By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (2/12/18)
Dear Fellow Readers,
There are two threads that warrant attention for this edition of the Russia Monitor. There is a flurry of mixed news related to:
1) The court of public opinion or possible prosecution routes forward for Trump-Russia corruption, which we’ll come to second. We’ll begin with 2) a more complex story showing how challenging it is to prove Trump-Russia corruption specifics.
Life would be easier if there was a group photo taken at Donnie Trump Jr.’s June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians holding up a hand-written, signed agreement saying Putin would help Trump if Trump promised to relax U.S. sanctions against Russia when elected.
It will never be that easy, but with a thank-you to a Commoner Call reader, here’s an invitation to a simple and clear chronological view: Trump-Russia Isn’t About the Cover-Up. It’s About the Crime.
The article’s subhead clarifies the situation: In Watergate, it was the cover-up, not the crime. But in Russiagate, that stands to be turned on its head. We already know a lot—and we can be sure Mueller knows more.
The challenge – if Mueller’s Trump-Russia charge is obstruction, even if Democrats regained control of Congress Republicans will demand proof of an underlying crime.
“In the Russia scandal, special counsel Robert Mueller has credible proof of obstruction of justice—i.e., the cover-up. But in a highly politicized climate, where “memos” and insults are weapons of distraction, that won’t likely be enough. Even if Democrats take control of Congress in November, most Republicans—like most juries in run-of-the-mill criminal cases—will demand significant evidence of an underlying crime as a motive for the obstruction before turning on President Trump, much less voting in the Senate to remove him from office.
“While Mueller and his team don’t leak, signs that such evidence exists are clear from news reports, which contain only a tiny portion of what the special counsel’s office possesses. The fragmentary and often disconnected nature of those reports obscures the reasonable supposition that Mueller is well on his way to detailing conspiracy, wire fraud, illegal foreign campaign contributions, or all three. …”
After building a compelling case against Trump and his various associates, the article offers a conclusion – that Mueller has a strong case for prosecution.
“Even without knowing any of what Mueller has learned from the many witnesses he has secretly brought before the grand jury, this timeline—and the jury instructions that would accompany it at trial— already offer a strong road map for prosecutors. The conspiracy charges that arise from it will likely send some of Trump’s friends and relatives to jail. And they won’t look so good for the president, either, if presented next year at his impeachment trial in the Senate.”
Quid, Pro, Junior…
But what the heck, let’s consider the remark above, “signs the evidence exists” and delve into a more complex example: Oligarch Met With Top Russian Official After Trump Aide ‘offered briefings’.
Russian activist Alexei Navalny has brought forward a video of a meeting between an oligarch and Sergei Prikhodko, Russian deputy prime minister. The video offers evidence of a quid pro quo between the Trump campaign and Putin – Trump-Russia corruption. If you’re not familiar with Navalny you’ll easily find much about him but that is beyond our scope.
The route to get to quid pro quo is not the simple Donnie Jr. handwritten meeting note, nor should we expect it to be. The connections are: Candidate Trump, indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, Trump associate Konstantin Kilimnik, oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko, Vladimir Putin.
Oligarch Oleg Deripaska, has a long relationship with Paul Manafort. Manafort’s offer through Kilimnik was for “private briefings” about the Trump campaign. By the time this Washington Post article came out Manafort had already resigned based on allegations of under-the-table payments of $12.7 million paid to Manafort by pro-Russian Ukraine president Yanukovych.
As the Washington Post had detailed, here are many Deripaska links to Putin:
“An aluminum magnate who survived the gangster capitalism of the 1990s and the financial crisis of 2008, Oleg Deripaska is a shrewd self-made billionaire who has managed to stay on the right side of power, whether by marrying into “the family” of Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, or by making himself indispensable to its current one, Vladimir Putin.”
The dominoes are named: Trump-Manafort–Kilimnik–Deripaska–Prikhodko-Putin – bringing us to what happened between Deripaska and Prikhodko on Deripaska’s yacht off the coast of Norway. The meeting occurred soon after Manfort’s offer for briefings to “solve the issue with America”:
“The oligarch is seen talking to a man who appears to be Mr Prikhodko in videos published in June on the Instagram account of Nastya Rybka, a model who has posted videos of herself embracing the aluminium tycoon. A caption said the two men were trying to “solve the issue with America”. …
“She transcribed the conversation from her video, naming the interlocutors as “Ruslan” and “Papa”. The meeting was so secret, Papa was taken off the yacht mid-voyage since “he couldn’t even go onshore with Ruslan,” she wrote.”
Here’s a more thoughtful article from Mother Jones on the Deripaska-Prikhodko meeting. (Ruslan was a pseudonym Deripaska used for Prikhodko.): Russian Activist Alleges New Link Between The Kremlin And Paul Manafort.
“Navalny’s video, produced in the style of a late-night news show, features a recording made by Rybka when she was with Deripaska on his yacht sailing off the coast of Norway. Her video includes photos of Deripaska sitting next to a man who looks very much like Prikhodko, and it includes audio of Deripaska saying the following to Rybka: “We’ve got bad relations with America. Why? Because the friend of Sergey Eduardovich, Nuland is her name, is responsible for them. When she was young, she spent a month on a Russian whaling boat, and after this, she hates the country.”
““Sergey Eduardovich” is a term of respect for Prikhodko, made from his first name and patronym. “Nuland” refers to Victoria Nuland, Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.
“Navalny, drawing on flight logs, yacht-docking records, photos from Rybka’s Instagram account, and excerpts from her memoir describing time on a boat with a pseudonymous billionaire lover, suggests that Prikhodko spent several days on a Norwegian fishing trip with Deripaska and Rybka in August 2016.”
Candidate Trump, indicted former Trump campaign manger Paul Manafort, Manafort associate and Russian intelligence Konstantin Kilimnik, Kremlin-tied oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko, Vladimir Putin – solving the “issue with America”.
Nuland is Victoria Nuland, the top State Department official overseeing U.S. policy toward Russia in the Obama administration. Nuland rang the Trump-Russia corruption alarm during the election and remains critical of President Obama’s response. The following article from Politico is interesting: ‘The Hairs Really Went Up on the Back of Our Necks’.
“I think when we first rung the alarm bell inside the administration, in the spring of 2016, that we needed to better understand what the Russians were up to in our electoral system,” Nuland said. “I don’t think that anybody necessarily thought that they were going to try to put their finger on the scale for one candidate versus another, but simply that they were going to try to discredit the democratic process, and they were going to try to show that it was dirty and not as clean as we’d maintained, as a way of legitimizing their own less-than-perfect electoral system, and creating moral equivalency.”
It’s not only that Deripaska is linked to Manafort: Newly Discovered Evidence Suggests Oleg Deripaska May Own Part Of Trump’s Chosen Moscow Developer.
The article’s subhead gives a good summary of where the article is going: Deripaska’s offshore manager revealed as the sole shareholder of a company that owns part of Trump’s Moscow developer.
Classic organized crime:
“Newly discovered financial documents and ownership history records suggest that the Kremlin-connected oligarch Oleg Deripaska may own part of the development company with which Donald Trump signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) in late 2015 to build Trump Tower Moscow.”
Wisconsin’s own Sen. RoJo takes a swan dive into the deep end
The news seems tame by comparison but there are some noteworthy reports of progress, risk and foolishness; starting with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI): Senator’s Fake News On FBI Texts Risks His Reputation And The Republican Cause.
The USA Today subhead had some surprisingly appropriate advice for Wisconsin’s junior senator: Does Ron Johnson want to end up in the flaming wreckage like other Trump defenders? Time to halt his personal news service and chill with a smoothie.
USA Today cites a low standard of journalism with Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” and compares this to Sen. Johnson:
“This questionable sourcing technique is not unknown in the halls of Congress. One new practitioner is Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who last month said an informant told him about meetings of an among FBI agents. Johnson considered this evidence of anti-Trump bias within the FBI and called it “corruption at the highest levels of the FBI.””
Johnson eventually walked back his accusations, saying he was just “connecting the dots there” and allowing for how the secret society “could be a joke”. But like Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Johnson was at it again:
“One would think a public about-face of this sort would cause some reflection within the Ron Johnson News Service. Yet, undeterred, Johnson and his GOP majority this week released a asking questions about the FBI’s investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails while using, at best, out-of-context evidence.”
Nunes gave Sean Hannity a memo to wave on FOX News so Trump could declare his vindication; Johnson’s second inane defense had Trump tweeting, “NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!”.
To which USA Today concluded:
“Unfortunately, these “scoops” circulated by Johnson don’t even match the basic guidelines for reporting. Someone needs to keep the Strzok-Page texts away from Johnson, so we don’t face a constitutional crisis over the couple arguing in texts about whether to dine that evening at Chili’s or Applebee’s.”
The content doesn’t matter, it’s a staged event for Trump self-vindication.
While some polls show a erosion in confidence with the FBI, The Hill reports there is faith in Mueller: Poll: Majority say Mueller’s Russia Probe Is Fair.
“The poll, released Friday, finds that just more than half of those surveyed, 53 percent, say that the special counsel probe is a “fair” investigation into Trump’s campaign, while 28 percent say it is “unfair.” This marks an increase from 48 percent who said the investigation was “fair” in the same poll last month.”
Public opinion is only one line of Trump attack on the investigation of Trump-Russia corruption. The Department of Justice Number three in command made an announcement: Rachel Brand Will Resign From The DOJ. That Could Be Bad News For Mueller.
And as the subhead noted: Trump could replace her with someone who won’t mind firing Mueller.
Another risk to the investigation of Trump-Russia corruption:
“But if Trump were to fire Rosenstein, or if he were to recuse himself from the investigation or quit outright, the responsibility for overseeing the probe would go to the next in line: Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand.”
This signals added risk to Rosenstein and Mueller and the entire investigation of Trump-Russia corruption.
Even more news in Trump’s battle for public opinion: Trump Won’t Release Democratic Memo, Sends Back To Committee.
The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to release the Democratic response to Chairman Nunes’s inane memo but in spite of this:
There is also important updates about voting vulnerability: Voting-Roll Vulnerability.
In the last edition of the Russia Monitor we reported that not only had Russians hacked voter registration rolls for 21 states, we cited that “Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states prior to the 2016 presidential election”. Now we learn:
“For as little as a few thousand dollars, online attackers can purchase enough personal information to perhaps alter voter registration information in as many as 35 states and the District of Columbia, according to a .”
Feeling concerned yet?
“For just $1,002, an attacker could purchase two data sets — one believed to have come from a massive data breach of the credit bureau Experian — with the names, addresses, birthdates, gender, and Social Security numbers of most adult Americans.
“Armed with that information, Sweeney, Yoo, and Zang found, attackers could theoretically access and alter the voting information of many individuals. In some states, they found, it would cost a mere $1 to change 1 percent of voter records, while the median cost was just $41.”
We are guaranteed to learn firsthand more about Russian hacking of U.S. voter rolls.
New details fill in the Trump-Russia story. Trump rages and fiddles and does nothing while election risk is a clear and present danger.