By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (3/1/18)
Dear Fellow Readers,
In a busy news cycle, the nod for most significant story goes to head of U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency Admiral Michael Rogers. Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner made a good (bad) case for himself, but priority of risk over noise of failure wins out.
Rogers’ comment are a stunning indictment of Trump’s lack of leadership: Cyber Chief Says Trump Has Given Him No New Authority To Strike At Russian Interference Threat.
In a damning portrait of Trump’s abject failure and dereliction of duty. Only the president can grant Rogers the authority to respond. Trump has given Rogers no new authority and Russia is free to continue to interfere in our elections.
“The head of U.S. Cyber Command warned lawmakers that penalties and other measures have not “changed the calculus or the behavior” of Russia as it seeks to interfere with this year’s midterm elections.
““We’re taking steps, but we’re probably not doing enough,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who also directs the National Security Agency, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added, “has clearly come to the conclusion that ‘there’s little price to pay here and therefore I can continue this activity.’ ”
““If we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue,” Rogers said.
“He said that President Trump has given him no new authorities or capabilities to strike at Russian cyber-operations ahead of the midterms…”
The risk to U.S. elections is made even more clear with a clarification from NBC News “that state websites or voter registration systems in seven states were compromised by Russian-backed covert operatives prior to the 2016 election”. Contradicting the bland assurances of Wisconsin authorities of Russian efforts being the equivalent of “trying the doorknob”.
Sanders is clever – at our expense.
You can hear the audio of Rogers’s testimony here.
The patsy ‘Clown Prince’
Meanwhile Kushner is all over the news in very bad ways for us and for him. On Tuesday The Washington Post broke a blockbuster story that should worry every American: Kushner’s Overseas Contacts Raise Concerns As Foreign Officials Seek Leverage.
U.S. intelligence reports reveal that Kushner is viewed as an easy target for manipulation by four different critical countries:
“Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.
“Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.”
In a follow-up piece on Wednesday, The Washington Post offered this:
“But beyond that head-turning revelations are a couple of sections worth emphasizing.
“The first is about Kushner’s failures to run foreign contacts through official channels.”
Rememberit was Kushner who sought to set up secret back-channel communications with Russia, even asking to use Russian facilities. While foreign officials seek to work through Kushner, the article reminds us that while it’s possibly a perception that Kushner wields the power there is also:
“A less-innocent possibility is that it was because they thought he was someone they could leverage — either via his inexperience or his financial situation. Those finances have been a focus of the Mueller investigation, including a meeting during the transition period with a Kremlin-allied Russian banker. The Kushner family bought 666 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan in 2007 for $1.8 billion, and $1.2 billion in debt is due in less than a year. It has sought investors for a redevelopment plan but has not found any.”
You can pick your flavor of how you’d like to consider the Kushner problem, conservative campaign veteran Rick Wilson, writing for Daily Beast refers to Kushner as the “Clown Prince” while offering that “it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy”. Wilson does agree that filling out your SF-86 form when seeking government security clearance is tough:
“It’s even harder when you’re a corrupt, entitled snake who repeatedly lies about your finances to federal investigators and serves as a living, breathing poster child for privileged venality. It’s even harder when you’ve rather clumsily attempted to use both your familial relationship and proximity to the president of the United States to save your family’s failing real-estate empire.”
Wilson offers this view of the Kushner risk – “whispers in foreign capitals…American intelligence listening”:
“It wasn’t just that Kushner omitted tens of millions of dollars of investments from his SF-86 and was forced to revise again and again and again, or that his listing of foreign contacts and engagements was glaringly insufficient. It’s that he lied and omitted information in a way that was painfully obvious to the FBI and government officials examining his qualifications for the most elevated intelligence clearances. Then, the whispers in foreign capitals started; Kushner, they whispered, is for sale. American intelligence was listening. …
“The almost certain knowledge that Robert Mueller isn’t done with Jared by a long stretch doesn’t make it any easier for Trump, even as the red flags thrown up by Rod Rosenstein over the president’s son-in-law and very special adviser were one more sign of the urgency of closing up the leakiest, riskiest White House in history. The best part of this trap is that Trump (R-Oppositional Defiant Disorder) will be tempted to do the one thing that will make his political situation more politically tenuous and legally risky by restoring Jared’s clearances. It’s within his rights as the president, but he would be dumber than a sack of hammers to do so. A smart president would have already told Jared to pack up and get the hell out, but… oh, who are we kidding?”
Remember, The New Yorker already highlighted Jared as a U.S. risk in dealing with the Chinese. And Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff predicts Trump and Jared will throw each other under the bus. Esquire offers a very well done review of the many facets of risk and Jared’s business conduct here. There’s enough there to make Rick Wilson’s, “corrupt, entitled snake” reference seem understated by far; Kushner is the Chinese “lucky star” according to The New Yorker.
But as Bloomberg reported, even that wasn’t the end of Kushner’s very bad, horrible, rotten, sucky day: Regulator Seeks Kushner Loan Details From Deutsche Bank, Two Others.
White House Chief of Staff Kelly is clipping Jared’s wings, finally. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been circling around Kushner and his business dealings. But we also have:
“New York’s banking regulator has asked Deutsche Bank AG and a pair of local lenders to provide information about their relationships with Jared Kushner, his family and the Kushner Cos., according to people familiar with the matter.
“The state’s Department of Financial Services sent letters to Deutsche Bank, Signature Bank and New York Community Bank last week, said one of the people, who described the letter. Seeking a response by March 5, the DFS asked about the banks’ relationships with Kushner and his business properties, as well as documents and communications about certain loan requests.”
Russpublicans go on defense
Republicans meanwhile try to wall off Trump from any questions of Trump’s business dealings. As CNN reported, Jared may be on his own, but with Trump it’s another matter: In Russia Probes, Republicans Draw Red Line At Trump’s Finances.“Top Republicans on Capitol Hill have made a concerted decision in their Russia inquiries: They are staying away from digging into the finances of President Donald Trump and his family.
“Six Republican leaders of key committees told CNN they see little reason to pursue those lines of inquiry or made no commitments to do so — even as Democrats say determining whether there was a financial link between Trump, his family, his business and Russians is essential to understanding whether there was any collusion in the 2016 elections.
“Republicans have resisted calls to issue subpoenas for bank records, seeking Trump’s tax returns or sending letters to witnesses to determine whether there were any Trump financial links to Russian actors — calling the push nothing more than a Democratic fishing expedition.”
What, pray tell, could Trump’s business dealings prior to the election possibly have to do with Russian interference in the election to benefit Trump?
If the Russia Monitor could give awards to best attempts to see no, hear no Kompromat, Rep. Mike Conway (R-TX) would get an award:
“I don’t see the link at this stage,” Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican leading the House Russia investigation, told CNN. “Deutsche Bank is a German bank — I don’t see the nexus.”
Asked about exploring Russian-Trump business transactions, Conaway was not moved. “I bet every big bank has a Russian customer somewhere,” he said.
Either this is GOP complicity or Conaway is not fit for his job. Maybe both? Probably.
I doubt even the New York Bank Regulators could help him understand. Maybe a better example, HSBC, a Shanghai bank, was fined $1 billion for banking narcos in Mexico, maybe they should ask Conaway for a do-over? Remember, Conaway is the House Intelligence member that took over for House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) after he recused himself for Trump-Russia.
The good news is that the Trump-Russia investigation does not depend on Conaway and Mueller is walking right over the GOP’s complicit red line: Mueller Team Asks About Trump’s Russian Business Dealings As He Weighed A Run For President.
“Investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller have recently been asking witnesses about Donald Trump’s business activities in Russia prior to the 2016 presidential campaign as he considered a run for president, according to three people familiar with the matter.
“So Mueller is possibly looking back to Trump’s conduct with Russians as early as 2013.”
Is there any more bad news for Trump?
Good news. Bad news.
Former Trump deputy campaign chair Rick Gates only last week filed a guilty plea in federal court based on charges brought by Mueller. Things have changed: Mueller Moves To Dismiss Charges Against Gates.
This seems like understatement, especially given the smiling pictures of Gates:
“Mueller’s decision to drop the more expansive charges against Gates suggests that he may have provided good information for Mueller’s probe. Gates still faces an advisory sentence of 57 to 71 months under his guilty plea, per Bloomberg, but it’s worth noting that the “prosecution can request a shorter sentence but isn’t required to do so.””
Former campaign chair Paul Manafort entered a “not guilty” plea and should go to trial in September for similar charges. It’s a safe bet that Trump and Manafort are worried about how well Mueller and Gates are now getting along.
Kushner and Trump got most of the well earned and much deserved attention in the last few days, but as reported in The Atlantic, long-time Trump pal Roger Stone managed to garner some attention for his role in the 2016 election: Roger Stone’s Secret Messages With WikiLeaks.
“Private Twitter messages obtained by The Atlantic show that Stone and WikiLeaks, a radical-transparency group, communicated directly on October 13, 2016—and that WikiLeaks sought to keep its channel to Stone open after Trump won the election. The existence of the secret correspondence marks yet another strange twist in the White House’s rapidly swelling Russia scandal. Stone and Trump have been friends for decades, which raises key questions about what the president knew about Stone’s interactions with Wikileaks during the campaign. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”
The ‘Useful Idiot’
New York Magazine reminds us that while Republicans now rush to describe former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page PhD as wrongfully targeted, it’s easier to wonder why he’s not been indicted by Mueller. New York Magazine wrote a prior piece about Page’s connections to Russian spies as far back as 2013, referring to him as a useful idiot.
The Republican party is stretching and contorting itself in unbelievable ways to embrace and protect every Trump associate shown to be tainted by Trump-Russia stink: Carter Page Is A Very Strange Republican Choice For Martyr In The Russia Scandal.
Republicans are persistent in their efforts to protect Trump and as a result, defend each new Trump associate shown to be involved in Trump-Russia:
“The Republican Party appears to have been searching for an Alger Hiss of its own. It has settled on Carter Page. While neither suave nor articulate — indeed at times barely coherent — Page possesses the crucial virtue of having been the subject of a long-standing FBI counterintelligence investigation. This makes Page the best available symbol of the brutal investigatory excesses of the deep state.”
It’s a good read, especially given Page’s penchant for self-incrimination and the focus he gets in the House Intelligence Democrats response to the partisan Nunes memo.
Trump is fiddling while the mid-term election risk burns bright. He may not be (yet) throwing Kushner under the bus, but he’s sure not pulling him out of the way. Likely he’s more focused on his own upcoming time in the Mueller barrel.