Tag Archives: Trump Investigations

Now A Warning? Same Old News About Russian Interference Without Any New Response

No, it’s NOT okay.  Merely because it isn’t thought the Russians actually changed any voting results doesn’t mean things are hunky-dory for the 2018 elections.  Today’s ‘news’ is in reality old news.  Consider the following excerpts from times gone by:

September 22, 2016 – “Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Adam Schiff, ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, issue a joint statement declaring that based on information they received during congressional briefings, they believe that Russian intelligence agencies are carrying out a plan to interfere with the election. They call on Putin to order a halt to the activities.” [CNN]

September 29, 2016 –  “There have been hacking attempts on election systems in more than 20 states — far more than had been previously acknowledged — a senior Department of Homeland Security official told NBC News on Thursday.  The “attempted intrusions” targeted online systems like registration databases, and not the actual voting or tabulation machines that will be used on Election Day and are not tied to the Internet.The DHS official described much of the activity as “people poking at the systems to see if they are vulnerable.”  “We are absolutely concerned,” the DHS official said. “The concern is the ability to cause confusion and chaos.” [NBC]

Fast forward to 2017, and the story remains essentially the same, albeit with more details.  In September 2017 the Department of Homeland Security finally got around to officially notifying the states they’d been hacked.

“The Department of Homeland Security said earlier this year that it had evidence of Russian activity in 21 states, but it failed to inform individual states whether they were among those targeted. Instead, DHS authorities say they told those who had “ownership” of the systems — which in some cases were private vendors or local election offices.” [NPR]

Yes, it took ten months for the Department of Homeland Security to officially tell the states what was going on.  And now…. this is “news:”

February 7, 2018:  “The U.S. official in charge of protecting American elections from hacking says the Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states prior to the 2016 presidential election.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn’t talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.”  [NBC]

Indeed, this isn’t coming as news to the 18 states that volunteered for the free cyber-hygiene scans offered by the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security in 2016.  However, a person would have to wonder what happened to the two states which refused the free scan offer, and why we keep getting what is at best a repetition of the same warnings issued at least a year ago.

And what has happened since November 2016? It would be far easier to track what has NOT been done.  For example, there has not been a single cabinet level meeting concerning the issue of Russian interference.  There has not been a single report issued by the current administration issued on the subject of Russian interference.  There has been nothing done by the current administration to implement the sanctions overwhelmingly enacted by the 115th Congress against the Russians for their interference — their continuing interference.  And yes, the Russians did in fact hack into some voter rolls. [TheHill] And yes, the Russians are still at it. [NYT]

How do we know this? Because CIA Director Mike Pompeo says he’s reasonably certain the Russians will meddle in the 2018 midterms. [BBC/Politico]  The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says we’re going to be a target in 2018 (and there’s probably nothing we can do about it.)’ [WashExam]

So once more it’s time to refer to the only comprehensive report on Russian interference issued from Washington so far — the Cardin Report:

“A Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff report released Wednesday and commissioned by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the Committee’s ranking member, details Russian president Vladimir Putin’s nearly two decades-long assault on democratic institutions, universal values, and the rule of law across Europe and in his own country. The report comes one year after Senator Cardin introduced the Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act of 2017, which served as the basis for the sanctions package signed into law last August, and makes a series of recommendations to adequately bolster U.S. and European defenses and counter the growing Kremlin threat to democratic institutions.”

It is well past time for the administration to take action.  One obvious suggestion would be for the administration to do something more efficacious than publishing a list of Forbes’ Richest Russians and apply additional sanctions as a response to continuing Russian interference in our political systems and institutions.  “Name and Shame” has obviously NOT stopped Russian efforts.  As the Cardin Report points out, the timidity of the US reaction to Russian activities as compared to actions taken by European nations has a source, in the White House:

“Despite the clear assaults on our democracy and our allies in Europe, the U.S. government still does not have a coherent, comprehensive, and coordinated approach to the Kremlin’s malign influence operations, either abroad or at home. Although the U.S. government has for years had a patchwork of offices and programs supporting independent journalism, cyber security, and the countering of disinformation, the lack of presidential leadership in addressing the threat Putin poses has hampered a strong U.S. response.”  [CardinReport pdf]

So, the British have publicly chastised the Russians for their meddling and have taken steps to secure their cyber-systems and election procedures.  The Germans upgraded the cooperation between the government and the campaigns, taken stronger measures against bots and trolls, and issued strong warnings of consequences for any additional Russian games.  The Spanish cracked down on Russian based organized crime groups, especially those seeking to use the country for money laundering.  The French took direct action to address cyber-hacking and smear campaigns.  The Nordic states have adopted a “whole society” approach to address Russian propaganda and cyber efforts. The Baltic states have employed public information campaigns, strengthened cyber-security systems, and reduced their energy dependence on Russian sources. [Cardin] If most of our western allies can take active measures to address Russian interference, the question remains — Why has the US done so little?  The Cardin Report conclusion that the lack of presidential leadership has not been helpful takes on more credibility.

There are some activities good old Average Americans can do to help rectify this situation.  (1) Get informed.  Read the Cardin Report.  (2) Evaluate the suggested steps the US could take to directly confront Russian interference. (3) Contact Senators and Representatives to let our lawmakers know that the public IS interested in Russian operations in the US.  (4) Contact those Representatives to tell them the American public (and their constituents in particular) insist the administration implement and enforce the sanctions enacted by Congress.

Perhaps there’s a sufficient number of phone calls, post cards, e-mails, and constituent meetings which will prevent the Russian Meddling from being an annual event in the American press, each time reminding us that nothing has been accomplished thus far to prevent Russian activities to sow discord, dissension, and advance the demolition of American political institutions.  We should not only hope so, but also work to make this happen.

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What’s Under The Underside: RICO Edition

There are some other statutes which might be intriguing the office of the Special Counsel beside the ones discussed in the previous two posts.  Based on what we know from already public information there’s room for credible speculation about other laws the current Oval Office occupant, his family, associates, or perhaps even himself have potentially violated.

RICO.  Enacted in 1970 the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act includes elements which may (or may not) be incorporated in some of the Oval Office occupant’s business practices.  The Department of Justice explains:

It is unlawful for anyone employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt. 18 U.S.C.A. § 1962(c) (West 1984).

And here are the basics:

“A more expansive view holds that in order to be found guilty of violating the RICO statute, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) that an enterprise existed; (2) that the enterprise affected interstate commerce; (3) that the defendant was associated with or employed by the enterprise; (4) that the defendant engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity; and (5) that the defendant conducted or participated in the conduct of the enterprise through that pattern of racketeering activity through the commission of at least two acts of racketeering activity as set forth in the indictment.”

The Department of Justice outlines the definitions of several crucial words and phrases in its publication quoted above, and IF the Special Counsel is looking into possible violations of the RICO Act, then they will have to meet the intent and letter of the law regarding the acts alleged to be unlawful.  Now what might the Office of the Special Counsel find of interest?  For the sake of brevity in this matter, let’s look at two examples —

There’s that Tower in Panama.  This involved “selling a few condos” a venture accomplished with the assistance of Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who is now a fugitive. The following item may have grabbed the attention of the Mueller team:

“The investigation revealed no indication that the Trump Organization or members of the Trump family engaged in any illegal activity, or knew of the criminal backgrounds of some of the project’s associates. But Ventura said that the Trumps never asked any questions about the buyers or where the money was coming from.” [NBC]

Who know what, or perhaps deliberately avoided knowing what and by whom, could be of interest to future jurors?

“All that must be shown is: (1) that the defendant agreed to commit the substantive racketeering offense through agreeing to participate in two racketeering acts; (2) that he knew the general status of the conspiracy; and (3) that he knew the conspiracy extended beyond his individual role. United States v. Rastelli, 870 F. 2d 822, 828 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 982, 110 S. Ct. 515, 107 L. Ed. 2d 516 (1989).” [DoJ]

Prosecutors advise that the Due Diligence factor may be in play:

“Legal experts contacted by Reuters said the Trumps should have asked those questions. Because Panama is “perceived to be highly corrupt,” said Arthur Middlemiss, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan and a former head of JPMorgan’s global anti-corruption program, those who do business there should perform due diligence on others involved in their ventures. If they fail to do so, he told Reuters, they risk being liable under U.S. law of turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.”  [NBC]

Eyes may well have been blind to some Russian Mafia money, some money laundering, and some cash moving via drug cartels.  [NBC] See also reporting in The HillReuters.

Maybe the antics associated with the Panama project should not have come as much of a surprise, the Washington Post published a report on Trump associations with underworld characters in the morass that was New York City construction and corruption early in his career.  The Atlantic summarized the atmosphere, and the times Trump has skated away from actual legal action against him:

“Trump has been linked to the mafia many times over the years, with varying degrees of closeness. Many of the connections seem to be the sorts of interactions with mobsters that were inevitable for a guy in the construction and casino businesses at the time. For example, organized crime controlled the 1980s New York City concrete business, so that anyone building in the city likely brushed up against it. While Trump has portrayed himself as an unwitting participant, not everyone agrees. There have been a string of other allegations, too, many reported by investigative journalist Wayne Barrett. Cohn, Trump’s lawyer, also represented the Genovese crime family boss Tony Salerno. Barrett also reported a series of transactions involving organized crime, and alleged that Trump paid twice market rate to a mob figure for the land under Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. Michael Isikoff has also reported that Trump was close to Robert LiButti, an associate of John Gotti, inviting him on his yacht and helicopter. In one case, Trump’s company bought LiButti nine luxury cars.”

And as of September 19, 2017 Newsweek reported that the Office of Special Counsel was tracking Trumpian maneuvers as if they were part of an organized crime operation.

Then, there’s Felix Sater.   An article in Politico opens the discussion, and offers more background information.  The Washington Post (2016) provides some initial information specifically about Mr. Sater and Mr. Trump:

“On the 24th floor of Trump Tower, in an office two floors below Donald Trump, Felix Sater was trying to revive his career. The Russian-born businessman had already done a stint in prison for stabbing a man in the face with the stem of a margarita glass, and he was now awaiting sentencing for his role in a Mafia-orchestrated stock fraud scheme — all the while serving as a government informant on the mob and mysterious matters of national security.

But Sater and his business partners had an idea: They would build Trump towers in U.S. cities and across the former Soviet bloc. Sater pitched it to Trump, who gave Sater’s company rights to explore projects in Moscow as well as in Florida and New York.” (emphasis added)

Once more there are dots: Sater. Mafia. Russians. Trump.  Predictably, the Oval Office occupant experienced memory loss concerning his knowledge of Mr. Sater:  “Trump has repeatedly said he barely remembers Sater. In sworn testimony in 2013, Trump said he wouldn’t recognize Sater if they were sitting in the same room. In an interview last year with the Associated Press, he said, “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it.”  If this sounds familiar it should, because we’ve now gone through a load of faulty memory moments in regard to George Papadopoulos, who went from sitting in a principals meeting with Trump (see photograph everyone on planet Earth has seen at least once) to “coffee boy.”  And thus Mr. Sater has moved from getting the rights to promote Trump projects in Moscow to “gee, I don’t know him.” A predictable pattern of Trumpian de-recognition.

For additional information see:  The Nation, New York Magazine, New York Times, New York Times.  (A nice hot shower is highly recommended after reading these articles.)

We might end this segment with Sater himself:

“Even allowing for Sater’s long-established record as a liar and self-promoter, there’s plenty here for Mueller and other investigators to dig into. And Sater, too, seems to believe that something big is coming. In his interview with New York magazine, he hinted ominously about the near future. “In about the next 30 to 35 days,” he told reporter Rice, “I will be the most colorful character you have ever talked about. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it now, before it happens. And believe me, it ain’t anything as small as whether or not they’re gonna call me to the Senate committee.”

Please buckle up, this could be an E Ticket Ride.  What is contained in this short blog post is all from published sources; what we don’t see as yet is what additional information and testimony has been gleaned by the Office of the Special Counsel. Once again we can surmise with some certainty that the Mueller investigation has far more access to witnesses, information, and testimony than journalists ever had; and, will be just as thorough as the best of the reporters working on these stories.

Come for the Obstruction of Justice, and stay for the violations of the RICO Act?

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What’s Under the Underside? Laundering Someone’s Money?

The press focus du jour is on the “obstruction of justice” element of allegations against the present occupant of the Oval Office; what we’re not seeing is the basis for possible obstruction — or, what is the subject seeking to prevent from coming to light?  Since the Mueller investigation is locked up tighter than a clam with tetanus, speculation is all we have right now.  Here are some possibilities:

Money laundering.  More formally, acts included in US 18 Section 1956.  Meaning:

“Whoever, knowing that the property involved in a financial transaction represents the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity, conducts or attempts to conduct such a financial transaction which in fact involves the proceeds of specified unlawful activity–with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity.”

In other words, taking the pay out of the crime.  There is a more:

“or with intent to engage in conduct constituting a violation of section 7201 or 7206 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;”

Translation: making false statements to the IRS.  And, there’s more:

“knowing that the transaction is designed in whole or in part– to conceal or disguise the nature, the location, the source, the ownership, or the control of the proceeds of specified unlawful activity;  or to avoid a transaction reporting requirement under State or Federal law,…”

Notice there’s a lot of “knowing” going on here.  I don’t even play a lawyer on TV, but it seems to me that the culprit must know the proceeds are ill gotten, and our culprit must intend to turn a blind eye to where the ill gotten comes from so the original illegal activity may march along unimpeded, or bamboozle the IRS about the source of the income, and cover up what’s going on by whom and where.  A much more informed source describes it this way:

“The requisite degree of knowledge or suspicion will depend upon the specific offence but will usually be present where the person providing the arrangement, service or product knows, suspects or has reasonable grounds to suspect that the property involved in the arrangement represents the proceeds of crime. In some cases the offence may also be committed where a person knows or suspects that the person with whom he or she is dealing is engaged in or has benefited from criminal conduct.”

Do we think this was going on in New York real estate? Yeah.

 “…a great many of the foreign investors and associated shell companies are laundering money. The alleged money laundering scheme of Paul Manafort — President Trump’s former campaign chairman who was recently indicted — involved New York real estate. The New York Times spent enormous effort looking into just a handful of high-end Manhattan residential buildings, and found a slew of extremely shady and occasionally illegal foreign investors. Activists leaked a report describing elite American attorneys — including a “recent president of the American Bar Association” — giving advice about how to move shady cash into the country, and one of the prime methods was buying New York real estate.”  [Week]

The New York Times describes “Towers of Secrecy” in its investigatory series which is well worth reviewing on the subject of money laundering in high end New York real estate.  Now, who do we know has been involved in high end New York real estate? And, there’s more going on in Florida.   For a tidy summary of the issues as of August 2017 see this article in the ACS blog by Daniel Froomkin.

Come for the obstruction of justice, stay for the explication of the underlying crimes?

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For Reference: House Intel Committee members who are shilling for Trump

Today, the Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee voted to (1) release the memo drafted by Chr. Devin Nunes’ staff calling FBI investigations into question; and (2) to disallow the release the Minority memo on the same subject.

The Republican Members are:

Devin Nunes (R-CA 22)

Peter King (R-NY2)

Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ2)

Tom Rooney (R-FL17)

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL 27)

Michael Turner (R-OH 10)

Brad Wenstrup (R-OH 2)

Chris Stewart (R-UT 2)

Rick Crawford (R-AR 1)

Trey Gowdy (R-SC 4)

Elise Stefanik (R-NY 21)

Will Hurd (R-TX 23)

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It’s not my TV screen that’s too small: Coverage of the Investigation

Wow, the cable news outfits are obsessed about discovering Special Counsel Robert Mueller has questioned Son of the Old South Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. First, was there anyone in this fine nation who Didn’t think the Special Counsel would have inquiries for the  Attorney General, who recused himself from the Russian probe because he was ever so likely to be a witness?  Yes, this does imply interest in the obstruction of justice question associated with Oval Office behavior.  There’s nothing like reassuring Russians in a White House visit that the “nut-job” (Director Comey) had been taken care of, and going on national TV to tell Lester Holt that firing the FBI Director was related to the investigations into the Russia Matter, to lead a person to wonder not If but How Much the Oval Office Oaf meant to obstruct any serious investigation of Russian interference in 2016.  However, this is only part of a larger picture. We should remember that criminal law specialist Michael Drebeen isn’t the only member of Team Mueller. There are more.

Those who followed the Enron Case will recall Andrew Weissman. Mr. Weissman is a specialist in bribery and fraud, as in foreign bribery cases and big frauds like Enron. From the entangled mess that was Enron accounting Mr. Weissman plucked the pertinent threads and followed them until Jeffrey Skilling learned about life in the Federal prison system.  Maybe it would also serve to remember the Oval Office Oaf declaring last July that his business and his family business records were “off limits.”  Really? And the banter began: “Oh, yes Officer, you can certainly search my car, just don’t look in the trunk!”

Weissman won’t have to go plunging among the lug wrenches and spare tires to search for Trump financial records. One interesting set is coming from Deutsche Bank as of early in December 2017. [Guard] There are two points worth remembering about Deutsche Bank, one — it was the only bank willing to lend OOO money after he’d bankrupted several businesses and gave investors such hair cuts their financial heads were bald, and two — Deutsche Bank has a record of dancing cheek to cheek with Russian Bears of questionable integrity. As in money laundering? As in highly suspect banking practices? As in big fines?  As in getting some fines reduced by the OOO Administration? This widens the probe a bit, but there’s still another facet.

While Mr. Weissman is the man most often cited in matters financial, there’s another Follow The Money man on Team Mueller — Greg Andres, who supervised the case against $8 billion Ponzi Scheme con man Robert Stanford and was associated with the prosecution of the Bonnano crime family.

Aaron Zebley is also a member of Team Mueller.  There’s nothing like having a counter-terrorism specialist on board for an investigation of possible conspiracy charges.  Perhaps making life in the West Wing even more interesting, Mr. Zebley is more specifically a cybersecurity expert.   He has some help in this department from another expert in counter-terrorism.

Zainab Ahmad has her own reputation in counter-terrorism and international cases. She’s prosecuted 13 terrorism cases since 2009 without losing a single one. Let’s assume that people who can follow and correctly interpret the plethora of financial and surreptitious paths of Al Qaeda won’t have all that much more trouble discerning what patterns are associated with good old fashioned money laundering and international criminal behavior.

And while we are speaking of money laundering, yet another member of Team Mueller is Kyle Freeny.  GOP apologists for the White House may fume that Freeny donated something near  a grand total of $750 to Democratic candidates since 2008, but her expertise is — money laundering — the kind wherein nefarious types move money out of one country and try to “launder” it in what appear to be legitimate investments.  There are other members of Team Mueller, and one who is fluent in Russian.  The point of all this is that coverage on cable news, no matter how extensive these days is not even the tip of a possible iceberg.

So, instead of becoming breathlessly enthralled by news coverage about a possible “wind up” of the Obstruction of Justice probe — leaving us to believe we might miss The Big Moment if we change channels — it’s good to have a periodic reminder of the types of investigators working on Team Mueller and their areas of expertise.

We know AG Jeff Sessions has been interrogated by Team Mueller. We don’t know how many forensic accountants are pouring over Deutsche Bank records. We don’t know who has been asking questions of whom concerning bank loans, condominium sales, and other financial transactions of interest.  We don’t know if someone is carefully examining the records released in the Panama Papers.

Team Mueller doesn’t leak like the White House Sieve.  So, we don’t know how many e-mails and other items of correspondence the Russian expert is translating and analyzing, and we don’t know to whom she has spoken and for what purpose.

We don’t know who is talking to whom about real estate or other transactions including the Chinese, the Russians, the Russian oligarchs, and assorted other characters.  We don’t know who is talking to whom about loans, forgiven, repaid, or otherwise. We don’t know who has been missed talking to a Grand Jury because the press on stake out haven’t a clue who the person might be.  This would probably be sufficient to fill up two more television screens.

Indeed, if we were to have coverage of all the people associated with all the angles in this investigation we should buy out the monitor inventory of the local Best Buy?  Install wall to wall, floor to ceiling, flat screens… and we’d still miss something.  What the press can give us are only bits and pieces of a larger, much more complex picture.  it would be a good thing to recall this isn’t a sporting event with a clock, or a game with a set number of innings to play; it isn’t a 40 minute script for a television show or even a multi-episode series.  It’s an investigation of the hodgepodge farrago which is the Trump brand of business and governance entanglements.   It isn’t going to be over at the end of a tidy episode.  It may not be completely over after a season.

The total investigation won’t be over until Team Mueller has completed investigations of money laundering, bribery, cyber-security transgressions, illegally established accounts, equally illegal withdrawals and payments for equally illegal purposes, and all the other facets of the mess OOO has made of his financial and political life.

This isn’t an investigation which calls for popcorn unless you’ve planted at least 40 acres of the stuff.

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Free Association: Follow The Money, Part Two

Recalling that the essential question is why does the current Administration conduct itself with such concern for Russian interests?  The explicit rationale is a rather vague: Wouldn’t it be nice to have better relations with the Russians?  Why and to what ends?  The tangle is greater, and more elusive, in this realm. Some information is public, some is public but wrapped in the comfortable enclosure of shell corporations, and some is hidden from public view entirely at the present.

What is publicly available from several credible sources:

Alan Lichtman — Fortune Magazine, 5/17/17; from Jeff Nesbit — Time Magazine, 8/15/16;  from Jeremy Venook — Atlantic, 5/10/17;  from Michael Crowley — Politico, March 2017; and from Yen & Salma, PBS.org, 5/28/17.  This is +by no means an exhaustive list, as a quick ‘Google’ of Trump + Ties + Russia will quickly reveal.

Further complicating the view, not all ties have to be monetary.  Some can be in the form of patents approved, patents themselves have financial value.  Others can be in the form of real estate transactions.  Still others can be maintained via a carefully crafted set of shell corporations each hiding the transactions between and among them.

The question may boil down to whether or not these ties are so substantial and of such depth that the administration is inevitably bound to respond in some kind to ‘return the favors extended?’

Yet another strand of wool concerns the possibility that the nature of some transactions is such that dealing with the partners constitutes anything from “exceedingly unwise and inappropriate,” to downright illegal.

Another bit of fluffy stuff:  Are some of the transactions made with or among individuals of such an unsavory character that merely dealing with them could render a person vulnerable to blackmail?

The only glimpse we have into some of the inquiries of the Special Counsel that offers any substantial clues to date concerns the hiring choices reported.  How nervous the administration might be about this line of inquiry may be perceived in the administration’s quick reaction which attempts to paint these hires as “tainted by politics,” a charge resting solely on campaign contribution reports during the last 29 years.  Perhaps the more important point is that the hires are specialists:  Andrew Weissman was the lead during the Enron investigation.  Among the hires are a specialist in counter-terrorism, a lawyer who has argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court, and a former assistant special prosecutor during Watergate. [BusInsider]  We might also be able to see something about the direction of the investigation(s) given that Robert Mueller is hiring prosecutors.

We can make some educated conjectures based on this:

“Robert Mueller in recent days has hired lawyers with extensive experience in dealing with fraud, racketeering, and other financial crimes to help him investigate whether President Donald Trump’s associates colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.”

We might also assume that if Mueller is described at meticulous,and Weissman is described as meticulous the investigation is going to last at least until the last T is crossed and I is dotted.  Patience.

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Speculation and Speculators

So, the President of the United States delivered a lecture to the members of NATO today about “paying up,” and focusing on global terrorism.  Fine and dandy…members who can pay, should pay and there is a need to address incidents of global terrorism.  That said, one of NATO’s prime reasons for existence is as a North Atlantic counterweight to RUSSIAN incursions into Europe.  And we have a President who seems preternaturally incapable of making strong comments about the Putin Regime.  Since everyone else is piling into the discussion, DB will add some questions to the combination Mare’s and Hornet’s nests.

How did characters like Flynn, Manafort, Page, Sessions et. alia. get involved in the efforts to effect the election of Donald J. Trump?  We all know they had contacts with Russians.  Some contacts were reported, others were not.  Mere contact with Russians doesn’t necessarily prove nefarious purposes, but the context and timing of some contacts is certainly open to question.  Investigations and inquiries will add to the chronology and context, but that doesn’t serve to shed light on WHY this cast of characters was drawn to the Trump Campaign.

Are there among us those who would do the Kremlin’s bidding? For purposes of their own, or at the behest of the administration?

What is it that the Kremlin wants?  The Center for Strategic and International Studies issued its Kremlin Playbook in October 2016, with the announcement that in Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Bulgaria:

“This research determined that Russia has cultivated an opaque web of economic and political patronage across the region that the Kremlin uses to influence and direct decisionmaking. This web resembles a network-flow model—or “unvirtuous circle”—which the Kremlin can use to influence (if not control) critical state institutions, bodies, and economies, as well as shape national policies and decisions that serve its interests while actively discrediting the Western liberal democratic system.”

How the Russians proposed to do this is summarized in Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s prepared remarks for the May 8, 2017 session on Russian Interference in politics. (note: PDF)

What elements might create the confluence between Russian interests and American politicians and political campaigns?   There are as many possibilities as there are individuals involved, perhaps ranging from personal animosities to broader financial entanglements.  Nor should we dismiss the possibility of a combination of motives.

One avenue of inquiry might be the financial relationship between the Trump business operations and Russian funding. Trump’s “comeback” from financial disaster in the 1990’s has been cited as evidence of a shift from American banks to a reliance on Deutsche Bank.  Evidence unearthed thus far doesn’t substantiate claims of Russian financial entanglement, however there is much to be said for the Deep Throat (Mark Felt) advice during the Watergate investigations — follow the money.

We know from the CSIS study that “Using shell corporations and other devices, Russia establishes illicit financial relationships to develop leverage against prominent figures, through the carrot of continued bribery or the stick of threatened disclosure.”

What might we learn as investigations of the connections between Trump businesses and shell corporations continue?   Would this explain the attraction of the ‘cast of characters’ to the Trump campaign and administration?  Would this help explain the use of other Russian tactics — propaganda, fake news, bots, and Internet Trolls? Hacking and theft of political information?  Timed leaks of damaging materials?

There are two courts in play in these controversies — the judiciary and the court of public opinion.  While it may be difficult to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a proximate cause of Trump’s pro-Putin stance is financial entanglement in a court of law, it’s far more likely that the political court of public opinion will find Trump’s proclivity toward pandering to the Russian Bear ever more unpalatable.  Stay tuned, it’s going to be a long and sometimes tedious ride.

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