Russia Monitor: Trumputin’s Lawyer On The Griddle As Former FBI Director Comey Hits The Book Promotion Circuit


By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (4/2/18)

Dear Fellow Readers,

Former MI6, head of Russia desk, author of the Steele dossier, Christopher Steele offered the case that Trump was susceptible to blackmail over his sexual exploits. For some weeks now it seems we’ve been watching confirmation, not in Moscow, but in the lead-up to the U.S. election with what we continue to learn about porn star Stormy Daniels, former Playmate Karen McDougal and the Access Hollywood “I grab her by the pussy” video. Given all the threads of Trump-Russia and the investigations of special counsel Robert Mueller this might feel like the least likely angle to make a difference. And yet… Trump Assails FBI Raid on His Lawyer’s Office as ‘Disgraceful’.

(Art by Tatiana Katara.)

Bloomberg is reporting on Trump’s reaction, but to be clear:

“The FBI raid was reported earlier by the New York Times. Agents raided the office, home and a Manhattan hotel room of Cohen, the Wall Street Journal reported. Agents were still at the site of Cohen’s office at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan late Monday afternoon, a worker there said. He had an office there in the space of Squire Patton Boggs, but they’ve ended their agreement, the firm said in a statement.”

There is a very high bar set to secure a warrant to conduct a no-knock search of Cohen’s office, home and hotel room. In this case the search was conducted based on information referred to the Justice Department by special counsel Robert Mueller. Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein then made the decision to conduct the raid through the auspices of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern District of New York. Two key points are:

1) investigators had to demonstrate that other attempts to access the information, by subpoena as an example, had not worked, and;

2) the search team has to take precautions to make sure privileged communication between Cohen and clients (Trump as an example) are properly taken.

It is tangential, but interesting to note, the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern Disctrict of New York is a close ally to Trump supporter Rudy Giulliani and his appointment included a non-traditional interview between then candidate Geoffrey Berman and Trump himself.

The reaction was a minutes long rant by Trump, calling it “disgraceful” and commenting that “it’s an attack on what we all stand for”. The video is part of the Bloomberg article. We’ll consider Trump’s threats next, but here is the final comment form the Bloomberg article; this from Jeffrey Cohen, a New York attorney:

“Someone had to have fed Mueller information to make him believe that either Trump and/or Cohen were not being honest in the statements they’ve made publicly,” Cohen said. “It could only have to do with lying.”

Trump continues to boil: Trump fumes on Twitter about ‘conflicted’ Mueller and Rosenstein.

“In a tweet on Wednesday morning, he called the Russia investigation “Fake & Corrupt” and referred to Mueller as the “most conflicted of all,” except for Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel’s work because Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions recused himself.”

Even while Trump was fuming and threatening to fire Mueller and Rosenstein, this news broke in The New York Times: Trump Sought To Fire Mueller In December.

News that Trump was fuming in early December and telling advisers and associates that he would shut down Mueller made for a second time this threat had been reported. In June 2017 we had similar news:

“When Mr. Trump told Mr. McGahn in June to have Mr. Mueller fired, the president cited a series of conflict-of-interest issues that he insisted disqualified the special counsel from overseeing the investigation. Among the issues Mr. Trump cited was a dispute Mr. Mueller had with Mr. Trump’s Washington-area golf course years earlier. Mr. Trump told Mr. McGahn to tell Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general and Mr. Mueller’s superior, that the time for Mr. Mueller to go had come.”

The June shit-storm seemed to subside after White House counsel Donald McGahn II threatened to resign. The December trigger was the news that Mueller reviewed Deutsche Bank bank records while investigating Trump.

This latest round of threats and Twitter and TV rants makes a third reported round of Trump fuming over Mueller and Rosenstein and threatening to fire one or both.

“The December episode, which has never been publicly reported, has new resonance following the disclosure on Monday that F.B.I. agents had carried out search warrants at the office and hotel room of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen. In that action, the Justice Department seems to have walked directly up to — if not crossed — Mr. Trump’s red line by examining something that seems unrelated to Russia.”

Given the huge media focus and concerns with possible actions by Trump, how does the news of the no-knock investigation of Cohen’s office/residence/hotel room fit with Mueller’s charter?

DailyKos reports on an article by John Cassidy for The New Yorker. DailyKos offers this summary: It’s Starting To Look Like a “Mobster Roll-up:” John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

“The walls are closing in on the “Goodfella” occupying the Oval Office, whether he likes it or not.

“In general, Criminals aren’t given the option by law enforcement to select which of their crimes will be prosecuted. When, as in Trump’s case, the probably criminal conduct is multi-layered and intertwined with his responsibilities to (don’t laugh, please) “uphold the Constitution,  there’s little room for such fine parsing.  While the specific nature of Trump’s crimes may matter to some Republicans who’ve made the highly dubious choice to hitch their political star to his fortunes, jail cells don’t care whether you’re a murderer, a money launderer, or a seditious traitor with the Russians. You will do your time, regardless, as the New Yorker’s John Cassidy points out.” 

DailyKos then points to a Tuesday New Yorker article entitled Donald Trump Has Good Reason to Be Rattled About the Michael Cohen Raid to highlight this point:

“At this point, dismissing Mueller wouldn’t end the investigations encircling the President anyway. Monday’s raid wasn’t carried out by the special counsel but, rather, by agents working for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. With all the focus on Mueller, and whether Trump will try to fire him, this fact hasn’t received sufficient stress. Even if Trump were to succeed in getting rid of Mueller—which would be sure to provoke an enormous political backlash, and maybe even impeachment proceedings in Congress—the New York investigation, which is centered on Cohen, would continue. And that means Trump has more than Mueller and Russia to worry about.”


In the meantime…

There are many questions about the cases of Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal and now any potential role Cohen might have played as Trump’s ‘fixer’ to muzzle negative news prior to the election.

While John Cassidy notes it’s too late for Trump to silence the Mueller investigation there are certainly many questions around that as well. There is an increasingly forceful voice for Congress or others to take steps to protect and preserve Mueller’s investigation. As for as Congress, this can’t happen without Russpublican leadership but it’s possible some steps might now be taken: Bill to Protect Special Counsel Mueller Is Headed for a Committee Vote.

Bipartisan legislation has sat for weeks while various Senators lobbied Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). While the headline sounds encouraging, the wheels of Congress do move slowly:

“The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote in the coming weeks on bipartisan legislation introduced Wednesday that would allow special counsels like Robert S. Mueller III to appeal their firing to a panel of judges and possibly be reinstated.”

However you come by your news you’ll come across voices like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and various Democrats making noise. Horse and barn come to mind, but they sound good, look good. Grassley meanwhile seems willing to conduct mark-up of the bipartisan bill… starting next week.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday there is another non-congressional initiative merits consideration: Just In Time: A New Republican Group Seeks To Protect Mueller.

“Their timing could not be better. A day after reports surfaced that President Trump wanted to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in December (in addition to an earlier effort in June), five veteran Republicans have formed a new organization, Republicans for the Rule of Law, seeking to restrain the president from doing exactly that. Bill Kristol (editor at large for the Weekly Standard), Mona Charen (a veteran of the Ronald Reagan administration who recently made a splash at the Conservative Political Action Conference), Linda Chavez (another Reagan administration veteran), Sarah Longwell (a longtime GOP consultant and chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans) and Andy Zwick (executive director of the Foundation for Constitutional Government) launched the group.”

Here is a link to an ad run by the group on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, here.


Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross & KGB

Meanwhile the Trump-Putin news does not let up. While reviewing the most recent sanctions we highlighted Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg but failed to highlight prior news about his relationship to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: A Russian Business Associate of Wilbur Ross Was Just Sanctioned by the Trump Administration.

The Mother Jones article subhead poses an important question: Why did the commerce secretary downplay his business ties to the Putin-friendly oligarch Viktor Vekselberg?

For a Trump campaign and administration that swore there was no contact with Russians and anyone who says otherwise is part of Trumputin’s imagined “witch hunt”, this updated article is worthy of attention.

“… But one intriguing bit of information was left out of the Treasury Department’s description of Vekselberg: he was recently a business associate of Wilbur Ross, President Trump’s commerce secretary.

“Ross and Vekselberg were each a major investor in a Cyprus bank that had been linked to dirty Russian money—a connection that Ross tried to downplay when he faced confirmation before the US Senate last year.”

Ross’s Cypriot bank wasn’t only about his relationship to Vekselberg, as the article notes, Bloomberg previously reported, “Ross, whose group owns 17 percent of the bank, plans to share the vice-chairman post with Vladimir Strzhalkovskiy, who served with Putin in the KGB in the 1980s.”


Comey’s ‘Higher Loyalty’ 

Another double strike of lightning lighting up Trump-Russia is the launch of former FBI Director James Comey’s book tour:  James Comey Treads Fine Line As Book Set To Turn Up Heat On Trump.

“Comey has done his part to stoke interest by framing the book as a showdown with Trump, whose presidency appears more at risk every day of being swallowed by the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

““Mr President, the American people will hear my story very soon,” Comey tweeted in March. “And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”

“Given all this intrigue, A Higher Loyalty could land with an even greater splash than the previous insider account to spill from the Trump White House, journalist Michael Wolff’s controversial Fire and Fury.”

The Comey story has a lot of dimensions, but this can only be bad news for Trump. And the second lightning strike came Wednesday evening by way of Rachel Maddow: MSNBC’s Maddow Obtained Bombshell Mueller Investigation Documents On Former Acting AG Dana Boente.

On Tuesday evening Maddow produced documents represented as the handwritten notes of former U.S. Attorney (now FBI general counsel) Dana Boente. Comey claims he called Boente following one of his meetings with Trump out of concern for what was put forward by Trump as a possible demand for a loyalty pledge or an agreement to end his Russia investigation. Boente’s notes mirror Comey’s representation of the meeting as offered through his Congressional testimony. Trump on the other hand has regularly called Comey a liar.

The article includes a link to the MSNBC Rachel Maddow segment.


Who’s next in the Trump-Russia barrel?

While Trump rants, Mueller carries forward: Mueller Seeks Subpoenas For 35 Witnesses For Manafort Trial.

“U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller asked a judge in Alexandria, Virginia, to issue 35 sets of subpoenas to witnesses for a trial set to begin on July 10.

“That’s when President Donald Trump’s former campaign Chairman Paul Manafort is set to go on trial on tax and bank fraud charges.

“Mueller asked for blank subpoenas, with names to be filled in later.”


The granny starver

House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who Esquire contributor Charles Pierce describes as the “zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin”, offers his own send-off, to one of Trump’s greatest enablers … “Paul Ryan Will Retire as the Biggest Fake in American Politics”.

And in the Senate we were treated to Facebook’s Zuckerberg Just Survived 10 Hours Of Questioning By Congress.

The Facebook relationship with Cambridge Analytica and the stolen subscriber data for 87 million users and their role in Russian influence in the U.S. election in favor of Trump has earned Zuckerberg the attention. His ten hours of questioning was over two days, the second day being the more serious, after the first day was like a friendly discussion of Social Media 101:

“Even as he apologized for the mishap and other recent troubles at Facebook, however, lawmakers repeatedly expressed doubt that the social giant could fix its troubles on its own – and threatened to regulate the company and its tech industry peers.

“Opening the session, the House panel’s leader, Republican Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), called Facebook an “American success story.” But he added: “While Facebook has certainly grown, I worry it has not matured. I think it is time to ask whether Facebook may have moved too fast and broken too many things.””

Tuesday was a back-and-forth with Senators actually asking Zuckerberg for his advice on how to regulate Facebook. Apparently the 87 million profiles is specific to the actions of Cambridge Analytica, given this revelation:

“In the wake of its review of the firm’s activities, Facebook also has acknowledged that malicious actors scraped information from the public profiles of practically its entire base, more than 2 billion users.”

This is an open discussion but the equity markets judge Congressional scrutiny to be a nothing-burger:

“For weeks, the revelations have wreaked havoc on Facebook’s stock, wiping out billions of dollars in value. On Wednesday, though, it closed up 0.8 percent, continuing its rebound this week.”


Lastly, by the time you read this on Thursday morning, Trump, Ryan, Senate leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and House Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will all have had dinner together at the White House the prior evening (Wednesday). Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) was a reported late add-on to the guest list.

S any bets as to whether Mueller’s name come up over dinner? Will they talk Trump down off the ceiling or pour gas on the fire?