Friday, January 19, 2018

Bannon Belatedly Takes His Russia Scandal Star Turn, But Can He Hurt Trump?

My big takeaway from Steve Bannon's belated appearance as a Russia scandal principal is less whether he can hurt Donald Trump or the White House will be able to defang him than a reminder that the president's former white nationalist Svengali fits hand-in-glove in the mold of virtually everyone he has surrounded himself with over the years.  These are amoral bottom feeders who believe love of country is for sissies, used Trump while Trump used them, and when push comes to shove will have no compunction turning on him to save their own sorry asses. 
That's not just what passes for loyalty in the Age of Trump.  It's a reflection of why every player tainted by the Russia scandal is pretty much cut from the same cloth as Bannon. 
We're talking Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Felix Sater, Roger Stone, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, K.C. McFarland and Paul Manafort, which is exactly the number of players you need for a federal penitentiary softball team.  The bench would be pretty deep with Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Michael Cohen, Sam Clovis and KellyAnne Conway.  Bannon could be coach. 
EVEN IF BANNON IS A LATECOMER, he succeeded this week in doing something no other scandal player has been able to accomplish: Piss off the entire House Intelligence Committee.   
Over 10 hours of invoking presidential executive privilege in refusing to answer most of the questions asked him during a closed committee hearing, he riled both Democrats and Republicans.  This was a rare if fleeting moment of bipartisan agreement among the august members of a panel headed by Trump poodle Devin Nunes, whose recusal has not kept him from continuing to interfere with the committee's work on behalf of the White House.  The predictable result is that the committee's investigation is a high drama-low results mockery. 
By contrast, the Senate Intelligence Committee has dredged up a fair amount of information about the role of social media in Russia's election interference, although little about possible Trump campaign collusion. 
Anyhow, the House committee quickly drafted a subpoena to compel Bannon to return and testify, but it was one-upped by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, who not only already had subpoenaed Bannon to appear before his grand jury (where the long arm of executive privilege might not reach) but then cut an agreement with Bannon to come in for a chat, which is likely what the crafty Mueller had sought all along.
IF BANNON IS FEELING COOPERATIVE -- and that is not certain because the suspicion lingers that he is more of a frenemy of Trump than an outright foe -- he can be of considerable help to Mueller because he is an ultimate fly on the wall of sorts regarding several key White House events.
These include the slow response to concerns about national security director Flynn, Flynn's subsequent ouster, the lead-up to FBI Director James Comey's firing, and the cover-up letter drafted by Trump Sr. when news broke of Donald Jr.'s June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with several Russians who had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. 
While Bannon did not attend that meeting, which Donald  Jr. convened after infamously replying with "If What You Say Is True I Love It" to the offer of dirt, he has inside knowledge of it and told Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff that "the chance Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father's office on the twenty-sixth floor . . . is zero." 
There has been considerable head scratching among pundits and linguists alike over what the word jumo means.  My favorite interpretation is that Bannon was playing on the word jamoke to refer to lawyer and Vladimir Putin handmaiden Natalia Veselnetskaya and the rest of the Russian delegation attending the meeting.   
Jamoke, it appears, is street slang for a clumsy loser, which certainly would apply.  To the whole bunch of them.   
SUSPICIONS THAT RUSSIA FUNNELED MONEY through the National Rifle Association to help Trump have been rife since Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of the Russia central bank and Putin crony, began showing an inordinate interest in America's biggest and most powerful organization of gun nuts. 
Torshin, who has documented ties to Russian organized crime, first proposed a meeting between Putin and candidate Trump in a May 2016 email to Trump son-in-outlaw Kushner.  The meeting never came off, but he did have a sitdown with Donald Jr. at a private dinner during the NRA's annual meeting later that month in Louisville, Kentucky. 
Trump was supposed to meet with Torshin two weeks after his inauguration, but the White House abruptly cancelled the meeting.  That surely had nothing to do with Spanish police having just identified Torshin as the "godfather" of a Russian mob money-laundering scheme. 
Mueller and the FBI have been watching, reports the McCatchy News Service, which says in a story this week that the special counsel is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA to help Trump.  It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.   
The NRA spent a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump, McClatchy says.  Most of that money was spent by a secretive arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors.   Natch. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

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