By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (7/31/17)
Dear Fellow Readers,
Initially, Russiagate, was hard to write about. Who is Sergei Magnitsky, or Yury Chaika? Who the heck is Natalia Veselnitskaya – or as Sen Chuck Grassley (R-IA) says, Natalia “Agent XYZ” after struggling to pronounce her name at the beginning of the Thursday Senate judiciary committee meeting. More importantly, who cares? It was hard to connect dots with such broad territory, timing and blizzard of syllables.
I knew enough to know that ‘adoptions of Russian orphans’ was synonymous with the Magnitsky Act, which are sanctions against Russia. I knew the sanctions related to Bill Browder, Hermitage Capital Management and the brutal murder by beating of his Russian attorney, Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison. It was easy to connect Natalia Veselnitskaya with the Magnitsky Act with a few news articles. She represented a Russian company accused of Magnitsky-related money laundering in a trial held in New York City – originally overseen by Preet Bharara, who was abruptly fired as U.S. attorney by Donald Trump. She is easily linked to Russian prosecutor general Yury Chaika and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Throwing Junior under the bus
I knew that most people doing business in Russia would know these things; anyone doing business in Russia has to know these things. I knew that you don’t take meetings with Russians without doing background homework. For that matter, why would two billionaire international business men and a campaign manager for a presidential candidate, all with Russia experience, carve out time in busy campaign schedules for a meeting with a Russian lawyer without knowing more than a not-so-successful English promoter called to set up a meeting. That’s the line we were initially fed.
Donnie Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort plead innocence – how could anyone imagine a link between Russian adoptions and sanctions against Russia? That may sell well to some but with any amount of experience how could they NOT? Three supposedly successful businessmen, politically savvy with Russian politics don’t even follow basic common sense protocol about setting up a meeting? Of course Junior’s emails show the pleas of naiveté don’t hold up to scrutiny, especially after a week of daily ‘new news’ about the meeting and ever-expanding roster of participants. Junior’s defense blew up while Jared’s craftily polished version amounted to throwing Junior under the bus. Meeting – yes. Collusion – sure looks like it. Illegal – to be determined.
Russiagate is now easier. I don’t have to find the facts as reported and struggle to take complex events with names that cause people to resort to Natalia “Agent XYX”.
Russiagate is now about limiting an update to what is most important. And anticipating what Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller will bring forward when he’s ready to present his case.
Here’s a great description of the wild, wild, west business climate in the early Putin years (written by Julia Ioffe for The Atlantic):
“Back then, a Russian businessman told me it felt like “the day before Pompeii,” with everyone stealing as much as they could as quickly as possible—and then whisking it out of the country. “The Chinese feel that time is on their side, probably because of their long history,” former CIA director John Brennan told me on the sidelines of last week’s Aspen Security Forum. “The Russians don’t feel that time is on their side.” Indeed, the generation of officials around Putin are known as the vremenshchiki, “the temporary ones,” the ones whose meager salaries couldn’t have possibly paid for that house or that car or that watch, who steal as much as they can and squirrel it away in some tropical offshore account. The families of the Russian elite often don’t live in Russia. They live in Paris, in London, Geneva, New York, Los Angeles. That’s where their money lives, too, and where their children go to school and where their families seek medical treatment—which is one of the reasons the Russian education and medical systems are falling apart, robbed by corruption of what little resources they had.”
They live in New York, they live in Miami – and many live in Trump condos. Remember, 2008 was when Junior declared, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets…. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
This was the world that Bill Browder stepped into leading Hermitage Capital Management. He will tell his history in the next article, but once his business was stolen by the Russian government and his lawyer murdered in Russian prison the U.S. imposed sanctions:
“What made Russian officialdom so mad about the Magnitsky Act is that it was the first time that there was some kind of roadblock to getting stolen money to safety.
“The Magnitsky Act was the blueprint, in other words, for the big sanctions that came in 2014 (following Russian annexation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine).”
This is important, this helps us understand how we got here:
“In all of the drama over the Russian interference in America’s 2016 election, it’s easy to forget just how corrupt Russia is, and how much corruption and money flows still determine the official course of action. The Magnitsky Act so angered the Russians because it targeted what really mattered to them; it went after Russian elites’ raison d’être. It’s why Senator John McCain called it a “pro-Russia” law, and many in the Russian opposition agreed: it went after not the Russian people, but the elites who stole from them with brazen impunity. The law hit the mark so precisely and painfully that the elite lashed out fiercely enough to do what neither the Magnitsky Act nor the 2014 sanctions did: They targeted their own, most vulnerable citizens—as if they haven’t stolen from them enough.”
We are on the right side of Russiagate; the Russian involvement in the U.S. election was a clear act of retaliation and retribution. Anyone who says otherwise should know better – could know better should they care to – or has another agenda to defend Russia or undermine U.S. institutions or simply chooses another ‘flavor’ of news better suited to preconceptions.
This story in The Atlantic is Browder’s story submitted prior to his time with the Senate Judiciary committee on Thursday. It is an incredible story – that sadly is non-fiction. It is the story that led to the Magnitsky Act and the irate Russian oligarchs.
This is Trump’s greatest fear and the cause of his shit-storm antics this past week:
“A half-dozen experts contacted by USA TODAY said they expect Mueller and his team to pursue everything from Trump’s income tax returns to the bank records underlying his companies’ real estate transactions in a quest to identify people who have financial relationships with the President and his business and political associates.
“Mueller’s sweeping mandate means his investigators can get, or may already have, The Trump Organization’s phone records, e-mail and contracts, exposing sensitive records and long-secret details to eventual release as part of the public record of the investigation.
“Trump’s real-estate business in particular has relied on wealthy Russians and other foreigners, sometimes as buyers of condos in the company’s towers around the world and as investors or partners in the projects. Trump’s son, Donald, said at a 2008 real estate conference, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. … We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
What’s Trump to do? Hard to consider the news without seeing many theories on how Trump can find a path to firing Mueller and ending his investigation. First step, he’d probably have to get Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III out of the way first.
Lindsey Graham Warns: ‘There will be holy hell to pay’ if Trump fires Sessions
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) publicly drew a line in the sand for Trump. “If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay,” Graham told reporters, according to video taken by NBC News.
But he was not the only Republican to take a stand:
- Senator Grassley (R-IA, majority leader Senate Judiciary committee that would have to approve a nominee to replace Sessions) says his agenda is too full to look at a successor to Sessions.
- Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) to Trump: “If you’re thinking of making a recess appointment to push out the attorney general, forget about it.”
Donald Trump Eats First: Even prominent right-wing populists are beginning to worry that they invested their faith in an unstable leader.
The concerns with Trump are broad, Russiagate may wind him up, but his reckless flailing is causing broader concern:
Why is this important? Right-wing populists now see Trump’s willingness to betray his supporters – attacking Sessions has crossed a line in their eyes. How does this relate to Russiagate?
Trump will not survive Russiagate without the fervent support of his base – history shows this to be a political fight as much as a legal fight.
As The New York Times reports, first the Senate (98-2) and now the House (419-3) are forcing Trump’s hand. Congress has presented Trump with additional sanctions against Russia
“If I were giving advice to the president, which I’m not on this issue,” he began before offering some, “it’s just not a good way to start a presidency to veto something and then be soundly overridden.” (Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee)
“Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, was asked by the government-run news agency RIA to characterize Moscow’s view.
Congress wants a tougher line against Russia amidst concerns with Russian involvement in our election and increasing reports of Trump ties to Russia.
And sure enough, within hours Russia retaliates. This from The New York Times while The Washington Post offered commentary and analysis with the headline: “The Kremlin is done betting on Trump and planning how to strike back against U.S. sanctions”.
The ball is already back in Trump’s court – Congress forced his hand first, now how will he respond to Putin. Given what Putin may know, how will he respond?
Russiagate Leads To Bad Week For Trump
It will get worse.
The best single photo of the week would be Senator John McCain (R-AZ) standing directly in front of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY, Sen Majority Leader) to cast his ‘thumb-down’ vote as the deciding vote sinking the proposed ‘ACA skinny-repeal’ proposal. The Boy Scouts had to offer up an apology following Trump’s crude and highly partisan remarks at the Jamboree. Much like the Boy Scouts, the Suffolk County, Long Island police department offered a more correct message about rules and procedures after Trump seemed to promote police brutality.
Less noticed, Ivanka ‘Lawyered Up’, the latest Trumpster to do so. Jared Kushner spent two hours in a closed session with the Senate intelligence committee. Paul Manafort and Junior have reached agreements leading to their own hearings to be held in the near future. Junior adds another lawyer to the stable, also being paid for by the Trump campaign.
Rachel Maddow offered her list of resignations or firings with the Trump administration….
White House Communications Director
White House Press Secretary
National Security Adviser
Deputy National Security Adviser
2nd Deputy National Security Adviser
Office of Gov’t Ethics Director
Acting Attorney General
Deputy White House Chief of Staff
Vice President’s Chief of Staff
And shortly after she offered that list the White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, resigned.
The Republicans Are Bailing on Trump | The Resistance with Keith Olbermann
It will get worse as Trump feels more Russiagate pressure – and Keith Olbermann makes the case that Republicans are eyeing their own exit from supporting Trump as he “spirals out of control” and are looking for a way to climb down.
Worth repeating: Republicans are bailing on Trump.
“Everyone thinks he was whacked” – A quick note, yet another Russian dies on U.S. soil mirroring the trend for so many Russians that were killed in London.