Tag Archives: Magnitsky Act

What’s under the underside? Illegal campaign contributions?

Tracking money and contributions in the wake of Citizens United is difficult, especially given the Super PAC swampland, but as long as we’re speculating about what could be driving the Republican opposition to the Mueller investigation, and associated assaults on the CIA and FBI, let’s add violations of campaign finance laws.

 “The Federal Election Campaign Act states in unambiguous terms that any contribution by a foreign national to the campaign of an American candidate for any election, state or national, is illegal. Likewise, anyone who receives, solicits, or accepts these contributions also violates the statute. Foreign national, in this case, means anybody not a US citizen that doesn’t have a green card.”  [UKedu]

Indeed, 52 US Code 30121 is rather specific:

(a) Prohibition  It shall be unlawful for—
(1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make—
(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;
(B) a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or
(C) an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 30104(f)(3) of this title); or
(2) a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national.

Again, the caveat, I’m no counselor, solicitor, lawyer, attorney, or any other synonym for a legal eagle, but it seems to me that a campaign cannot accept or solicit a “donation of money or anything of value” from a foreign national.  And, now we come to the filtration system.

For example, there are questions about NRA donations during the 2016 election season.  On February 2, 2018 it was reported that Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) requested documents from the Treasury Department and the NRA concerning possible (or alleged) contributions from Russians to the National Rifle Association. [APN] The same day, PBS posted:

“News reports last month said the FBI is investigating contact between Alexander Torshin, who is the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, and the NRA. Wyden is ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, as well as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a probe into Russia election meddling.”

It would be highly irregular, if not downright illegal under 52 US Code 30121, to have money funneled from the Russian central bank to the NRA for the benefit of Republican candidates, including the campaign for the presidency.  The major reporting on this element of ongoing investigations came from McClatchy DC:

“Disclosure of the Torshin investigation signals a new dimension in the 18-month-old FBI probe of Russia’s interference. McClatchy reported a year ago that a multi-agency U.S. law enforcement and counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s intervention, begun even before the start of the 2016 general election campaign, initially included a focus on whether the Kremlin secretly helped fund efforts to boost Trump, but little has been said about that possibility in recent months.

The extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA, or of the NRA’s participation in the transfer of funds, could not be learned.”

Once more the reticence (and rectitude) of the Mueller investigation precludes the unauthorized release of information regarding ongoing probes. However, we do know that Mr. Torshin’s contributions, whatever they might be, are of interest to investigators.  Nor do we know if there are other contributions or “in kind” donations from other sources under scrutiny.  There may, or may not, be revelations coming from final reports from the Special Counsel.

Another example, … that infamous Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016.  Of all the possible violations of campaign finance rules this has been the most visible, in no small part because of the misleading (perhaps obstructionist) statement drafted and released by the administration concerning the principals in the meeting and its purpose.  And, no it wasn’t about ‘Russian Orphans’ unless of course one is speaking of the Russian retaliation for the Magnitsky Act.  One theory holds that opposition research is a valuable commodity, one of those “other things of value” under the terms of 52 US Code 20121, therefore if the Trump Campaign accepted purloined e-mails or the fruits of other opposition research against the Clinton Campaign from the Russians, then it has accepted unlawful contributions for foreign nationals.

The story ‘broke’ on July 8, 2017 in the New York Times, and has continued to inform the public discussion, even if the Mueller probe has possibly long finished with this component. CNN provides a handy timeline on the subject.

Once more, I think it’s important to note that we do not know what the Mueller investigation is placing under its microscope, these two publicized examples may be the only elements of campaign finance law violations about which questions have been raised, or there may be other shoes dropping.  Patience is required as the investigation continues toward its conclusion.

What we do know is that the administration is expending a significant amount of time and energy (not to mention political capital) trying to tamp down discussion of these possible violations, and questioning the motives underpinning the investigations.  Frankly speaking, if there’s “no there there” (Thank You Gertrude Stein for this enduring phrase for all occasions) then the question becomes WHY all this exertion?

And yes, come for the Obstruction of Justice, and stay for the possible violations of US campaign finance laws.

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Pennsylvania Avenue Jr. High

I’d be surprised to discover there’s a parent, grandparent, legal guardian, or teacher (anyone who’s had contact) with a middle schooler who hasn’t heard the Great Whine, or forms thereof.  It is a bit disturbing to hear the Great Whines emanating from the White House.   For those who haven’t had a 12-14 year old in close proximity recently, the Great Whine comes with perfectly predictable elements.

I didn’t do it.  Yeah, right.    Like the sheets and towels aren’t blue-gray after a pair of denim jeans (just your size) were tossed into the washing machine?

Okay, but everyone does it.  No.  Only people immature and foolish enough to think that parents don’t notice other parents aren’t getting memos from the school about children who sling toilet paper around the rest room do it.

Yeah, but So and So was the one who made me do it.  Please.  This household believes in Free Will.  You did it, you own it. We also believe in the Pottery Barn Rule — you break it, you buy it.  Next time you might want to have a quick thought before succumbing to some silly antic or prank.

It’s no big deal.  Uh, yes it is. When you screw up it’s a big enough deal.  If it were not a big deal no one would be noticing it, much less commenting.

But, it’s not really bad.   Wrong again me bucko.  If it violates the norms of civilized behavior, causes harm to anyone or anything, is a misdemeanor or perhaps even a low grade felony…it’s bad.

It’s not fair.  Oh yes it is.  Even if your friend didn’t get his skateboard confiscated because he flunked his last English test, even if your friend didn’t get grounded for throwing tomatoes at the neighbor’s cat, even if your friend (real or imagined) didn’t get into trouble for leaving left-over pizza out on the living room table overnight… you are not the victim of a misinterpretation of Universal Divine Law.  You screwed up, and there are consequences.

The problem with the Pennsylvania Avenue Junior High is that the stakes are so much higher than those associated with the usually small misdemeanors of young adolescents.  Yes, there are highly questionable meetings with agents of a hostile foreign power.  There are profound questions about the enforcement of sanctions imposed on that country for invading a sovereign nation, occupying that nation’s territory, and attacking the election processes of western democracies, and for egregious violations of human rights.

There are questions concerning the enforcement of those sanctions by a government the leadership of which may have financial connections of a nature as to make the desires of the foreign power of greater importance than the needs of our own nation. These questions need answers.  Those findings may range from  the inconvenient to the felonious, but applying the Cliché of the Day: We need to follow the facts.

 

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Who Is Supposed To Watch The Henhouse?

Let’s assume for the moment that while we may not yet know the full extent of Russian efforts to attack our election systems and voter rolls, we do know that they did so and will make future efforts to repeat their invasions based on what they have learned from 2016.  If this proposition seems reasonable, then the actions of the current administration are almost incomprehensible.

We have the official announcement that Chris Painter will leave the US State Department’s office of cyber issues at the end of this month. [TheHill]   Why the coordinator for US cyber issue policy would be leaving isn’t clear, but what is worthy of note is that Secretary of State Tillerson says staffing is a matter of “leaning in” and that the Cyber Security unit of the Department of State was organized by Secretary Clinton in 2011 to organize disparate parts of the department which dealt with cyber crime, cyber-security, internet freedom, and the protection of dissidents’ digital security. [NextGov]  One possible conclusion is that Tillerson is further truncating an already compressed organizational chart.

There are at least 50 reasons why more, not less, departments of the US government should be gearing up (not down) before the next round of elections: Alabama…Wyoming.

In September 2016 ABC News reported that Russian hackers targeted nearly half the US state voter registration systems and were successful in infiltrating four of them.  By that time 18 states had reached out to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson for assistance with cyber-security.  As of June 2017 reports were published saying that there may have been as many as 39 breaches of state cyber security in regard to voter rolls and/or election systems. [VF] The hackers may have targeted swing states, and voter registration officials.

This onslaught would seem to support the idea that MORE needs to be done by the US Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security (as well as the Election Assistance Commission) to help states prevent future hacks and assaults on our elections.  At this point the obvious clashes with the ideological.

There is baked into Republican ideology the notion that more can always be done with less.  The central concept appears to be that offices are filled to the transoms with unnecessary employees doing unimportant jobs.  However, consider the manpower needed to assist 50 states with 50 disparate voting systems from attacks by foreign powers intent upon doing everything from malicious mischief to outright fraud.  We might well ask not only who’s watching the hen house, but who’s even available to answer the phones?

The irony of the current situation lies in the 2016 Republican Platform which made some important promises:

“The platform highlights the recent passage of cybersecurity information sharing legislation and calls for a U.S. response to national state attacks that would include “diplomatic, financial and legal pain, curtailing visas for guilty parties, freezing their assets, and pursuing criminal actions against them.” It also calls for the U.S. to take an offensive strategy against cybersecurity attacks “to avoid the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor.” Supply chain issues, cyber workforce, cyber insurance, and the right to “self-defense” against cyber attackers were also included in the platform.”

Indeed, we’ve had the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor, but all we’ve heard from the current Republican administration is the disparagement of investigations of Russian interference as a Witch Hunt and Hoax, the suggestion that it would be “nice” if we had better relations with the Russians, talks about returning the Russian spy compounds in New York and Maryland, and now the Department of State will be operating without a coordinator for cyber-security.

What Americans should be advocating are:

  1. Full and adequate funding for the Election Assistance Commission, the only agency specifically tasked with testing and certifying election equipment in our elections.
  2. Adequate staffing and funding for cyber-security activities in the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice.
  3. Prioritization of cyber-security efforts to prevent attacks on our election systems by agents of foreign powers or the foreign powers themselves, as demonstrated by a nationwide effort to coordinate with all the election jurisdictions in this country to assist them in countering cyber assaults.

What happened in 2016 was a serious attack, a “Pearl Harbor” in GOP parlance, and the American public deserves to have this issue taken seriously.

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She Did It She Did It…well maybe sort of

One of these days the Fox News logo will be a shiny pretzel.  Not to be out-speculated by US broadcasts concerning the results of Donald Jr.’s June meeting with Russian emissaries, Fox News has cooked up a brew the ingredients of which require a long boil before the mass comes together…

This whole Moscow Mess shows that Hillary Clinton maybe, could have, might have, perhaps was associated with, could be considered to be cooperating, colluding, conspiring, with the opponents of the Magnitsky Act… because (now grip the rope on your logical thinking skills firmly) —

Secretary Clinton expressed the initial Obama Administration’s objections to the Magnitsky Act in 2010.  The administration argued that the State Department was already denying visas to those Russians who were implicated in Magnitsky’s death, also of interest to the administration in 2010 were Russian cooperation to keep supply lines to Afghanistan open, to negotiate with the Iranians concerning their nuclear program, and to deal with the Syrian Civil War. [NewYorker]

However, to the Residents of the Fox News Bubble Zone this translates to a flat statement of “Clinton opposed the Magnitsky Act.”  Now comes the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc portion of our program.   “Her initial opposition coincided with a $500,000 speech her husband gave…”  Yes a few weeks later Bill Clinton gave a speech at the Renaissance Capital annual investment conference.  No connection is demonstrated — it’s all in the timing, as in post hoc ergo propter hoc line of illogical thinking.

From the perspective of the Republican apologists we have to “fast forward” to 2016 when the Clinton campaign email (hacked and stolen) said: “With the help of the research team, we killed a Bloomberg story trying to link HRC’s opposition to the Magnitsky bill a $500,000 speech that WJC gave in Moscow.”  There are a couple of things to note about the use of this statement which illustrate the problems with Fox reportage.

First, if one doesn’t put much thought into the process, the image is created that there was a connection (between Secretary Clinton’s opposition to the act and the payment of former President Clinton’s speaking fees) and that the “killing” of a story implies something nefarious about this.  Remember, the Secretary’s opposition was tied to Obama administration policy regarding dealing with the Russians in 2010.

Secondly,  the image requires a person to ignore the initial clause in the e-mail, “with the help of the research team.”  It’s not too hard to spike a story if the publisher is assured that the report is a collection of idle speculation infused with inaccurate information.  Note as well that the pilfered e-mail stated the proposed Bloomberg piece was “trying” to link the Secretary’s opposition to the Magnitsky Act to her husband’s speaking fees — not that the report succeeded in making such a connection.  If the research shows no connection, there’s no story.  Little wonder the story got the spike.

And how did Fox News get the e-mail concerning how research submitted to Bloomberg News caused the latter to put the story in the bin?  It came compliments of the unfriendly hackers.  There’s no small amount of irony in having the Trump Apologist Network utilize the same stolen e-mail the Trump’s themselves may have encouraged?  To make this connection we need to wait for the conclusions of two Congressional intelligence committees, and the Special Counsel’s investigation.

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Bargaining with Babies

The Obama Administration closed down two lovely mansions used by the Russians to further their surveillance operations in the United States. We know that the mansions weren’t merely for tennis and tea dances because CBS reported that when the Russians decamped they destroyed documents and equipment, among the wreckage antennas, electronics, and computers.  Not the sort of thing on which one keeps score of bridge games or tennis tournaments among a few friends.  Now the Kremlin wants them back.  Their Foreign Minister says the closure was daylight robbery.  Better still, the Russians want them back,no little strings or threads attached.  One has to admire the chutzpah.   If the compounds (read SIGNIT stations) aren’t returned the Russians will “retaliate.”   The timing is interesting.

There was no “retaliation” in December, the obvious time for that sort of thing.  There was no threat of retaliation until: After Gen. Flynn was removed from the administration; and then more statements about ‘retaliation’ after the ill fated June meeting with 2, 4, 6, 8 (How many more Russians crashed the Gate?) with a Russian lawyer and lobbyist who wanted to discuss “child adoptions.”

By now, only the most willfully ignorant, or those who have been in a vegetative state since last December, don’t know that “child adoptions” is code for the Russian retaliation for the enactment of the Magnitsky Act.  This makes the following news bit disturbing:  “The State Department wants a deal that could include restarting U.S. adoptions of Russian children. It also has to deal with concerns at home – the FBI and some U.S. intelligence professionals fear giving back the sites would aid Russian spy efforts.”

The stoppage imposed on the US family adoptions of Russian children was Vladimir Putin’s reaction to the enactment of the Magnitsky Act.   And, the US State Department “WANTS” a “DEAL” to restart the adoption process?  Please tell me that the US State Department is NOT using babies and young orphans as cover for reducing the sanctions on a hostile foreign adversary that very much wants to sow discord among NATO allies, maintain its control of Crimea, indulge in military operations in eastern Ukraine, support the murderous Assad Regime, threaten its Baltic nation neighbors, and assault US, German, and French elections.

Not only should the US NOT cave to Russian threats and tantrums, but the House should pass S. 722 to maintain and upgrade sanctions against the Putin Regime — and this should happen now, and not later.

A word to one’s Representative in the House would be wise.

 

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