Russia Monitor: From Bag Money To Murder To What Putin Most Fears


By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (3/29/18)

Dear Fellow Readers,

We need to get big money out of politics. Trump-Russia is fueled by Kompramat, the compromising information on Trump and associates used as blackmail by Russia. But big money has a similar influence. Let’s use Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) as an example.

In late February CNN held a town hall, “Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action”. Rubio debated Cameron Kasky, a Parkland shooting survivor. As part of this exchange Kasky challenged Rubio to no longer accept political donations from the NRA. In response, Rubio said, “There’s money on both sides of every issue in America; I will always accept the help of anyone who agrees with my agenda.” Rubio went further by explaining that the NRA listens to him, not the other way around. Though when challenged, he had a hard time offering anything to support his claim.

A question – who owns Marco Rubio? The larger question is who owns our political agenda, but let’s focus on Rubio for perspective on Trump-Russia and big money in politics. The NRA spent $3.3 million to benefit Rubio during the 2016 election of which $2.3 million was spent to attack Patrick Murphy, his opponent in the election.  That’s a lot of money even compared to the roughly $15 million Rubio’s PAC received ($11 million from large donors i.e. PAC’s, corporate donations…). 

Remember, we already know Rubio accepted $1.5 million from Len Blavatnik, a Russian oligarch linked to Putin. The NRA and a Russian oligarch represent a significant portion of donations to Rubio’s PAC. (Blavatnik also contributed to Scott Walker’s PAC for his presidential bid.)

Someone is getting what he paid for

The NRA clearly spends a lot of money to get on board with Rubio’s agenda. So, just where does the NRA get all that money?: Senator Asks The NRA To Hand Over Records On Foreign Funding, Spending.

Let’s not pretend the NRA has been forthcoming or even cooperative, but there is confirmation of foreign funding of the NRA.

“A U.S. senator asked the National Rifle Association on Tuesday to turn over detailed internal records about foreign funding it received in the past three years and how it spent that money, including whether any of it went toward influencing American elections, according to a copy of the letter delivered to the powerful gun group’s top lawyer.

“Sen. Ron Wyden [D-Ore], the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, released his request a week after NRA general counsel John Frazer acknowledged that the tax-exempt, nonprofit received some foreign funding.”

Big money in politics is a problem and it needs to end, just like the other evils of gerrymandering and voter restrictions. Politicians and lobbying groups — like Rubio and the NRA — are for sale and their power comes from both large U.S. donors but also Russian donors.

This is the face of Trump-Russia complicity. This is a small sampling of the voices on the right that want you to believe there is no Trump-Russia corruption even while being part of the problem. Someone is getting what they paid for.


Last edition it was billionaire Trump supporters Robert and Rebekah Mercer who funded and abetted Cambridge Analytica (CA) with the help of board member and former senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon, along with Facebook and other tech companies. This edition it is Rubio, the NRA and Russian oligarchs. If you doubt there is money awash ready to support far right causes, there is always the $6.8 billion contested IRS bill with the Mercers. Or this for a reminder of the financial interests of Putin and Russian oligarchs: Revealed: The $2bn Offshore Trail That Leads To Vladimir Putin.

This is but one part of Trump-Russia corruption. There is also the direct coordination between the Trump campaign and Russians: Former Trump Aide Rick Gates Was Having ‘substantive’ Conversations With Ex-Russia Intel Officer In 2016.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team issued a sentencing memo in the case of Alex Van der Zwann, a lawyer who pled guilty to lying to the FBI during an investigation of indicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign deputy chair, who also pled guilty for lying to the FBI.

“Rick Gates, the former Donald Trump campaign adviser who pled guilty in February to conspiracy against the United States and making false statements, was “having substantive conversations” with someone he knew was a former Russian Intelligence Officer in 2016, according to a new filing by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The 30-page sentencing memorandum filed by the special counsel alleges that Gates was communicating with “Person A,” who is described as “a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU”—the foreign military intelligence agency of the Russia federation. According to the document, Gates was aware of “Person A’s” connection to Russian intelligence services.”

It’s a small, cozy world. Van der Zwann is linked to Gates who is linked to a Russian spy. But the Trump-Russia world is much smaller than that.

“Khan, van der Zwaan’s father-in-law, is a native of Kiev, Ukraine. Along with two other Alfa Bank owners, Khan has filed a defamation suit against Fusion GPS, the Washington private intelligence firm that hired former British spy Christopher Steele to research Trump’s ties to Russia during the campaign. Steele’s reports had included allegations about Alfa Bank and its ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Khan and other Alfa Bank owners have also sued BuzzFeed, which published the dossier in January 2017.”

And don’t forget, Alfa Bank servers were communicating to Trump Tower servers and Spectrum Health servers (DeVos family business, Betsy DeVos is Secretary of Education; DeVos brother Erik Prince is linked to a secret Seychelles meeting to coordinate back-door communication to Russia for Trump). 

Pardon me, case closed, right?

So there is public confirmation of Trump-Russia corruption. Case closed, right? What could possibly go wrong? Well, there are a few ideas of how the case unravels and we are denied knowing the truth of what happened in the 2016 U.S. election: Trump’s Lawyer Raised Prospect Of Pardons For Flynn And Manafort.

While the subject of much speculation, there’s been no public statements by anyone close to Trump about the prospect of pardons for Manafort and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, also guilty of lying to the FBI. Until now.

“A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

“The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.

“The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.”

Though supported by three people “with knowledge of the discussions”, Trump’s (remaining) lawyers deny any such discussions:

“Never during the course of my representation of the president have I had any discussions of pardons of any individual involved in this inquiry,” Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said on Wednesday.

“Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer dealing with the investigation, added, “I have only been asked about pardons by the press and have routinely responded on the record that no pardons are under discussion or under consideration at the White House.””

Remember, Trump did pardon convicted former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.


Something’s up?

While on the subject of Trump lawyers… ‘It’s chaos. . . . It’s not good for anything’: After Rejecting Trump’s Offer, Ted Olson Admonishes Him.

Trump received yet another recent rejection by a prominent attorney. But in this case, not only did Ted Olson say No, he offered also chose to comment on the chaos that is the Trump White House.

“I think everybody would agree: This is turmoil, it’s chaos, it’s confusion, it’s not good for anything,” Olson said Monday on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” “We always believe that there should be an orderly process, and, of course, government is not clean or orderly ever. But this seems to be beyond normal.”

“Olson was speaking broadly about Trump’s personnel changes, but it’s not difficult to apply his comments to Trump’s legal situation. Last week, after the president insisted that he was happy with his legal team, the White House announced the hiring of former U.S. attorney Joe diGenova, tried unsuccessfully to hire Olson, parted ways with lead Trump personal attorney John Dowd, and then lost diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, over conflicts with their other clients.”

But there is another way Trump could end Mueller’s investigation – he could manipulate to fire him: ‘Something’s up’: Senators Spark Concern After Releasing Bipartisan Statement Directing Trump To Leave Mueller Alone.

This is more than speculation, remember White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign if forced to have Mueller fired. But the question is raised again in conjunction with the actions of two senators. 

“Politico reported Tuesday that Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) issued a statement urging the president to allow special counsel Robert Mueller to continue his probe into Russia’s electoral interference “without impediment,” marking a renewal in legislative interest in protection for the investigator.

““We have heard from constituents — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike — who agree that Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be able to conduct his investigation without interference,” the senators wrote in their statement. “This should not be a partisan issue.”

““We urge President Trump to allow the Special Counsel to complete his work without impediment,” the statement continued, “which is in the best interest of the American people, the President, and our nation.””

No answers.


It just wouldn’t an edition of the Russia Monitor without an update on Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner: Jared Kushner’s Meetings Under Investigation For Potential Conflict.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) wrote a letter to the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics David Apol, with questions about the possibility of illegal actions taken by Kushner while serving in the White House. He got the following response:

“In the letter dated March 22, OGE director David Apol said, “The White House informed me that they had already begun this process. I have asked the White House to inform me of the results of that process.””

We know that Kushner’s security clearance access was downgraded, now we also know he is formally under investigation – by the White House.

Let’s see, what do we need? Eliminate big money in politics, end gerrymandering, end voter suppression – oh, yeah, and end nepotism in the White House.


What the Russians fear

The west did stand up to Russia in response to the nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skirpal. Twenty western allies responded by ordering dozens of Russian diplomats out of the respective countries (twenty-one with Slovakia).

It did not look easy, France, Germany, the U.S. can be seen as foot dragging, but there is a response.

But what would a real response look like? How about: To Punish Russia for Spy Poisoning, Go After the Oligarchs.

The Daily Beast subhead sharpens the point: Britain’s anger over the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal has been loud but mostly symbolic. If it wants real action, it should stop indulging kleptocratic Russian officials.

“A more serious form of punishment would be to end Britain’s role as an international money laundromat for kleptocratic Russian officials and their manifold proxies, a collection of billionaire oligarchs whose outsize net worth and ability to draw breath are inextricably linked to the favor they enjoy in Moscow. Their assets are dubiously sourced, and most don’t even reside in Britain full-time, exploiting a notorious tax loophole for “non-doms.” And yet they are everywhere feted in Labour and Conservative Party circles as philanthropists, socialites, soccer club owners and press barons. John le Carré has even found one legendary anecdote worthy of fictionalizing in his novel Our Kind of Traitor.”

London has shown no appetite for cutting off the river of Russian rubles. Nor has the U.S., given the Trump deliberate failure to produce a Russian oligarch list (reported here several editions ago).

The Russians do make it clear – this is what they fear most – penalties targeted at the people that benefit most, the Russian oligarchs and in turn, Putin. This was demonstrated by the Russian response to the Magnitsky Act (U.S. sanctions targeting oligarchs following the murder in Russian prison of attorney Sergei Magnitsky) and the scrambling to stay off the proposed (failed) oligarch list.

Murder in D.C.

Mabye the west has done enough? Maybe the murder of Russians in western countries is a problem unique to Britain?

No and No. Trump wouldn’t even announce the Russian expulsions; he pushed it down to an aide. And we turn to Christopher Steele of the Steele dossier, one of the earliest explanations of Trump-Russia corruption, to offer perspective: Christopher Steele’s Other Report: A Murder In Washington.

“The FBI possesses a secret report asserting that Vladimir Putin’s former media czar was beaten to death by hired thugs in Washington, DC — directly contradicting the US government’s official finding that Mikhail Lesin died by accident.”

Was Lesin a target for Russia? Yes, his murder happened the night before he was to testify before a U.S. Justice Department committee: “Everyone thinks he was whacked”.

As the New York Times reported:

“What is not in question is that Mr. Lesin’s fall in Russia came swiftly, unexpectedly and with little official explanation.

“He stepped down as the head of the media subsidiary of Russia’s natural gas giant, Gazprom, after little more than a year in a job that had thrust him back into the center of the Kremlin’s efforts to shape its image ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.

 ““Obviously, he was running away,” said Yevgenia Albats, a prominent journalist and commentator whose reporting provoked Mr. Lesin’s ire.

“He seemed poised to join a new wave of economic or political exiles that has flowed from Russia as Mr. Putin’s attitude and policies toward the West have sharpened significantly.”

The case is now reopened:

“Now BuzzFeed News has learned that federal prosecutors called witnesses before a grand jury during 2016 to compel them to testify under penalty of perjury about Lesin’s death, and they amassed more than 150 pages of material from the proceedings. The use of a grand jury, not previously reported, was discovered in documents released after BuzzFeed News launched a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to compel the Justice Department, the FBI, and other agencies to turn over records related to the Lesin investigation. That lawsuit is ongoing.”

In addition to the 14 ‘mysterious’ deaths of Russians in the U.K., we now have at least one in the U.S.


Let’s hope the brave voices to let Mueller complete his investigation gets stronger. Like Putin, Trump responds to real push-back, not hope and prayers.

Let’s get big money out of our politics, especially foreign money. Foreign money is already illegal, so let’s use that to punish groups like the NRA if they are guilty of this overreach.

Let’s end on a serious but somewhat lighter note: Ecuador Suspends Assange’s Communication Access At UK Embassy.

If this is what happens to incorrigibles, what can we learn from this? Let’s start with the ideas above.

Not everyone can be tamed by a swat on the fat fanny with a rolled up Forbes magazine festooned with your mug on the cover.