated harrumphing from the usual scolds like Senator Diane Feinstein, for whom Kiriakou worked.  The former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee is demanding a complete accounting of Haspel's involvement in the rendition program and tape destruction, but won't get it.   
Michael Morell, deputy CIA director under Barack Obama, who took a powder and refused to prosecute torture regime perps, describes Haspel as a no-nonsense gal with "grit and toughness, and yet a big dose of humanity." 
While you gag on that, consider that Haspel is the first woman to head the CIA.  That might be cause for celebration under other circumstances, but her unashamed participation in the torture regime is no victory for feminism unless you believe that women should have an equal opportunity to torture along with men. 
Because truth be known, Haspel was and will continue to be an obedient servant of a violent patriarchy.  

Click HERE for an index of previous torture-related posts. 

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Intelligence Committee Republicans Run Up The Treason Flag & Proudly Salute It

Imagine that members of an frontline congressional committee, sworn to seek out the truth and punish wrongdoers in connection with the greatest assault on American democracy since the Soviets stole atomic bomb secrets over 70 years ago, instead decline to interview important witnesses and follow important leads, ignore salient facts and then issue a report that contradicts the long-verified conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community and is at odds with the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. 
Well, imagine no more, because in a The Japanese Didn't Really Bomb Pearl Harbor moment, that's what the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee has done in drafting a report stating that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump win the presidency. 
As shockingly irresponsible -- if not downright treasonous -- as that conclusion is, it comes as no surprise.   
Committee chairman Devin Nunes, the bumbling Inspector Clouseau of Capitol Hill, was in the bag for Trump before he got caught out last year concocting phony intelligence to embarrass former President Obama with White House help, then ostensibly recused himself from the committee's Russia probe but like an obedient poodle continued to feed committee Republicans a stream of kibble from Trump's handlers. 
Much of the news media, which too often still gives Trump and his congressional sycophancy undeserving breaks, will portray the bad-faith Republican draft report announced on Monday and a forthcoming Democratic minority report outlining the ample evidence that the Kremlin was helping Trump and the Trump campaign was helping the Kremlin, as partisan infighting.  
Cracks were appearing in the Republicans' facade on Tuesday as some committee members acknowledged that there was evidence that Russia tried to damage Clinton's candidacy and ranking committee Democrat Adam Schiff released a "status update" listing witnesses, firms and documents that the Republicans had declined to subpoena or compel to testify and the relevance to the investigation of each.
But it's really very simple: Overall, Democrats want the truth while Republicans are running from it.
WHY ARE DONALD TRUMP'S LAWYERS SO BAD?  Beyond the serial bumblings and ethical breeches shot through the Stormy Daniels saga because of Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer and fixer, we have the Keystone Kops "defending" the president on Russia scandal-related matters.  
Their most recent Through the Looking Glass brainstorm to try to keep Trump from becoming totally immersed in hot water is a deal they are contemplating offering Mueller: In return for granting the special counsel an interview with Trump, which is well within his purview to begin with, they will require him to wrap up his investigation within 60 days, which of course would allow witnesses with potentially incriminating information to run out the clock without giving anything up. 
Not only is there no chance that Mueller will bite, there are reports that he has decided to interview Trump after he has concluded his overall investigation.
These legal intrigues come as Ty Cobb, nominally Trump's lead criminal defense lawyer, is making noises about running for the nearest exit after distinguishing himself by assuring Trump that Mueller would wrap up his work by Thanksgiving . . . of 2017.  Then by the end of the year and then by January. 
As dumb as Trump can be, he's not that dumb, and so Cobb's schtick has worn thin, prompting a Hail Mary pass to lawyer Emmet Flood as fears grow that Trump could face impeachment proceedings next year if Democrats retake the House in the November midterm elections. 
Flood, who recently met with Trump in the Oval Office, is the answer to a trivia question: Who represented Bill Clinton during his 1998 impeachment trial?
To be fair, Cobb and fellow criminal defense lawyers John Dowd and Jay Sekelow have not had a pot to piss in because they known Trump is guilty as sin even if his malignant narcissism enables him to see things otherwise.  As a result, and beyond contemplating making an offer to Mueller he can and will refuse, they have had to resort to arcane legal interpretations. 
As in, for something to be a crime, there has to be a statute to be violated, but because there is not a statute refers to criminal collusion, there is no crime of collusion. Or, the president cannot be charged with obstructing justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer and has every right to express his view of any case.   
IS IT MERELY A COINCIDENCE that only hours after Rex Tillerson broke with Trump over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, the president -- ever the coward when it comes to delivering bad news in person --  fired the secretary of state by Twitter?
Hard to tell since every White House upheaval -- and Tillerson is the umpteenth top administration official to get the ax -- is surrounded by high drama and low lies.  But Tillerson, in echoing British PM Theresa May, did say he had "full confidence" that Russia was the culprit in the strongest condemnation of Russia ever issued by the Trump administration.
Under "normal" circumstances, the U.S. would immediately offer its closest ally technical assistance, the president would call his counterpart in a show of solidarity and reporters would be invited into the president's inner sanctum where he would wag his finger in the direction of the Kremlin.   
But more than a week after Skripal, his daughter and a police officer were exposed to Novichok No. 5, a deadly nerve agent with Russia written all over it, and upwards of 500 people were exposed to neurological risk, none of that has happened beyond a brief call to May.  Instead, we have the most astounding example yet of the Russia-loving Trump defaulting on his responsibilities as the White House rebuffs questions about whether the U.S. even supports the U.K. finding of fact about Kremlin responsibility.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related events. 

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Thick Plottens: They Call It Stormy Daniels, But Tuesday's Just The Same

Its utter tawdriness aside, what is so mind blowingly delicious about the Stormy Daniels saga is that unlike the many other scandals swirling around the presidency of a profoundly unqualified and very sick man, this one is sticking, and a porn star may end up doing to Donald Trump what no one else has done -- seizing and keeping control of the narrative, something Trump has long been accustomed to doing. 
The next few days will be a crash course in contract law for those of us who have only recently become conversant with white-collar criminal law (as in, there's no such thing as collusion; it's conspiracy) thanks to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's relentless investigation of the Trump campaign's 2016 fandango with the Kremlin. 
The facts, more or less, of the Daniels scandal are these:
In 2006, Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) began an affair with Trump, but one of his 20-plus consensual liaisons and unwelcome sexual assaults of which we are aware.  In 2016, with the election only a few weeks away, Trump fixer Michael Cohen sought to silence Daniels with a $130,000 payoff through a shell company established just for that purpose. 
But Trump never signed the nondisclosure agreement (NDA) drafted by Cohen in which Daniels promised to remain silent and turn over videotapes and such in return for the hush money.  She has now sued Cohen (read Trump) for violating the NDA because of Cohen's amateurish effort to enable the president to maintain deniability about the affair. 
Cohen then got a temporary restraining order (TRO) from an arbitrator barring Daniels from speaking out, which she did in an interview with Cooper Anderson for 60 Minutes that has not yet aired.  Cohen is expected to seek to try to make the TRO permanent and seek an injunction to silence 60 Minutes and make the whole thing go away. 
The whole thing is not going away and the scandal bristles with sidelights, among them that Cohen and Trump may have violated campaign finance laws in not reporting the payoff.  Cohen also may have violated a slew of ethics rules, including making Daniels think that she was dealing with Trump when she was not.
The bottom line is that some 17 months after Cohen sought to silence Daniels, she is controlling the narrative, and perhaps shortening a shambles of a presidency that long has been on life support. 
With the focus of the scandal shifting to legal and press freedom issues, the president and his fixer effectively have become bystanders, and if they are unable to make the TRO permanent, let alone obtain a stay against CBS News, the floodgates will open to the whole magillah landing in open court, raising the Triple X-rated prospect of Trump being deposed if the NDA is declared invalid, which would stir Trump's numerous other sexual encounters and hush money payoffs into the mix just as Bill Clinton's other sexual encounters were addressed in the Paula Jones lawsuit. 
We can only hope. 
SO MANY DEALS, SO LITTLE TIME.  Not to forgive Trump's behavior, but Cohen has made such a hash of things that he has no good options.  Under a deal proposed by Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti, she is willing to return the $130,000 but with some major strings attached. 
They are:
After returning the hush money, Daniels will be free to speak openly about a relationship the White House continues to deny, as well as publish any photos, videos or text messages related to the president that she may have in her possession.
Oh, and there will be no attempt to block the airing of the 60 Minutes interview, which Cohen may not be able to do anyway because CBS News is not a party to the NDA. 
The First Amendment that Trump loves to hate provides the news media with strong protections, including barring preemptive efforts to prevent a story being published or aired, while the Supreme Court has roundly and repeatedly rejected attempts at prior restraint.   
Remember the Pentagon Papers? 
NOT THAT WE NEED REMINDING, but the Daniels scandal -- coming as it does as the #MeToo movement has gained serious traction and echoes from the Rob Porter wife abuse scandal continue to reverberate -- etches in even sharper relief what an abominable person the man entrusted with the nuclear football is. 
In an op-ed column titled "Melania Knew," Charles Blow of The New York Times lays out a timeline of Trump's infidelities. 
It goes something like this:
Trump was on a date with another woman the night he and Melania first met at a New York Fashion Week party in February 2003 to which he had been invited by a fixer who had brought Melania to America on a modeling contract, but he still asked for her phone number while his date was in the bathroom. 
Melania gladly provided her number because she had been briefed about Trump by the fixer and knew that he was in the process of divorcing Marla Maples, his second wife, with whom he had an affair while still married to his first wife, Ivana, who bore him three children, including daughter, Ivanka. 
In April 2004, Trump proposed to Melania, the same month he boasted to Howard Stern that he'd screw Ivanka if she wasn't his daughter.  They were wed in January 2005, while in October 2005 Trump boasted about sexually assaulting women while taping an "Access Hollywood" interview.   
Melania was four months pregnant by that time with son Barron, who was born on March 20, 2006.  In July 2006, Trump's affair with Daniels commenced at a celebrity golf event in Lake Tahoe and continued into early 2007.
Yes, Melania knew damned well what she was getting into.  Yes, the scandal can seem like a tawdry and pointless distraction.  But at its heart it is about Trump's utter corruptibility and his worldview that women are mere objects to be exploited as a billionaire playboy who happens to be a sleazebag, shyster and now president of the United States.
And we are all diminished for that.

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Saturday, March 10, 2018

West Meets East: Stormy & Vlad Make It Clear That It's All About Sex & Blackmail

What do Stormy Daniels and Vladimir Putin have in common?  More than you might think. 
This is because when you strip away the layers of sleaze around Donald Trump's now well-documented affair with the pornographic film star and the layers of deceit around his now well-documented relationship with Russians, you end up with a president profoundly susceptible to blackmail over sex.   
A president who in at least three instances has paid women substantial sums of hush money through surrogates and a frenemy in Putin who, as ex-British spy Christopher Steele wrote in his infamous dossier, has evidence of Trump's "sexual perversion" that can be used to manipulate him.  And, in my view, has been doing just that with another kind of hush money -- unquestioning obeisance in the face of the Kremlin's extraordinary assault on American democracy in the 2016 election and likelihood of an encore performance in 2018 that Trump seems disinclined to want to stop.      
It should go without saying that a president susceptible to blackmail is a security risk, leaving us even more vulnerable to the demons of a sicko as scandal after scandal washes over him and he sinks ever deeper into legal jeopardy.  
IT IS NOTABLE THAT IN THE VAST SWEEP of the crap and corruption that Trump has visited on America, the Stormy Daniels story actually barely qualifies as a scandal.   
Yes, we are fucked . . . er, in truly dreadful shape as a nation when the people who should be most outraged by the president's pussy-grabbing exploits -- Evangelicals -- have made a deal with the Devil by declaring that everyone sins and God (their God anyway) has forgiven him despite breaking, by my count, at least seven of the Ten Commandments.   
Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) and Putin have something else in common: They are smart, clever and then some, and know they can play Trump like a cheap violin.  In Daniels' case, this includes enlisting a lawyer who has run legal circles around Michael Cohen, the president's longtime fixer.     
Keith Davidson, Daniels' previous lawyer got Cohen to agree to a nondisclosure agreement (NDA in legalspeak) dated October 28, 2016, 11 days before the election, in return for $130,000 he paid Daniels though a dummy corporation to keep her piehole shut about an affair that began in 2006 at a Lake Tahoe celebrity golf event and continued well into 2007 and is now null and void.  This, according to her new lawyer Michael Avenatti, is because (oops!) Trump himself never signed the NDA and the signature line where he is supposed to have done so under the alias "David Dennison" is blank.  (Daniels is referred to as "Peggy Peterson.")    
This has, in turn, prompted Peterson . . . er, Daniels to sue Cohen and assert that she no longer has to hush about what the suit calls her "Hush Agreement" and that Trump deliberately failed to sign the NDA because he wanted to maintain deniability about the affair.
While you chew on that delicious morsel, consider this one: Besides being a sex scandal, we've got a campaign finance scandal.
The $130,000 in hush money may have constituted an in-kind contribution to Trump's campaign in violation of federal campaign law.  Which again brings us back to the Russia scandal and the fact Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, in addition to pursuing illegal domestic campaign contributions, is busily teasing out contributions from interests in the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine and Russia, to name but three foreign players who are prohibited from providing goods and services like financial contributions to federal campaigns.  (Which raises an intriguing question: Is the extensive Russian cybersabotage of Hillary Clinton's campaign also an illegal campaign contribution?) 
Wait!  It gets better. 
The NDA stipulates that Daniels agreed to turn over to Trump certain so-called "property," including still images (wince), video images (double wince), paintings, Facebook postings, Instagram messages, text messages and emails.  She was not even allowed to keep a copy of the agreement.  Trump was required to report ownership of this property on his federal financial disclosure forms, but of course did not.  
Cohen's claim that he paid off Daniels all on his own doesn't wash because he used a Trump Organization email account in early negotiations with Daniels.  He has a longtime professional relationship with Trump, who under the Hush Agreement clearly is a party to the deal, which may be a violation of New York legal ethics rules.  As would be any effort by Cohen to make Daniels think that she was dealing with Trump when she was not.  (Oh, and the bank that wired the $130,000 to Daniels flagged the transaction as suspicious and reported it to the Treasury Department.)  
In any event, Daniels has kept her part of the deal but Trump has welshed on his.  So what's new? 
THE SCANDAL MAY SEEM LIKE A REALITY SHOW, but unlike The Apprentice, it's not going to go away at the end of the season. 
People with longer memories than Trump will recall that it was a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones, an Arkansas state employee, against Bill Clinton for repeatedly hitting on her when he was Arkansas governor that nearly brought down his presidency.  (Impeachment can do that.)  Clinton agreed to an out-of-court settlement, paying Jones and her lawyers a sweet $850,000 to drop the lawsuit not because he was guilty, or anything, but so he could move on with his life.  (Cough, cough.)
Just when it looked like the Daniels scandal might retreat into the shadows, joining the Rob Porter debacle and other recent White House conflagrations, Cohen stepped in it again, followed by Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who for the record is the daughter of an Evangelical minister. 
Cohen won an emergency temporary restraining order (TRO in legalspeak) from an arbitrator barring Daniels from speaking out, which prompted Sanders to tell reporters at a press briefing last week with a practiced na na na nah na snear that "arbitration was won in the president's favor," effectively exploding heads throughout the West Wing because it was the first time anyone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue had conceded that Trump was involved with Daniels. 
The TRO and lawsuit open the door to the whole magillah landing in court, raising the Triple X-rated prospect of Trump being deposed if the NDA is declared invalid, which would stir Trump's numerous other sexual . . . uh, interactions and hush money payoffs into the mix just as Clinton's other interactions were addressed in the Paula Jones case. 
Meanwhile, Daniels has taped an interview with Anderson Cooper to be broadcast on 60 Minutes.  (Jones was interviewed by Sam Donaldson on Prime Time Live in 1994.) 
The interview is tentatively scheduled for airing on March 18 unless lawyers for Cohen (which is to say Trump) decide to go to court to block CBS News by seeking to make the TRO permanent.  In 2011, Cohen was successful in stopping In Touch Weekly from publishing an interview with Clifford after threatening legal action.  The magazine finally published the interview last month after the Wall Street Journal broke the story of Cohen's $130,000 payment. 
"Our aim and our messaging is very simple," Avenatti said on Sunday in taunting the White House.  "We're going to shoot straight, we're going to provide evidence and facts, and we are going to consistently advocate for the American people being able to make their own decisions as to who’s telling the truth and who’s lying to them.  She wants a forum to tell her version of events and let the chips fall where they may."
Seventeen months after Cohen sought to silence Daniels, she is controlling the narrative, something the president is accustomed to doing, but getting her lawsuit into a public court is a yuge hurdle, as David Dennison himself might say. 
While I am confident there really is a God and not just some guy with a long, white beard whose robes those Evangelicals hide their unholy hypocrisy behind, my guess is that an out-of-court agreement will be hammered out.  And if we get really lucky, we can rid ourselves of Cohen and Sanders in the process, if not Trump himself -- at least for the time being.

Click HERE to read "Melania Trump May Be
The Only Person Capable Of Blowing Up The Presidency."

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Thursday, March 08, 2018

A Professor Is Missing & A Spy Hangs Near Death. Who's Next On Putin's Hit List?

Here's a thought or two: Is it possible that Joseph Misfud, the Maltese professor who enticed Trump campaign coffee boy George Popadolpoulos with the disclosure that the Kremlin had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton  in the form of thousands of emails -- perhaps the first such reference to them whispered to drooling campaign officials -- has gone missing because he's dead?  Or that former campaign manager Paul Manafort isn't cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller despite the prospect of spending the rest of his life in a federal penitentiary because that's preferable to being assassinated? 
Both thoughts do not seem farfetched in the wake of news that the long hand of Vladimir Putin may have struck again with the suspected poisoning with a nerve agent of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent, and his daughter in England on March 4.  Both are in critical condition and hang near death. 
There have been at least 30 other possible victims of Putin's use of assassination as a political weapon.   These hits sometimes involve exotic, hard-to-trace poisons and often are carried out by hitmen for the FSB, a state security agency headed by Putin until he became prime minister and then president, and sometimes by mobsters loyal to Putin.   
The victims include:
November 20, 1998: Parliament member GALINA STAROVOITOVA, a pro-democracy advocate, is shot to death in the hallway of her St. Petersburg apartment building.
July 16, 2000: Journalist IGOR DOMINKOV, who had written of malfeasance and bribery in the Putin regime, dies of injuries suffered in a beating in the entryway of his Moscow apartment building.
August 1, 2002: Parliament member VLADIMIR GOLOVLEV, a pro-democracy  advocate, is shot dead on a street near his Moscow home while walking his dog.  
July 3, 2003: Journalist YURI SHCHEKOCHIKHIN, a critic of Putin atrocities in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, dies from an apparent poisoning with a radioactive material shortly before his scheduled departure to the U.S. where he was to meet with FBI agents. 
May 20, 2004: Uzbek diamond dealer EDUARD NEKTALOV, who owned a condo in Trump World Tower and was being investigated for Russian money laundering, is shot dead on Sixth Avenue after rumors circulate that he is cooperating with federal authorities. 
July 9, 2004: American journalist PAUL KLEBNIKOV, who investigated official corruption for Forbes magazine, is shot on a Moscow street by assailants who fire from a slow-moving car.  He dies a short time later when the hospital elevator taking him to an operating room breaks down.  
Early September 2004: Journalist ANNA [PLITKOVSKAYA, a leading critic of Putin atrocities in Chechnya, falls violently ill after drinking poison-laced tea given to her by an Aeroflot flight attendant.  She survives. 
September 24, 2004: ROMAN TSEPOV, a former KGB officer turned businessman and ostensible Putin ally, falls violently ill after visiting a KGB office on September 11 and drinking tea laced with a radioactive substance.
September 14, 2006: Russian Central Bank executive ANDREI KOZLOV, who had revoked the licenses of several banks complicitous in money laundering, and his chauffeur die from gunshot wounds fired by gunmen on a Moscow street.
October 7, 2006: POLITKOVSKAYA is fatally shot in the head, chest and shoulder at point-blank range in an elevator in her central Moscow apartment block.  The assassination occurs on Putin's birthday. 
October 16, 2006: An attempt in London to poison ALEXANDER LITVINENKO fails. The former FSB officer specialized in tracking Russian organized crime and had become a  Putin foe. 
November 11, 2006: LITVINENKO becomes violently ill after being  poisoned by a large dose of a radioactive substance that is slipped into his tea at an upscale London hotel.  
November 23, 2006: LITVINENKO dies. 
November 24, 2006: Pro-democracy advocate EGOR GAIDAR, a former Starovoitova associate, becomes violently ill after being poisoned with an unknown substance while attending a conference in Ireland.  He  recovers. 
March 2, 2007: Journalist IVAN SAFRONOV, who had written critically of the Russian military, dies in a fall from the fifth floor of his Moscow apartment in what is suspected to be a murder made to look like a suicide.
January 23, 2009: STANISLAV MARKELOV, a human rights lawyer and Putin critic, is gunned down on a street near the Kremlin. 
July 15, 2009: NATALYA ESTEMIROVA, a human rights activist and Putin critic, is abducted from her apartment in Grozny, capital of Chechnya.  Shot in the head and chest, her body is discovered 50 miles away in neighboring Ingushetia.
November 16, 2009: SERGEI MAGNITSKY, a lawyer and auditor who uncovered a $230 million web of official corruption and tax fraud, dies in a Moscow prison, where he had been held without trial for 11 months, after allegedly being beaten and tortured by Ministry of the Interior officers. 
November 10, 2012: ALEXANDER PEREPILICHNYY, a businessman and whistleblower who had left Russia  after alerting Magnitsky to the corruption scheme, collapses and dies while jogging near his home outside of London. The death originally is attributed to natural causes, but traces of gelsemium, a chemical from a poisonous plant, are later found in his stomach. 
March 23, 2013: BORIS BEREZOVSKY, an oligarch and Putin foe who was given political asylum in Britain, is found dead by a bodyguard, a ligature around his neck, in a bathroom in his Berkshire home.  The death is made to look like a suicide but is suspected to be murder. 
December 8, 2014: SCOT YOUNG falls from the fourth floor of a London apartment and impales himself on a railing.  Police rule the death a suicide after a cursory investigation, but others believe Russia was involved because of Young's business contacts with enemies of Putin.   
February 27, 2015: BORIS NEMTSOV, the leading anti-Putin democracy advocate, is fatally shot four times in the back as he walks on a bridge near the Kremlin.
November 5, 2015: MIKHAIL LESIN, a former top Putin media adviser, is found dead in his Washington hotel room with blunt-force injuries to the head, neck and torso.  He was scheduled to meet with Justice Department officials the next day. 
November 8, 2016: SERGEI KRIVOV, widely believed to be a counter spy who coordinated efforts to prevent U.S. eavesdropping, suffers fatal blunt force injuries after falling from the roof of the Russian consulate in New York. Russian officials claim he died of a heart attack.
December 21, 2016: YVES CHANDELON, the chief NATO auditor responsible for investigating Russian money laundering, is found in his car in a small Belgian town with a wound to the head in what may have been a murder made to resemble a suicide.
December 26, 2016: OLEG EROVINKIN, a former FSB spy and possibly a key Steele dossier source, is found dead in the back seat of his chaffeur-driven Lexus in Moscow.  Intelligence sources believe he was assassinated as part of an effort to wipe out a U.S. espionage network.
February 20, 2017: Russian U.N. Ambassador VITALY CHURKIN, widely believed to be a spy, dies in a New York hospital after suddenly becoming ill.  
March 2, 2017: ALEX ORONOV, a naturalized U.S. citizen, dies under unexplained circumstances in his native Ukraine.  He reportedly helped set up a meeting involving Trump lawyer Michael Cohen regarding a back channel Ukraine peace plan.
March 21, 2017: NIKOLAI GOROKHOV, a lawyer for the Magnitsky family and key witness for the U.S. government in a money laundering suit against a Russian holding company, falls or is thrown from the 4th floor of his Moscow apartment.  He is seriously injured but survives.
March 23, 2017: DENIS VORONOKOV is shot to death in Kiev, Ukraine, after being hunted by the FSB.  The former Russian military colonel and Putin insider was preparing to testify about the inner workings of the Putin regime. 
Mifsud disappeared on November 2, 2017 from the private university in Rome where he teaches. 
He first met Papadopoulos on March 2016 in London and then again shortly after Papadopoulos was named as an adviser to the Trump campaign foreign policy team. 
"Just finished a very productive lunch with a good friend of mine . . . who introduced me to both Putin's niece and the Russian ambassador," Papadopoulos wrote to then-campaign chairman Corey Lewandowski and Sam Clovis, national campaign co-chairman, explaining that he had been told Putin wanted to meet with the Trump team.   
The "good friend" was Mifsud and the ambassador was Alexander Yakovenko, although the woman was not related to the Russian president. 
In mid-April, Mifsud travelled to Moscow where he gave a speech in which he declared that Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its Crimea invasion were "suicidal" and said they had to be scrapped.  Trump, a Putin sycophant and fancier of all things Russian, was the perfect person to make that happen, but only if his improbable, long-shot candidacy succeeded. 
On April 26, Mifsud and Papadopoulos breakfasted in London.  Mifsud told him that he had just returned from meetings in Moscow with Russian officials who had "dirt" on Clinton and "thousands" of her emails.  Later that day, Mifsud introduced Papadolpoulos by email to an unidentified individual with connections to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  They had multiple conversations on Skype about setting up a meeting between campaign officials and Russians which apparently did not take place, although Papadopoulos did speak of the potential benefits of such a meeting at a campaign foreign policy team meeting where Trump was present. 
Then in May 2016, Papadopoulos and Alexander Downer, Australia's High Commissioner to Great Britain, got sloshed at the Kensington Wine Rooms in London. Papadopoulos blurted out that Russia had political dirt on Clinton in the form of emails. Downer later passed on this explosive news to Australian intelligence officials, who informed the FBI, which subsequently opened its investigation into Russian election interference based on the information.  
Interviewed by FBI agents on January 27, 2017, Papadopoulos falsely told them that his contacts with Mifsud and Russians occurred before he joined the campaign.  He was indicted, pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to the agents and agreed to cooperate with Mueller's investigation in a court filing made public on October 30.   
Mifsud went missing three days later.   
The 57-year-old professor's cellphone went dead, his email account disappeared and he has not sent any WhatsApp messages, his frequent means of communication with his 31-year-old Ukrainian fiancee, identified in media accounts as Anna, who recently gave birth to a daughter she says he fathered.
It is probable that Mifsud was "played" by  Russians intelligence services, which frequently have made use of non-government intermediaries to achieve foreign policy objectives. 
The use of assassination as a political tool in Russia has an inglorious and centuries long history.  But there has been an extraordinary level of violence targeting Putin's opponents in the reemergent Russian Federation, which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. 
The frequency of state-sanctioned murder has increased under Putin following a relative lull after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953.  While never directly linked to any of these murders, Putin's proxies have dutifully carried out assassinations on those he deems enemies of his autocratic regime, notably journalists, human rights activists, members of opposition political parties and spies who have defected to the West, notably Alexander Litvinenko, who sought asylum in Britain in 2000 after fleeing Russia by way of Georgia and Turkey.   
The slow death by poisoning of the former FSB colonel, who wasted away in a London hospital bed (photo, above) for three weeks before expiring in November 2006, was a result of a large dose of radioactive Polonium 210 that was slipped into his tea at an upscale London hotel.  His symptoms matched those of Shchekochikhin, Tsepov and two officers in the KGB, the predecessor agency to the FSB, who defected to the U.S. in the 1950s and were fatally poisoned.    
Litvinenko's death is unusual because the assassins, both former FSB officers, are known by name and there is ample evidence, in addition to a deathbed statement by Litvinenko, that Putin ordered his murder because he was a whistle-blower who assailed the Russian leader in public, accusing him of running a gangster state, protecting drug dealers, and ordering the murder of Politkovskaya and Putin dissident exile leader Berezovsky, who survived Litvinenko by seven years. 
The poisoning of Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent on March 4 in Salisbury, England has the earmarks of a Putin-ordered hit. 
Skirpal, a colonel in the KGB, had been recruited by MI6, the British intelligence service, and became a double agent who revealed the identities of several Russian spies working in Britain before being imprisoned in Russia in 2006.  He was part of a 2010 spy swap, was not a known Putin critic and ostensibly had lived quietly in the cathedral town.
Meanwhile, police have cordoned off the graves of Skripal's wife, who died of cancer in 2012, and son Alexander, who died last year, as part of their investigation.
The MI6 investigation of Litvinenko's death was led by then-counterintelligence agent Christopher Steele, who would become famous a decade later for his dossier on Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign's collusion in that effort.   
In an ironic twist, London newspapers are reporting that Skirpal has remained active in spycraft, met regularly with British military intelligence officers and was in close contact with an unidentified Salisbury-based security consultant who worked for Steele, prompting speculation that his attempted murder was because he may have helped Steele compile his dossier. 

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