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First Donald Trump's handlers said there were no meetings between his campaign and Russians. None whatsoever. Then they admitted there were low-level meetings. Then they admitted there were lots of them. Then they admitted there were high-level meetings. Lots of them, too. But they were about adoptions. Then they admitted that those lots of high-level meetings were not about adoptions. But Trump didn't know about them. Then they admitted Trump did know about them. But there was no collusion. Then they . . .
So what's next in the greatest walk back since Napoleon fled Moscow in the winter of 1812, leaving 380,000 men dead, deserted or captured on the frozen Russian tundra?
As I noted early in the week -- a week so bursting with developments that my Russia scandal timeline took on another dozen entries of significance -- there is widespread panic in Trumpworld. The president's increasingly vitriolic attacks on the news media, most recently on Thursday at a red-meat rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he derided the reporters covering his unraveling for their "fake, fake disgusting news" and barely mentioned his usual stump speech "accomplishments," betray a man who has run out of room to walk back, let alone walk in any direction. Although unlike Bonaparte, he still hearts Moscow.
This parlous state of affairs has Trump's lawyers scrambling to come up with increasingly ludicrous explanations, including the Lulu of the Week from Rudy Giuliani, who insisted that Trump genuinely doesn't believe he pressed then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, which the record shows he did no fewer than five times. And so Trump can, in Giuliani's view, plausibly deny to Special Counsel Robert Mueller that it he never sought to obstruct justice, let alone perjure himself.
The corner Trump has painted himself into is so tight (picture the fat man himself hoping on one foot in his monogrammed Versace satin boxer shorts), that one of those wicked conveyors of "fake, fake disgusting news," Greg Sargent of The Washington Post, observes that:
Trump's lawyers don't just fear that he will lie to Mueller about his efforts to scuttle the investigation; it's very likely that they also fear that Trump might tell the truth about those efforts, which could also be incriminating.So the president's biggest problem is that he can't lie to Mueller or tell the truth. What then is a malignant narcissist to do?
Puff out his chest, lie some more and declare "I'm eager to meet with investigators" out of one side of his mouth while ordering his attorney general to shut down Mueller's probe out of the other.
Talking to or answering written questions from Mueller would not turn out well. Which leads me to suggest that there is a ruse afoot to make it seem like the president really wants to talk to Mueller but those damned lawyers just won't let him!
PAUL MANAFORT'S BANK AND TAX FRAUD TRIAL would seem to be of little concern to Trump, but looks are deceiving. This is because all roads, Napoleon aside, lead to Moscow.
After three days of testimony from prosecution witnesses, a deeply unflattering portrait has emerged of Trump's former campaign manager as a high flying political consultant with a taste for $15,000 ostrich coats who led a double life built on a complex web of foreign financial entities and transactions to conceal and evade U.S. taxes on the millions of dollars he earned from managing and advising foreign political campaigns, notably in Ukraine.
Although Manafort's role in the Trump campaign and meetings with Russians are off limits at the trial by mutual agreement of Mueller's prosecutors and Manafort's defense lawyers, Trump has been freaking out in a series of revelatory tweets.
This, as Max Bergman of the Moscow Project puts it, is because:
Manafort is a mirror image of Trump. He is a man seduced by the oligarch wealth of the former Soviet Union. Putting profit over principles he ends up becoming entangled, entrapped, and then a witting tool of Russian interests. The trial is a preview for much of what's to come.Indeed, the Manafort trial will help us understand why the campaign conspired with Russia, as well as why Trump also has had deep ties to Vladimir Putin's favorite oligarchs, for whom Trump was a convenient -- and witting -- conduit for laundering their riches.
Manafort's favorite oligarch was aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, who paid him millions to help cleanse the image of Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Putin thug who briefly ran Ukraine.
Manafort's Ukraine strategy included a social media blitz aimed at targeted audiences in Europe and the U.S. and encouraging rightwing journalists to attack Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state. The strategy anticipated later efforts by the Kremlin and its troll factory to use Twitter and Facebook to discredit Clinton and to help Trump win the 2016 election. What a coincidence!
Deripaska has longtime ties to Konstantin Kilimnik, the Kiev office manager for the lobbying business run by Manafort and Rick Gates, who is being touted as the Manafort trial's prosecution's star witness. Kilimnik, in turn, worked for the Main Intelligence Directorate -- or GRU -- the shadowiest of the Kremlin's spy agencies and as a Mueller indictment last month of 12 GRU intelligence officers confirmed, a major player in Russia's cyber-espionage of the Clinton campaign.
Deripaska, who is thick as thieves with Putin, has a controlling interest in Rusal, the largest aluminum company in Russia and a target of sanctions imposed in April because of Deripaska's organized crime ties and proclivity for having his business rivals murdered.
But now Treasury Secretary Steven Mnunchin says the U.S. is considering removing the sanctions because they are hurting the "hardworking people of Rusal."
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.