Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Deepening Madness Of King Donald Trump: 'It's An Affliction, Not A Presidency'

A funny thing happened on the way to King Donald's first six months on the throne. 
Impeaching him has gone from a liberal Democratic wet dream to an option that an increasing number of Republicans are discussing, albeit privately.  This, to be sure, is different than actually doing the deed because the GOP has its own wet dream in believing the regent can help their stalled legislative agenda (which sure worked out well with that Obamacare repeal-and-replace thing, didn't it?) but he actually is undermining that agenda at every turn. 
It is a measure of how unhinged King Donald has become that some of the people who could send him packing have tired of his unceasing bombast and finally seem to have noticed how destructive he has become to the Republican Party, not to mention the country.
They certainly had plenty of ammunition in the 27th week of the king's reign as he continued to fume and fulminate over the 2016 election, passive aggressively stroked and criticized his beleaguered attorney general over three consecutive days, flumoxed visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whose political partner is Hezbollah, by calling it a terrorist group, debased LGBT soldiers, went off script at the national Boy Scout jamboree to blast Hillary Clinton and then went way off script at a rally in Ohio where he asserted in luridly graphic detail how undocumented immigrant gang members "take a beautiful girl, 16, 15, and others and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die."   
And it was only Wedndesday. 
On Thursday, Senator Lindsay Graham declared that firing special counsel Robert Mueller would be the beginning of the end of what one pundit calls "an affliction, not a presidency."  The Pentagon said that it doesn't change its policies toward soldiers' sexual identities based on crazy tweets.  The chief Boy Scout executive apologized for the king's speech.  Sessions refused to resign while Senate Republican leaders asked the king to pretty please kindly knock off his demagoguing of the AG, while Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley flat out said that if Sessions is axed his committee will give him no chance to appoint a replacement.  Then entire Senate convening in the wee hours of Friday morning to pound the last nail into the replace-and-repeal coffin.   
And all this pushback was more or less overshadowed by a royal court at war with itself.  "The grass outside the White House is full of snakes," opined The New York Times, "And the person inside that office is no better."
Meanwhile, the king's new propaganda minister, Anthony Scaramucci, out-crazying the man who hand picked him, ranted that chief of staff Reince Priebus was a "f*cking paranoid schizophrenic" and said of the king's chief strategist, "I'm not Steve Bannon, I'm not trying to suck my own cock."  
Priebus was gone 24 hours later, fired in a typically cowardly manner as the king waited for him to deplane from Air Force One when they arrived in an appropriately rainy Washington from Long Island where the king had advocated using violence in a speech to police officers.  Once Priebus was off the plane and had been diverted to another SUV, the king boastfully tweeted that he had just loped off the head of a court loyalist.   
Scaramucci lasted 10 days.  
We of course found out a great deal more than we needed to know about King Donald when he bragged to the host of Access Hollywood in that infamous hot mic episode about grabbing a woman's private parts.   
And confirmed what we suspect that Congress now knows in another revealing hot mic episode, this one between Senators Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat, and Susan Collins, the Maine Republican, during a lull last week in an Appropriations subcommittee hearing:
REED: I think he's crazy. 
COLLINS: I'm worried. 
REED: I don't say that lightly, as kind of, you know, a goofy guy.  The, uh, this thing, you know, if we don't get a budget deal done . . . "  
Reed's budget-deal reference was an allusion to the king's inability to grasp even the basics of governing, which includes his belief that the Blow Up Obamacare bill that was narrowly defeated in the Senate actually increased Medicare payments and did not radically slash them.    
As I have written over and over and freaking over again, the greatest danger King Donald poses is not nuking Lichtenstein because of a tiff over lace doily tariffs, but our becoming inured to his madness.    
This is something of a race for time, which is why we can take heart that there finally is some pushback (did you ever think Orrin Hatch would eloquently defend transgender people?).  It hypothetically moves the king's breaking point forward, or perhaps the point where the Republicans decide it finally is time to cut their losses since their leader seems unable to focus on anything beyond saving his and his family's asses from the Big Bad Mueller.
The blow to the king's colossal ego because of the defeat of repeal-and-replace, which in the end spectacularly crashed and burned because he was very good at intimidating people and very bad at lobbying them on the successive replacement bills' (plural) supposed virtues, will make him meaner and on the prowl for more people to hurt and new things to destroy as the special counsel's footsteps grow louder.  
The one constant is that it's never the king's fault.  
As the week mercifully ended, Congress passed with near unanimity and sent to the king a veto-proof bill strengthening Russia sanctions that effectively ties his small hands and infuriated Vlad the Impaler, and the king let out a mighty blast at Senator Lisa Murkowski, who along with Collins and John "He's No Hero" McCain, had spelled defeat for the final Obamacare replacement bill.  This was after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's crude blackmail attempt failed to move the Alaskan.  For good measure, the king scolded Congress in a Saturday tweet for looking "like fools" and being "total quitters" and threatened to cut their own insurance plans, which actually may be the first good idea he's had. 
Polls show a steady erosion of rank-and-file Republican support for the regent, although overall his numbers remain robust even if the GOP is a burned-out hulk that can barely rule and is utterly inept at governing.  But there may be no better indication that the fever swamp from which the king rules is under siege -- and that hiring more thugs won't do the trick -- than the growing number of right-wing and conservative commentators who enthusiastically rode his royal carriage and are now jumping off.   
Influential radio host and blogger Erick Erickson is typical:
The president told everyone that only he could do the job and he would drain the swamp.  Instead, he's dammed up the swamp, put a party boat in it, and has turned his attention to Twitter.
We are still a long way from a Barry Goldwater Watergate moment in which the Republican leadership hikes down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, bows to the king and tells him that he needs to put down his scepter and resign.   
The ignominious collapse of the centerpiece of the king's presidential campaign -- the quick repeal of Obamacare -- is being viewed by some pundits as the last straw.  Unfortunately, there will be more of them. 
But the tide finally is running out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pardon Me: Why All Hell Would Break Loose If Trump Tries To Exonerate Himself

There is no more pressing question in the storm of legal issues swirling around the Russia scandal than whether Donald Trump can pardon himself.  The answer is that he probably cannot, but if he tries it would plunge America into a full-blown constitutional crisis that his presidency probably could not survive. 
Trump showed his hand over the weekend in tweeting (what else?): "While all agree the U.S. President has complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us.  FAKE NEWS." 
No president has ever sought to pardon himself, not even Richard Nixon as the bloodhounds were closing in on him in the final days of the Watergate scandal.  While the Constitution does not address the issue and no court has ever ruled on it, anyone exempting themselves from criminal liability -- even or perhaps especially the president -- would violate America's basic rule-of-law values. 
Trump, of course, has never let values and norms, legal or otherwise, get in his way. But a self pardon would set up a sort of circular firing squad scenario whereby:
The Republicans who control Congress would again voice the usual ad hominem concerns, but make no meaningful move toward initiating impeachment proceedings because that would further threaten their stalled legislative agenda. 
A criminal suit almost certainly would then be filed against Trump by the Democratic leadership or another entity with legal standing, an action that the Supreme Court had ruled was legal but in a rather different context -- Paula Jones's civil suit against Bill Clinton. 
A criminal suit almost certainly would be stayed by the courts -- and most certainly by the Supreme Court -- because of the prevailing view that a sitting president can't be the subject of a criminal action until he is impeached and removed from office.  
The two important things to note here are that the battle over a self-pardon would be fought at the highest levels of Congress and not the courts because of the extraordinary presidential protections the Founding Fathers enshrined in the Constitution.  And we're talking about an incipient constitutional crisis, which is to say there is a threat to our democracy because of abuses of presidential authority and legitimacy (a la Nixon) that have no obvious solution.
A president also has extraordinary powers to order -- and terminate -- investigations. 
This Trump did in firing FBI Director James Comey and seems likely to do again with Robert Mueller, who was named special counsel after Comey was axed.  The cost to Trump by firing Mueller would be dear because of the seismic fallout in general, the possibility it would stir congressional Republicans from their slumber, and probability that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, and several other Justice Department officials would quit in protest.   
Comey was and Mueller is getting too close to Trump, his family and associates for his comfort.  What is making the kleptocrat-in-chief especially angry is that the special counsel regulation (it's not a law) allows Mueller wide latitude beyond investigating Russian election interference.   
He can subpoena documents (including tax returns), file criminal charges against Trump's family members and associates, and refer evidence (including the voluminous evidence of obstruction of justice already accumulated) for use in impeachment proceedings.  There also are indications that Mueller is ranging far afield from election interference. 
Once such instance is picking up the investigation led by Trump-fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara into money laundering by Russians, including Prevezon Holdings, a company with which son-in-law Jared Kushner has done a few hundred million dollars worth of business and is represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016 after he infamously declared in an email "If it's what you say I love it" when told she had Russian government-provided dirt on Hillary Clinton. 
But the biggest takeaway is that a self-pardon might not be challengeable until after Trump leaves office in 2020 or whenever.   
Or as University of Michigan law professor Richard Primus nicely put it in an essay in Politico, "an attempted self pardon would be like an umbrella that hasn't been taken out in the rain.  We don't know yet whether it works, or how well." 
It also should be remembered that there is a long tradition in American politics of presidents not prosecuting their predecessors and ranking members of their administrations.   
A fairly recent example is Barack Obama's refusal to go after George W. Bush and the other architects of his torture regime for war crimes, while Trump chose not to prosecute Clinton for those infamous missing emails and unproven claims of Democratic collusion with Russia despite bloviating about that incessantly as a candidate and most recently as this week in a tweet criticizing AG Jeff Sessions for not going after Clinton and recusing himself from investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 
(Trump also has falsely claimed that Bush told his AG to investigate Al Gore for his "crimes" and Obama told his AG to prosecute John McCain, both rather pathetic efforts to divert attention from his myriad self-inflicted woes.)   
But norms being norms, an argument can be made that even war crimes and certainly missing emails pale in comparison to Trump's campaign colluding in a Vladimir Putin-orchestrated plot to undermine the bedrock of American democracy by sabotaging Clinton's campaign, which ups the ante considerably if Trump's successor is a Democrat. 
There also is the possibly of lightning striking. 
This would take the form of a sufficient number of Republicans in Congress actually taking their constitutional duty seriously for a change and declaring "enough is enough" if Trump self pardons, viewing that action as a reason to impeach rather than a shield against prosecution.  They also could reinstate the old independent counsel law, naming a special prosecutor who couldn't be fired by Trump, but neither I nor the British bookies who rate the odds of Trump completing his term at less than 50 percent are holding our breaths over either of those things happening. 
Then there is the thorny matter of Trump preemptively pardoning family members and associates implicated in the scandal, which his criminal defense team is said to be exploring along with the ramifications of a self pardon.
Based just on what we know -- and there's a lot we don't know -- Kushner, Trump Jr. and disgraced former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn are in heaps of trouble. Only somewhat less so are former campaign manager Paul Manafort, campaign adviser Carter Page and dirty trickster Roger Stone.  I also suspect daughter Ivanka, who is Kushner's wife, is not out of the woods. 
While the Latin phrase Nemo judex in causa sua (one cannot be a judge in his own case) has been cited by some legal analysts who have weighed in on that storm of legal issues, Fordham Law professor Jed Shugerman demurs, explaining that pardon power is executive, not judicial, so Trump wouldn't actually be a judge in his own case.   
Besides which, adds Sugerman, "We don't live in Rome even if the Latin sounds wicked smart."

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

'I Don't Remember, I Don't Recall, I Got No Memory Of Anything At All'

Words and Music by PETER GABRIEL

I got no means to show identification
I got no papers show you what I am
You'll have to take me just the way that you find me
What's gone is gone and I do not give a damn

Empty stomach, empty head
I got empty heart and empty bed
I don't remember
I don't remember

I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything at all
I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything
Anything at all

Strange is your language and I have no decoder
Why don't you make your intentions clear
With eyes to the sun and your mouth to the soda
Saying, "Tell me the truth, you got nothing to fear

Stop staring at me like a bird of prey
I'm all mixed up, I got nothing to say
I don't remember
I don't remember

I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything at all
I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything
Anything at all

I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything at all

I don't remember, I don't recall

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Why Donald Trump's Self-Inflicted Wounds Will Matter Most In His Eventual Downfall

When the definitive books are written on the Russia scandal, Donald Trump's self-inflicted wounds will end up having played an even larger role in preordaining the end to his presidency than his collusion with Russia or war on the hallowed principle that America is a government of laws and not men like himself with monstrous egos.  Events in the coming days will bear that out.   
Trump's summary dismissal of James Comey under false pretenses, driven by his narcissistism-driven impetuousness, fears that an FBI director he had consistently praised was closing in on him and the imprecations of his evil son-in-law, Jared Kushner, backfired badly.  This is because it led to the appointment of Robert Mueller, who may be the only person with the investigative chops and political savvy to bring down his presidency.   
That savviness may in the long run actually matter more, and I'll explain why a bit further down.  
Mueller got the call from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump's staunchest supporter and first Cabinet pick, was not available.  He had recused himself earlier because of his own Russia scandal misrememberments and denials under oath that anything of substance was discussed.   
It soon transpired that Trump was beyond angry at his AG for doing the right thing and then it was was revealed in an extraordinary leak to The Washington Post last week based on U.S. intelligence intercepts that Sessions had yet again lied about those disrememberments.  In fact, Sessions had had two in-depth chats with the Russian ambassador about presidential campaign-related matters and policy issues important to Moscow.  (Adoption apparently did not come up.). 
Sessions has survived the weekend, but it probably will only be a matter of time before he resigns or is dismissed, possibly while Congress is in its lengthy summer recess, which begins on July 31.  With Republicans back home making excuses as to why six months into the Trump presidency he and they haven't done bupkis although they totally control government, he would have greater latitude to name a new AG who could then fire Mueller on the pretext that the special counsel is biased. 
No matter the route, those self-inflicted wounds will lead to the same thing -- a constitutional crisis reminiscent of the Saturday Night Massacre and final days of the Richard Nixon presidency -- and we'll all have a ringside seat to see whether history will repeat itself. 
Although Comey and then Mueller in his stead have developed investigative leads in a variety of areas, the smart money says it's . . . the money that will bring Trump down. 
The wealth of newly divulged information about Trump's financial wheelings and dealings over the past 20 years adds up to what, on balance, is rather simple.  In the late 1990s, Trump was deeply in debt, couldn't get loans from U.S. banks and turned to Russian oligarchs with bucketsful of rubles and Deutsche Bank, a German financial institution that those very oligarchs were using to launder their dirty money.  When Trump ran for president and won with an assist from the Kremlin, the bills came due and that is what he is really sweating. 
Meanwhile, look at the WaPo blockbuster on Sessions as a warning shot to Trump from an intelligence community with the balls congressional Republicans lack as they find ways to pretend that Trump has not embraced America's leading foe and its own president even while belatedly condescending to bipartisan support for tough new Russia sanctions for its election interference and annexation of Crimea.   
And be confident that Trump will not only refuse to take the hint, but will embark on another round of self-inflicted wounds.   
Which he already has kicked off with a threat to Mueller to stay away from investigating his family's finances (the overriding concern here for Trump is that his hitherto secret income tax returns will of course reveal really bad stuff) to a weekend tweetstorm asserting he has "complete power to pardon" anyone he damned well pleases, including his royal self.     
The flip side of all this sound and fury is Robert Mueller and the special counsel's investigative team.
We know what they're up to in general terms and there have been a few well-placed leaks to the media.   
We know what they're up against as Trump and his legal team try to limit the scope of their work if not shut them down outright. 
And we know they are pretty much the only way that precious balance can be restored, returning America to being a government of laws.  
Now comes a timely article titled "How White House Threats Condition Mueller's Reality" on the Lawfare blog.  It is a smartly nuanced perspective on what it must be like to be Mueller and know the president is coming for you and you might not have much time to pull off the most important investigation since the 9/11 attacks, which turned out to be pretty much a whitewash.   
The Lawfare reporter-editor team of Jane Chong, Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes explore six broad areas that Mueller must consider as he proceeds -- the design of his investigation, whether to work from the bottom up or the top down, how quickly to proceed, when or whether to refer their investigation to Congress for impeachment, how to defend his staff from attacks and how to resist being removed. 
The team's big sum-up in pondering whether Trump might revoke the special counsel law enabling Mueller and in doing so obliterate his office, is that he certainly has the power do so.   
They write:  
In any event, Mueller has to operate on the assumption that Trump could get it done.  And that means he's probably given some thought to how he would handle a removal.  What does that consist of?  There's not actually much Mueller can do about it.  The protection against removal is ultimately a political one, not a regulatory or legal one, and that means Mueller can't do much more than try to condition the politics as as to make the constraints on the president as binding as possible.  That means having the sort of relationships with the relevant committees in Congress such that any firing would be considered politically unacceptable. . . . It's crucial not merely that Congress be unwilling to tolerate a disruption of the investigation, but that Trump knows that it is unwilling to do so.
I dare say that Mueller is, in his own legendarily circumspect way, conditioning the politics, but we need to take a deep breath and look at the big picture, which is necessitated because of the play-by-play nature of the barrage of media scandal coverage:  
The president of the United States has been accused of conspiring with Russia to win the presidency, there ample evidence to back that up, and the president has made it clear that he will not allow Mueller's investigation to go forward. 
Could the stakes be any higher?    
If Trump does not step back from the brink, the only thing standing between you and I and authoritarianism is . . . you and I taking to the streets, marching on Washington and demanding that Congress impeach Trump.   
Be strong, be brave and be prepared.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Key to Unlocking The Russia Scandal: Finding Out What Putin Has On Trump

At this point in what has become known as the Russia scandal, a few things are obvious. Based on what we know, there probably is a lot we don't know, and what we don't know is bound to be mind blowing.   
Among the things we know is that Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin in his successful effort to throw the 2016 presidential election to him, the Russian president's manipulation of Trump is the most astounding example of diplomatic puppetry in the post-Cold War era as was further reinforced by their previously undisclosed second meeting at the G20 summit, and most especially Trump's continuing obsequiousness in the face -- let alone the very physical presence --  of the man who is not merely the embodiment of America's greatest geopolitical foe but has made his life work undercutting the U.S. and returning Russia to its long lost Soviet-era glory. 
Among the things we don't know is what Putin has on Trump, and the key to unlocking the scandal's deepest and darkest secret is finding out what that is.
Noting that Trump is a malignant narcissist who believes the earth, moon and stars revolve around him, what other explanation can there be for why a man who routinely faces down and belittles anyone who gets in his way -- be they the leader of an allied nation, a Republican congressional bigshot or the endless primal screaming over Hillary Clinton -- but becomes gelid when the adversary is Putin? 
Election interference?  Never happened.  Sanctions?  We don't need them.  The diplomatic compounds Obama seized?  Sure, we'll give 'em back.  Don't like the U.S.'s Syria strategy?  We'll retool ours to fit yours. 
No matter how you unpack Trump's second meeting with Putin, which did not involve a U.S. translator and Trump himself kept secret from his handlers, it stinks on ice.  The other leaders present at the banquet at Elbphilarmonie Hall in Hamburg sure thought so, and were "bemused, non-plussed and befuddled," in the words of one observer, by the strange spectacle of an American president sucking up to a Russian leader at a summit meeting while marginalizing America's oldest and closest friends. 
Is there a plausible alternative explanation for the second meeting?  No.  Did they merely discuss Putin's ban on American's adopting Russian waifs, as Trump claims?  Of course not. Was the meeting only 15 minutes, as Trump claims, and not an hour?  Of course not.   
We've become so inured to Trump's behavior -- and his profound ineptness as president and commander and chief can sometimes seem like so much background noise -- that we yet again risk missing the main point. 
Why is it that the man who hijacked a presidential election, undermining the very foundation of our democracy and sees Trump as an intelligence asset to be nakedly exploited, even deserves the time of day, let alone three hours of Trump's fawning attention over the course of two meetings?
We fail to seek the answer to that question at America's peril.
When Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May, his trademark impetuousness and inattention to the consequences of his actions quickly led to the appointment of Robert Mueller, who is possibly the only person on the planet with the investigative chops to bring down his presidency. 
Beyond that delicious irony, president and special counsel have been on a collision course since Mueller was appointed by Rod Rosenstein, a deputy attorney general, after AG Jeff Sessions recused himself because of his own Russia scandal problems.  Trump's minions are now hard at work exploring what options he has to pardon scandal perps and trying to undermine Mueller and his team, which again begs the question of what these guys could possibly be investigating if Trump's assertion there is no Russia scandal is true. 
Trump, in an interview on Wednesday with The New York Times, jumped another shark in revealing for -- well, who's counting the number of times at this point? -- that he not only is above the rule of law, but he's his own worst enemy.  Summoning his ever on-call inner demons, he declared he never would have appointed Sessions if he knew he would do the right thing and step aside, said Rosenstein was suspect because there are very few Republicans from Baltimore (seriously!), and claimed Comey's real motivation for briefing him on the sordid Steele dossier two weeks before he took office was part of a plot to blackmail him.   
And for good measure, the president threatened Mueller if the special counsel looks into his family's finances.  Which was like drawing a line in the sand after the tide had come in but would seem to considerably enhance the possibility that Mueller will be axed, precipitating Trump's version of Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre and the full-blown constitutional crisis with which he has been flirting for some time now. 
Trump yet again provided a textbook example of seeking to obstruct justice through threats and intimidation, which under "normal" circumstances would be grounds for impeachment, giving Mueller further impetus to investigate those finances, which he  already is doing with an assist from an investigative team with superlative finance-ferreting credentials.   
That presumably includes Trump's tax returns, which unlike every president since Jimmy Carter, he has not made public and likely contain a wealth of information about his associations with Russians.  
noted in a post the other day titled "Revealed: Donald Trump's Network of Russian Sleaze & Mob Money Launderers" that Trump's layering of lies upon lies in refusing to even acknowledge his Russia ties -- which include over 30-years of connections with an extensive network of corrupt businessmen, mobsters and money launderers from the former Soviet Union, Russia and their satellite states -- is, in part, a consequence of members of the network being able to leverage his literal and figurative debts, if not blackmail him outright.   
At the top of that list is, of course, the object of Trump's bromantic affection -- Putin.
Even Trump's above-ground financial wheelings and dealings are now drawing scrutiny. 
When he had worn out his welcome with other lending institutions because of a string of bankruptcies, Trump turned to Deutsche Bank for a $300 million loan in 1998 and in subsequent years some $4 billion in loans and bond offerings.  
Coincidentally (or not), the German bank recently paid more than $600 million in penalties to New York and British regulators for being a prominent player in a money laundering scheme known as the "Global Laundromat" run by Russian criminals with ties to the Kremlin. 
Coincidentally (or not), former Deutsche Bank chairman Josef Ackerman is now chairman of Bank of Cyprus.  Wilbur Ross was the vice chairman of the Cypriot bank until Trump nominated him as his commerce secretary.  Coincidentally (or not), the bank is an offshore haven for money laundering by Russian oligarchs and mobsters.  Coincidentally (or not), former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was a favored account holder and deposited $2.7 million in what the Ukraine government asserts were illegal payments from the country's former pro-Russian ruling party. 
Among the Russia connections Trump adamantly denies having is Dennis Rybolovlev, an oligarch who is a major Bank of Cyprus shareholder and purchased one of Trump's estates.  And in May, federal prosecutors settled a case for pennies on the dollar with Prevezon Holdings, a Russian-owned Cyprus investment entity accused of laundering dirty money through Manhattan real estate.   
Coincidentally (or not), one of Prevezon's lawyers was Natalia Veselnitskaya, who huddled with Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump campaign brain trust at Trump Tower in June 2016 in the follow-up to Donald Jr.'s infamous "If it's what you say I love it" email response to an offer to share Russian government dirt that could incriminate Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Jared Kushner has had his own relationship with Deutsche Bank.  Trump's son-in-law and his mother have an unsecured $25 million line of credit and the family business he ran until Trump became president received a $285 million loan in 2016. 
Deutsche Bank says it will cooperate with Mueller's requests for information on Trump's finances. 
What would it take to break Trump?   
He is not about to be impeached because of a Republican congressional leadership whose cowardice verges on treason.  As batshit crazy as he may be, the 25th Amendment will not be invoked in the foreseeable future.  Kushner should lose his security clearance, but won't.  Special Counsel Robert Mueller will not be harvesting the bitter fruits of his investigation for weeks if not months if he lasts that long. 
How about this as a presidency breaker-upper: Trump being humiliated in the eyes of the only people he cares about other than himself -- his family.   
What would it take for that to happen?  Maybe if it turns out that the Russia scandal's deepest and darkest secret is so deeply embarrassing that it threatens to destroy his family and marriage to The Mel if he doesn't quit, tuck his forked tail between his legs and scurry back to Trump Tower. 
 "Daddy, how could you do that?" one imagines Ivanka imploring him as he sits slumped over his Oval Office desk. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline on the Russia scandal. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Revealed: Donald Trump's Network Of Russian Sleaze & Mob Money Launderers

1987: Trump and wife Ivana at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg 
on an all-expense-paid trip to the Soviet Union
Donald Trump has sworn innumerable times since the Russia scandal reared its hydra head that he has no connection to Russia, now or ever.  In fact, Trump is one big Russia connection.   
Beginning in 1984, over 30 years before he ran for president, Trump began tapping into what would become an extensive network of contacts with corrupt businessmen, mobsters and money launderers from the former Soviet Union, Russia and their satellite states to make deals ranging from real-estate sales to beauty pageants sponsorships to bailing out his frequently ailing enterprises.   
It is tempting to say that Trump built that network himself as his business empire grew, but in reality members of the network more often used him as a convenient patsy.  This has been especially true of money launderers.   
In 1991, the Soviet Union fell and President Boris Yeltsin ordered the dramatic shift from a centralized economy of state ownership to a market economy, enabling cash-rich mobsters and corrupt government officials to privatize and loot state-held assets.  After Vladimir Putin succeeded Yeltsin, Russia's feared intelligence agencies joined forces with mobsters and oligarchs, and Putin has given them free hand so long as they help enrich him and strengthen his grip on the country.  
Then in 1998, Russia defaulted on $40 billion in debt, which accelerated the exodus of money.  By one estimate, some $1.3 trillion in illicit capital has poured out of Russia in the last 25 years, including many tens of millions of dollars that flowed into Trump's luxury developments and Atlantic City casinos, which were used as convenient pass-throughs for laundering illicit riches.   
It is not an exaggeration to say that dirty Russian money saved Trump, if only barely.   
By the late 1990s, he owed $4 billion to more than 70 banks, with $800 million of it personally guaranteed.   "But fortunately for Trump, his own economic crisis coincided with one in Russia," writes Craig Unger in "Trump's Russian Laundromat," a recent New Republic story 
Only traces of Trump's network can be found in his financial disclosure statements, and since his businesses are all privately held and he has refused to release his federal tax returns, his business relationships with Russians are not readily apparent. 
But we do know that Trump has ventured aggressively into the former Soviet empire since his financial recovery, frequently cutting deals with bottom feeders, and at one point sought to have his name affixed atop a massive glass tower in Astana, the post-Soviet capital of Kazakhstan.  He also has done business with companies that have violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and applied for a trademark in that country, which he has tried to isolate as president.   
Now, as president and commander in chief, Trump makes policy decisions that have the potential to positively affect his 565 Trump Organization holdings in the U.S. and abroad, and his oft-stated determination to weaken sanctions against America's greatest foe has resulted in a rare bipartisan agreement (by a 98-2 Senate vote, no less) that sanctions should be strengthened, not watered down. 
All of this begs a very big question. 
Trump's layering of lies upon lies in refusing to acknowledge his Russia ties and continued insistence that the Russia scandal is a "hoax," which he yet again reiterated in tweets over the weekend, is a reflection of the frightening fantasy world in which he dwells.  But it also may be a consequence of members of the network being able to leverage Trump's literal and figurative debts to them -- if not blackmail him outright. 
"Without the Russian mafia," says Unger, "it is fair to say Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.   
Indeed.  And the list of people who have the goods on Trump surely includes the ruthless Vladimir Putin, in whose presence the other day he was notably obsequious. This is because of his biggest Russia connection of all -- the cyber plot to sabotage Hillary Clinton and make him president.      

Read more here: of this begs a very big question.All of this begs a very big question: Is Trump's refusal to acknowledge his myriad Russian ties, including his continued insistence that the Russia scandal is an historic "witch hunt," a consequence of Trump being beholden to -- and perhaps vulnerable to blackmail from -- players in the network, including Putin and the Russian government who did the biggest deal of them all, gifting him the presidency through a cyber campaign to sabotage Hillary Clinton with the help of Trump's family and frien.
2016: The future president with wife Melania and son Barron 
in the gilded rococo penthouse at Trump Tower
The crown jewel of Trump's business empire is Trump Tower, a 58-story glass and marble edifice at 721-725 Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan that opened in 1983 when Trump was a 38-year-old tabloid celebrity developer. 
According to federal investigators and journalists who have dug into Trump's wheeling and dealing, at least 13 people with known or suspected links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal enterprises out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties.  This has been made easier because Trump has accepted anonymous buyers so long as they have the cash, a practice one former developer who worked with Trump calls "willful obliviousness."  
Mobsters have used Trump's apartments and casinos to launder "untold millions in dirty money," according to Unger, while one mobster ran a global sports betting ring using Unit 63A at Trump Tower, a condo directly below one owned by Trump, and all of the apartments on the 51st floor. 
Unit 63A also served as the headquarters for a sophisticated money-laundering scheme that authorities say moved $100 million out of the former Soviet Union through shell companies in Cyprus and into investments in the U.S.  The scheme operated under the protection of Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, whom the FBI says is a top aide of Semion Mogilevhich, whom it considers the "boss of bosses" of the Russia mafia and brillian creator of innumerable money-laundering schemes.   
Tokhtakhounov, who infamously tried to fix the ice-skating competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, fled the U.S. after the sports betting ring was busted, but was a Trump guest of honor at a Moscow beauty pageant seven months later although he was a U.S. fugitive.
David Bogatin, a retired Red Army pilot with no visible signs of income, plunked down $6 million for five Trump Tower units in 1984.  Trump attended his closing. 
Bogatin turned out to be a leading figure in the Russian mob in New York while his brother ran a $150 million stock scam for Mogilevhich.  Bogatin pleaded guilty in 1987 to taking part in a massive gasoline bootlegging scheme with Russian mobsters and fled the country.  The government seized his five Trump Tower condos. 
In 2001, when Trump opened Trump World Tower, then the tallest residential building in the city, on First Avenue in Manhattan, a third of the units on the tower's priciest floors were bought by individual buyers or limited liability companies with connections to the former Soviet Union. 
Among the initial buyers were Kellyanne Conway, a future Trump campaign manager and administration adviser, and Eduard Nektalov, a diamond dealer from Uzbekistan who lived directly below Conway and was being investigated by the Treaury Department for Russian mob-connected money laundering.  When word got out that Nektalov was cooperating with the feds, he was assassinated in broad daylight on Sixth Avenue.   
Yet for all the bad behavior that Trump's shady associates have exhibited, Trump has never been charged with any crime, although there are increasing calls in Congress to investigate how he built his business empire.   
2007:Trump celebrates the launch of Trump SoHo with Tevfik Arif 
and Felix Sater, who were partners in Bayrock Group -- and crime
The most striking aspect of Trump's Russia connections is how many people the man who is now president has sought out and formed long-term business relationships with who have dedicated their lives to sleaze and crime.  In this regard, Felix Henry Sater is at the top of the list. 
Sater is a Russian √©migr√©.  His father, Mikhael Sheferovsky (aka Michael Sater) was a boss in the crime syndicate run by Mogilevich. 
Son Felix has extensive mob ties of his own, and while trying to make it as a stockbroker, ended up doing prison time for stabbing a Wall Street competitor in the face with the broken stem of a margarita glass during a bar fight.  The man needed 110 stitches to close the wound.   
Sater became a federal informant to avoid a 20-year mandatory scheme to defraud elderly victims of $40 million, most of them Holocaust survivors, and stayed out of prison in more recent years ostensibly because of what he has done for the U.S. as opposed to against it.  This includes ratting out mobsters for the FBI in two big Mafia cases, a failed effort to buy stinger missiles in Afghanistan on the black market for the CIA, as well as supposedly trying to obtain Osama bin Laden's cell phone number. 
More recently, Sater tried his hand at "diplomacy" on Trump's behalf to give Russia a fig leaf for its invasion and illegal annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.   
The other players in the scheme were Michael Cohen, who is Trump's personal lawyer (as opposed to his growing roster of criminal lawyers), and Andrii Artemenko, a wealthy oligarch and member of the Ukraine Parliament.  Artemenko told Sater and Cohen that Putin's senior aides had personally blessed the plan, which Cohen delivered to none other than then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn at the White House shortly before Flynn's unceremonious ouster because of his own Russia connections.
The biggest Trump-Sater connection is Bayrock Group, an international real estate and investment company in which Sater was the chief operating officer.  Bayrock was a co-developer of Trump SoHo, a swank 46-story condo-hotel where SoHo meets Tribeca and the West Village in Lower Manhattan, that Trump lent his name to in return for 18 percent of the profits without putting up any of his own money.
Trump SoHo was foreclosed on and resold after Trump and fellow promoters were sued by buyers who accused them of fraudulently inflating sales figures to encourage them to buy units.  Trump has run the building for the new owners and he and daughter Ivanka still are listed as managers of the property. 
Other Bayrock deals didn't work out so well.  International projects in Russia and Poland flopped and a Trump Tower being built in Fort Lauderdale ran out of money before it was completed. 
Tevfik Ariv was a partner with Trump and Sater in Trump Soho and would seem to be an immigrant success story.   
Ariv worked as a Soviet trade and commerce official for 17 years before moving to New York and founding Bayrock.  Practically overnight, he became a hugely successful developer and after meeting Trump in 2002 moved Bayrock's offices to Trump Tower.
It turned out Bayrock was financed by a notoriously corrupt group of Russian oligarchs know as The Trio who used it to develop Trump properties and then used the properties to launder money.  Then in 2010, Arif was arrested by Turkish prosecutors and charged with running a prostitution ring after he was found aboard a boat chartered by one of The Trio with nine young women. 
Joining Bayrock in developing Trump SoHo was the Sapir Organization. 
Tamir Sapir, who introduced Trump to Arif, emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1970s.  He started out driving a cab in New York City and ended up a billionaire living in Trump Tower.  His partner in the high-tech electronics firm that made him rich was a member of the Russian mob. 
Trump has described Sapir as a "great friend," bought 200 televisions from the electronics firm, and hosted the 2007 wedding of Sapir's daughter at Mar-a-Lago. 
2012: Trump unveils plans with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili
for a luxury apartment tower on the Black Sea coast
Only weeks before his inauguration, Trump allied himself with a company in the former Soviet republic of Georgia that planned to build a 47-story luxury apartment tower in the resort of Batumi. 
"The whole aesthetic of Trump goes very well with Central Asia," Asia expert Alexander Cooley of Columbia University told McClatchy News Service reporters Kevin Hall and Ben Wieder. "The emphasis on 'the personal is political,' the use of personal connections . . . this kind of murky world of transnational relations in real estate, relatively unregulated and unmonitored." 
Hall and Wieder found that Trump's businesses are spread well beyond U.S. borders.  At least 159 of the 565 companies Trump listed in his most recent financial disclosure report were tied to businesses abroad.
The deal for the Batumi tower fell through in January, as had an earlier 2012 deal, but had it not the edifice would have borne Trump's name and he would have received royalties through Silk Road Group, a trading and transportation company that has deals with companies in Russia and Iran, both targets of U.S. sanctions. 
Trump revealed none of this in his financial disclosure statements, nor was it mentioned that Silk Road is a strategic fuel supplier to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and had partnered with two Kazakh oligarchs and their kin who are accused of stealing billions of dollars of Kazakh money and laundering it through luxury U.S. real estate, including Trump SoHo and other Trump-branded condo towers. 
Ukraine has recently asked Switzerland to extradite Ilyas Khrapunov, son of former Kazakh Energy Minister Viktor Khrapunov, for alleged computer hacking.  Switzerland is where Ilyas and his wife secured unusual diplomatic posts representing the Central African Republic, which has enabled them to travel more freely. 
Meanwhile, federal lawsuits have been filed by the city of Almaty against Ilyas and Viktor, who is a former mayor of Almaty, Kazakhistan's largest city.  Both Khrapunovs and Ilyas's father-in-law, Mukhtar Ablyazov, face numerous criminal charges in Kazakhistan.  Ablyazov was owner of BTA Bank until it was seized by regulators in 2009 after $10 billion went missing from the bank. 
Among the dozens of companies lawyers for Almaty say the Khrapunovs created to launder money were three limited liability companies called Soho 3310, Soho 3311 and Soho 3203, all corresponding with units they bought at Trump SoHo. 
(There already is evidence that a consequence of Trump's Russia connections is that Russian money laundering cases are being treated more leniently.  In May, the Justice Department abruptly settled a case against Prevezon Holdings, which was accused of laundering dirty money through Manhattan real estate, for a mere $6 million.  One of Prevezon's lawyers was Natalia Veselnitskaya, who, accompanied by a Russian spy, infamously met with Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump campaign brain trust in Trump Tower in June 2016.)    
Court documents filed in conjunction with the Khrapunov extradition request list Sater as having been involved in some of the Khrapunov's transactions at the same time he was doing deals with Trump.   
But while Sater considers himself a close personal adviser to Trump, likes to say that he's playing his "Trump card" and his business cards list him as "senior adviser to Donald Trump" with an office at Trump Tower, Trump himself has repeatedly said he barely remembers Sater.   
In sworn testimony in 2013, Trump said he wouldn't recognize Sater if they were sitting in the same room.  Kind of like not recognizing his many Russia connections.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.