It’s Time To Stop Taking Giuliani Seriously

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels Affair, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

That’s the title of a Washington Post editorial by Jennifer Rubin, and yes, I agree:

President Trump’s TV lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani declared on Sunday that the special counsel plans to wrap up the obstruction-of-justice inquiry into his client by Sept. 1. The press treated this as true, or possibly true, when it is obviously another ludicrous Giuliani utterance (e.g. stating that the special counsel “narrowed” the topics for the Trump interview; falsely accusing former FBI director James B. Comey of leaking classified documents).

Reuters reported — no surprise to anyone with any familiarity with the case, with prosecutors or with Robert S. Mueller III — that a U.S. government source “familiar with the probe called the Sept. 1 deadline ‘entirely made-up’ and ‘another apparent effort to pressure the special counsel to hasten the end of his work.’” The source, quoted by Reuters, said, “He’ll wrap it up when he thinks he’s turned over every rock, and when that is will depend on how cooperative witnesses, persons of interest and maybe even some targets are, if any of those emerge, and on what new evidence he finds, not on some arbitrary, first-of-the-month deadline one of the president’s attorneys cooks up.”

There is a real danger of misinforming the public and carrying Trump spin when reporting Giuliani’s claim without determining whether this is total nonsense. When told something patently absurd, the minimal requirement is to ask Giuliani, like any source, who told him this, when this happened and what the context for the remark was. The press cannot become a messenger for false, unsupportable administration claims.

One of the great challenges of the Trump era is airing in print or on air claims from notoriously unreliable surrogates. If someone repeatedly lies or proves to be unknowledgeable, prudence would require that claims be verified by independent sources. The “news” is not that Mueller has a deadline but that Giuliani, presumably with the full consent of his client, lies over and over to prejudice the investigation and damage the credibility of the special counsel, the FBI and the Justice Department.

The most extreme form of extending unwarranted credibility to the administration is putting on a live TV panel the unofficial surrogates (e.g. Jeffrey Lord, Jason Miller, Kayleigh McEnany) who routinely misstate facts out of a misguided sense of “balance.” One doesn’t balance facts or even opinions with lies; that’s not helping viewers find the truth. When the skilled prevaricator is an administration official such as Kellyanne Conway, live TV becomes more challenging. What the White House is saying is news, but it must be fact-checked in real time by the interviewer or rebutted immediately thereafter. When a repeat offender appears on air, he or she needs to be confronted with previous misstatements and asked to account for previous falsehoods. Among the best at this is CNN’s Jake Tapper who consistently calls out Trump spinners in real time for spreading misinformation.

In short, when you have someone like Giuliani or Conway with a proven track record of misstatements, it behooves the media to act with a greater degree of caution, to inform news consumers about the person’s track record and to fact-check in real time (or certainly before printing) what is very likely a fabrication. After the fact, the media then owe viewers and readers a simple accounting — e.g. Giuliani lied again.

Was The Actual Collusion With The Saudis?

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Remember Devin Nunes fake scandal about “unmasking” that caused him to do his “midnight run” to the White House?  What people forget that the subject he was so concerned about was that Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, and unmasked intelligence data and discovered that Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan had a secret meeting with Flynn, Kushner, and Bannon in NY.

That is, it had nothing do to with Russia, but with the Saudis.

Then, when Mike Flynn’s plea deal revealed that he lied about efforts to stave off criticism of Israel’s illegal settlements, some noted that that (and the efforts to cozy up to Saudi Arabia and UAE) was what the unmasking panic was probably about.

The most public confirmed unmasking involved Susan Rice discovering that Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan had a secret meeting with Flynn, Kushner, and Bannon in NY.

Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, multiple sources told CNN.

The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.

The crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, arrived in New York last December in the transition period before Trump was sworn into office for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including Michael Flynn, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top strategist Steve Bannon, sources said.

But we now know that there would be intercepts between Netanyahu and Kushner leading up to it.

I wouldn’t even be surprised if the Republicans are so certain they’ve been unmasked because Israel has their own way of discovering such things.

I’ve laid out how Jared Kushner’s “peace” “plan” really is just an attempt to remap the Middle East to the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia, interests which require significantly more belligerence against Iran than Obama showed. The unmasked discussions would include the ones that preceded Kushner’s order to Flynn to try to undercut the resolution, as well as whatever else Kushner discussed with Netanyahu at the time.

Last week, the New York Times had a scoop revealing that the Trump campaign colluded not just with Russians, but also Saudis, Emirates, and Israelis. That would explain why the discovery of the later meetings was so dangerous: because it would reveal other efforts Trump made to sell out American foreign policy.

Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor.

The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters.

Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the crown princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.

[snip]

It is unclear whether such a proposal was executed, and the details of who commissioned it remain in dispute. But Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting, and after those initial offers of help, Mr. Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers — meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser.

This puts the unmasking panic — and Devin Nunes’ role in it — in entirely new light. It’s not just that Seychelles meeting in the transition period — it’s this earlier meeting, where a bunch of autocrats got the candidate’s son to agree to collude on the election.

Which makes me wonder, how would Trump Transition Official Devin Nunes know that? When Nunes manufactured a totally bogus unmasking scandal, did he know of these earlier meetings showing illegal collusion?

Perhaps Nunes’ unmasking panic may actually have served as a giant red flag for Mueller that there were aspects of the Trump team’s dealings with UAE and Israel that were of acute concern to the team. Well done Devin!

Why Did He Release This Email Admitting To Collusion?

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Interesting:

Released in a tranche of documents by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, the release of this email in particular is likely to further ignite already-existing inquiries into the younger Trump’s knowledge of alleged Russian collusion with the Trump 2016 campaign during the presidential election held that same year.

The sender of the email in question is redacted. The email was sent to and apparently received by Irakly “Ike” Kaveladze, a native of the Republic of Georgia and an employee of Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov. Kaveladze was previously interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller over his attendance at the June 9, 2016 meeting.

Aside from Trump Jr.,Veselnitskaya and Kaveladze, the other participants at that meeting included: eventual presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, former Trump 2016 campaign chair Paul Manafort, Russian lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, publicist Rob Goldstone and a Russian translator.

The email was sent on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 8:50 a.m. and was addressed to “Ike Kaveladze.” The subject line reads: “dt jr”–an obvious reference to Donald Trump Jr.

The email also contains an attachment of a PDF file apparently containing a screenshot of a JPEG image. The controversial email reads, in full:

“Why did he release this e-mail admitting to collusion?”

As mentioned above, the sender of the email was blacked out by government censors. The email also purports to be sent “on behalf of” another redacted name. It does not appear to be the case, however, that this additional redacted name belongs to any particular third party.

But clearly, the email is from someone involved, or related in some way to someone involved, with the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.  And it reflects the consensus of any reasonable person. Donald Jr attempted to collude with the Russians. Illegally?  We’ll let Mueller sort that one out.

Trump To Instruct The FBI/DOJ To Investigate The Mueller Investigation

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels Affair, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

On Sunday, Trump’s simmering anger over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s year-old Russia probe spilled over into a series of well-worn recriminations in several tweets, including that the investigation was politically motivated and had its roots in the administration of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

But this was more than Trump’s tired denial of any collusion and repeatedly dismissing the investigation as a “witch hunt.”

First of all, now we are actually making presidential orders by tweet.  But mostly, this tweet is actually ITSELF using the FBI and DOJ for political purposes.

Trump also escalated his attacks on the Justice Department on Friday, suggesting that the FBI may have planted or recruited an informant in his 2016 presidential campaign. He cited unidentified reports that at least one FBI representative was “implanted” for political purposes into his campaign. Nobody seems to know what these “reports” are and who wrote them, but it recalls the time when Trump insisted that “Obama” had his phones tapped. But in September, the Justice Department said it had no evidence to support another of Trump’s unsubstantiated assertions: that Obama had ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign.

It was unclear what kind of response Trump was seeking from the Justice Department this time, since investigations are kept secret and designed to be insulated from political influence and White House meddling.

Trump’s power play injected fresh intensity into his escalating political offensive against the Justice Department and renewed worries he is barging across long-held boundaries between the judicial system and the Oval Office.
It also raised potential scenarios that would threaten the integrity of US governance: first, that Trump could use his power to go after a political opponent and, second, that he means to derail or even end a criminal probe into his own conduct.

But hours after the tweet, the Justice Department responded by saying it had asked its inspector general to expand an ongoing review of the applications to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser “to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”

This was Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein who ordered this, not Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself.

I HOPE to God they are just trying to appease him, because Trump’s suspicions make no sense. Clearly if the FBI were trying to destroy Trump, it would not sway the election for Trump by openly talking about the Hillary emails and NOT talking about the then-burgeoning investigation into collusion. Nor would it, almost two years later, reveal that it was quietly looking into the campaign during 2016. It seems possible that Rosenstein punted the matter to the inspector general to avoid a direct face-off between the White House and the Justice Department.

Another reason Trump is being ingenuous and stupid?  Here’s an NBC news article from last December (December 2017):

In the weeks after he became the Republican nominee on July 19, 2016, Donald Trump was warned that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign, according to multiple government officials familiar with the matter.

The warning came in the form of a high-level counterintelligence briefing by senior FBI officials, the officials said. A similar briefing was given to Hillary Clinton, they added. They said the briefings, which are commonly provided to presidential nominees, were designed to educate the candidates and their top aides about potential threats from foreign spies.

The candidates were urged to alert the FBI about any suspicious overtures to their campaigns, the officials said.

So if Trump ignored the warnings, which he clearly did because he never saw anything wrong with Russia, it makes sense to have the FBI seek informants.

This weekend also brought this NY Times story:

Followed by this in Newsweek today:

President Donald Trump’s personal attorney reportedly “made up” his claim that the special counsel investigating Russia’s election interference planned to end his inquiry into possible obstruction of justice by the president on September 1.

Rudy Giuliani, who has represented the president for the last month during which he has given numerous interviews in defense of Trump, told The New York Times on Sunday that Mueller’s investigators laid out a timeline to him of how the probe would progress while discussing a potential interview of the president.

But an unnamed source familiar with the probe told Reuters that Giuliani’s claim was “entirely made-up” and “another apparent effort to pressure the special counsel to hasten the end of his work.”

The source also defended Mueller’s work, adding: “He’ll wrap it up when he thinks he’s turned over every rock, and when that is will depend on how cooperative witnesses, persons of interest and maybe even some targets are, if any of those emerge, and on what new evidence he finds, not on some arbitrary, first-of-the-month deadline one of the president’s attorneys cooks up.”

It is unclear what Giuliani’s strategy is with these bizarre lies and press interviews.  Maybe, like most things, he is playing to a constituent of one: Donald Trump.

 

Houston Police Chief Has Had Enough

Ken AshfordCrime, Education, Gun ControlLeave a Comment

Another school shooting occurred last week.  It is getting so that it barely registered as news anymore.  The same script was followed.  Thoughts and prayers. We need to do more.  Yada yada yada.

It occurred at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, in the Houston metropolitan area, on May 18, 2018. Ten people were fatally shot and thirteen others were wounded. The suspected shooter was taken into custody and later identified by police as Dimitrios Pagourtzis.  Among the dead were two teachers and a Pakistani exchange student.

One of Pagourtzis’ classmates who died in the attack, Shana Fisher, “had 4 months of problems from this boy,” her mother, Sadie Rodriguez, wrote in a private message to the Los Angeles Times on Facebook. “He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no.”

Pagourtzis continued to get more aggressive, and she finally stood up to him and embarrassed him in class, Rodriguez said. “A week later he opens fire on everyone he didn’t like,” she wrote. “Shana being the first one.” Rodriguez didn’t say how she knew her daughter was the first victim.

Fisher’s friends said they could not corroborate the mother’s claims.

The shooter began firing a weapon into an art class at the school at around 7:40 a.m. CDT. One wounded victim told reporters that the shooter walked into the classroom and pointed at another individual, saying “I’m going to kill you.” He then one pumped her.

According to a witness, students barricaded themselves in the art classroom storage closet, and Pagourtzis shot through the door with a shotgun. Pagourtzis left the art room briefly, causing students to leave the closet and attempt to barricade the art room door but Pagourtzis pushed the door open. Upon spotting a student he knew, Pagourtzis said “Surprise!” and shot the student in the chest.

Survivors state that there are two art classrooms that were the target of the shooting that were connected by a ceramics room, that Pagourtzis was able to access by damaging the window in the door and fired into the room.

Police officers stationed at the school engaged with the shooter, with one officer being wounded and admitted in critical condition to a local hospital. After shooting into the ceramics room, Pagourtzis was engaged by officers who attempted to have him surrender peacefully. He reportedly threatened to shoot the officers and repeatedly fired rounds while arguing with the police. Pagourtzis surrendered to the officers after being injured during the shooting. He later admitted in a statement to police that he meant to kill the classmates that he shot while sparing the students he liked, so he could “have his story told.”

According to the probable cause affidavit and complaint filed by law enforcement, Pagourtzis used a pump-action Remington Model 870 shotgun and a .38 caliber handgun. Both firearms appear to have been legally owned by his father. Various types of explosive devices were found at the school and off campus, as well as a Molotov cocktail, and residents in the surrounding area were warned to be aware of all suspicious objects.

Pagourtzis was on the honor roll, and he played on the school football team. Pagourtzis’s journals on his computer and cell phone, found by authorities after the shooting, indicated that “not only did he want to commit the shooting, but he wanted to commit suicide after the shooting”, according to Texas Governor Greg Abbott.[29] Abbott said that Pagourtzis “planned on doing this for some time. He advertised his intentions but somehow slipped through the cracks”.

Classmates at a vigil on May 18, recounted how at a water park the day before the shooting Pagourtzis did not show any signs of his plans, and that he seemed friendly and funny.

Being Texas, nobody expects much change in gun control laws, but the Houston police chief Art Acevedo reached his limits and took to Facebook:

A quiet but powerful voice in the neverending debate.

 

Weekly List 79

Ken AshfordWeekly ListLeave a Comment

This was the first week in many, many months that the Republican Party showed any signs of standing up to Trump. Meanwhile, Trump and his allies spent the week attacking the FBI, alleging without evidence that the agency spied on his campaign as a means to discredit the Mueller probe—which continues to escalate as it reached its one-year mark.

This week, Trump shocked the country, referring to undocumented immigrants as “animals,” then trying to legitimize his comments by saying the reference was only to gang members. Days prior, the Trump regime took steps to open military bases to house immigrants who are unaccompanied minors, or children the regime separates from their parents, evoking comparisons to “camps.” This week also marked escalating acts of racism, transphobia, xenophobia, and new assaults on the rights of women.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were the faces of our country as Trump moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, leading to protests, scores of deaths, and hundreds of injuries. Kushner, who is still without full security clearance and has no foreign policy experience but is related to Trump, spoke for the US at the opening ceremony, evoking comparisons to autocratic regimes. Signs of misuse of power and pay for play in the Trump regime abound this week, domestically, and with regard to questionable dealings relating to China and Qatar.

  1. Late Saturday, Rudy Giuliani again tried to walk back his comments about Trump blocking the AT&T-Time Warner merger, telling ABC News Trump “did not interfere with the Justice Department going ahead with the case.”
  2. Giuliani also told ABC News Trump “had every right and power” to block the merger, adding as “other presidents have done in anti-trust cases.”
  3. WAPO reported Trump personally pushed US Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon, and other firms, to ship packages.
  4. Brennan resisted, explaining in multiple conversations with Trump during 2017 and 2018 that the these arrangements are bound by contracts, and that the Amazon relationship is beneficial to the Post Office.
  5. Although Trump and Brennan have met on the matter at the White House several times, the meetings have never appeared on Trump’s public schedule.
  6. Trump has also had ongoing meetings during 2017 and 2018 with at least three groups of senior advisers to discuss Amazon’s business practices. Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, also owns The Washington Post.
  7. On Sunday, WAPO reported as the Mueller probe hits the one-year mark, Mueller is steaming ahead in a methodical, secretive way, while 10 blocks away, Trump combats the probe with “bluster, disarray and defiance.”
  8. Trump reportedly vents as often as “20 times a day” about the FBI raid on Michael Cohen. Trump reportedly brought in Giuliani as a confidant, as he is feeling increasingly isolated in the West Wing.
  9. The number of witnesses called from Trump’s campaign and staff have been “breathtaking,” including Avi Berkowitz, the personal assistant to Kushner, called twice. Some enter through the back of the building to avoid the press.
  10. On Sunday, Axios reported on the record number of leaks from Trump’s White House. A veteran reporter noted more leaks in a week from the Trump regime than in an entire year under George W. Bush.
  11. White House officials attribute their leaks to personal vendettas, ensuring there is an accurate record of what is happening, grudges, frustrations with incompetent or tone-deaf leadership, and an unhappy workplace.
  12. On Monday, Trump tweeted the “so-called leaks coming out of the White House” are exaggerated by the “Fake New Media,” adding of leakers, they “are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!
  13. On Monday, at the daily briefing, deputy press secretary Raj Shah reiterated the leaks coming from the White House, not the disparaging statement made about John McCain, were the focus, and said there will be no apology for the remark.
  14. On Thursday, NYT reported the White House has canceled a large daily morning meeting of 30 communications staffers in response to the leaking of Kelly Sadler’s comments on McCain.
  15. The New Yorker reported that Sean Hannity typically calls Trump after his 9 p.m. Fox News show, and on some days they speak multiple times. White House staffers are used to Trump referencing these conversations.
  16. In the mornings, Trump is alone watching cable-TV and tweeting. Staffers are concerned with this pattern of behavior: Trump formally starts his day at 11 a.m. with his daily intelligence briefings in the Oval Office.
  17. On Tuesday, WAPO reported that according to Defense Department communications, the Trump regime is making preparations to hold immigrant children on military bases.
  18. The Department of Health and Human Services will visit four military installations in Texas and Arkansas to evaluate their suitability to shelter children. The bases would be used for unaccompanied minors, and children the regime separates from their parents.
  19. On Tuesday, at an appeals hearing for the Trump regime’s effort to end DACA, the panel scrutinized Trump’s past statements, repeatedly questioning whether racial bias played a role in the decision to wind down the program.
  20. On Tuesday, a Seattle judge blocked ICE from revoking a Mexican man, Daniel Ramirez Medina’s DACA protection, saying ICE had provided no evidence to back their claim that Ramirez is gang-affiliated.
  21. On Wednesday, Trump called for stronger immigration laws and hammered California for its sanctuary cities, saying of undocumented immigrants, “These aren’t people. These are animals.
  22. Trump also called on Jeff Sessions to investigate Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for warning undocumented immigrants of an upcoming ICE sweep, saying, “You talk about obstruction of justice.”
  23. On Thursday, at the press briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders defended Trump, saying his “animals” comment referred to MS-13 gang members, adding “Frankly, I don’t think the term the president used is strong enough.”
  24. On Thursday, the Anne Frank Center tweeted, “When we ask, “how could the Holocaust have happened?” this is the answer. When we think of anyone as less than human, that opens the door to atrocity.”
  25. On Friday, the Mexican government lodged a complaint with the State Department over Trump’s comments that some immigrants are “animals,” saying, “the assertions of the U.S. president are absolutely unacceptable.”
  26. A 13-year-old black boy in Houston was kidnapped after getting off a school bus Monday. His abductors,suspected of being white supremacists, took him to an abandoned building and assaulted him.
  27. A white woman in Memphis called the police on a black real estate investor who was inspecting a house. The woman demanded to know why he was outside. The police listened to his explanation, then told the woman she would be arrested if she interfered.
  28. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed Tony Perkins, head of Family Research Council (FRC), for a spot on the Commission on International Religious Freedom. Southern Poverty Law Center considers FRC to be a hate group, and Perkins is a longtime anti-LGBTQ activist.
  29. Supporters of Patrick Little’s campaign for the Senate released anti-Semitic robocalls calling Sen. Dianne Feinstein a “traitorous Jew,”’ and saying Little will “get rid of all the nation-wrecking Jews from our country.”
  30. On Tuesday, Aaron Schlossberg, a lawyer, was captured in a video becoming enraged after overhearing two employees at a Fresh Kitchen in Manhattan speaking Spanish. Schlossberg raged, “this is America,” and “my next call is to ICE.”
  31. On Thursday, Rep. Adriano Espaillat and Bronx Borough President Diaz Jr. filed a formal complaint with the state court disciplinary system. Also on Thursday, Schlossberg was kicked out of his office space.
  32. A Starbucks barista in suburban Los Angeles is accused of printing a racial slur on a Latino customer’s drinks: instead of writing the customer’s name, Pedro, they wrote “Beaner,” a derogatory term for Mexicans in the US.
  33. Jazmina Saavedra, a GOP candidate for Congress in California, filmed herself confronting a transgender woman using a bathroom at a Denny’s in Los Angeles.
  34. Saavedra approached the woman, says, “I’m trying to use the ladies’ room and there is a man here claiming that he is a lady.” She confronted the transgender woman again while exiting, and later posted the video online.
  35. On Friday, the Trump regime announced a new rule under which clinics that provide abortions or refer patients to places that do would lose federal funding. The rule takes direct aim at Planned Parenthood.
  36. WAPO reported Virginia election officials mis-assigned 28 voters living in a predominantly African American precinct during the November 2017 election, possibly costing Democrats a pivotal race.
  37. The race between David Yancey and Shelly Simonds was decided by picking a name from a bowl. Yancey’s victory allowed Republicans to maintain control of the House of Delegates, 51 to 49, even as Democrats picked up 15 seats.
  38. On Friday, a school shooting at Santa Fe High School in southeast Texas killed ten. WAPO reported that in 2018 so far, more people have been killed at schools than have been killed while serving in the military.
  39. The FCC announced net neutrality rules will expire on June 11. Chairman Ajit Pai said, “these unnecessary and harmful internet regulations will be repealed and the bipartisan, light touch approach” will be restored.
  40. On Sunday, NYT reported Betsy DeVos’ Education Department plans to unwind a unit that was investigating widespread abuses and fraud by for-profit colleges. As Obama left office there were about a dozen employees; now there are three.
  41. The unit was investigating fraudulent activities at institutions, including DeVry Education Group. Thatinvestigated ended early 2018, and in the summer, DeVos named Julian Schmoke, a former dean at DeVry, as the team’s new supervisor.
  42. On Monday, Politico reported newly disclosed emails reveal Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency and the White House sought to block publication of a federal health study on a nationwide water-contamination crisis earlier this year.
  43. The report found toxic chemicals have contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants, and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia. The regime said releasing it would be a “public relations nightmare.”
  44. On Monday, CNN reported that a letter from the EPA’s inspector general revealed that contrary to his public statements, Pruitt’s requested 24/7 security detail on his first day working for the agency.
  45. On Tuesday, Trump nominated Gordon Hartogensis, a self-described entrepreneur who is Speaker McConnell and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s brother-in-law to lead the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
  46. The PBGC pays worker pensions when employers terminate their retirement plans. The state of the agency is dire: assets of $2.3 billion and liabilities of $67 billion. The White House did not provide a biographical information for Hartogensis with the announcement.
  47. On Tuesday, the Trump regime officially eliminated the White House’s top cyber adviser role, a position created under Obama. In Week 78, John Bolton had pushed to cut the role.
  48. The cyber adviser led a team who worked with agencies to develop a unified strategy for issues like election security and digital deterrence. Experts and government officials criticized the move as a step backwards.
  49. On Tuesday, the EPA inspector general announced it is investigating Pruitt’s use of nonpublic email accounts to assess whether he is keeping a record of his emails, and whether the EPA is searching all his accounts when fulfilling public records requests.
  50. On Tuesday and Wednesday, DeVos toured two New York City schools, but did not visit any of the city’s public schools. DeVos has yet to visit a district-run school in New York.
  51. The Scotsman reported Trump’s Scottish resort received £5,600 in US government funds for VIP visits by officials in his regime, marking the first known instance of the property receiving US taxpayer money.
  52. CNN reported that a former Trump campaign aide, Bryan Lanza, is lobbying on behalf of the chairman of EN+ Group, a company controlled by Deripaska. The company is seeking to reduce Deripaska’s stake in order to be freed of US sanctions.
  53. USA Today reported lobbying firms with ties to Trump and Pence collected at least $28 million in federal lobbying fees since Trump took office.
  54. Ballard Partners, overseen by Brian Ballard, has seen the biggest benefit, including a one-year contract with the government of Qatar that is worth as much as $2.1 million, reportedly for potential investments in Florida.
  55. On Sunday, Trump tweeted he would help a Chinese company, tweeting, “President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast.”
  56. ZTE, the fourth-largest phone maker in the US, violated US sanctions by doing business with Iran. In March 2017, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced an “unprecedented” $1.19 billion penalty against the company.
  57. In April 2018, citing ZTE engaged in a “extensive conspiracy” to evade U.S. laws, the Commerce Departmentbanned American companies from buying or selling the phone-maker’s products for the next seven years.
  58. In Week 78, Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal, and has re-imposed sanctions on Iran this last and this week, as well as threatening to go after European allies if they continue to do business with Iran.
  59. Trump tweeted, “China and the United States are working well together on trade, but past negotiations have been so one sided in favor of China,” adding, “But be cool, it will all work out!”
  60. On Sunday, press secretary Sanders said the regime is in touch with China, and Trump expected Ross to “exercise his independent judgment … to resolve the regulatory action involving ZTE based on its facts.”
  61. Agence France-Presse reported last Thursday, the developer of a resort outside of Jakarta signed a deal to receive as much as $500 million from the Chinese government. The Trump Organization has a deal to license the Trump name to the resort.
  62. At Monday’s press briefing, deputy press secretary Shah referred questions on the Indonesian project to the Trump Organization. The Trump Organization acknowledged its involvement, but refused to comment.
  63. On Tuesday, top intelligence officials told the Senate Intelligence Committee that ZTE cell phones could pose a national security risk to the US, saying their products could be used by the Chinese government to spy.
  64. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted,“Nothing has happened with ZTE except as it pertains to the larger trade deal,” contradicting Ross, who said Monday, “Our position has been that that’s an enforcement action separate from trade.”
  65. Trump also attacked media coverage of ZTE, tweeting “The Washington Post and CNN have typically written false stories about our trade negotiations with China.”
  66. On Thursday, in a rebuke to Trump, the House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to accept an amendment that reinforces sanctions against ZTE, preventing the Commerce Department from renegotiating sanctions it enacted last month.
  67. On Sunday, Michael Avenatti tweeted photos, alleging that on December 12, 2016, members of the Trump transition team met with a group from Qatar that included Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, the head of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund.
  68. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Ahmed Al-Rumaihi confirmed he did meet with Trump transition officials that day, “in his then role as head of Qatar Investments,” but that he did not participate in meetings with Michael Flynn.
  69. On Wednesday, WAPO reported Cohen solicited at least $1 million from the government of Qatar in exchange for access on December 12, the same day the Qatari foreign minister was meeting with Flynn and Steve Bannon.
  70. Cohen did not participate in the official meeting at Trump Tower, but spoke separately with Ahmed al-­Rumaihi, who declined the offer. This is the first known time that Cohen pitched his influence.
  71. Rumaihi told the Post of Cohen, “He just threw it out there” as a cost of “doing business.” At the time, Cohen was also angling for a White House position, possibly chief of staff.
  72. NBC News reported Qatari officials have information showing illicit influence by the United Arab Emirates on Jared Kushner, including secret meetings. Trump associates George Nader and Elliott Broidy also attended the meetings.
  73. Qatari officials believe the secret meetings, as well as Qataris turning down the 666 Fifth Avenue deal with Kushner, influenced Trump’s public endorsement of an economic blockade of Qatar by its neighbors.
  74. Qataris did not share information with Mueller out of concern for harming their relationship with the Trump regime, after a Qatari delegation came to DC in early 2018 and felt the meetings were productive.
  75. On Thursday, NYT reported the Kushners are near a deal to get bailed out of the failing 666 Fifth Avenue deal by Brookfield Properties, whose second-largest shareholder is the Qatar Investment Authority.
  76. Foreign Policy reported Cohen met with Qatar’s minister of economy and commerce, Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thanilast, last month in Miami, just days before the FBI raided his office and hotel room.
  77. The meeting took place on the sidelines of the Qatar-U.S. Economic Forum in Miami. A Qatari embassy spokesperson said Cohen requested a meeting with Al Thani, adding “The State of Qatar has never been a client of Mr. Cohen.”
  78. On Monday, Kushner and Ivanka were the smiling faces of America as the new US embassy opened in Jerusalem. In the protests that ensued, dozens of Palestinians were shot dead and thousands were injured.
  79. Trump did not attend, so after an introduction by the US ambassador to Israel, Kushner was the main US speaker at the opening. Kushner has no foreign policy expertise and continues to be denied full security clearance.
  80. Trump picked evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress to give a blessing at the opening. Jeffress has in the past said, “You can’t be saved by being a Jew,” and that “Islam is a false religion that is based on a false book.”
  81. On Monday, first lady Melania Trump was admitted to the hospital for a kidney procedure. Trump did not accompany her for the procedure, and it was noted the day prior, did not tweet about Melania on Mother’s Day.
  82. On Tuesday, the White House abruptly canceled their daily press briefing. No reason was given for the cancellation. On Wednesday, the White House news briefing was removed from the schedule.
  83. On Tuesday, the Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency reported Kim Jong Un threatened to cancel the upcoming summit with Trump, citing ongoing joint military drills involving South Korea and the US.
  84. On Wednesday, North Korea canceled its summit with South Korea, and said it may cancel the US summit if the US continues to insist on scrapping the country’s nuclear program.
  85. On Thursday, Trump sought to reassure Kim Jong Un, saying at an Oval Office meeting with NATO’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg that North Korea “will get protections that are very strong,” if they surrender their nuclear weapons.
  86. On Monday evening, a court filing revealed Mueller had obtained a secret order to suspend the statute of limitations on one of the charges brought against Paul Manafort. The secret order was made public after Manafort requested that the charge be thrown out.
  87. On Tuesday, a federal judge denied Manafort’s motion to dismiss the indictment against him in Washington DC, saying it “falls squarely within that portion of the authority granted to the Special Counsel.”
  88. On Monday, Facebook announced it will suspend an additional 200 apps as part of its investigation and audit process in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations.
  89. On Tuesday, NYT reported the Justice Department and FBI have an open investigation into Cambridge Analytica and “associated U.S. persons.” The inquiry appears to be in it early stages.
  90. The investigation is focused on the company’s financial dealings, and how it acquired and used personal data pulled from Facebook and other sources. Prosecutors from the Justice Department’s securities and financial fraud division and the FBI’s cybercrime unit are involved.
  91. On Wednesday, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying the company offered services to discourage or suppress voting from targeted sections of Americans.
  92. Wylie said Bannon’s “goals was to suppress voting or discourage certain individuals in the US from voting,” adding African-Americans were particular targets of Cambridge Analytica’s “voter disengagement tactics.”
  93. Wylie explained how the Facebook data could have been shared with Russians, saying professor Aleksandr Kogan, who gathered the data, made numerous trips to Russia as part of his work with St. Petersburg University.
  94. On Monday, Politico reported Andrii Artemenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker who served as a conduit for the Russia-backed Ukrainian peace plan, will testify before a grand jury connected to the Mueller investigation.
  95. Artemenko contacted Felix Sater to find the best way to get his plan to the Trump regime during the transition. Sater introduced him to Cohen, who left the plan with then National Security Adviser Flynn.
  96. On Friday, Artemenko told Politico that in “at least” two interviews, FBI agents have peppered him with “assorted questions” about his “meetings, dealings and the questions discussed” with American politicians.
  97. Artemenko said these included congressmen, senators and members of the Trump regime. He was presented with a list of more than 140 questions, and is scheduled to appear before a grand jury on June 1.
  98. On Wednesday, Felix Ehrat, a top lawyer at Novartis who co-signed a $1.2 million contract to hire Cohen, said he would step down in June, saying, “Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error.”
  99. On Wednesday, Yahoo News reported prosecutors and congressional investigators have obtained text messages and emails which show Cohen was still working on the Trump Tower Moscow deal as late as May 2016.
  100. Text messages and emails from Sater provided to the government contradict Cohen’s statement that he gave up on the deal in January 2016. Sater and Cohen first met when they were both in high school.
  101. On Thursday, BuzzFeed reported that in December 30, 2015, when negotiations on Trump Tower stalled,Cohen texted Sater, “I will not let you fuck with my job and playing point person,” adding “Not you or anyone you know will embarrass me in front of Mr. T.”
  102. FBI agents told BuzzFeed that Cohen was speaking to multiple Russians about Trump Tower Moscow, even though he tried to reach and push the deal through Peskov, the Kremlin’s press secretary, on January 21, 2016.
  103. Sater reportedly kept working the Trump Tower Moscow deal through the RNC Convention, until July 26, 2016 when he read Trump tweet: “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”
  104. On Thursday, Reuters reported Jeffrey Yohai, a former business partner of Manafort who was divorced from Manafort’s daughter last August, cut a plea deal which requires him to cooperate with criminal probes.
  105. WSJ reported Yohai pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges in a sealed proceeding in California in January. Yohai also pleaded guilty to misrepresenting his income and assets to obtain a no limit credit card.
  106. Yohai has met with Mueller’s team, who have brought charges against Manafort, and also in recent months with the New York attorney general’s office as part of the probe investigating both Manafort and Yohai.
  107. On Friday, Reuters reported Mueller recently subpoenaed John Kakanis, a key assistant to Roger Stone. Kakanis has worked as a driver, accountant, and operative for Stone, indicating the investigation is focusing on Stone.
  108. Reportedly, Kakanis has been briefly questioned by the FBI on topics including Russian interference in the 2016 election, WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, and the hackers known as Guccifer 2.0.
  109. During the 2016 Republican primaries, a Stone PAC paid $130,000 to Citroen Associates for “voter fraud research and documentation” and “research services consulting.” Kakanis is the owner of Citroen.
  110. On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee released 2,500 pages of documents related to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. The materials include transcripts and other exhibits.
  111. The roots of the meeting trace back to Trump’s Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, financed by Aras and Emin Agalarov in 2013. Trump wanted to meet with Putin, and continued pressing for that throughout the years.
  112. The transcripts reveal Donald Jr. did not think there was anything wrong with meeting with a Russian lawyer in hopes of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. According to an attendee, he opened the meeting, saying, “I believe you have some information for us.”
  113. The transcripts also reveal the disappointment of Donald Jr., Kushner, and Manafort that the meeting did not yield harmful information. Rob Goldstone was also disappointed, and had reservations about setting the meeting up, “I believed it was a bad idea and that we shouldn’t do it.”
  114. Ike Kaveladze said Donald Jr. closed out the meeting by telling the Russians they could revisit the discussions about lifting sanctions should Trump win the election. Kaveladze said the Magnitsky Act dominated discussion.
  115. When asked if Trump was involved in drafting the statement about the meeting, Donald Jr. responded, “I don’t know. I never spoke to my father about it.” Later, Donald Jr. said he may have edited it through Hope Hicks.
  116. Donald Jr.’s frequently answered that he did not recall, including saying he did not remember ever discussing the Russia investigation with Trump, or many of the calls or emails leading up to the June 2016 meeting.
  117. Also in the documents is an email from Anthony Scaramucci to Goldstone on July 2017, after Trump appointed him a senior White House role, saying, “Obviously there is still pressure on all sides, but if we remain consistent and united I don’t envisage any issues we can’t ride out.”
  118. Documents revealed the Nov. 28, 2016 Goldstone email to Trump’s assistant, Rhona Graff sent to undermine US sanctions, was forwarded by Graff to Bannon, with a note, “The PE [president elect] knows Aras well. Rob is his rep in the US.”
  119. The Senate Judiciary Committee report also said the Kremlin used the NRA to help Trump in 2016, including an offer for a potential meeting between Trump and Putin, and possibly secretly funding the campaign.
  120. The report found the committee’s work is incomplete, “We still do not know the full story about the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower or, more broadly, the degree to which the campaign cooperated or communicated with Russia.”
  121. On Wednesday, Richard Burr and Mark Warner, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, broke from the House Intelligence Committee, saying they agreed with the intelligence assessment.
  122. Warner said there was an “extensive, sophisticated” effort that was “ordered by President Putin himself,” with the purpose of helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
  123. Several top Republicans in the Senate also voiced support for the intelligence community’s findings, including James Lankford, Susan Collins, and John Cornyn, who said the assessment was “by and large well done.”
  124. On Wednesday, according to a federally required annual financial disclosure form released by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels.
  125. The payment was disclosed in a note at the bottom of Page 45 of the 92-page report states. “Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Cohen in 2017” in the category of value between $100,001 and $250,000.
  126. Federal law requires White House officials to “report liabilities owed to any creditor that exceeded $10,000 at any time during the reporting period.” Trump did not report the payment in his 2017 filing.
  127. On Wednesday, OGE acting director David Apol referred Trump’s financial disclosures to the Justice Department, after determining Trump should have disclosed his reimbursement payment in last year’s form.
  128. In May 2017, information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows Trump’s former attorney, Sheri Dillon, wanted to submit last year’s financial disclosure without having him certify the information as true.
  129. Trump also listed $315 million in debt, including $175 million to Deutsche Bank, and $100 million to a far-less well-known lender, Ladder Capital.
  130. Trump’s disclosure also revealed Trump Hotel DC earned $40 million for calendar year 2017, Trump’s first year in office. Revenue included $350,000 in campaign funds, 60% from Republican National Committee events.
  131. Hotel customers included officials or lobbyists for the governments of Malaysia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Trump Hotel DC also hosted events for a number of domestic industries, including mining and confections.
  132. On Wednesday, The New Yorker reported the motivation for the official who leaked Cohen’s financial records was that two suspicious-activity reports (SARs), had gone missing from the FinCEN database.
  133. The official said that those two reports detail more than $3 million in additional questionable transactions from Cohen’s account, adding, “When something’s not there that should be, I immediately became concerned.”
  134. The three SARS were filed by First Republic. The one made public by Avenatti details only transactions from September of 2017 to January of 2018, and alludes to the previous two reports which have gone missing.
  135. On Thursday, WAPO reported the Treasury Department’s inspector general is expanding its probe into leaks, to include reports leaked to Avenatti as well as the source of The New Yorker story.
  136. Treasury officials said in a statement that since 2009, FinCEN has had the ability restrict access to sensitive SARs.
  137. On Friday, BuzzFeed reported that according to three sources, the two Cohen SARs are not missing, but rather Treasury Department officials have taken the highly unusual step of restricting access to them.
  138. Sources said limiting access is rare, and most likely came from the top of the Treasury Department. Limiting access to the SARs may have been an effort to crack down on leaks.
  139. On Wednesday, Axios reported a major rift between Peter Navarro and Steven Mnuchin has opened, with the two exchanging snipes during the Trump delegation’s trip to China two weeks ago.
  140. As China’s top trade negotiator Liu He arrived in Washington DC, regime members set to attend the meeting were Mnuchin, Ross, Robert Lighthizer, and Larry Kudlow. China hardliner Navarro was initially excluded.
  141. On Thursday, Bloomberg reported Navarro will take part in China talks. It was not known why the regime decided to reinstate him in the talks, or what role Navarro would play.
  142. On Wednesday, at a commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned of a “growing crisis in ethics and integrity,” and said if we don’t confront it, “then American democracy, as we know it, is entering its twilight years.”
  143. Tillerson also said if our leaders conceal the truth or if “we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts,” then we are “are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”
  144. On Wednesday, the Senate approved overturning the FCC’s net neutrality repeal by a 52-47 vote, with Sens. Collins, Lisa, Murkowski, and John Kennedy joining Democrats. The House does not intend to take the measure up.
  145. On Wednesday, NYT reported the FBI opened an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, dispatching agents to London for a highly secret meeting, privy to only a handful.
  146. Two agents met with the Australian ambassador, Alexander Downer, who had evidence that one of Trump’s advisers knew about Russia’s election meddling — that adviser turned out to be George Papadopoulos.
  147. The agents summarized their findings on August 2, 2016 for a small group of FBI officials who knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane. Agents considered, then rejected, interviewing key Trump associates, for fear of revealing the existence of the case.
  148. The FBI investigated four unidentified Trump campaign aides in the early months: Flynn, Manafort, Papadopoulos, and Carter Page. Top officials were convinced there was almost no chance they could conclude if there was collusion before Election Day, and chose to keep it under wraps.
  149. On Wednesday, in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, FBI director Christopher Wray defended the bureau against criticism by House Republicans. Wray said he doubled the number of staff in March to keep up with GOP document requests.
  150. Wray underscored the importance of protecting the identity of sources, saying, “The day that we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe.”
  151. On Thursday, Trump marked the one-year anniversary of the Mueller probe, tweeting, “Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History.”
  152. Trump also repeated accusations the FBI had an informant inside his 2016 campaign, tweeting “word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI ‘SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.’”
  153. On Thursday morning, Trump surrogates parroted this mantra. Giuliani told “Fox & Friends” that he was “shocked to hear that they put a spy in the campaign,” and “I think the investigation should be thrown out.”
  154. Kellyanne Conway also appeared on “Fox & Friends,” saying “It looks like the Trump campaign may have been surveilled.” Corey Lewandowski went on Fox Business’ “Mornings with Maria,” and repeated the same allegations.
  155. On Thursday, WAPO reported Trump is joining forces with Rep. Devin Nunes and other of his allies on Capitol Hill and in the conservative media to out a top-secret FBI source in order to undercut the Russia investigation.
  156. Reportedly the stakes are so high, the FBI is working to mitigate the potential damage if the sources is revealed, including steps to protect other live investigations and danger to associates of the informer.
  157. Trump allies believe outing the source and revealing details about their work could help them challenge the investigation, and give them grounds to remove Mueller, or his overseer, Rod Rosenstein.
  158. Trump complains the Mueller probe is “all-encompassing,” and encourages his allies to go on television and “beat the drums.” Bannon is back, acting as an informal adviser to Trump allies in and outside the White House.
  159. On Friday, Trump tweeted, “Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes,” adding “It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a ‘hot’ Fake News story.”
  160. Trump also tweeted is was the “all time biggest political scandal!” Trump also questioned in tweets why “disgraced FBI official Andrew McCabe” wasn’t being investigated, and why the Clinton case was dropped.
  161. On Friday, Sen. Warner warned in a statement that attempts to expose an FBI source during an active investigation was “potentially illegal,” adding, “Publicly outing a source risks not only their life, but the lives of every American.”
  162. On Friday, NYT reported that the FBI used an informant, not to spy, to talk to Page and Papadopoulos only after the FBI received evidence that the two had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign.
  163. The informant is an American academic who teaches in Britain, and was used, as opposed to an FBI agent, to ensure details of the inquiry were more closely held than is typical given it took place during the campaign.
  164. The informant had also contact with Flynn in 2014 at the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar. The source was alarmed by the general’s apparent closeness with a Russian woman and warned American authorities that Flynn could be compromised.
  165. On Friday, WAPO also reported the secret FBI source was a professor interested in American politics, not a spy. Some time in 2016, he began working as secret informant for the FBI.
  166. In addition to Papadopoulos and Page, WAPO also reported the professor met with Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis for coffee in Northern Virginia, offering to lend the Trump team his foreign-policy experience.
  167. On Friday, NBC News reported the professor who met with both Page and Papadopoulos is Stefan Halper, a former official in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations.
  168. On Thursday, a poll released by Survey Monkey found that just 13% of Americans consider Trump honest and trustworthy. The poll was conducted between February 1 and May 9.
  169. On Thursday, while meeting with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg at the White House, Trump again said NATO members that do not contribute fully would be “dealt with,” singling out Germany.
  170. On Friday, Giuliani told CNN Mueller has agreed to narrow the scope of a potential Trump interview from five to two topics, and agreed not to ask Trump about Cohen. Giuliani added “the main focus we want … is Russia.”
  171. Giuliani also backed off from saying there were informants embedded with the Trump campaign who spoke to federal authorities, saying, “I don’t know for sure, nor does the President, if there really was. We’re told that.”
  172. On Thursday, an appeals court denied Trump’s request to stay proceedings in the Summer Zervos defamation suit. The legal setback for Trump could open him up to discovery in the case, although Trump is likely to appeal.
  173. On Thursday, Avenatti told MSNBC that two other women with solid cases who claim to have had affairs with Trump signed NDAs and received payments may soon come forward. Other cases are also being vetted.
  174. On Friday, lawyers for Cohen and Stephanie Clifford continued to attack each other in dueling memos.Cohen’s lawyers filed a scathing motion asking a judge to keep Avenatti from formally entering the case, saying he was “fanning a media storm” and “smearing” Cohen.
  175. Avenatti answered with a motion, arguing that many of his adversaries’ assaults on him were “unsubstantiated,” “baseless,” and lacking in “admissible evidence.”
  176. One year in on the Mueller probe, FiveThirtyEight found Mueller to be more productive than past investigations like Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Whitewater. Mueller has racked up five guilty pleas, 14 indictments of individuals, and the Cohen referral to the Southern District of New York.

Loose Ends From A Crazy News Day

Ken AshfordClinton Email Faux Scandal, L'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels Affair, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Yesterday was one of those crazy Trump news days. Big story followed big story.

But what was odd was a lot of it was retrospective.  Things that happened in the investigation that we are NOW just learning.  It clearly got under Trump’s nerves, as shown by his tweets this morning.

It is a little silly for him to say that.  Mueller and his team have issued eight indictments covering 19 individuals and three businesses, secured five guilty pleas, have two criminal cases headed to trial, and have one individual already serving a prison sentence.  Collusion is not a crime, and obstruction is obvious.

I hit most of the big stories yesterday, but missed two  — maybe three.

(1)  Crossfire Hurricane The New York Times looks at the beginning days into the investigation of Donald Trump, a very tight-lipped FBI probe known by only a handful of agents, dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane” (after a Rolling Stones song).  According to The New York Times, only about five Justice officials knew what the whole case entailed — a far lower number than the 12 or so who would typically be read in on a case related to national security.

At the beginning of the investigation, the bureau dispatched two agents to London to interview Australian Ambassador Alexander Downer, who reportedly had proof that one of Trump’s advisers knew about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election before it occurred.  Otherwise, agents considered, then rejected, interviewing key Trump associates, which might have sped up the investigation but risked revealing the existence of the case. Top officials quickly became convinced that they would not solve the case before Election Day, which made them only more hesitant to act. When agents did take bold investigative steps, like interviewing the ambassador, they were shrouded in secrecy.

Progressives are correct in pointing out that there is a sharp contrast between a very secret investigation against the Trump campaign compared to the FBI (and James Comey) openly discussing the Clinton emails.  As the Times says: “In the Clinton case, Mr. Comey has said he erred on the side of transparency. But in the face of questions from Congress about the Trump campaign, the F.B.I. declined to tip its hand. ”

Conservatives, on the other hand, are quick to point out that this is further proof of a “Deep State” conspiracy against Donald Trump.

The article continues:

The F.B.I. investigated four unidentified Trump campaign aides in those early months, congressional investigators revealed in February. The four men were Michael T. Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said. Each was scrutinized because of his obvious or suspected Russian ties.

***

Mr. Trump was not under investigation, but his actions perplexed the agents. Days after the stolen Democratic emails became public, he called on Russia to uncover more. Then news broke that Mr. Trump’s campaign had pushed to change the Republican platform’s stance on Ukraine in ways favorable to Russia.

The F.B.I.’s thinking crystallized by mid-August, after the C.I.A. director at the time, John O. Brennan, shared intelligence with Mr. Comey showing that the Russian government was behind an attack on the 2016 presidential election. Intelligence agencies began collaborating to investigate that operation. The Crossfire Hurricane team was part of that group but largely operated independently, three officials said.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said that after studying the investigation as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he saw no evidence of political motivation in the opening of the investigation.

All this comes as a prelude to an inspector generals’ report on the handling of the Trump investigation. The inspector general’s upcoming report is expected to criticize two FBI agents for giving the appearance of bias (because they exchanged emails that were critical of Trump). It is not clear, however, whether inspectors found evidence supporting Mr. Trump’s assertion that agents tried to protect Mrs. Clinton, a claim the F.B.I. has adamantly denied.

The article adds:

The F.B.I. obtained phone records and other documents using national security letters — a secret type of subpoena — officials said. And at least one government informant met several times with Mr. Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said. That has become a politically contentious point, with Mr. Trump’s allies questioning whether the F.B.I. was spying on the Trump campaign or trying to entrap campaign officials.

And that is the takeaway today after the Times article came out.  Even from Trump

I like that phrase — “probably no doubt”.  And I don’t know where “embedded informant” comes from.  Certainly not the NY Time article.

(2)  Missing Treasury Files –  Well, this one is just weird. But a huge scoop from Ronan Farrow, who is becoming a hot journalist.

We’ve come to know a lot about Michael Cohen’s influence peddling, but HOW do we know it? We know it mostly because of Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ attorney, who seemed to know an awful lot about Cohen’s financial dealings. Avenatti referenced “3 Suspicious Activity Reports” related to Cohen’s dealings and teased more significant disclosures to come. The Treasury Department launched an inquiry into the potential leak.

Well how did Avenatti know?  A leaker. From the US Treasury Department.  And that’s where Ronan Farrow’s reporting comes in.  He does not identify the leaker, but he explains WHY the leaker is leaking.  And this is the incredible part — a law enforcement official leaked the documents after becoming concerned that two reports on Cohen’s suspicious financial activity could not be found in a government database. Both of those reports, according to the New Yorker, detail even more substantial financial transactions — about $3 million, three times the amount of last week’s disclosures.

This is an extraordinary allegation. This whistleblower is claiming the documents went missing from the database, the more sinister implication being that they were purposely being withheld.

The documents this law enforcement official said they could not find are not easily misplaced bureaucratic paperwork. Suspicious activity reports, or SARs, are reports that banks and other financial institutions file if they have an inkling that someone might be engaging in money laundering or another illicit activity. They are filed with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which maintains a database for government and law enforcement officials. A suspicious activity report is not proof of any crime, just a red flag, and can help authorities establish patterns.

“I have never seen something pulled off the system. … That system is a safeguard for the bank,” the source told the New Yorker. “It’s a stockpile of information. When something’s not there that should be, I immediately became concerned.”

Disclosing a suspicious activity report could violate federal law. The whistleblower said the personal risk was outweighed by the possibility that the reports were purposely hidden or removed. “Things that stand out as abnormal, like documents being removed from a system, are of grave concern to me,” the official said.

Perhaps even more chilling is that there doesn’t seem to be an ordinary explanation for why those two reports have seemingly vanished from the searchable database. Some former government officials suggested to the New Yorker that it’s possible (though it would be extremely unusual) that access is restricted because of the extremely sensitive nature of the SARs, given that Cohen is under federal investigation by the Manhattan US attorney’s office.


(3)  Giuliani says that Mueller told him that he cannot indict a sitting PresidentCNN reported that Mueller and Trump’s legal team had determined that the Russia probe would end with a report to Congress on potential crimes, not an indictment. The source was Rudy Giuliani.  And there seems to be some confusion about this one.  Did Mueller actually SAY that to Giuliani? Or did Giuliani just assume that Mueller believes that he cannot indict a sitting President?  The Justice Department guidelines currently say a sitting president cannot be indicted.

In a meeting a few weeks ago, Trump’s lawyers and Mueller’s team agreed that the special counsel would follow Justice Department guidelines, indicating that the federal investigators ultimately would not indict Trump in the Russia probe unless he were impeached, according to the Washington Post.

He didn’t seem to want to give the answer,” Giuliani told the Post. “It reminded me of that scene in ‘The Godfather,’ with Sonny and the Godfather, where he said, ‘Oh, you’re going to take care of us? We can take care of ourselves.’ One of his assistants broke in and said, ‘Well of course, we’re bound by Justice Department policies.’ Mueller looked at him like, ‘Don’t interrupt me.’”

In case everyone has, like the various Rudy Giulianis, lost the plot here, let me summarize:

  1. Rudy Giuliani told NBC News that Special Counsel Mueller told him directly that he could not prosecute the President because of the 1970s guidance from the Office of Legal Counsel.
  2. Rudy Giuliani, in an attempt to clarify what Rudy Giuliani told NBC News, told The Washington Post that he doesn’t actually know what Special Counsel Mueller or his personnel told Jay Sekulow and he can’t find out because Jay is in Israel.
  3. Rudy Giuliani, in an attempt to sound tough and make Special Counsel Mueller look bad, as well as further clarify Rudy Giuliani’s clarification to The Washington Post of Rudy Giuliani’s (who comes from a family that was mobbed up) statement to NBC News, stated that Bob Mueller (who brought down John Gotti) is like an Italian mafiosi from a movie.

Okay, whatever. The thing is, the DOJ guidelines are just that: guidelines. They can be changed, or even not followed if the situation calls for it.

In fact, Neal Katyal, who wrote the existing guidelines for DOJ Special Counsels had this to say about the 1970s Office of Legal Counsel guidance:

“This old opinion from 20 years ago does preclude, in general, the Justice Department from indicting a sitting president for constitutional reasons,” Katyal said. “But an exception can be given.”

Katyal repeated Wednesday that the rules “permit Mueller to depart from DOJ policy.”

Referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein, who is acting as attorney general in the context of the Russia investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, Katyal said on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes”: “The way to do this is to ask the acting attorney general, so he does have a way forward.”

Bottom line: There really is no settled law on this.

Amazing Photo And Video OF Kilauea Eruption

Ken AshfordBreaking News, DisastersLeave a Comment

For nearly three weeks, images of volcanic activity on Hawaii’s Big Island have been mostly focused on the East Rift Zone on Kilauea’s slopes, where fissure upon fissure has opened up in the earth, spewing forth red-orange lava and sending thousands of residents fleeing from their homes.

Yesterday, the volcano’s Halemaumau Crater snapped people’s attention back to the summit with a commanding display: An eruption produced a towering ash plume from the crater that reached 12,000 feet high at its peak and could be seen for miles.


This is not “the big one”.  Yet.

 

Trump Discloses Financials

Ken AshfordGeneral corruption, Stormy Daniels Affair, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

As I wrote about yesterday, Trump was to disclose his financial liabilities, and there was an open question as to whether he would admit his payments to Cohen as a liability, and how much was paid.  Today the public got its answer, sort of.  I will attach only the page dealing with financial liabilities.

See there at the bottom?  He is disputing that it needs to be a “recorded liability” but is presenting the dollar amount nonetheless.  It would appear that there is no other payoff to Cohen other than Stormy, but maybe there is.  Or maybe Trump is lying.

Here is a letter from the Ethics Office to Rod Rosenstein saying that, in their estimation, the Cohen payment was a liability and should have been reported in last year’s disclosure.

On the cover page, OGE disagrees with Trump’s claim that the debt is not reportable but indicates that all required information is included in this report. That means that the information was required to be reported last year. In turn, that means that Trump committed a crime if the omission was “knowing and willful.” Trump may be wondering today whether the information DOJ seized from Cohen’s office included any emails or other documents showing he knew of the debt when he filed last year’s report.

Ice Cube, 3-On-3 Basketball, and The OTHER “Trump Tower Meeting”

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Given the congressional testimony and exhibits that were released by the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, we probably know as much as we can about the infamous June 2016 in Trump Tower between Don Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a bunch of Russians.  But there is another Trump Tower meeting drawing interest. The genesis of it is confusing and weird, but it may hold the key to certain allegations in the Steele Dossier.

Michael Avenatti is representing the adult film actor Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against former Trump attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen that seeks to nullify her confidentiality agreement over an alleged affair with Donald Trump.  On Sunday, Avenatti tweeted images that appeared to show a Qatari diplomat Ahmed Al-Rumaihi entering an elevator in Trump Tower on Dec. 12, 2016

Al-Rumaihi is currently being sued by rapper Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz, two guys who created what is known as the Big 3 Basketball League (a new sports league involving three-on-three basketball which debuted in 2017).  They are suing Al-Rumaihi because he promised to invest something like $20 million in the league, but only coughed up $6.5 million.

Last week Kwatinetz, in a sworn declaration filed as part of pending litigation against Al-Rumaihi and a number of Big 3 investors, said that the former Qatari diplomat offered him a bribe for an introduction to Kwatinetz’s friend Steve Bannon during a private hike in January 2018 (Prior to working with Big3, Kwatinetz ran a management company called The Firm. The Firm’s CFO was Steve Bannon).  January 2018 was after Bannon had been fired from the White House, following the publication of the book Fire & Fury by Michael Wolff.  Also, conservative donor Rebekah Mercer has ended financial support to Bannon, so that’s why Al-Rumaihi thought Bannon would be acceptable to a bribe.

Kwatinetz claimed in the declaration that he rejected the bribe and told Al-Rumaihi that Bannon would never accept one. At this point, he said Al-Rumaihi “laughed and then stated to me that I shouldn’t be naive, that so many Washington politicians take our money, and stated ‘Do you think [Michael] Flynn turned down our money?’ ”

What? Michael Flynn?  Trump’s former national security adviser?  Who pled guilty to lying to investigators and is now cooperating with Mueller?

Is there evidence of that?  Well, that is where Avenatti’s images come in.

Al-Rumaihi has confirmed the images are accurate, and that he was in Trump Tower on December 12 2016. But why?

This would have been five days after news broke of the multibillion-dollar sale of 19.5 percent of the Russian fossil fuel giant Rosneft to Swiss trading firm Glencore and Qatar’s sovereign investment fund. (Glencore and Qatar sold off a major stake of Rosneft to China last year, but earlier this month Qatar bought back in to the Russian company for a total stake of 19 percent.)

The Rosneft deal features prominently in an investigative dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. A central claim of the Steele dossier was that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, during an alleged meeting with Rosneft officials in summer 2016, promised that a Trump administration would undo sanctions against Russia, in part, in exchange for brokerage of the Rosneft deal. In May 2016, Al-Rumaihi reportedly took over as head of a major division of the wealth fund ultimately involved in the Rosneft deal.

The allegations in the Steele dossier, made in October 2016, suggested a future quid-pro-quo deal between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump has been conspicuously resistant to Russian sanctions despite widespread congressional support from both parties. As Jed Shugerman has noted in Slate, during congressional testimony Page acknowledged meeting with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft, during his July 2016 trip to Russia and acknowledged “briefly” discussing the sale of Rosneft as well as there being “some general reference” to sanctions. As Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand has reported, Page also acknowledged meeting with top Rosneft managers in Moscow on Dec. 8—four days before the apparent Cohen–Al-Rumaihi meeting and one day after the completion of the Rosneft deal.

Avenatti noted in his tweets over the weekend that Cohen was seen meeting with Michael Flynn and incoming Energy Secretary Rick Perry within two hours of apparently entering the elevator with Al-Rumaihi.

The pictures that Avenatti tweeted came from a Trump Tower live feed from that day.  There is video.

Okay, so here we have Al-Rumaihi entering a Trump Tower elevator with Michael Cohen:

Here is footage of Rumaihi leaving Trump Tower less than 90 minutes after entering with Cohen.

Here is footage from multiple feeds of Flynn coming down 12 minutes after Al-Rumaihi’s exit, loitering in the lobby for a bit, and waiting to meet with Cohen and Perry a few minutes later:


So why was Al-Rumaihi in Trump Tower that day?  Well, he offered a brief explanation through a spokesman to CNN: “Al-Rumaihi was at Trump Tower on December 12, 2016. He was there in his then role as head of Qatar Investments, an internal division of QIA, to accompany the Qatari delegation that was meeting with Trump transition officials on that date. He did not participate in any meetings with Michael Flynn, and his involvement in the meetings on that date was limited.” Another source told CNN that during one meeting “Cohen briefly popped in.”

The Trump Tower meetings are by their very nature interesting. Qatar was very eager to build relationships with the new administration during the transition, an effort that was apparently unsuccessful given Trump’s embrace of Saudi Arabia and support of the blockade.

So Qatar briefly considered another course of action: Informing special counsel Robert Mueller about efforts by the UAE to influence the administration against Qatar. In March NBC reported on that possibility, explaining that the Qataris felt that meetings between the UAE and administration figures were worthy of Mueller’s attention.

Our final characters in this tale now make their appearances. Elliott Broidy is a Republican Party donor who had been introduced to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan by a man named George Nader, who himself had met several times at the White House with Bannon and Trump adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner.

Broidy owns a private security firm that has contracts with the UAE, according to the New York Times. He wrote a memo to the president arguing that the U.S. should back the UAE’s positions in the Gulf, only to find that the memo and some of his emails were hacked and leaked to the media. Broidy blamed the Qatari government, and filed suit against it.

Broidy’s name has been in the news for another reason recently: He was also a client of Michael Cohen’s, with Cohen assisting him in finalizing a payment to a Playboy playmate whom Broidy had impregnated.

That is where the story stands. From Ice Cube’s basketball league to a security contractor accusing a foreign government of hacking him even as he fends off questions about his affair with a playmate. The thread that ties it all together is the apparent interest of the Qatari government to build what relationships it could with the Trump administration and those close to it.

That effort doesn’t seem to have been entirely successful.

New Information About The “Trump Tower Meeting” With The Russians

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

More than 2,500 pages of congressional testimony and exhibits that were released by the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, all relating to the now-infamous “Trump Tower Meeting” in June 2016. As you may recall, Rob Goldstone, a music promoter, promised Donald Trump Jr. over email that a Russian lawyer (Natalia Veselnitskaya) would provide dirt about Hillary Clinton.  Goldstone told the committee that his client, the Russian pop star and developer Emin Agalarov (son of Russian billionaire oligarch Aras Agalarov), had insisted he help set up the meeting between President Trump’s son and the lawyer during the campaign to pass along material on Clinton, overriding Goldstone’s own warnings that the meeting would be a bad idea.

“He said, ‘it doesn’t matter. You just have to get the meeting,” Goldstone, a British citizen, testified.

Testimony from the participants show that there was no “dirt” on Hillary offered at the meeting. Instead, Veselnitskaya used the session to press her view that the sanctions imposed on Russia for human rights abuses, known as the Magnitsky Act, should be lifted.

The president’s son acknowledged he was disappointed that the Russian lawyer did not provide more information that could be used in the campaign: “All else being equal, I wouldn’t have wanted to waste 20 minutes hearing about something that I wasn’t supposed to be meeting about,” he told the committee.

The testimony also includes new details about Trump’s long interest in building business ties to Russia and a relationship with President Vladi­mir Putin.  An Agalarov employee testified to the committee that the Russian mogul tried to get Trump a meeting with Putin when the Miss Universe pageant, which Trump owned, was held in Moscow in 2013.

The committee was not able to interview Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, or Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, even though both attended.  We do have Manafort’s notes:

Much sleuthing will be done on those.

Trump Jr is still in trouble, even if there was no “smoking gun” about Hillary.  Just because no information on Hillary was shared does not negate the intent of the meeting to get dirt on Hillary from the Russians. Conspiracy is the legal issue here, not collusion. Conspiracy is in itself a crime, and the proposed crime that is being conspired doesn’t have to be actually carried out once there is proof of the conspiracy. Several times a year we see reports of someone trying to hire a hitman, that ‘hitman’ often being undercover law enforcement. The fact that there is no actual attempt on anyone’s life won’t keep the plotter out of prison.

To be a conspiracy, all that is required is a plan between two or more persons to engage in criminal conduct plus one overt act in furtherance of the plan to constitute the crime of conspiracy. The intent to engage in the conduct is enough even if the persons did not know that the conduct was unlawful. There is no doubt that Trump Jr. etc. intended to participate in this meeting to obtain information from the Russian government on Clinton and they did meet. There was a plan to engage in conduct that was illegal, and there was an overt act in furtherance of the plan. Their conduct was criminal conspiracy. And to be clear, there is no crime of collusion, and the word’s continued usage just causes confusion. The proper term is conspiracy.

Then there is the cover-up. Trump’s campaign was involved in the drafting of the Don Jr.’s statement once the meeting was exposed.  That statement was false and serves as a possible obstruction of justice. The meeting, and the administration’s initial response to reports of it, have been one focus of the probe.

The White House has said the president was involved in drafting an initial statement after news of the meeting broke last year. The statement said the meeting primarily concerned a Russian adoption program, though Trump Jr. later released the emails showing he agreed to the sit-down after he was promised information on Clinton. The emails also show he accepted the meeting despite it being described as part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s campaign. Asked in the interview if his father was involved in drafting the statement, Trump Jr said: “I don’t know. I never spoke to my father about it.”

But that might be testimonial parsing.  The Washington Post has reported that the president dictated some of the misleading explanations for the meeting— which aides worried could open him up to charges of a coverup.  Trump Jr. said he didn’t know about his father’s direct involvement and actively discouraged it, but he said he thinks Trump may have influenced the messaging about the meeting through then-White House communications aide Hope Hicks:

Q. To the best of your knowledge, did the president provide any edits to the statement or other input?

A. He may have commented through Hope Hicks.

Q. And do you know if his comments provided through Hope Hicks were incorporated into the final statement?

A. I believe some may have been, but this was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel.

Finally, there is the mystery of the phone call. Pn pp 26-28 of the testimony below, Don Jr. “believes” on the day of the Trump Tower meeting he spoke with Emin Agalarov (this call was also described in House Intel report). Following that, Don Jr. had a call lasting four minutes to a blocked number. Don Jr. couldn’t remember to whom he spoke. Hmmmmmmm…..

Here is Trump Jr testimony and exhibits:

A Welcome Change To Twitter

Ken AshfordSocial NetworkingLeave a Comment

Buzzfeed:

On Tuesday, Twitter announced a massive change to the way its conversations will work, evaluating not just the content of individual tweets, but the way users behave more broadly on the service. Twitter will now use thousands of behavioral signals when filtering search, replies, and algorithmic recommendations. If it believes you are trying to game its system, or simply acting like a jerk, it will push your tweets lower down. It’s the biggest update so far in the company’s push to create healthier conversations, an initiative announced by its CEO Jack Dorsey in March.

Among the signals Twitter will use: whether you tweet at large numbers of accounts you don’t follow, how often you’re blocked by people you interact with, whether you created many accounts from a single IP address, and whether your account is closely related to others that have violated its terms of service.

“A lot of our past action has been content-based, and we have been shifting more and more toward conduct and behaviors on the system,” Dorsey said in a briefing at the company’s San Francisco headquarters on Monday.

That should help with the trolls a little.

How Pay-To-Play Works In Trump World

Ken AshfordGeneral corruption, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Sunday tweet from Trump:

ZTE was being sanctioned by the United States for violating the US sanctions against Iran. And suddenly, Trump wanted that ban lifted.  and everyone was like, uh… that’s a very sudden shift in policy.  And since when do we care about jobs lost in China?

Even Trump’s advisers were surprised.

Trump responded to questions with another tweet:

If we are in the process of negotiating a trade deal, why is this being done NOW?  Or… why are we doing “personal” favors for Xi now?

And then we learn from the Agence France-Presse news service is that a Chinese company agreed last Thursday to build a theme park at a major Indonesian development project that is set to include Trump-branded hotels, residences, and a golf course—and that will be funded in part by $500 million in Chinese government loans.

Now it appears that this theme park was in the works for a while. In 2015, an Indonesian company called MNC agreed to work with the Trump Organization on the “MNC Lido Park” luxury residence/resort development. The development, which is near Jakarta, is set to include a number of Trump-branded properties in addition to other projects.  And in June 2016, the Indonesian company announced that it had signed a “letter of initial intent” with a Chinese company called MCC—yes, it’s a deal between “MNC” and “MCC”—to build a theme park at MNC Lido Park. This tentative deal included $500 million in loans from Chinese banks.

So, it doesn’t appear that we’re talking about $500 million in Chinese going to the Trump Organization directly. But it also obviously benefits Trump to lock in what had previously only been a tentative commitment on the Chinese government’s part to develop such a major component of a complex in which he has a financial interest.

Furthermore, the TIMING is odd.  Trump talks tough about anyone who supports Iran, but then — days later — lifts sanctions against a Chinese company that helped Iran?  And he does it just days after a China deal goes through that clearly helps his company?

It’s Financial Disclosure Day!

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels Affair, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Trump has a choice to make, and today we find out that choice.

Normally, a politician completing a financial disclosure form is not worthy of news. But today, this year, with Trump — it is.

Today is the deadline for President Trump to file his financial disclosure form for 2017. That fact may seem trivially bureaucratic, but lurking at its core is a dilemma for Trump that continues to metastasize into something ever more grotesque.

The need to submit this form shows that in the Stormy Daniels matter, Trump has been boxed in by his lawyer (sic) Rudy Giuliani — and by his own tweets — with no good way out.

The Plum Line explains:

Here’s the problem for Trump: He needs to decide whether to disclose the debt he incurred to his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, when Cohen paid $130,000 to Daniels just before the election, buying her silence about their alleged affair. Trump did not disclose this debt in the financial disclosure form he filed one year ago — back when this payment, and Trump’s reimbursement of it, remained unknown.

But thanks to Giuliani, we now know that Trump did, in fact, incur this debt to Cohen. In January, the Wall Street Journal broke the news of Cohen’s payment to Daniels. But it was Giuliani who recently admitted to Sean Hannity that Trump had paid Cohen back, which forced Trump to issue two tweets acknowledging that he agreed to reimburse Cohen for the payment via a “monthly retainer.”

As it is, that blew up Trump’s previous lie on Air Force One that he didn’t know about the payment. But now it gets worse. Trump is in the awkward position of deciding what to say about his liability to Cohen on his financial disclosure form. “He has to disclose any liability he had over $10,000 at any point in 2017,” Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told me this morning.

Helpfully enough, Giuliani has also laid out a detailed timeline of Trump’s payments to BuzzFeed, acknowledging that Trump agreed to give Cohen $35,000 per month starting early in 2017, which continued throughout the year. “This was a liability of well over $10,000 through much if not all of 2017,” Bookbinder told me.

Thanks to Giuliani, Trump’s excuse for not disclosing this liability has now evaporated. To justify his failure to disclose it on his 2017 form — which detailed his finances for 2016 — Trump could claim he didn’t know about Cohen’s payment or make any agreement to reimburse it. Whether that’s plausible or not, we can’t really disprove it. But now we know that Trump did take on this debt in 2017, because Giuliani compelled him to admit it — by blurting out the truth.

The plot gets even more tangled. That’s because we have since learned that Cohen made the payment from a company he created called Essential Consultants, and that Cohen and/or his company may have made payments for Trump to other women as well. Giuliani admitted to ABC News that there may have been other payments, saying: “I would think if it was necessary, yes.”

And so, if Trump agreed to reimburse those payments as well, these liabilities would also have to be disclosed on his financial form — because Trump must indicate the amount of his liabilities within a general range. Bookbinder points out to me that the amount of debt Trump acknowledges to Cohen — if, say, he notes liabilities that are well in excess of $130,000 — will raise additional questions along these lines.

“He going to have to check a box that will give us a ballpark” for his liabilities to Cohen, Bookbinder says. “That will tell us a lot about whether there were additional payments by Cohen to benefit the president.”

Of course, Trump could try to conceal such additional liabilities while only admitting to reimbursing the Daniels payment. But then he’d be lying on his financial disclosure form, and those payments (and liabilities) could subsequently come out, revealing Trump’s effort to conceal them. Trump could also try to find additional loopholes, such as claiming that the reimbursement was a campaign expenditure, which wouldn’t have to be noted. But as Walter Shaub and Adav Noti point out in a piece on this whole dilemma, Giuliani foreclosed that option, too, when he insisted that the payment was not campaign-related.

Trump could very well seek an extension of 30 days on his form. But he can’t outrun these facts forever. And hopefully, this will illustrate that there are limits on just how tangled Trump’s web of lies can grow before it finally traps him.

Giuliani has admitted that Michael Cohen may have made payments to other women as well.  And so, if Trump declares liabilities to Cohen well in excess of $130,000, that will raise questions about any additional payments.

My bet is that he files an extension (something no President in recent history has done). But that only buys him time.  Not a solution.