Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Cohen-Trump Split Screen Saga Begs A Question: How Did It Come To This?

"Moses stood up above his six foot and ten. Said 'you can't close the door when
the wall's caved in' " ~ GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (The Grateful Dead)
It was a split-screen saga that would have more than lived up to its hyper-hyped billing were it not such a devastating reminder of the parlous condition of a once great country known as the United States. 
On one screen was Donald Trump, a boy-man profoundly unfit to be president in twisted pursuit of a Nobel Peace Prize as he groveled before Kim Jung Un, the North Korean despot who has starved to death millions of his own people.  On the other screen was Michael Cohen, Trump's longtime fixer, who confirmed that the then-future president was in the loop on his campaign's collusion with America's arch enemy in its successful cyberespionage of the 2016 election and that his associates did not have to be told by him to lie.  They did so instinctively. 
And all the while those of us who bleed red, white and blue looked on in horror as the hours ticked by and wondered, "How did it come to this?"   
Why is Trump not only still president, methodically demolishing our core values, alienating our most important allies and coddling Kim, Vladimir Putin and other authoritarians, but carries on his reign of terror with the support of an outsized number of voters -- that would be his mythic "base" -- and pretty much the entire Republican Party? 
"I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience," a contrite Cohen stated in prepared remarks at the outset of five hours of sometimes riveting testimony as the Democratic-led House Oversight and Reform Committee fired the opening shots in the long overdue offensive to drive Trump from office. 
Some pundits hastened to call Cohen's damning testimony the first hearing in Trump's impeachment, but whether those opening shots will further damage the already wounded Trump, who has survived as he skates from scandal to scandal and crisis to crisis, is another matter.   
"I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is.  He is a racist.  He is a con man.  And he is a cheat," declared Cohen, who had the appearance of a broken man awaiting prison as the dark and puffy circles under his eyes seemed to grow larger as the day went on.  
Meanwhile, 12 time zones away Trump schmoozed with Kim over a meal of king crab, foie gras and lotus seeds in Hanoi prior to the collapse of their second one-on-one summit meeting while a bunkered White House and Republican members of the committee, infirmly in their own alternate universe, lashed out at Cohen as a felon and liar. 
Trump's personal lawyer of more than a decade had postponed his House testimony because of what his lawyers said were threats against he and his family.  Those threats -- textbook examples of witness intimidation -- have continued, most notably from Trump himself in one of his more brazen displays of believing himself to be above the law.
Cohen's description of Trump as a kind of mendacious mob boss was similar to that of aides and others who have parted ways with him, but the big takeaway from his half of the split screen saga is that this president -- who willingly entered into a conspiracy whether you want to call it collusion or not -- is still very much under investigation, possibly in multiple probes. 
There also were these incendiary morsels:
* Trump knew WikiLeaks would release material stolen from the Democratic National Committee before it happened and would coordinate presidential campaign events accordingly because he got the heads-up from Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone, his longest serving adviser. 
* Cohen said was present when Donald Trump Jr. walked around his father's desk and told him in a low voice that the forthcoming June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting where a Russian cutout was going to dish dirt on Hillary Clinton was "all set" and Trump replied, "OK, good . . . let me know." 
* Cohen said that while he pursued a huge payday for Trump with the Trump Tower Moscow project through negotiations led by Felix Sater with Putin associates, he frequently briefed candidate Trump on updates even as Trump repeatedly denied having any business involvement in Russia. 
* Regarding what he should say to prosecutors, Cohen said Trump told him, "Michael, there's no collusion, there's no Russia, there's no involvement, no [election] interference," and was told to allow presidential lawyer Jay Sekulow to edit his congressional testimony, which was later revealed to be false.
* Confirming the widely held belief that Trump has wildly exaggerated his personal fortune, Cohen cited 2013 -- a year Trump claimed that his net worth nearly doubled from $4.6 billion to $8.6 billion -- in explaining that Trump simply assigned a massive $4 billion value to his "brand value."   
* Trump directed Cohen to use "my own personal funds . . . to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign" in making a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels and, after he had become president, reimbursed Cohen with a $35,000 personal check.  
* Cohen said that even before he went to work for Trump in 2007, National Enquirer owner David Pecker was engineering so-called catch and kill deals in addition to the publicly revealed deal with Playboy model Karen McDougal to buy the silence of women who had affairs with Trump. 
Trump, of course, has built on his astounding litany of thousands of lies by denying knowing about the WikiLeaks tipoffs and the Trump Tower meeting, feigning ignorance about Trump Tower Moscow and equivocating about hush-money payments. 
From the moment that Cohen concluded his prepared remarks and the questioning began, it was obvious that committee Republicans were not going to contest the specifics of his testimony because they would have ended up digging an even deeper hole for their beleaguered president.  So they sought to discredit Cohen, asserting that he was merely a disgruntled employee who didn't get a White House job and is angling for a lucrative book deal.  They impugned his character because they couldn't impugn the incriminating documents he produced.   
Meanwhile, committee Democrats seemed content to draw out Cohen on his prepared remarks rather than break new ground.  Disappointing. 
The execrable Jim Jordan of Ohio led the Republic attack on Cohen's character, calling him a "fraudster, cheat, convicted felon and, in two months, a federal inmate."  
Provoked at one point, Cohen shot back, "Shame on you, Mr. Jordan.  I made mistakes, I own them, and I didn't fight with [prosecutors for] the Southern District of New York . . . what I did do is I pled guilty and I am going to be going to prison." 
"Sitting here today, it seems unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong, . . . [but] "being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating."  
Cohen sidestepped a question about his last conversation with Trump, which occurred about two months after the FBI raided his Manhattan office and home in April.  
"There are ongoing investigations currently being conducted that have nothing to do with this committee or Congress that I am assisting in," Cohen relied.
Near the conclusion of Cohen's testimony, he finally was asked a straight question by a Republican. 
"Mr. Cohen, I don't know whether we should believe you today, but I'm going to ask you this one last question," said Representative Justin Amash of Minnesota. "What is the truth that you know President Trump fears most?” 
Cohen seemed taken aback and shook his head for a while before concluding in a most un-John Dean way that it was a "tough question" that he didn’t have an answer for. 
Having struck a deal to cooperate with federal prosecutors in connection with his guilty pleas on eight charges, including lying to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow, Cohen begins a three-year prison sentence in May.   
He has been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team for some 70 hours, and of one thing we can be absolutely certain.  Mueller knowns a great deal more about Trump's criminality than Cohen let on. 
Now if we could only figure out how it came to this.

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Trump's Really Big Troubles Will Begin When Maximum Bob's 'Witch Hunt' Ends

Having been spot-on correct about how misplaced the breathless and transparently shallow media reports were last week in stating that Robert Mueller's final report would be delivered to Attorney General William Barr this week, the special counsel is indeed winding down his Russia scandal investigation save for possibly one more round of indictments.  And while we'll miss Donald Trump yammering about Maximum Bob's "witch hunt," which he has done a mind-numbing 1,100 times over the past 21 months, that's when his really big troubles will begin. 
I'm not talking about the likelihood of Mueller's final report being leaked, which it almost certainly will be if Barr tries to suppress it, which I actually believe he will not do.   
No, Trump's really big troubles will commence because once the special counsel moves on, House Democrats will have an open playing field.  Their various committees will begin impeachment proceedings and get serious about a bunch of other investigations, including one into Trump's tax returns.   
And all the while the investigations that Mueller handed off to other prosecutors will be proceeding.   
These include the SDNY investigations into Trump Organization finances, including its dealings with Deutsche Bank, which has been fined hundreds of millions of dollars for a $10 billion Russian money laundering scheme, as well as inaugural committee irregularities, and investigations by other U.S. Attorney offices into Maria Butina and illegal influence by the Turkish government, including a campaign against exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, and a plot to kidnap and return him to Turkey.   
Then there are New York state and Manhattan DA investigations into illegal Trump tax schemes, the Donald Trump Foundation and additional state-level charges against former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in an effort to ensure he still will face prison time even if the president pardons him for his federal crimes. 
The White House will get an early taste of things to come on Wednesday when Trump's longtime lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen is scheduled to testify in pubic before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about Trump's criminal conduct, use of racist language and the sleaze surrounding his 2016 campaign, including the illegal hush payments he made on his orders to silence two of the women with whom he had adulterous affairs.   
Trump will be 12 time zones away in Vietnam meeting with Rocket Man and rehearsing for a Nobel Peace Prize that will never come.  In May, Cohen will be in prison serving a three-year sentence in nine guilty pleas on lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project, the hush-money payments and a litany of other financial charges.     
The White House has tried to take advantage of the drip-drip-drip revelations that have seeped out with every round of Mueller indictments in an effort to hold Trump's mythic "base" and hold down Republican congressional defections.   
Despite a hint of collusion here, evidence that candidate Trump ("Individual 1" in the opaque legal code in one indictment) was in the loop there and a fusillade of lies everywhere, the "no collusion" drum has been beaten loudly and incessantly as arguments as to why the Russia scandal is a big zero have morphed from the bizarre to the ridiculous. 
The latest pearl from the mouth of press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in direct contradiction of Trump's own intelligence chiefs, is that "The president far and away was the better candidate.  He had a better message and he outworked Hillary Clinton.  That's why he's president.  He didn't need to, nor did he, collude with the Russians.  Pretty simple." 
Then there is the newly-bearded Donald Trump Jr., who told his dad's pals at "Fox and Friends" in regard to the 37 indictments and 199 criminal charges brought by Mueller, that there were "no actual crimes," just "things people did in past lives."    
Two footnotes on that final report, whenever and however it comes: 
First, the punditocracy is deluding itself if it thinks Trump will run for reelection. His corruption and malfeasance are so immense that he won't make it to the primary season starting line even as the Republican Party, in its latest Orwellian convolution, works feverishly to try to abolish primaries altogether in states where Trump could face serious opposition.   
Second, in 2016, FBI Director James Comey made an election outcome-influencing hash of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and his self-justifications since then have only served to further outrage those of us who understand the enormity of this ego-driven miscarriage of justice. 
Mueller is not a self-justifier.  In fact, I expect him to go quietly into the night after his work is done.  But he owes America a narrative that ties together nearly two years of those drip-drip-drip revelations.  And most importantly, a definitive answer to the biggest question.  Not whether Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia, but an explanation of how they colluded.

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

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Catholic Church Is The Largest Organized Crime Organization In The World

It was 1945 and my father -- a Roman Catholic and one-time altar boy who had attended 12 years of parochial school with the mandatory assaults on knuckles by nuns wielding rulers -- had fallen in love with my mother.  Although he had become something of a lapsed churchgoer, he wanted nothing more than to have a big Catholic wedding, more for his deeply devout mother than for himself.  But that never happened because my mother's father was a goddamned Jew.  They had to settle for a simple ceremony in an assistant priest's rectory office that was drowned out by Gene Autry records being played at a high volume by an elderly and nearly deaf priest next door. 
The unhappy experience of my mother's father with the church ran deeper still.  As the organizer of a fund to bring the children of concentration camp victims to our community from Germany for adoption, he had raised money from every denomination.  Except the local Catholic diocese, which refused to give a cent at a time when the big man in Rome with the funny hat was a Nazi sympathizer. 
Fast forward nearly 75 years and the anti-Semitism that has pervaded the church for a millennium seems like a quaint anachronism.  This is because the Roman Catholic Church has become the largest organized crime group in the world, a festering cesspool of pedophilia, nun rape and abuse of orphans and other vulnerable children in its care that is built upon a flaming pyre of hypocrisy and denial fanned by the church's ultimate weapon. That is the calumny to which the faithful who dare question its teachings are subjected. Sinners all in the eyes of an unbending church hierarchy. 
Strong words?  Yes, but spot-on accurate and tragically true as Frédéric Martel and Shaun Whiteside make clear in In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. 
In the Closet is not just another gossipy potboiler.  The authors conducted more than 1,500 interviews with 41 cardinals and 52 bishops and monsignori, among others, in concluding that many Vatican gays -- and in particular the most homophobic -- acknowledge that they treat their vows of celibacy with contempt as they hit on young men, hire prostitutes and throw sex parties.  
Two of Pope John Paul II's favorite cardinals -- whose nicknames within the Vatican are Platinette (after a drag queen) and La Mongolfiera -- ran an elite prostitution service that continued through the papacy of Benedict XVI and was financed with church money.  
Closer to home and all too typical of the deep rot in the American church is the decades-long cover-up of abuse by as many as 50 church officials in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in central Pennsylvania.  
The cover-up was orchestrated, in part, by two bishops who wielded enormous power and was aided and abetted by pubic officials, some of whom remain in positions of power.  The stories told by the 250 or so victims of the abuse who came forward have a familiar ring.  A prominent monsignor sexually abuses a 12-year-old organ player for two years.  When she goes to another priest, he also abuses her, while a third suggests she comfort herself with a candy bar each day, and a fourth who merely tells her to see a counselor.     
The omertà of the Vatican closet is, of course, the core reason for the calamitous epidemic of sex abuse that has pervaded the church in the U.S., Europe, South America and Africa, and while ending priestly celibacy would seem to be a way out of the crisis, gay Catholic and commentator Andrew Sullivan argues in a New York magazine essay that it is not that simple:
The crisis is so profound, the corruption so deep, the duplicity so brazen that only a radical change will help.  Ending mandatory celibacy is no longer an option.  It's a necessity. Women need to be brought in to the full sacramental life of the church.  Gay men need to be embraced not as some manifestation of 'intrinsic moral evil' but as human beings made in the image of God and capable of mutual love, care, and support.  Gay priests with integrity need to be defended as strongly as the hypocrites need to be exposed and expelled.  [Pope] Francis is nudging the church toward this more humane and Christian future, but the more he does so, the more fervently this nest of self-haters and bigots will try to destroy him. 
Even the simplest reforms will be daunting. 
As Pope Francis convened a four-day summit meeting at the Vatican last week to address the scourge of clerical sex abuse, victims and their advocates demanded uniform church laws to impose zero tolerance for priests who abuse minors and for the bishops who cover up for them, regardless of the culture in which they operate.   
But Vatican officials say such a demand reflects a misconception that change in a global and ancient institution can be made with the wave of a papal wand, and they're correct.  The diversity of legal and cultural barriers to identifying abusers and assisting victims, as well as entrenched denial, makes putting in place one worldwide standard virtually impossible.  
Pope Francis, speaking on the final day of the summit, seemed to acknowledge that in calling priests and other Catholics who abuse children "tools of Satan," but in the end coping out in not offering concrete steps to address the crisis.   
More praying, it seems, will have to do when it comes to preying.   
In a way, it is almost too easy to demonize the Catholic Church because the collision between social realities and religious orthodoxies is inevitably ugly.  It just doesn't help when the church's rationalizations for the dire condition of the priesthood keep shifting and the blame is too frequently placed on a government and culture that the church claims infringes on its God-given rights.  (Which begs a question: Is a tax-exempt status for its vast U.S. real estate interests God given?)   
My favorite excuse being the conclusion of a study commissioned by the church's American bishops that homosexuality is not to blame.  It is because priests were poorly prepared for the social and sexual turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s.  In other words, it was the hippies' fault.   
Even as diocese after diocese like Altoona-Johnstown is bankrupted because of crushing legal settlements from predatory priest lawsuits (my father's old parish is on its knees after paying out $77 million to more than 140 abuse victims), the church also has done enormous good.  This is especially true in inner cities where its schools have provided generations of kids with not just decent educations, but a way out of the ghetto.  It also has been a force for advocating economic justice.  And I acknowledge that it has been a spiritual haven for many millions of people like my Irish Catholic immigrant grandmother. 
But it is the church's appalling hypocrisy, which so often manifests itself as a transparently fake compassion, that is the greatest barrier.  And one that my father,  mother and her father well understood. 
This raises the ultimate question: Is the Catholic Church worth saving before it self-destructs, a process that is underway in America and other first-world countries where it is increasingly out of touch as the modern world passes its anachronistic self by? 
I think not, and may God help you if you believe otherwise. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Crash & Burn Of Trump's High-Flying Campaign Manager Is Now Complete

Paul Manafort, the once high-flying, ostrich skin coat-wearing uber lobbyist for despots the world over, is a broken man.  Already facing up to 24 years in prison, Donald Trump's former campaign manager now could be sentenced to an additional 10 years, increasing the likelihood he could spend the rest of his life behind bars. 
In an arguably anti-climactic sentencing memo filed under seal, a 25-page portion of which was made public on Saturday, prosecutors for Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not recommend a specific punishment, but asked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to make sure the 69-year-old never walks free again. 
"For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law" and continued to commit crimes even after he was indicted, the prosecutors said in referring to the nearly 800 pages of trial exhibits and appendices appended to the sentencing memo.  "Manafort chose repeatedly and knowingly to violate the law," from "garden-variety crimes such as tax fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and bank fraud" to "more esoteric laws" involving foreign lobbying. 
Manafort lied, they noted, "to tax preparers, bookkeepers, banks, the Treasury Department, the Department of Justice National Security Division, the FBI, the Special Counsel's Office, the grand jury, his own legal counsel, Members of Congress, and members of the executive branch of the United States government." 
They said the fact that Manafort lied to prosecutors after agreeing to cooperate "reflects a hardened adherence to committing crimes and lack of remorse."      
In the words of one pundit, Manafort seemed to be Mueller's "golden goose" because he was considered the key to unlocking the collusion puzzle for the special counsel as Trump's primary conduit to Russia.  That took a giant leap when Manafort, on the eve of his second trial in September, appeared to agree to cooperate with Mueller's Russia scandal investigation, pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and forfeiting $26 million in personal assets. 
But Manafort reneged on that agreement in grand style by repeatedly lying to prosecutors -- probably in hopes of a presidential pardon -- while one of his lawyers provided backchannel reports to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani about the scope of the questions prosecutors were asking him to aid in the president's defense against what, despite 37 indictments and 199 criminal charges involving Manafort and a rogues gallery of other perps, Trump still ridiculously calls a "witch hunt." 
Manafort's defense attorneys, in struggling to represent a mendacious liar groveling for a pardon from Trump that may not come, have unconvincingly maintained that he did not intentionally lie and that any inconsistencies in were honest mistakes. 
Meanwhile, in a related development that further deepens Manafort's legal woes, the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance is preparing state criminal charges against Manafort in an effort to ensure he still will face prison time even if the president pardons him for his federal crimes. 
And in another development that further deepens Trump's legal woes, the Justice Department is indicating that Mueller's investigation is not over despite breathless media accounts that he would send his final report to Attorney General William Barr this week. In January, Mueller extended the Washington grand jury that has been hearing testimony for another six months, while aspects of his investigation will continue well past its conclusion.  
Manafort's sentencing from his August trial to a potential 24 years in prison on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to disclose a foreign bank account is scheduled for March 8 before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis.    
Jackson is to sentence Manafort on the conspiracy charges on March 13. 
That sentence was fixed at 10 years maximum (five years on each conspiracy charge) as a result of the guilty pleas Manafort entered in conjunction with his plea agreement, and Jackson apparently is locked into that although Manafort blew up his agreement.   
Jackson has indicated that she may impose her sentence to run consecutively after the first sentence.  This effectively means that Manafort -- who turns 70 on April 1 -- is looking at upwards of 34 years in prison if both judges max out the sentences and much more if she uses the 17- to 22-year guideline.  
The redacted sentencing memo did not address Manafort's interactions with Russians because of what prosecutors previously stated are either "ongoing law enforcement investigations" or "uncharged individuals," a further indication that Mueller is not quite finished, moving one pundit to call the memo "an exquisitely built nothing burger."  
These interactions included at least 14 trips to Moscow by the time Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, while later that summer, Christopher Steele wrote in a memo that became part of his infamous dossier that a "conspiracy of cooperation" between the campaign and Russia is "well-developed," and is "managed on the Trump side by . . . Manafort." 
Prosecutors had previously told Jackson that Manafort's interactions with one Russian in particular -- Konstantin Kilimnik, a suspected GRU-trained spy -- go "very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating."  Manafort is believed to have shared inside campaign polling data with Kilimnik at an upscale Manhattan cigar bar on August 2, 2016 possibly vital to the use of targeted social media by Kremlin trolls in the ongoing and far-reaching cyberespionage of Hillary Clinton's campaign.  The men also discussed a so-called Ukrainian "peace plan," which was code for relief of crippling Obama administration-imposed Russia sanctions should Trump be elected. 
That prosecutors chose to not detail Manafort's interactions with Kilimnik and other Russians in the sentencing memo may be significant because it suggests there may be indictments to come involving individuals whom Manafort tried to protect by lying.  Note also that sentencing has been deferred for Rick Gates, Manafort's longtime business partner and co-conspirator, who is cooperating with Mueller. 
Trump was one of the first clients retained by Manafort, Roger Stone and Charlie Black when they founded a lobbying business in 1980.  Spy magazine later was to name the firm the "sleaziest of all in the Beltway."     
In June 2018, Jackson revoked Manafort's bail and jailed him on witness tampering allegations after he and Kilimnik were found to have be communicating with potential witnesses in Eastern Europe since Manafort's October 2017 arrest.  He has been incarcerated since then. 
The New York state charges would be based on millions of dollars of loans Manafort fraudulently received from two banks.  Those loans were also the subject of some of the counts in the federal indictment that led to his conviction after his August 2018 trial, but state prosecutors deferred their inquiry in order not to interfere with Mueller’s investigation. 
It should be noted that Trump never gave pause to the sleazy reputations of Manafort and Stone, who is Trump's longest-serving political adviser, as well as others in his inner circle.   
In fact, the sleaze probably is what attracted them to him, as well as Michael Cohen, his longtime lawyer and fixer, who is cooperating with prosecutors and is expected to testify before Congress on Wednesday about Trump's hush money payments during the campaign with two women with whom he had affairs before beginning his own prison sentence in May as a result of pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, tax fraud and a campaign finance violation in the hush-money scheme.  
Stone was hit with a seven-count indictment by Mueller last month alleging that he sought stolen emails from WikiLeaks to damage Clinton in coordination with senior Trump campaign officials and was in direct communication with Guccifer 2.0, a persona operated by Russia's GRU, 12 intelligence officers of which were indicted by Mueller in July on charges they hacked the computer networks of the Clinton campaign, Democratic National Committee and other Democratic organizations. 

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Maximum Bob Has A Big Report Coming, But It May Not Be What You Think It Is

The Intertubes have been afire over stories on the imminent release of a big report from Robert Mueller.   
It is widely assumed that this is the (drum roll, please!) eagerly anticipated final report as dictated by Department of Justice regulations, which require that at the conclusion of Mueller's investigation he will "provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel."  The attorney general is now William Barr, whom Donald Trump nominated because he hopes Barr will dig a hole and bury the report.   
The online conflagration was stoked by stories from NBC News, CNN and The Washington Post to the effect that their sources are being told Mueller could send his final report to Barr as early as next week, but none of the stories even hint at what the report will say.  
The WaPo story had the obligatory anonymous "adviser to Trump" source who said there "is palpable concern among the president's inner circle that the report might contain information about Trump and his team that is politically damaging, but not criminal conduct." 
Because I read that quote at night and not over breakfast, I was not able to blow coffee through my nose.  (Beer would not have worked.)  Since when has anything damaged Trump politically?  Two fricking years of revelations about all the contacts that Trump campaign officials and advisers had with Russians, some of them surely with Trump's knowledge, have failed to damage him politically in any significant way and still won't even if he is named by Mueller as an unindicted co-conspirator. 
Meanwhile, the CNN story was supplemented with kibbles from its Maximum Bob stakeout team such as "On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, special counsel's office employees carried boxes and pushed a cart full of files out of their office — an unusual move that could foreshadow a hand-off of legal work." 
Portraying clerks pushing carts as an "unusual move" beggars belief, so until the news hounds come up with something more definitive than coffee grounds making interesting patterns at the bottoms of their newsroom mugs, I'm going to suggest that the real imminent release of a report will be anticlimactic but -- alas for the president and his sycophancy -- nevertheless a scene from their worst nightmare. 
That would be a thoroughgoing Paul Manafort sentencing memo due on Friday that Barr can't touch. 
The best-case scenario for the good guys is that Mueller will lay out in the sentencing memo in damning detail the former Trump campaign chairman's collusion with Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik, specifically the sharing of inside campaign polling data as ammo for Vladimir Putin's cyberespionage of Hillary Clinton, as well as backchannel leaks to the White House through one of Manafort's lawyers as he set about breaking his plea agreement by lying through his teeth in hopes of securing a presidential pardon.   
And if perchance the memo is heavily redacted, it would be to protect aspects of Mueller's ongoing investigation into other Trump campaign perps that may lead to what Marcy Wheeler calls an "overarching conspiracy indictment." 
Marcy is the doyen of Russia scandal watchers and writes with unimpeachable (ouch!) good sense at emptywheel that such an indictment would lay out
[H]ow Trump and his spawn entered into a quid quo pro with various representatives of the Russian government, getting dirt on Hillary and either a Trump Tower or maybe a bailout for the very same building in which Manafort met with Kilimnik on August 2, 2016.  In exchange for all that, Trump agreed to — and took steps to deliver on . . . reversing the sanctions that were such a headache to Russia's oligarchs. 
Meanwhile, Mueller also has loose ends to wrap up.   
His prosecutors are involved in several subpoena fights, notably one involving a foreign state-owned mystery bank that has worked its way up to the Supreme Court, and I just don't see him dropping that ball.  
All this by way of saying that final report may remain a ways off. 

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

And He Stoned Me: Roger Rushes The Ramparts In Joining Trump's Last Stand

When is an apology not an apology?  When it comes from Roger Stone. 
The notorious dirty trickster, serial liar, witness tamperer, convicted felon-in-waiting and Donald Trump's longest serving adviser is back in the news -- which is right where he wants to be -- following an Instagram post with the name and face of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the judge overseeing his criminal case, as well as one of Stone pal and former campaign manager Paul Manafort's legal train wrecks.  Accompanying the image was a crosshair symbol mimicking a rifle scope (as in Jackson ought to be shot) and a rant about a gag order she had imposed on him.  
"Through legal trickery Deep State hitman Robert Mueller has guaranteed that my upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson," Stone wrote, adding that Jackson is "an Obama appointed judge" and the "#fixisin." 
Stone deleted the crosshairs and then the picture itself after posting them on Monday, later disingenuously explaining that the crosshairs "is evidently more a Celtic symbol," and later still an "occult symbol." 
His lawyers then filed with Berman's court a confection they called a Notice of Apology, which was not technically a legal document but did include a signed statement from Stone saying, "Please inform the court that the photograph and comment today was improper and should not have been posted.  I had no intention of disrespecting the court and humbly apologize to the court for the transgression." 
Stone, of course, had every intention of disrespecting Berman in inviting people to shoot her.  And in doing so succeeded in his goal, which was to generate reams of news coverage, try to warp the jury pool for when he goes to trial, and call attention to Trump's Last Stand. 
The president, of course, is neck deep in the Russia scandal.  About all he has left by way of a defense is to claim, as he has relentlessly done with the help of alpha poodle Senator Lindsey Graham and now Stone, among others, that the scandal is a deep-state coup d'état engineered by Special Counsel Mueller and the FBI to avenge Hillary Clinton's defeat. 
(Side note: In May 2017, then-deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe notified the so-called Gang of Eight, the top-ranking congressfolk on intelligence committees, that a counterintelligence investigation into Trump had been launched after he fired FBI Director James Comey and was acting especially nutty, and there were no objections.  So Republicans buying into the deep-state crap are being even more hypocritical than usual.)
Trump's Last Stand is a public relations strategy as much as a legal strategy.    
It is a way for Trump to hold his "base" as he feverishly tries to rearrange deck chairs on the Ship of State, the indictments, convictions and news media blockbusters pile up, and he sees associate after associate turn on his sorry arse and decide to cooperate with the feds rather than go down with the ship. 
The latest blockbuster broke on Tuesday when The New York Times reported that Trump - who of course would have nothing to worry about if he wasn't guilty as sin -- had made secret assaults on federal law enforcement to try to subvert various Russia and related investigations in addition to his known efforts.  These assaults included asking Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker whether a perceived Trump loyalist could be put in charge of the widening investigation into his hush money payments. 
Meanwhile, The Times reported, Trump has publicly attacked the Russia investigations over 1,ooo times.
Jackson had fired a warning shot over the bow of the Ship of State last week in ruling against a motion by Stone to have her replaced as judge on the case.  She also imposed a gag order limiting the statements Stone can make at the federal courthouse, which is his version of a circus midway with himself as ringmaster. 
Jackson warned Stone that she would be paying attention to his conduct. 
"While it is not up to the court to advise the defendant as to whether a succession of public statements would be in his best interest at this time," wrote Jackson, "it notes that one factor that will be considered in the evaluation of any future request for relief based on pretrial publicity will be the extent to which the publicity was engendered by the defendant himself." 
In other words, the more Stone runs his month, the less likely the court will look favorably on his requests for lenience or special treatment. 
Jackson ordered Stone back to court in the wake of the Instagram dustup.  On Thursday, he will have to explain to her why the gag order and the liberal conditions of his release after his January indictment should not be modified or revoked.  
Lest we forget, that seven-count indictment alleges that Stone sought stolen emails from WikiLeaks to damage Clinton in coordination with senior Trump campaign officials and was in direct communication with Guccifer 2.0, a persona operated by Russia's GRU, 12 intelligence officers of which were indicted by Mueller in July on charges they hacked the computer networks of the Clinton campaign, Democratic National Committee and other Democratic organizations.  
Berman has been scrupulously fair.  In Manafort's sordid case, she has sometimes sided with his lawyers in pre-sentencing arguments over why he shouldn't spend the rest of his life in prison.  So on Thursday, she'll likely give Stone more rope to hang himself, if not send him to jail as she did with Manafort when he gave the court the middle finger by blowing his home-confinement release by witness tampering.   
Manafort is still in jail and probably will spend the rest of his life in prison.  Stone understands the peril he is in, but still won't pass up yet another opportunity to blow his bugle for Trump's Last Stand.    

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