Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Matt Whitaker Says Maximum Bob Is Close To A Wrap. What's Really Going On?

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being 
Given the state of play in the Russia scandal -- Donald Trump and his sycophancy pushing back harder and harder as the bodies pile up, now some 37 indictments involving 199 criminal charges in all, the best news that we've gotten in a while -- the icing on the Roger Stone layer cake, as it were -- is Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker's stumbling declaration that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is close to wrapping up his investigation. 
Asked what the status of Mueller's 20-month-old probe was at the end of a press conference on Monday after the Justice Department charged Chinese communications equipment-making giant Huawei with fraud, Whitaker initially said he would not comment about an ongoing investigation.  He then hemmed and hawed before finally responding that "I have been fully briefed on the investigation and I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report.  I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed. Right now, you know, the investigation is, I think, close to being completed." 
Why is this good news? 
As the ever spot-on Marcy Wheeler notes over at emptywheel:
[E]ven if Mueller is close to being done, reports from [Whitaker] that this is heading towards a report should be taken as the statements of a man hired to make statements like this.  The actual evidence suggests that Mueller is still pursuing damning conspiracy indictments. 
In other words, Whitaker was saying what Trump wanted to hear. 
And what is "the actual evidence" to which Marcy refers?  Evidence of a conspiracy, more or less the legal equivalent of collusion.   
Which in this case is evidence that some or perhaps many of the 17 or so Trump campaign officials and advisers who had more than 100 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, as a recent New York Times analysis found, were co-conspiritors in the Kremlin's successful effort to cybersabotage Hillary Clinton's campaign and elect Vladimir Putin's orange-haired poodle.   
Of those 17 officials cited by The Times, six have been charged with criminal counts by Mueller -- Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, George Papadolpoulos and Stone -- although many of those counts are so-called process crimes such as lying to the FBI or congressional committees. 
But the Stone indictment seemed to leave open the possibility of a superseding indictment.  And there is reason to believe that Mueller still has at least a few rocks to turn over in nailing down evidence of a conspiracy, as well as the possibility (probability, some might say) of indictments against Julian Assange, Donald Jr. and Jared Kushner, among others.  
It can be argued endlessly whether Mueller is indeed wrapping up, whether we're at the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, or . . .  And is "soon" next week or next June? 
One thing is perfectly clear, however: The denunciations of Mueller by Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, West Wing minions, Vichy Republicans in Congress and the rest of the president's sycophancy are growing more shrill.  The special counsel's footsteps have grown thunderous and Trump is increasingly desperate, so desperate that he is capable of engineering another government shutdown in what would be an ultimately futile effort to turn back the tide engulfing him. 
Or how about provoking a war in Venezuela?  As we have learned to our dismay, anything is possible with a man who would sell out his country. 
 "Others go silent when indicted," noted one pundit of Stone's latest circus act.  "[But] Stone went on CNNABC and Fox News to tout his website and his next book ('Woodward and Bernstein: The Godfathers of Fake News') and to raise $2 million for his legal defense fund." 
Amidst his cockwalking, Trump's longest-serving advisery did have a serious message: Trump's presidency is in mortal peril because the Russia scandal investigation amounts to a "speeding bullet heading for his head."

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

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The State Of Play: With 37 Perps Down, Where Does Maximum Bob Go Now?

Although President Trump and his sycophancy have continued to yammer No Collusion, No Collusion! as the bodies pile up, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has revealed a thoroughly consensual and deeply incestuous relationship between Russia, WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign over the last 20 months. But with 37 perps down, where does he go from here?  And is there any chance he'll nab The Big Guy himself?  
Some history is helpful in trying to figure that out. 
First, prosecutors revealed how campaign foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos eagerly pursued a tip by a Russian cutout that the Kremlin had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails."  This was months before they were leaked to the public and began to exert a subtle but ultimately fatal drag on the Clinton campaign.   
Then former national security advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to investigators concerning his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition.  The contacts were part of a concerted effort to suck up to Vladimir Putin in the wake on new Obama administration-imposed sanctions.   
Then the indictment of 10 Russian nationals and three business entities for the voter influence operation they orchestrated from the notorious Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg.  The troll farm was a hub for a sophisticated operation designed to reach millions of Americans through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google.  
Then the indictment of 12 officers assigned to the GRU, a powerful and secretive military operation, for hacking and leaking emails from the Clinton campaign and Democratic organizations.  The Moscow hub operated with lethal efficiency through the summer and fall of 2016, often surreptitiously using computer infrastructure within the U.S.   
Then Michael Cohen coped a plea acknowledging that the Trump Organization pursued a Moscow hotel deal throughout the campaign and that he lied about that to Congress.  This is not to be confused with his separate plea regarding hush money payments approved by Trump made to two of his squeezes as the election approached.  
And on Friday, Mueller dove deep inside the campaign itself with the arrest of longest-serving Trump adviser Roger Stone, who acted as a backchannel between the campaign and WikiLeaks.  The corroborating indictment provided a tantalizing hint that candidate Trump himself may have been calling the shots. 
Neither the Stone indictment nor any of the 36 others contain the word collusion or its legal equivalents, but they don't by design.  And don't have to because Mueller has been well ahead of the curve in knowing the lay of the Russia scandal forest, determining which trees were important and working from the smaller outlying trees toward the big trees at the center.   
Whether that collusion adds up to a criminal conspiracy is another matter.  This is an enormous scandal no matter how you look at it, and with every passing turn of the screw and bleated defense, it becomes even more obvious that Trump has a lot to hide as his obeisance to Putin and Russia continues.  Witness the lifting of sanction on Sunday against Oleg Deripaska's companies.    
In any event, with Stone's indictment, we're in big tree territory. 
That may mean but does not necessarily guarantee forthcoming indictments against two big trees of note -- Trump's son Donald Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner -- as well as some smaller trees, including Stone associates and clown car co-pilots Jerome Corsi and Randy Credico.   
And possibly nailing the tallest tree of all -- The Big Guy himself.  
Any incriminating evidence pertaining to Trump and collusion -- as opposed to obstruction of justice, emoluments violations and his other sins of commission -- almost certainly would be in the form of incriminating evidence cited in the final report that Mueller is expected to submit to the Department of Justice per the independent counsel regulation under which he has labored. 
Meanwhile, those newly-empowered House Democrats will be revving up the subpoena machine and going after Trump on several fronts, including laying the groundwork for impeachment.  
Or so we hope. 
The Stone indictment was, in a sense, a search warrant.  As the dirty trickster himself was being shackled in his South Florida home, other FBI agents were carting off computer hard drives and other evidence from Stone’s apartment in Harlem.  In the indictment, Mueller quotes a request from Stone to "talk on a secure line — got WhatsApp?"  Which means that agents may have been looking for leads on encrypted conversations. 
Then there is this possibility: Despite his overweaning hubris and post-arrest vow to never turn on Trump, Stone does just that.  A coward at heart, he already was hinting as much barely 48 hours after his arrest.    
Elsewhere, the Stone indictment reads "[A] senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 [WikiLeaks] had regarding the Clinton campaign."  (Emphasis mine.)  The indictment in other respects is anything but vague, and the vagueness of this passage -- typical for Mueller when he hasn't wanted to show his hand -- hints at Trump's involvement.  
Who but Trump himself would have the authority to direct a senior official?   
If Stone knows that it was Trump, can credibly testify (always an issue for a serial prevaricator) that he was further told by a campaign official that Trump was calling the shots and seized WhatsApp evidence corroborates that, then it's over bar the shouting. 
Hot on the heels of the Stone indictment, a New York Times analysis found that at least 17 campaign officials and advisers had over 100 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, and at least 10 other associates were told about the interactions, from late 2015 through to Trump's inauguration.  Stone alone had 18 contacts.   
If that's not collusion, I'll eat Credico's therapy dog. 

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

Friday, January 25, 2019

Russia Scandal Update: Sun Rises In East, Trump Pal Roger Stone Goes Down

As surprises go, the indictment of longest-serving Donald Trump adviser and Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone for running interference between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign on Russian-hacked Democratic emails damaging to Hillary Clinton ranks right up there with the sun rising in the East.  Which it did on cue Friday morning as FBI agents swarmed into Stone's South Florida home.  
Even if there was an anticlimactic feeling about Stone's indictment, it strikes deep inside Trump's inner circle, is yet another blow to the beleaguered president and gives fresh ammunition to newly empowered House Democrats.   
The 24-page indictment that triggered Stone's arrest is the most direct link yet between the campaign and WikiLeaks, stating that Stone -- acting as a backchannel of a sort -- obligingly contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who was not identified by name, to obtain the emails at the request of "senior Trump Campaign officials." 
While the indictment does not make clear who the senior officials were, it leaves open the possibility that Trump was involved, and from the get-go -- in fact, the very first words of the indictment -- it is noted that Russia's responsibility for the hacks was well known to Stone, the campaign and the candidate.  
The brash and utterly hubristic Stone, who memorably said of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at the height of the 2016 campaign that his "time in the barrel" was at hand with an imminent WikiLeaks release, had long predicted his arrest in a series of taunts directed at Special Counsel Robert Mueller.   
Returning those compliments, Mueller charged Stone with one count of obstructing an official proceeding, five counts of false statements and one count of witness tampering. 
"After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC [Democratic National Committee] emails ... a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 [WikiLeaks] had regarding the Clinton campaign.  Stone thereafter told the Trump campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1," the indictment states. 
The words was directed are a curious clue. 
The smart money says that the senior official here was Rick Gates, Paul Manafort's longtime business partner and a deputy campaign manager.   The indictment in other respects is anything but vague, and the vagueness of this paragraph -- typical for Mueller when he hasn't wanted to show his hand -- hints at Trump's involvement.  After all, who but the candidate himself would have the authority to direct a senior official?     
In August 2016, Stone claimed in multiple radio and television appearances to be in direct contact with Assange, whom he called "my hero," and bragged that he had advance knowledge of what damaging information would be released.  When Wikileaks began releasing the documents on one month before the election, Stone claimed credit. 
"On or about October 7, 2016, Organization 1 released the first set of emails stolen from the Clinton Campaign chairman," the indictment reads in a reference to Podesta.  "Shortly after Organization 1's release, an associate of the highranking Trump Campaign official sent a text message to STONE that read 'well done.' " 
Emails released by The New York Times last year between Stone and Steve Bannon, who had replaced the disgraced Manafort as one of the campaign's revolving door chairmen and was Trump's resident Svengali early in his presidency, suggest that he is the "highranking" official.
Bannon apparently has cooperated with Mueller, reportedly spending some 20 hours in interviews with his prosecutors.  
The events of October 7 are among the clearest indications that Russia, WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign were working in sync.  The release of the more than 6,000 emails related to Podesta, came a mere 30 minutes after The Washington Post published a recording of Trump bragging on the set of "Access Hollywood" about assaulting women. The distraction worked.  
After the election, Stone acknowledged exchanging what he characterized as benign messages with Guccifer 2.0, a Twitter persona that was a front operated by Russia's GRU intelligence service.  Some 12 GRU hackers were indicted by Mueller in July 2018.   
Two other unnamed individuals in the indictment appear to be conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi (Person 1) and New York comedian Randy Credico (Person 2).    
While Stone has repeatedly insisted that despite his boasts he had no contact with Russia or WikiLeaks, nor had advance knowledge of what material WikiLeaks had, the indictment accuses the 66-year-old Stone of lying to the House Intelligence Committee by claiming that Credico was the "go-between" to Wikileaks.  Indeed, the charges against Stone stem not from his original acts but from his lies about them. 
As Mueller's investigation heated up, Stone continued to publicly identify Credico as the true "conduit" to Wikileaks, while behind the scenes, he allegedly threatened Credico in April 2018, purportedly calling him "a rat" and "a stoolie" in an email, the indictment alleges.
"You backstab your friends-run your mouth my lawyers are dying Rip you to shreds," Stone wrote.  He later added that he would "take that dog away from you," an apparent reference to Credico’s therapy dog Bianca.  
In May 2018, Credico wrote to Stone that "You should have just been honest with the house Intel committee . . . you’ve opened yourself up to perjury charges like an idiot," prosecutors say.  To which Stone then replied, "You are so full of [expletive]."  
The use of Stone as a backchannel of a sort was to become a recurring tactic for Trump's acolytes. 
On December 1, 2016, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and future national security adviser Michael Flynn met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower, where Kushner proposed that a backchannel be set up between the Trump transition team and Kremlin using Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S. to shield their discussions from monitoring.  In late December 2016, Flynn served as a backchannel between the transition and Kislyak after the Obama administration toughened sanctions against Russia.  And on January 11, 2017, Trump emissary Erik Prince met secretly with Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian banker said to be close to Vladimir Putin, in the Seychelles islands in an effort to establish a backchannel between Moscow and the president-elect.  
As Stone was taken into custody at his Fort Lauderdale home, FBI agents were seen carrying hard drives and other evidence from Stone’s apartment in Harlem.  Later Friday, Stone appeared before a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale in waist and ankle shackles.  In contrast to his usually dapper dress, he wore a navy blue cotton polo shirt, bluejeans and his trademark round, black-rimmed glasses. 
"There is no circumstance whatsoever under which I will bear false witness against the president nor will I make up lies to ease the pressure on myself," Stone told reporters outside the courthouse after his release on $250,000 signature bond, which means he doesn't have to put up any money as long as he appears before the court when required.   
Significantly, the indictment was the first since Trump named Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general, presumably as a foil to Mueller's ever-widening investigation, but it is pretty obvious that Whitaker chose not to intervene.    
And the indictment is further evidence, as if it was needed, that from at least November 2015 through Election Day and beyond, key figures in the Trump campaign and Trump Organization were in regular contact with a number of cutouts close to Putin.  In fact, according to a new New York Times analysis (see chart above), at least 17 campaign officials and advisers had over 100 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, and at least 10 other associates were told about the interactions.  Stone alone had 18 contacts.   
Stone got his start in politics working for President Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign and sports a tattoo on his back depicting the disgraced former president.  He also worked on the campaigns of Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Gary Johnson, a Libertarian. 
Trump and Stone first met in 1980 when Stone, Manafort and Charlie Black started a lobbying firm.  Trump was one of their first clients.   
Later in the 1980s, Gates joined the firm, which Spy magazine was to name  the "sleaziest of all in the Beltway," while he, Manafort and Stone, among others, have now been taken down. 
When Trump left the Republican Party and entered the 2000 presidential race as a Reform Party candidate, using Twitter as a way to try to build support, Stone was his political director.  And in February 2016, it was Stone, possibly aware of Russia's interest in interfering in the election and seeing Manafort as an ideal addition to Trump's troubled campaign and an asset for Moscow, recommended him to Trump.   
In late May 2016, Michael Caputo, a Trump campaign communications adviser, set up a meeting between Stone and Russian national Henry Greenberg, a one-time FBI informant.  They met at a Sunny Isles, Florida restaurant where Greenberg reportedly offered the campaign damaging information about Clinton for $2 million.  
"You don’t understand Donald Trump.  He doesn't pay for anything," Stone told Greenberg.      
Stone is Mueller's 37th indictment.   
The special counsel's prosecutorial team also has obtained three sentencings, one conviction at trial, seven guilty pleas and charges for a total of 199 criminal counts in cinching the case that Russia interfered in the election in order to elect Trump and that Trump's campaign willingly helped.  Some 28 of the indictments are against individual Russian and Russian business entities. 
Trump defense lawyer Jay Sekulow toed a familiar line.  As had the White House after the indictments of Manafort, Gates, Flynn and Michael Cohen, Sekulow pointed out that the Stone indictment doesn't allege collusion with Russia. 
Stone's lawyer, Grant Smith, dismissed the charges, calling them "ridiculous," and said, "this is all about a minor charge about lying to Congress about something that was apparently found later." 
Caputo asserted that the special counsel was targeting Stone on other charges because his prosecutors have been unable to prove coordination between Russia and Trump's campaign. 
In fact, that connection has been made repeatedly. 

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

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Moscow Hotel Deal: A Helluva Something For Nothing Is Trump's Achilles Heel

Rudy "Truth Isn't Truth" Giuliani says that "no plans were ever made" for a Trump Tower Moscow.  "There were no drafts. Nothing in the file."  No glass obelisk with a cut diamond-like top on the banks of the Moscow River that at 100 stories would be higher than any other building in Europe.  No ultra-luxury residences, hotel rooms, branded spa and upscale shops or $50 million penthouse for Vladimir Putin.  No famous name on its glittering facade.  No partnership between the famous name's company and a Russian real estate developer likely to yield profits in excess of $300 million in profits.  No detailed description of the tower in a letter of intent over the famous name's distinctive signature four months after his presidential campaign had begun.   
Helluva something for nothing, eh? 
In fact, the Trump Tower Moscow deal has emerged as Trump's Achilles heel.   
This is because, unlike some other tentacles of the Russia scandal where Trump's conduct has fallen somewhere between outright suspicious and arguably dodgy, it is an indisputable fact that at the same time candidate Trump was pounding stump speech rostrums from coast to coast arguing for the end of Obama era sanctions, joining Putin in questioning the legitimacy of NATO and talking up the Russian leader's all-around awesomeness, Michael Cohen was carrying on negotiations for the Trump Tower Moscow project under his direction.   
The Russians, who at that same time were working with Trump campaign advisors through cutouts to help Putin's spy agency hackers and social-media trolls to cybersabotage Hillary Clinton's campaign, in turn took a greater interest in the tower project after Trump had become the presumptive Republican presidential nomination in early May 2016 as Trump all the while repeatedly denied any connection with Russia or Russians.  His mantra: No "deals," "investments" or "possible investments," and "How many times do I have to say that?" 
Then there was the BuzzFeed story of Thursday last alleging that Trump "directed" Cohen, his ex-lawyer and fixer turned government witness, to lie to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow negotiations during the campaign and a terse statement on Friday evening from the office of Robert Mueller -- the special counsel's first in his entire 20-month investigation concerning any news story -- stating that elements of the story were "not accurate." 
Trump, with a big assist from Cohen's successor, Giuliani, quickly managed to turn what seemed like a rare victory in his increasingly desperate fight to fend off Mueller into an opportunity for the news media and legal pundits to refocus their attention on the stench emanating from the tower deal and Trump's cavalcade of lies about it. 
That curiosity was further ratcheted up when Cohen's lawyer announced on Wednesday that the man who knows where the Trump Organization bodies are buried was postponing his scheduled February 7 appearance before the House Oversight Committee because of "ongoing threats" -- crude witness tampering, really -- against his family by the president and Giuliani.    
Trump began pursuing his elusive goal of a Moscow hotel -- which he viewed as being the crown jewel of his business empire -- in 1987. 
He already had opened the first of three casino-hotels in Atlantic City when he sat with Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin at a New York luncheon in the fall of 1986 hosted by Leonard Lauder, businessman son of Estée Lauder.  They discussed building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government. 
As Trump tells it in The Art of the Deal, his 1987 bestseller, the idea for his first trip to Moscow came after he was seated next to Dubinin, but Trump's version of events is incomplete.  
The actual story is that the Soviet government sought out Trump as a potential recruit for the KGB spy and espionage agency under the guise of the hotel deal.  As Dubinin's daughter Natalia relates it, her father -- "fluent in English and a brilliant master of negotiations" -- charmed Trump at their first meeting.  
"Trump melted at once," she says in trenchantly profiling the future American president. "He is an emotional person, somewhat impulsive.  He needs recognition.  And, of course, when he gets it he likes it.  My father's visit worked on him like honey to a bee."  
In July 1987, Trump and first wife Ivana followed up on Dubinin's offer.  Intourist, the leading Soviet tourism agency, functioned as a subsidiary branch of the KGB.   They stayed in Lenin's suite at the National Hotel, which was connected to the Intourist complex next door, and where the rooms are under 24-hour video surveillance. 
"The interest is only one.  To collect some information and keep that information about him for the future," a former KGB spy was to say later. 
The hotel deal apparently did not go forward because the Soviet government would retain 51 percent ownership. 
In December 1988, Trump and Ivana attended a state dinner at the Reagan White House where he met Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the about-to-collapse Soviet Union.  They discussed building a Moscow hotel.   
There were several more attempts to jumpstart a hotel project, including a 1996 partnership with Liggett-Ducat to build an upscale residential development on a Liggett-Ducat property in Moscow. 
Then in the early 2000s, the Trump Organization partnered with Bayrock, a development company headquartered in New York and represented by Russian immigrant Felix Sater, a sometime FBI informant with extensive Russian organized crime ties.  They partnered in an assortment of deals that included the goal of building Trump towers internationally, including Russia.  In 2005, Sater pushed a hotel project in Moscow that entered the planning stages before being abandoned.  
In 2006, Trump's children Donald Jr. and Ivanka, escorted by Sater, met in Moscow with prospective hotel and other development deal partners.  "We looked at some very, very large properties in Russia" on the scale of "a large Vegas high-rise," Sater later recalled. 
In 2007, Bayrock organized a potential deal in Moscow between Trump and Russian investors, but it did not pan out.  At about the same time, Trump applied for a number of trademarks in Russia, including Trump, Trump Tower, Trump International Hotel and Tower, and Trump Home. 
In 2008, speaking at a Manhattan real estate conference, he expressed concern about doing deals in Russia, but said he prefers "Moscow over all cities in the world" and that within 18 months he had been in Russia a half-dozen times. 
Then in November 2013, when Trump was in Moscow for his Miss Universe pageant, he unsuccessfully sought an audience with Putin to discuss yet another hotel project.  His intermediary was pageant co-sponsor and good Putin buddy Aras Agalarov, a prominent Moscow mega-developer.  It was Agalarov's son, wannabe Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, who was the connection behind the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016 where cutouts promised dirt on Clinton.
By September 2015, three months after Trump had descended the golden escalator at Trump Tower in New York to announce his improbable run for president, a New York architect had completed plans for the Trump Tower Moscow, a 100-story glass obelisk emblazoned on several sides with the Trump logo.
"The building design you sent over is very interesting," Russian real estate developer Andrey Rozov wrote Cohen.  "[It] will be an architectural and luxury triumph.  I believe the tallest building in Europe should be in Moscow, and I am prepared to build it." 
According to a letter of intent signed by Trump on October 28, 2015, the tower would be located in Moscow City, a former industrial complex that actually is outside Moscow and  had become a bustling commercial district.
The tower's hotel section would feature "approximately 15 floors" and contain "not fewer than 150 hotel rooms," according to the letter of intent.  The building would feature an Ivanka Trump-branded luxury spa and fitness center , a commercial component "consistent with the overall luxury level of the Property," and an office space "consistent with Class A luxury office properties," as well as "luxury" parking.  
As with most of Trump's other big real estate ventures since the mid-2000s, Rozov would build the tower, Trump would provide the name and his people would manage the building's operations, all for what was projected to be the tidy sum of over $300 million in profits. 
Atop the tower would be a penthouse without equal. 
But as BuzzFeed reported in November, the penthouse would not be sold but given to  Putin, something that Cohen discussed with Dmitry Peskov, a representative of Putin's press secretary and later shared with Mueller's prosecutors after becoming a cooperating witness. 
The hope was that the lavish gift would help not only grease the wheels for the tower project, but entice wealthy Russian elites to move into it. 
"My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units," Sater told BuzzFeed.  "All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin." 
 Cohen's acknowledgement of his role as lead negotiator in a project where Trump was regularly briefed at the same time Trump was repeatedly denying any involvement in Russia and his campaign was colluding with the Kremlin is central to his plea agreement with the feds, as well as an acknowledgment in court and in court documents that he had lied to Congress about the plan in order to protect Trump and his campaign.
Trump's defense strategy (if it can be called that) on containing the blowback on the dirty details of the tower deal is hard to keep up with because it keeps changing. 
First it was said that the deal was terminated in January 2016.  Then it was June 2016. Then it was at some later point.  Then on Sunday, Giuliani parked his clown car at NBC News's "Meet the Press" long enough to put his own spin on the . . . uh, controversial BuzzFeed story, quoting Trump as having said that negotiations for the tower deal were "going on from the day I announced to the day I won."  Then on Monday, Giuliani attempted what Lucian Truscott IV called a "Double-Reverse Triple Salchow," walking back his comment as "purely hypothetical," in turn prompting an outpouring of stories from clueless reporters that Giuliani seemed to have lost his shit.  (Where the hell have they been the last few years?) 
Meanwhile, front and center in Trump's game of chicken with Cohen are his hints that he could prosecute Cohen's father-in-law Fima Shusterman, whom he has not mentioned by name.  That would backfire badly for the president because while Shusterman does have a criminal record for money laundering-related charges in the early 90s and reputed Russian/Ukraine organized crime connections, Cohen had gone to work for Trump in the first place because of Trump's ties to Shusterman.  
To be clear, even if Trump did talk to Cohen about the Trump Tower Moscow deal it wouldn't have been a crime.  The crime is that Trump planned to forge a direct financial link with the leader of an enemy nation at the height of his campaign, lied repeatedly about that, and continues to lie about that.  Not unlike his instructions to Donald Jr. to lie about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. 
To return to the Helluva Something For Nothing meme atop this post, a New York Times reporter asked Giuliani on Monday, "Wait, Mr. Mayor, if he had a project in Moscow that his attorney was discussing and he himself may have been involved in while he was calling for a loosening of sanctions against Russia and a different policy in Ukraine, and the American people didn't know anything about that, you wouldn't find that problematic?"
To which Giuliani responded, "First of all, the project was over in November, December, January, right into 2016.  So there was no project.  So there was no project.  There was no project." 

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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Did Mueller Have A Comey Moment? No, But He's Also Not Going To Bail Us Out

This just in, America: Robert Mueller is not going to save us from ourselves, let alone necessarily save us from Donald Trump. 
Our adulation of the circumspect special counsel and belief he's going to mete out the long overdue justice we crave so badly has become an excuse for the people who should be doing something to not do anything.  But as my old friend and columnist Will Bunch bluntly puts it, "America cannot Mueller its way out of its problems." 
The occasion for this unpleasant if timely reminder was publication of a story last Thursday by BuzzFeed News alleging that federal prosecutors have evidence that Trump had "directed" Michael Cohen, his ex-lawyer and fixer turned government witness, to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign, which would have netted him upwards of a cool $300 million through a name-licensing deal.   
The story was breathlessly described by the news media and talking-head legal punditocracy as the proverbial smoking gun that would end the Trump presidency, but on Friday evening the special counsel’s office issued a terse statement -- it's first in Mueller's entire 20-month investigation concerning any news story -- stating that elements of the BuzzFeed story were "not accurate." 
It is my belief that the story was right as rain in substance but peripherals regarding what Cohen told whom and what emails, documents and other source evidence came into play may have been inaccurate, and/or a pissing match between prosecutors for the special counsel's office and Southern District of New York prompted the statement.  Or it was meant to be diversionary for a not-obvious reason.
In any event, the statement did not debunk the story's substance, something that was pretty much overlooked amidst the ensuing shocks and alarums in the selfsame news media and legal punditocracy as they raced away en masse from their smoking gun hangout. 
You would have thought that Mueller had just put a dagger through any chance of running Trump out if town, not unlike then-FBI Director James Comey's statement 11 days before the election that the Hillary Clinton email investigation was being reopened.  This effectively doomed a candidacy already on life support because of Russia's extensive cyberespionage efforts, which of course were being carried out with the assistance of the Trump campaign and knowledge of the man himself. 
Trump and the White House were beside themselves with glee in declaring the BuzzFeed story "fake news."  As had the Nixon White House after future journalistic legends Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein made a small and inconsequential error in an October 1972 Washington Post story about White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman's involvement in a secret Nixon reelection campaign cash fund.   
At first, the Haldeman error seemed to derail The WaPo's investigation into widespread lawbreaking by the Nixon administration and reelection campaign as Nixon's handlers used the error to disparage all of the newspaper's Watergate reporting, which is exactly what Trump has done in impugning all Russia scandal stories whenever there is a slip-up in one of them.  Woodward and Bernstein did figure out the source of their error, corrected the story and went on to force Nixon's hand -- and eventual resignation under threat of impeachment. 
Adding fuel to the "fake news" fire was a ridiculous story in the WaPo over the weekend suggesting that the Mueller statement was issued because Democrats were discussing impeachment, the implication being that the special prosecutor and his team don't want Congress impeding their efforts. 
Even if I'm incorrect and the BuzzFeed story is wrong in substance and not just its peripherals, giving Trump a fleeting opportunity to crow, we know that Trump has lied about countless other things (some 8,158 false or misleading claims in two years, according to that WaPo) and has repeatedly suborned perjury, notably but in a ham-handed effort to cover up the real purpose of the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian cutouts who had dirt on Clinton by ghost writing a false statement for son Donald Jr. 
And speaking of lies, I've lost count of the shifting explanations of when Trump Tower Moscow negotiations ended.   
First it was January 2016.  Then it was June 2016.  Then it was at some later point.  Then on Sunday, Rudy "Truth Isn't Truth" Giuliani parked his clown car at NBC News's "Meet the Press" long enough to put his own spin on the BuzzFeed story, quoting Trump as having said that negotiations for the hotel deal were "going on from the day I announced to the day I won."  Then on Monday, Giuliani attempted to walk back his comment as "purely hypothetical."   
So the BuzzFeed story certainly does not change anything.   But it is a timely reminder that Mueller alone is not going to end America's crisis of confidence, which is not going to vanish when and if Trump does.
This is not to diminish the three sentencings, one conviction at trial, seven guilty pleas and charges against 36 people and business entities -- 28 of them Russians -- with a total of 192 criminal counts that Mueller's prosecutorial team has cranked out in cinching the case that Russia interfered in the election in order to elect Trump and that Trump's campaign willingly helped. 
But Mueller cannot carry everyone's damned water.  That crisis of confidence is not just political.  Underlying it is a moral crisis that predates a racist president and policies such as locking up immigrants seeking asylum and taking their children away from them and confining them, as well.  
As I argue herethe people declaring that "the system" needs to be allowed to work and everyone should cool their jets until the 2020 election display a mind-exploding naiveté. Trump and his Vichy Republican henchmen certainly have not allowed the system to work and waiting two more excruciating years while "the system" continues to not work and the foundations of our democracy are further undermined is unacceptable.  It's time to begin impeachment proceedings fully cognizant that the process is political, not criminal, and will be long, messy and may not even have the desired outcome.  
Back to Will Bunch, who writes that:
I understand what the growing network of legal beagles who've become TV and internet stars say about [the BuzzFeed story] -- that Mueller is playing it by the book, and that releasing any information before every "i" is dotted and "t" is crossed might not only jeopardize future convictions but risk undermining the authority that Mueller's final report would need in order to convince such a politically polarized nation.  But the legal-industrial complex that takes over TV every night consists of carpenters looking at every Trump problem as a nail to be hammered by the criminal-justice system. . . .  
Let's stop waiting for Bob Mueller to come down from the mountaintop.  It's time for the American people, our leaders, and our battered system to relearn how to climb that mountain ourselves. 
Impeachment, not Robert Mueller, ultimately is the only protection we have against Trump, if not a start on everything else that ails us. 
So get on with it!

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