Russia Monitor: Pardon Me, Mr. Mueller … Please!


By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (7/25/17)

Dear Fellow Readers,

I will let Donald Trump conduct his own news roundup to start this edition; here’s one of his tweets from Saturday morning:

Donald J. Trump


While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us.FAKE NEWS

6:35 AM – 22 Jul 2017

When Trump tweets or comments on such things he is often foretelling things to come. It’s always an indication of his focus, often described as a distraction from all other things including his legislative agenda.

There are many opinions on the power of presidential pardon. To me, the big story is that Trump has gone from “no meetings with Russians” to “all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon”.

Late Friday (7/21) the Washington Post broke a story reporting that Sergei Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the U.S. at the time, was recorded reporting to his superiors details of meetings and discussions of likely Trump policy in meetings with (then Senator; now Trump AG) Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III (we’ll come back to this). Trump commented:

Donald J. Trump


A new INTELLIGENCE LEAK from the Amazon Washington Post,this time against A.G. Jeff Sessions.These illegal leaks, like Comey’s, must stop!

5:33 AM – 22 Jul 2017

A third and final Trump ‘focus’ comes from a Washington Post headline from Friday (7/21):

Trump Team Seeks To Control, Block Mueller’s Russia Investigation

From the article:

“With the Russia investigation continuing to widen, Trump’s lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel’s work. They are actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, according to several of Trump’s legal advisers.”

More important than ‘how’, is the ‘why’:

“Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face. His primary frustration centers on why allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinizing many years of Trump dealmaking. He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.”

As always, the ill-disciplined Trump continues to hobble and hamstring the efforts of his legal team and aides to minimize the legal risk. Lawyer Ty Cobb has been added to the Trump legal team to coordinate communications and responses to media. This new attempt at discipline broke down immediately when Trump, only two days after a work session, spoke at length about the investigation to The New York Times.

U.S. Intercepts Reportedly Contradict Attorney General On Russia Contacts

The Washington Post broke a story on communication intercepts of Kislyak reports to superiors about his meetings with then Sen. Sessions. National Public Radio reported:

“Communications intercepted by U.S. spy agencies contradict assertions by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he never discussed campaign matters with Russia’s ambassador in conversations prior to the November election, The Washington Post reports, citing current and former U.S. officials.”

Sessions has long ago recused himself from the Russia investigation. The differences between Kislyak’s reports and Sessions comments to date, including his sworn testimony before the Senate Intelligence committee, extend back as far as his ‘meeting’ with Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in May. Sessions did not recall a discussion with Kislyak, Kisylak’s report acknowledges discussion of policy.

Sessions stands by his earlier comments.

There are differences of opinion about the veracity of the content of the communications:

“The newspaper writes that while foreign diplomats in Washington occasionally “report false or misleading information to their superiors,” Kislyak, whose tenure as ambassador to the U.S. ended recently, “has a reputation for accurately relaying details about his interactions with officials in Washington.”

I want to emphasize the final sentence – Kislyak is known to be a seasoned professional not prone to exaggeration. I predict Kislyak’s version of what transpired will prove to be more accurate.

If you can access the WaPo, here is the Friday evening story: Sessions Discussed Trump Campaign-related Matters With Russian Ambassador, U.S. Intelligence Intercepts Show


Trump Attacks Sessions PRIOR To Washington Post Story

Trump offered a humiliating assessment of Sessions’ recusal on Wednesday prior to the WaPo story (this from the same NPR link above):

That flub was highlighted this week by none other than Trump. In a New York Times interview, Trump openly suggested that he wouldn’t have nominated Sessions in the first place had he known he would recuse himself. Then Trump turned to Sessions’s “bad answers” at his confirmation hearings:

TRUMP: So Jeff Sessions, Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers.

MAGGIE HABERMAN: You mean at the hearing?

TRUMP: Yeah, he gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t.

Trump says he does not intend to fire Sessions; Sessions says he does not intent to step down. But all of this against a background of Trump looking to ‘contain’ Mueller.


From Bloomberg News We Learn Mueller Expands Probe to Trump Business Transactions

THIS is the latest Mueller action that has Trump so beside himself. In parallel to Trump campaign dealings with Russians we have this:

“The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

“FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.

“The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.”

We know this line of investigation involves Manafort, the article also acknowledges Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and his ownership of the dodgy Bank or Cyprus. But as Trump fears, this part of the investigation strikes at the Trump family – Donald, Donnie Jr., Erik, Jared and Ivanka.

“As part of their investigation, Mueller’s team has issued subpoenas to banks and filed requests for bank records to foreign lenders under mutual legal-assistance treaties, according to two of the people familiar with the matter.”

Trump tax returns are cited as part of the documents of interest and may already be in the possession of Mueller’s team.


Rachel Maddow Handles Fast Moving Trump-Russia Scandal Developments Raise The Prospect Of Crisis Story In Real Time

I add this link because you can watch a specific episode of Rachel Maddow on MSNBC that was happening ‘live’ as the WaPo news (and other stories) broke. She handles the breaking news with aplomb and builds out the context in real time. Maddow does a great job with Trump-Russia generally but MSNBC makes it very difficult to link to a specific segment of her program.

Really, it is WORTH the few minutes.


Huckabee Sanders: White House Backs Russia Sanctions Legislation

As reported previously, the Senate passed additional sanctions against Russia in retaliation for interference in the US election. The proposed sanctions were sent to the House for approval with a vote scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday.

There is an important component to the sanctions proposal – Congress is deliberately handcuffing White House ability to ease the sanctions, which is a direct reaction to concerns with Trump and Russia appeasement.

The question was whether the White House would sign the bill. White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on ABC’s This Week: “The administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting the sanctions in place.”

Putin will not be happy. But there are also ways the administration can further delay.


In Break With Trump, Top Homeland Security Officials Affirm Russia’s Election Meddling

In another break within the Trump administration, USA Today reports the Department of Homeland Security is now publicly making it clear – Russians meddled in the US election.

“In the normal course of events, the revelation of attempted collusion with Russia to determine the outcome of a presidential election might cause an administration to overcorrect in the other direction. A president might find ways to confront the range of Russian aggression, including cyber-aggression, if only to avoid the impression of being bought and sold by a strategic rival.”

Trump seems unconcerned with the optics or else he believes his attacking style can carry the day of public opinion. His business history says Trump attacks and is always ready to double-down – his recent political history says the 7×24 news focus in DC may not offer the same rewards.

“There is nothing normal about an American president’s subservience to Russia’s interests and worldview. It is not the result of some bold, secret, Nixonian foreign policy stratagem — the most laughable possible explanation. Does it come from Trump’s bad case of authoritarianism envy? A fundamental sympathy with European right-wing, anti-democratic populism? An exposure to pressure from his checkered financial history? There are no benign explanations, and the worst ones seem the most plausible.”

Yes, the worst explanations seem increasingly the most plausible. But not to everyone:

“Trump is alienating Republicans from their own heroic foreign policy tradition. The conduct of the Cold War was steadied and steeled by Ronald Reagan, who engaged with Soviet leaders but was an enemy of communism and a foe of Soviet aggression.”

Until Republicans put up some resistance, Trump can continue to damage U.S. foreign and domestic policy.


Mother Jones Magazine Raises A Tantalizing Question: Were Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner Hoping to Get Clinton’s Emails From Putin?

This is a stunningly good article by David Corn for MotherJones. To me this also lays out the case for a double standard of media bias that has benefitted Trump. If you look at the history of the Trump campaign and the media focus on Clinton emails there was not, and still is not, any factual credibility (previously reported Peter Smith and the Wall Street Journal articles as an example of GOP operatives running at wind mills).

As Corn reports, Clinton’s emails were the Holy Grail of Clinton-haters during the 2016 campaign.

“Her foes also pushed the idea that hackers from Russia or other governments might have penetrated her server and swiped her emails, gaining all sorts of national security secrets and negative information. (There was no evidence any such hacks occurred.)

“Trump often tweeted about Clinton’s destroyed emails—he referred to them as “missing”—and, most famously, called on Moscow to hack Clinton to find those messages: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

“In the weeks before the meeting between the Russian emissary and the top Trump advisers, hope was burning brightly on the right that Russia somehow had obtained Clinton’s personal emails and would release material that would ruin her campaign. A senior Trump aide was publicly spreading this tale—and another suggested he believed it. But this story was just crap cooked up by a conspiracy site.”


Judiciary Committee Requests Trump Campaign’s Correspondence With Jill Stein, List of 40 Others

The Senate Judiciary committee has released an expansive list of persons and entities of interest. I had expected most of the entries on this list but one omission is Fusion GPS, who used Christopher Steele to compile the now infamous Steele Dossier on Trump activities in Russia. Fusion GPS has also been linked to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Jr. along with Manafort, Kushner and five other persons.

The list does include Green Party candidate Jill Stein and there may be more to the story regarding Jill Stein, with the Daily Beast reporting How Putin Played The Far Left:

“Perhaps the starkest case in point is Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and her constituency. In December 2015, the Kremlin feted Stein by inviting her to the gala celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Kremlin-funded propaganda network RT. Over a year later, it remains unclear who paid for Stein’s trip to Moscow and her accommodations there. Her campaign ignored multiple questions on this score. We do know, however, that Stein sat at the same table as both Putin and Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, Trump’s soon-to-be national security adviser. She further spoke at an RT-sponsored panel, using her presence to criticize the U.S.’s “disastrous militarism.” Afterward, straddling Moscow’s Red Square, Stein described the panel as “inspiring,” going on to claim that Putin, whom she painted as a political novice, told her he “agree[d]” with her “on many issues.”

“Stein presents herself as a champion of the underclass and the environment, and an opponent of the surveillance state and corporate media, and yet she seemed to take pleasure in her marriage of true minds with a kleptocratic intelligence officer who levels forests and arrests or kills critical journalists and invades foreign countries. Their true commonality, of course, is that both Putin and Stein are dogged opponents of U.S. foreign policy.

“Indeed, her pro-Kremlin stance wasn’t limited to merely praising Putin’s amicability. Stein joined the Russian president and Kazakhstani dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev in describing Ukraine’s 2014 EuroMaidan revolution as a “coup,” and claimed, bizarrely, that NATO is currently “fighting… enemies we invent to give the weapons industry a reason to sell more stuff.”

“For good measure, she also asserted in September that “Russia used to own Ukraine,” by way of defending its colonization. She even selected a vice-presidential candidate who, when asked whether the downing of Flight MH17—a massacre almost certainly caused by Russian-supplied separatists in eastern Ukraine—was a false flag, responded, “[T]hat’s exactly what has happened.”


Finally, A Few Articles Denouncing The Actions And Consequences Of Trump’s Behavior


The Battle Of The Grocery Checkout Magazine Racks Continues…