“Remember, we have elections coming up next year. The uniform view of US intelligence is unambiguous, and if you don’t view it as an existential threat then you’re willing, I think, to sacrifice democracy.”
– Steven Harper, Moyers & Company
By Dan Peaks
The Commoner Call (12/1/17)
Dear Fellow Readers,
The good news – virtually every Trump-Russia collusion poll you can find reports two-thirds of Americans believe this is serious and want a full investigation. If we assume a good part of the remaining one-third are Trump voters who still give Trump overwhelming support, who else might see democracy-at-risk as a non-issue? How is a need-to-know irresponsible or distracting? Isn’t it exactly the opposite – irresponsible to avoid, deflect or ignore?
In the last edition of the Russia Monitor we offered Steven Harper’s observation that most “insidious” aspect f Trump-Russia is “the willingness of the congressional GOP to be complicit in all of this.” Isn’t it most responsible to get the answers, fix the problem(s) if any, then move forward?
One would hope. But when it comes to expecting Republicans to put country over party one would hope in vain.
Context – One Report Can Be Dismissed, Many Reports Confirm Guilt
The last edition of the Russia Monitor raised a challenge of reporting Trump-Russia news in context – tying news reports together to better assess and present significance and broad arcs and themes. Let’s try this with the latest news of Donnie Trump Jr.’s confirmed communications with WikiLeaks.
On November 13, 2017 Donnie Jr. was confronted with reports that he communicated with WikiLeaks, to which Junior barked back: ‘Keep coming at me guys!!!’: Donald Trump Jr. Meets Russia Scrutiny With Defiance.
As simple as this may sound, there is a great deal more to this latest Donnie Jr. Trump-Russia news; much, much more than Junior wants to admit.
Before we consider Donnie Jr.’s defiance, let’s note the original reporting of the news from November 13, in which he was accused of communicating directly with WikiLeaks through Twitter. Maybe the most damning communication fromWikiLeaks to Donnie Jr. was this:
“WikiLeaks didn’t write again until Election Day, November 8, 2016. “Hi Don if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred—as he has implied that he might do,” WikiLeaks wrote at 6:35pm, when the idea that Clinton would win was still the prevailing conventional wisdom. (As late as 7:00pm that night, FiveThirtyEight, a trusted prognosticator of the election, Clinton a 71 percent chance of winning the presidency.) WikiLeaks insisted that contesting the election results would be good for Trump’s rumored plans to start a media network should he lose the presidency. “The discussion can be transformative as it exposes media corruption, primary corruption, PAC corruption, etc.,” WikiLeaks wrote.”
WikiLeaks was inviting an ongoing relationship beyond the election jointly committed to further disruption of U.S. institutions and democracy.
Donnie Jr. offered many different lines of defense. Jr.’s lawyer, Alan Futerfas, said, “All sides… were monitoring WikiLeaks”. Monitoring is not the same as communicating, but otherwise doesn’t this sound much like Trump Sr.’s “violence on many sides” in reference to right wing violence in Charlottesville? Futerfas also said the exchanges were innocuous, but that message is not innocuous.
It’s a digression, but worth pointing out that Vice President Pence was once again out of the loop:
“During the campaign, Vice President Pence said the Trump team had nothing to do with WikiLeaks. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Pence told Fox News on October 12 when asked if the campaign was “in cahoots” with the group.”
“Alyssa Farah, a Pence spokesman, said Monday that he was “never aware of anyone associated with the campaign being in contact with WikiLeaks.”
Donnie Jr. released his records of the exchanges with WikiLeaks and further defended himself by pointing out that he had not always responded. If that’s all we knew, maybe that would be enough – we could conclude that Junior was again innocent of collusion; just another incriminating person/group reaching out to him and him being polite and considerate. But even Donnie Jr. would agree we’re past “no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity” as Trump likes to tout
The last edition of Russia Monitor had Stephen Harper of Moyers Group observing that circumstantial evidence is important in the court of law, “There are lots of people sitting in jail who were convicted on circumstantial evidence.” If Harper is correct, this evidence of communication between WikiLeaks and Donnie Jr. will be very important:
“More than a week later, on Oct. 12, the account replied with a suggestion:
““Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications,” WikiLeaks wrote. “Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us.” The message included a link to search documents that had been hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
“Trump Jr. did not answer. Fifteen minutes later, his father tweeted to his millions of followers: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!””
Donnie Jr.’s defense has evolved. Back to The Washington Post headline about defiance and “keep coming at me guys”:
“In public appearances and on Twitter, Trump Jr. has taken an increasingly caustic tone, mocking critics and shoving himself into the scrum of the country’s most polarizing debates.”
This line of defense has it’s fans:
““He’s very smart to be in the spotlight,” said Charlie Kirk, a friend and the founder of the conservative college and high school group Turning Point USA. “Would they stop the investigation if he stopped tweeting? He’s in a situation where either you defend yourself, reassure the base, reassure the supporters, or stay silent. And if you’re totally silent, it only increases suspicion.”
“The Trump base is with him, Kirk added: “Most people can’t even keep up with this stuff, anyway.””
So Donnie Jr. wants us to believe what he says, even as the victim, “keep coming at me guys”.
But it wasn’t just Junior communicating through Twitter; if not coordinating; if not colluding. It wasn’t just Pence being out of the loop again. There are more Trump associates in the loop with WikiLeaks communication; starting with Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner: Senate Judiciary Panel: Kushner Had Contacts About WikiLeaks, Russian Overtures He Did Not Disclose.
“President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner received and forwarded emails about WikiLeaks and a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” that he kept from Senate Judiciary Committee investigators, according to panel leaders demanding that he produce the missing records.”
So Kushner is in more hot water for being made aware, and further making another campaign official (campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks) aware, of WikiLeaks communication and his failure to disclose.
Trump-Russia and WikiLeaks communication includes: Donnie Jr., Kushner but not Pence. But let’s not forget long time Trump associate Roger Stone who has already cooperated with the House Intelligence Committee regarding his own communications with WikiLeaks: House: Roger Stone ‘complied’ With House Investigators On Identity Of Wikileaks Contact.
It doesn’t end there. Rebekah Mercer (mega Trump donor; owner Breitbart News; owner Cambridge Analytica, Trump campaign data resource) directed the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign data research organization, to coordinate with WikiLeaks (confirmed by Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix):
“Rebekah Mercer, a major donor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, reportedly asked Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix in August 2016 whether the company could help organize Hillary Clinton-related emails being released by WikiLeaks.”
We start with a news report from Mother Jones on November 13 saying Donnie Jr. was communicating with WikiLeaks. Donnie Jr. eventually discloses the direct tweets and tries to shut the book on this issue. Remember in July 2017 there were a series of articles by The New York Times breaking the story of Junior’s June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians offering “dirt on Clinton”. After a series of disclosures by The New York Times and a call to Donnie Jr., Junior released his emails about setting up the June meeting – this after much drama and denial.
It seems prudent to ask if there could be even ‘more’ after Junior discloses the direct tweets between himself and WikiLeaks. And of course, as reported in Mother Jones on Monday, there is more – there is always more: Donald Trump Jr. Wondered If “Weird Twitter” From WikiLeaks Was Real.
“Donald Trump Jr. seemed flummoxed by a he from the WikiLeaks Twitter account on September 20, 2016. After the group contacted him, Trump emailed several senior Trump campaign officials to say he had received “a weird twitter,” according to a person familiar with the email. “Not sure if this is anything,” Trump Jr. wrote in the message, which has not previously been reported.”
Junior seemed to come to terms with his concerns about the initial contact by WikiLeaks with his email to Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale (campaign digital media director) and Kushner.
“The disclosure of Junior’s correspondence with WikiLeaks has caused particular complications for Kushner, who in July the Senate and House intelligence committees that he did not know of contacts between the Trump campaign and the group. Kushner, however, not only received Junior’s email mentioning contact with the group but forwarded it to , the campaign’s spokeswoman.”
What Are The Trump-Russia Collusion Donnie Jr. WikiLeaks Take-Aways?
There is no better way to summarize than the Steven Harper quote from the last edition of the Russia Monitor:
“Everything the Trump campaign told you about the connections between Trump and Russia was a lie.”
Trump has told us so many times, “no communication with Russia”. This IS communication between the Trump campaign and an agent of Russia.
Through the acidic fog of lies and and the oily gumbo of distortions, we finally see Donnie Jr.’s communication as evidence of coordination, even collusion. We are seeing yet another example of collusion, similar to the June 2016 Trump Tower “I love it” meeting with Russians.
Trump supporters may be right, “people can’t keep up with this stuff anyway”.
It’s not just Donnie Jr., it’s Kushner. It’s not just Kushner, it’s Roger Stone, Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, Rebekah Mercer, Alexander Nix, Steve Bannon – but apparently not the ever conveniently obtuse and uninformed Mike Pence.
“There’s a core strand running through it that I call the “follow the money” strand.”
– Steven Harper, Moyers & Company
Trump-Russia, The Bag Men and The Russian Oligarchs
Most of us have seen headlines of the November 15, 2017 Christie’s auction of a Leonardo da Vinci painting for a record $450.3 million. The previous owner, who made over $300 million on the sale, is Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.
It was Rybolovlev that bought Trump’s Palm Beach property for $95 million in 2008. In a down real estate market, that was still over a $50 million gain for Trump. As Christopher Steele (former MI6; Steele dossier author) cautioned us with Trump property sales, “the difference is what’s important”.
““If someone is paying $90-something-million, more than anyone else has ever paid for a private residence, one would think they might look around and do a little due diligence, or even have an inspection,” Newman said.”
Rybolovlev never set foot on his pricy property and the house was eventually demolished and the property divided into three lots, one of which sold recently – nine years later.
Rybolovlev bought the Trump property in 2008. At that point the fertilizer magnate was worth $12.8 billion (Forbes). His extensive art collection was not his only indulgence; there was also his $60 million yacht, and his purchase of the AS Monaco soccer club (2011). His daughter Katia bought an apartment overlooking Central Park for $88 million, a record for New York at the time. But according to the Steele dossier, 2008 was also “around the time that the Kremlin and the Trump campaign began what the dossier called a “regular exchange” of information”.
Back to the Palm Beach Post article:
“In addition to the mansion intrigue, Rybolovlev and Trump recently have drawn attention in another peculiar way.
“Federal Aviation Administration records reviewed by The Palm Beach Post and other news outlets have tracked Rybolovlev’s private plane to cities where Trump has traveled, both during his campaign and into his presidency.
“In October, for example, Rybolovlev’s plane touched down for an hour in Las Vegas just 37 minutes after Trump’s plane had departed, flight data shows.*
“A month later, FAA records show Rybolovlev’s plane, an Airbus 319, also landed in Charlotte, N.C., 90 minutes before Trump’s plane arrived. Trump was scheduled to host a campaign event there that day — Nov. 3 — five days before the presidential election.
“The latest juxtaposition of Trump’s and Rybolovlev’s aircraft occurred last month, the weekend of Feb. 10-12, when the oligarch’s plane landed at Miami International Airport while Trump was at Mar-a-Lago entertaining Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.”
According to Luke Harding’s book ‘Collusion’, there were more peculiar overlaps. On November 3, 2017 Rybolovlev’s Airbus A319 M-KATE landed around 2:00 PM. “Some twenty minutes later another private jet came in to land. This one wasn’t bashful about its proprietor. Giant letters behind the cockpit screamed out a familiar name: TRUMP.” The observer was Anna-Catherine Sendgikoski who took pictures and posted them on Twitter.
There was more: “Investigative reporters would spend hours combing through flight records…M-KATE’s hyperactive flight schedule…Rybolovlev’s jet made seven trips to New York, for several days each, usually at a time when the candidate was there…flew twice to Miami when Trump was at Mar-a-Lago… seven trips to Moscow, mostly preceding or following flights to Florida or New York.”
Trump and Rybolovlev in the same place at the same time – so many coincidences.
Michelle Goldberg references articles published by The Washington Post and The New York Times about the efforts of felon and long-time Trump business partner Felix Sater and long-time Trump business associate Michael Cohen to close a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow, even as Trump was running for president. Goldberg noted:
“…until I read Luke Harding’s new book, “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.” One uncanny aspect of the investigations into Trump’s Russia connections is that instead of too little evidence there’s too much. It’s impossible to keep it straight without the kind of chaotic wall charts that Carrie Mathison of “Homeland” assembled during her manic episodes. Incidents that would be major scandals in a normal administration — like the mere fact of Trump’s connection to Sater — become minor subplots in this one.”
“That’s why “Collusion” is so essential, and why I wish everyone who is skeptical that Russia has leverage over Trump would read it….”
Harding pulls Michael Cohen into the center of the controversy by noting, “The Steele dossier alleged that Cohen played the role of secret intermediary.”
Before we leave Goldberg’s article, let’s take note of a reference she makes, and we did cover the article in the last edition of the Russia Monitor:
“Last week, that many Russian critics of Putin deplore America’s fixation on Moscow’s role in the election, since it reinforces Putin’s image of himself as an “ever-victorious master strategist” controlling world affairs. The article quoted Ivan Kurilla, a Russian historian and America expert: “American liberals are so upset about Trump that they cannot believe he is a real product of American life. They try to portray him as something created by Russia.”
“As one of those American liberals, I don’t think this is quite right. Trump, the gaudy huckster who treats closing a sale as the height of human endeavor, is a quintessentially American figure. His campaign of racial and religious grievance drew on the darkest currents of American history. At most, Putin appears to have recognized an opportunity that American political dysfunction created.
“It’s a sign of how deep that dysfunction goes that the substantial evidence that the president is not a patriot hasn’t caused more of a political earthquake.”
Russian Oligarch and Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross
Goldberg says “uncanny”; does all this still seem merely uncanny? With Rybolovlev, let’s remember his uncanny ties to Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s investment in Bank of Cyprus – a bank fined for laundering Russian money, a bank used by Paul Manafort to launder money. Both Rybolovlev and Ross were investors – Ross resigned from the bank in 2017 to become Trump’s Commerce Secretary.
Trump-Russia – So Many Coincidences!
Congress passed new sanctions against Russia in August and Trump’s White House and State Department have repeatedly missed deadlines for enactment: New U.S. Sanctions Against Russia.
The sanctions could have had a significant negative impact on Russian oligarchs:
“It is the personal sanctions that worry the Russian elite most. CAATSA allows “secondary sanctions”, meaning that American officials can go after anyone, in any country, with significant business dealings with the so-called “specially designated nationals” (SDNs) who are already under sanctions—such as Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, the state oil firm, and Gennady Timchenko, an oligarch with interests in transport and energy. Depending on how CAATSA is implemented, this could make some of Mr Putin’s closest allies and cronies as toxic as other SDNs in Hizbullah, Iran or North Korea. A Chinese energy firm or a Western consultant dealing with any of the Russian SDNs could be affected. “This is absolutely nuclear,” says a Russian official. “It goes beyond anything we had during the cold war.””
That said, there is still no definition of timing for implementation of responsibility for oversight. Trump-Russia and a series of uncanny delays with sanctions that would punish Putin’s oligarchs.