Russia Monitor: From Bombings To Trump’s Booby Trap Lawyer — A Pivotal Week


“We don’t know the precise path the next few months will take. There will be resistance and denial and counterattacks. But it seems likely that, when we look back on this week, we will see it as a turning point. We are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency.”

Adam Davidson writing for The New Yorker.


By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (4/16/18)

Dear Fellow Readers,

It’s not possible to walk past the U.S., U.K., France strike against Syria without comment. We will look at this from a Trump-Putin perspective to stay within guardrails.

Friday had been non-stop news and commentary on Trump-Russia corruption until the White House announced Trump would be speaking Friday evening from the White House. Since then the news has been all-things Syria. Some thought this would be a wag-the-dog response, an intentional Trump-Russia distraction After all such military actions snare the attention of the media and public. Don’t presidential approval ratings always take a bump up when the missiles fly? When Trump launched cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield in April 2017, didn’t MSNBC‘s Brian Williams rhapsodize “they are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments?

Does anyone doubt Trump is basking in his own glory without having to fume at cable news for a few hours? Before the strike what audience was Trump addressing with his various comments? Did Trump preview the attacks for Russia with “nice and new and smart missiles”? Later he walked back his comments tweeting, “never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be soon or not so soon at all!” So much for Trump’s advice tweeted in 2013, “why can’t we just be quiet and, if we attack at all, catch them by surprise?” But Trump’s base loves his tough talk and overlook any attempt to be politically correct.

Did Trump alert the Russians, as the French say, or simply coordinate “using established deconfliction” before the strike? On Saturday morning a French defense minister said yes, but Defense Secretary Mattis said, “we did not coordinate”

Rachel Maddow on Friday night offered the following take on Trump’s announcement, “The perception that the president may have ordered these strikes in part because of scandal will affect the impact and the effectiveness of these military strikes. Unavoidably. Even if the tail is not wagging the dog. On Friday afternoon, the Washington Post ran this: Why Has Trump Been Threatening To Attack Syria? (Hint: It’s probably not about Syria.)

So why did Trump tweet that he would attack — only to walk it back?

“Trump is playing to his base

“The real reason for the attack threats is probably this: Midterms are approaching, the Russia  investigation is escalating and former FBI director James B. Comey’s book is being released. 

Trump may want a similar boost in approval — particularly from Republicans — just as the Mueller investigation is dominating headlines and the summer midterm campaign begins.

“In other words, announcing impending airstrikes against Syrian forces makes little strategic sense. But it makes plenty of sense for domestic politics.”

It’s also worth noting, maybe a first for the Trump administration, Russian Bots and Trolls are real,Russian troll activity has surged by 2,000 percent, according to the Pentagon”, during the Saturday morning televised assessmentWho knew?

Whatever the questions, whatever the answers, Trump announced “Mission Accomplished”. Though the Washington Post paints a different picture

“Even with Trump’s jubilant response to the strikes, several advisers close to the president said they had no indication there was a long-term strategy for the region — and he seems essentially in the same position now as he was after last April’s attack on Syria.

“The missile strikes Friday night came at an especially traumatic moment. The commander in chief was increasingly agitated over the past week as legal and personal crises converged around him, exhibiting flashes of raw anger, letting off steam on Twitter and sometimes seeming distracted from his war planning.”

An important observation, “the absence of a clear strategy in Syria complicated the discussions”.

The one thing that never stopped, by design and through coordination, was the Trump/Russpublican/RNC constant attack on special counsel Robert Mueller and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

A rhetorical war of words that benefits Trump and Putin with their supporters is still better than a real war.


Trump’s lawyer in the barrel 

So what was on Trump’s mind? According to the same article, Trump was paying attention to the court proceedings in New York involving his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Trump was also fixated on the media coverage of former FBI director James Comey’s new book and “was personally involved Friday in drafting the scorching statement attacking Comey that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read from her podium Friday”.

By Sunday morning, the Washington Post was reporting Trump was fully back in attack mode: Trump Assails Comey In Tweetstorm, Suggests Ex-FBI Director Deserves ‘jail’.

“President Trump attacked James B. Comey in a fusillade of tweets Sunday morning, suggesting that the former FBI director deserves to be imprisoned as he served up a number of his favorite theories and alleged misdeeds without evidence.”

As stated above, Comey’s book and Cohen’s widening legal risk consumed Trump’s attention. Given Comey’s commentary in his new book, “A Higher Loyalty”, we’re conditioned to expect Trump’s rants:

“Comey’s book is a scathing depiction of his interactions with Trump, in which he likens the president to an “unethical” mob boss and casts his inner circle in largely unflattering terms.”

The WaPo article states that Trump’s tweets “are part of a broader effort by the White House and the Republican National Committee to discredit Comey”. The RNC has gone as far as setting up a lyinComey” web site.

Comey’s book will be released Tuesday which means there will be much more manic tweeting to come. Maybe a good time to turn to the Cohen news.


Really, there are recordings?

It’s been a week since the FBI raided the office, residence, safety deposit box and hotel room of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen. It’s been covered as part of the Russia Monitor and a good report of the initial raid is here. Over the past several days there have been many disclosures about the extent of planning leading to the raid as well as what has been found.

Cohen went to court to challenge the FBI raid and ask for “first access to documents and communications seized”. Through the Department of Justice response we learn the raid was the result of a months-long investigation of Cohen. Federal prosecutors refer to “acts of concealment by Cohen”. One observation is, “as Cohen’s corruption investigation moves forward, Trump’s advisors have concluded that the case now poses a greater threat to the president than special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into links between the Trump campaign and Russia”.

It also turns out the FBI seized recordings of conversations made by Cohen. CNN specifically reports recordings of calls related to Keith Davidson, the lawyer who originally represented porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playmate Karen McDougal. But there is also a comment that these may not be the only recordings and that, “Cohen often recorded telephone conversations both before and during the 2016 presidential campaign”.

Cohen has been ordered by U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood to hand over a list of Cohen’s law clients by today (Monday) at 10 a.m. as part of deciding about attorney-client privilege with documents seized in the FBI raid.

As if that wasn’t enough, Cohen managed to also become the Mueller investigation target of the week: Michael Cohen’s Visiting Prague Would Be A Huge Development In The Russia Investigation.

On Friday, McClatchy News reported that Mueller had evidence that Cohen was in Prague in late summer 2016. This is an important detail of ex-MI6 Russia desk head Christopher Steele’s dossier. We chose the Washington Post’s Saturday version of the story as there is some debate about the veracity of the McClatchy claims.

“It suggests that Cohen took over management of the relationship with Russia after campaign chairman Paul Manafort was fired from the campaign in August (because of questions about his relationship with a political party in Ukraine). Cohen is said to have met secretly with people in Prague — possibly at the Russian Center for Science and Culture — in the last week of August or the first of September. He allegedly met with representatives of the Russian government, possibly including officials of the Presidential Administration Legal Department; Oleg Solodukhin (who works with the Russian Center for Science and Culture); or Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign relations committee in the upper house of parliament. A planned meeting in Moscow, the dossier alleges, was considered too risky, given that a topic of conversation was how to divert attention from Manafort’s links to Russia and a trip to Moscow by Carter Page in July. Another topic of conversation, according to the dossier: allegedly paying off “Romanian hackers” who had been targeting the Clinton campaign.”


Trumputin turning point?

A view from 30,000 feet comes to this conclusion with regard to Cohen: Michael Cohen And The End Stage Of The Trump Presidency.

In an article forwarded by two Commoner Call readers, reporter Adam Davidson uses his experience in Iraq following President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” claims to offer a view of how those “on the ground” in Iraq knew the truth was anything but. Davidson offers a similar view of the 2007 financial crises before he acknowledges, “the path of both crises turned out to be far worse than I imagined”.

Davidson points out that the FBI raid of Cohen’s office after months of investigation crosses Trump’s red line that Mueller must not investigate his business.

“That red line is now crossed and, for Trump, in the most troubling of ways. Even if he were to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and then had Mueller and his investigation put on ice, and even if — as is disturbingly possible— Congress did nothing, the Cohen prosecution would continue. Even if Trump pardons Cohen, the information the Feds have on him can become the basis for charges against others in the Trump Organization.

“This is the week we know, with increasing certainty, that we are entering the last phase of the Trump Presidency. This doesn’t feel like a prophecy; it feels like a simple statement of the apparent truth.”

Those who hate Trump already think he’s a crook; those who love him don’t care”, says Davidson before he offers a more nuanced view. He reminds us that it took a long time “before Americans came to see” the disasters that were Iraq and the financial crises. Davidson ends with this:

“We don’t know the precise path the next few months will take. There will be resistance and denial and counterattacks. But it seems likely that, when we look back on this week, we will see it as a turning point. We are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency.”


Wink, wink — Not so fast

Make no mistake, this is a war. Trump has already fired or caused to be fired many who represented personal risk including Comey, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, former acting attorney general Sally Yates, former Southern District New York US attorney Preet Bharara and former Eastern District of Virginia (now FBI general counsel) Dana Boente and others. While Davidson feels like the war is won short of timing, pundit and never-Trumper Bill Kristol has a different view, tweeting:

Bill Kristol‏Verified account @BillKristol

FollowFollow @BillKristol


The buffoonishness of Trump and his circle tends to make us too confident the truth will come out and justice will be done, and insufficiently alarmed that this time the cover up could succeed. The firing power, the pardon power, and loyal enablers are a formidable combination.

5:06 AM – 13 Apr 2018

Here’s one sign that Kristol’s view has merit: Trump reaches back in time to issue a pardon and signal he has the power to protect anyone swept up in the various investigations of all things Trump and Trump-Russia corruption: Why The Scooter Libby Case—And Trump’s Pardon—Really, Really Matter.

The Mother Jones article subhead summarizes Trump’s message to those under investigation: The president is not offended by obstruction of justice. And he wants everyone to know it.

“From his statement, it is clear that Trump was not familiar with the details of the slam-dunk case against Libby. So it seems that what appealed to Trump was the symbolic nature of this action: a senior administration official had lied to block an investigation of wrongdoing within that administration—and was punished for doing so. But with this pardon, Trump has sent the message that he does not find that sort of dishonest conduct reprehensible. In Trump’s world, this pardon was not an act of justice. It was a wink.”


We’ll wrap up with a few articles that add depth and perspective.

If we’re counting on Russpublicans to stand up and put country over party here’s an excellent run-down of what every GOP Senator has said to date: Where Every Senate Republican Stands on the Mueller Investigation.

Before Cohen, Comey and Syria overtake any memory of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s two days of Congressional hearings, here’s a view that highlights the importance of properly reviewing the data theft by Trump campaign resource Cambridge Analytica (CA)The Facebook Data Scandal and the Mercers.

Conservative GOP donor Robert Mercer and his daughter and board member Rebekah Mercer invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica:

“While Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg deserve the grilling they are getting on the Hill, I find it amazing that Robert and Rebekah Mercer and their control of Cambridge Analytica are not getting the same treatment.

“There are laws about how much money individuals can donate to candidates. If the Mercers are behind this incredible abuse of information gathering, done solely to sway an election, then why are they not being called on the carpet just as dramatically?”

And finally, this from a Commoner Call reader, Masha Gessen for The New Yorker reports: Under Russian Terror, All Exiles Are Fearful and All Deaths Are Suspicious.

As Trump signals protection for anyone at risk by Trump/Trump-Russia investigations, Russians have been warned should they stand against Putin, they are at risk. Names like Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Berezovsky and Sergei Skripal bear witness to the reality of this risk:

“Hundreds of the Kremlin’s active opponents have left Russia in the last six years, moving the intellectual center of the opposition abroad, much as it happened in the seventies. In London, New York, and the Baltic republics, they continue to meet, organize, and plan a post-Putin future; in fact, the former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who moved to New York five years ago, chaired this week the Forum for a Free Russia, the fifth such gathering he has organized, in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Every person at the gathering, and scores of other Russian activists who are not there, have watched the unfolding Skripal investigation and wondered, at least occasionally, if they might not be next.”


The lines are drawn, there is no turning back, there are two sides and there will be one winner – either we will confirm we are a country where no one is above the law or Trump and Russpublican complicity will win out.