By Dan Peak
Commoner Call (1/29/18)
Dear Fellow Readers,
What is the biggest news of the cycle? Where to begin? This is easier to decide if the question is what was the biggest category of news? The answer would be Trump-Russia corruption obstruction of American justice.
In addition, maybe we can cover other categories and news like confirmation of the U.S. intelligence services statements of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Maybe an update about new sanctions against Russia imposed by Congress and finally ready for enactment. Maybe we could cover the latest on House Intelligence chair Rep. Devin Nunes’s (R-CA) tin-hat attempt to deflect. Or an update about investigative progress like Mueller’s meeting with FaceBook or Trump senior adviseer Jared Kushner’s status with the Senate Intelligence Committee, or the Senate Judiciary Committee’s intent to release the transcript of their meeting with Donnie Jr.
Trump can hardly get through a day without regaling us with assurances of “no collusion with Russia” (repeated at least three times every time he opens his mouth) and lately, his interest in meeting with Mueller. Meanwhile, he is incredibly busy obstructing.
The GOP is complicit in leading attacks along with Trump’s propaganda machine, Sean Hannity and Fox News. Imagine how vicious Trump would be if he were asking questions of someone else’s Kompromat over Russian corruption in our 2016 election cycle.
With obstruction we have news of a Trump order to fire Special Counsel Mueller. We have Trump’s rants about firing Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who is responsible for the Trump-Russia investigation led by Mueller after Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III recused himself from Trump-Russia. Where to start…
Michael Schmidt broke this news on Thursday evening. Trump ordered the firing of Comey, White House Counsel Don McGahn refused and Trump considered firing Rosenstein.
“President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter, but ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive. …
“After receiving the president’s order to fire Mr. Mueller, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead, the people said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation.”
McGahn refused to act on Trump’s order and Trump backed down possibly saving the U.S. from a constitutional crisis. Even more so because:
“Another option that Mr. Trump considered in discussions with his advisers was dismissing the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, and elevating the Justice Department’s No. 3 official, Rachel Brand, to oversee Mr. Mueller. Mr. Rosenstein has overseen the investigation since March, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions .”
All of this is disclosed against a background of GOP complicit attacks on Mueller and the FBI as well as a potential meeting between Trump and Mueller.
““No, it doesn’t bother me because I hope that he’s going to be fair,” Mr. Trump said in response to a question about whether it bothered him that Mr. Mueller had not yet ended his investigation. “I think that he’s going to be fair.”
“Mr. Trump added: “There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair.””
As reported in The Washington Post, these revelations can be considered against another backdrop of Trump and others’ denials of any intent to fire Mueller: Trump Handling Of The Russia Investigation has Never Looked More Like A Coverup.
““I haven’t given it any thought,” he told reporters in New Jersey back in August, two months after he not only gave it thought, but decided to do it. “I’ve been reading about it from you people. You say, ‘Oh, I’m going to dismiss him.’ No, I’m not dismissing anybody.” Trump was joined in his denial by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who said around the same time that the White House of firing Mueller.”
McGahn’s motivation to refuse Trump and threaten to quit was because he was “fed up”.
Co-author Maggie Haberman of the New York Times explained why this has taken months to come out, “I’m a little surprised at how effective people in the White House were at lying to us…”
Questions to ponder? Who leaked the story to Schmidt and why now? Some pundits believe that while Trump agitates about a Mueller meeting the question of firing Mueller might indeed be back on the table.
Competing for most important news of the cycle is the disclosure of Dutch intelligence services with real-time ‘eyes-on’ Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee. With ‘eyes-on’ Trump entertained us with his comments about the 400-pound man on a mattress, “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? You don’t know who broke in to DNC.”
“In the Summer of 2015, Dutch intelligence services were the first to alert their American counterparts about the cyberintrusion of the Democratic National Committee by Cozy Bear, a hacking group believed to be tied to the Russian government. Intelligence hackers from Dutch AIVD (General Intelligence and Security Service) had penetrated the Cozy Bear computer servers as well as a security camera at the entrance of their working space, located in a university building adjacent to the Red Square in Moscow.
“Over the course of a few months, they saw how the Russians penetrated several U.S. institutions, including the State Department, the White House, and the DNC. On all these occasions, the Dutch alerted the U.S. intelligence services, Dutch tv programme Nieuwsuur and de Volkskrant, a prominent newspaper in The Netherlands, jointly report on Thursday. …
“Not only had Dutch intelligence penetrated the computer network of the hackers, they also managed to hack a security camera in the corridor. This allowed them to see exactly who entered the hacking room. Information about these individuals was shared with the US intelligence services.”
Dutch intelligence services alerted the U.S. Tragically, the Obama administration didn’t do enough to alert us. In addition, Trump would have received detail as part of the post-election transition if not during his campaign.
Another question – who was behind the disclosures that ultimately compromised the Dutch intelligence operation?
“As of now, the AIVD hackers do not seem to have access to Cozy Bear any longer. Sources suggest that the openness of US intelligence sources, who in 2017 praised the help of a Western ally in news stories, may have ruined their operation. The openness caused great anger in The Hague and Zoetermeer. In the television programme College Tour, this month, AIVD director Bertholee stated that he is extra careful when it comes to sharing intelligence with the U.S., now that Donald Trump is President.”
Trump has yet to take any action. Okay, that’s not entirely true, after taking offfice and when talking to Putin, who calls Trump “Donald”, Trump thanked Putin for “acknowledging America’s strong economic performance in his annual press conference.”
The long awaited new sanctions against Russia is finally in the news. Remember that Congress voted overwhelmingly to approve the sanctions in August 2017, then forwarding this act to the Trump administration for enactment.
We finally learn: Trump Admin Announces Fresh Russia Sanctions:
“The Trump administration announced new sanctions Friday related to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine, just days ahead of a congressionally mandated deadline for the implementation a separate, broad array of Russia-related sanctions.”
Note these are “separate” sanctions but there is action related to the August Congressional vote.
The latest deadline for the August 2017 sanctions against Russian influence in the election is today. Finally. The Financial Times reported: US Treasury To Profile Potential Targets For Russia Sanctions.
The Financial Times article is behind a pay wall:
“US companies that do business with Russia are braced for a Treasury report due out on Monday that will profile Kremlin-linked members of the Russian elite and assess the impact of potential new sanctions. …
“The report is legally mandated to list Russia’s “most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs” and to detail their closeness to President Vladimir Putin, as well as the estimated net worth of the people and their families.”
Putin and his Russians oligarchy buddies are not happy.
““All of my friends have all been approached multiple times,” said Daniel Fried, a former ambassador to Poland and official on the National Security Council, who is now a fellow at the Atlantic Council think-tank. He added that some were seeking consultants and offering to “pay handsomely” for advice in the hope of keeping their names off the list.”
If financial institutions are warned about Russian political figures and oligarchs it becomes a clear risk of doing business with these persons. A good analogy would be how travel to Cuba is increasingly open to U.S. citizens but you can’t access an ATM or use your credit card. U.S. banks have no guidance about how looser sanctions lessen their obligations to comply with US-Cuba sanctions.
A Russian oligarch does not want to be on this list. But if they are, there are still ways the Trump administration can comply with Congress but lessen the impact on Russians:
“Mr Fried said it would be a mistake for the Trump administration to keep the names classified because it would look as if the administration were “soft-pedalling”. A senior Senate staffer said lawmakers were advocating for “the most robust list possible” and wanted to see unsanctioned names among those published.”
After five long, nasty months, we could know more this week.
Here’s a wrap up with a few noteworthy news items.
O dear God, NO!
Trump loves to repeatedly ramble on about tell “no collusion, folks” and how much he looks forward to meeting with Mueller. But with all things in the distorted landscape of Trumpland, the truth may be different, as we just saw with the news about his order to fire Mueller. As The Daily Beast reported Sunday: Trump’s Friends And Advisers Are Terrified of What He Might Say to Mueller.
The subhead to the Daily Beast story fleshes out the well-rounded worry in Trumpland: There has been a drumbeat in the White House and on Fox News warning of the big-league risks the president would run.
Consider these warnings from Faux News pundits and Trump apologists Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro:
“The president absolutely should not sit down [with Mueller], he should not agree to do it,” Pirro implored.
Hannity noted that he admired that Trump wanted to sit down with Mueller. But, he cautioned, “it’s a trap.”
“That’s what the feds do,” Pirro added.
If Trump does not meet with Mueller it smacks of his 2017 admonishments to the Clinton campaign:
“If you are not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?”
Mewling Paulie Ryan and Tin Hat Devin ‘Devious’ Nunes
The epitome of Trump-Russia non-cooperation is GOP Rep. Nunes who is taken to task by his hometown newspaper being referred to as a “stooge”:
“[Nunes] certainly isn’t representing his Central Valley constituents or Californians, who care much more about health care, jobs and, yes, protecting Dreamers than about the latest conspiracy theory,” the editorial board wrote. “Instead, he’s doing dirty work for House Republican leaders trying to protect President Donald Trump in the Russia investigation.”
But if Nunes, shouldn’t we bring the same message home for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI; House Speaker)? After all, as Speaker of the House, Nunes cannot operate without Ryan complicity: Paul Ryan Is the Silent Partner in Trump’s War on the Rule of Law.
Ryan is reluctant to criticize Trump. When asked about Trump’s intent to cooperate with Mueller, Ryan stood boldly and purred, “I’ll defer to the White House on all those questions. This pertains to them, not this branch.”
But with Nunes threatening to make public a tin-hat Trump deflection to impugne the reputation of the FBI:
“And now, Trump and his allies are circulating absurd lies about the Department of Justice in order to enable the administration to avoid any accountability to the rule of law. The heart of this campaign is the chamber Ryan controls. It is not only or even primarily Devin Nunes, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, and Fox & Friends that are marching into the fever swamps. The invisible man at front of the march is Paul Ryan.”
Trump-Russia corruption. Trump, against a backdrop of knowing of Dutch intelligence ‘eyes-on’ reporting of Russian hacking, obstructs. Obstruction is only one line of investigation, but it is looking like a real risk to Trump, to name a few:
- Trump demands loyalty from then FBI Director James Comey.
- Trump fires acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
- Trump pressures Sessions to not recuse himself.
- Trump asks Comey to drop the Flynn probe.
- Trump fires Comey.
- Trump pressures NSA Director Rogers and Director National Intelligence Coats to refute the FBI investigation.
- Trump commands McGahn to fire Mueller.
And the beat goes on. Do you really think Trump looks forward to meeting Mueller?
(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free to use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )