Russia Monitor: Trumputin’s Fixer & Redefining ‘Normal’ In America

“And people wonder why Putin is “popular” with total control of Russian politics, civil society, and the media? One year of Trump & one cable channel and half the GOP happily attacks the FBI!”

— Garry Kasparov, April 18 tweet

By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (4/19/18)

Dear Fellow Readers,

Before we jump into the most important Trump-Russia news of the cycle, we’ll lead with a conclusion. It has long been clear that the simplest case to be made against Trump is criminality of his business dealings over decades.

So what is the biggest Trump-Russia topic over the last few days? Some nominations, including three from The Commoner Call readers would have to include: former FBI Director James Comey; U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley; Fox personality Sean Hannity, Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) or Trump lawyer and long term associate Michael Cohen.

No drama, let’s cut to the chase. The winner has to be: Michael Cohen, Trump’s ‘fixer’ through the ‘mobbed up’ business history of Trump. Before diving into the latest Cohen news, we’ll review the other nominations.

Dislike Comey, Despise Trump

Comic Stephen Colbert begins one of the better interviews with former FBI director James Comey observing, “I don’t know if you’ve dealt with mob bosses before, but they don’t like to be investigated”. Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty” is out and being talked about.

However you feel about Comey, one summary from Charles Blow writing for the New York Times offers, “Dislike Comey, Despise Trump”

A common theme of the Comey interviews is ethical leadership which he says Trump lacks, but more importantly, he argues, Trump’s leadership is akin to being a mob boss. From the Colbert interview, “The leadership style is strikingly similar… it’s all about the boss… nothing external”. Again, however you feel, Comey serves a useful service, he’s inside Trump’s head, “I’m like a breakup he can’t get over says Comey about Trump barrage of endless ALL CAPS tweet denunciations.


Fungible assets

“Nikki Haley might as well have called the White House a bunch of liars.”

Nikki Haley is the latest Trump associate to be thrown under the bus. Haley appeared on CBS “Face the Nation”  Sunday morning and announced a next round of U.S. Russia sanctions to be announced on Monday by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

But the announcement of the sanctions never happened. Instead the White House issued a statement saying a decision had not been made, “one anonymous official said Haley had made “an error that needs to be mopped up.”” On Tuesday afternoon, “chief White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow was significantly less charitable to Haley, telling CNN that she “got ahead of the curve” and “There might have been some momentary confusion about that.”

“Haley offered a sharply different review as a rebuke to the White House:

“Not so, says Haley. And in fact, she said that even the more charitable explanation is wrong.

““With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” Haley said in a statement.”

The other significant part of this story is Trump’s reversal of a decision to impose additional sanctions on Russia – another instance of Trump pulling his punches and pulling out the pillows when it comes to Putin and Russia. Embedded in this final Washington Post comment is a link to another article elaborating on the battle between Trump and his administration over appropriate penalties for Russian actions in our election, Ukraine, Syria…

“The exact reason for that is up for debate. The Kremlin complained about the new sanctions, calling them “international economic raiding.” And in what seems like possibly the tipping point for Trump, The Washington Post reported Sunday night that Trump “has battled his top aides on Russia and lost.” I argued Monday that perhaps Trump just decided to exert his authority, even if it made his administration look unmoored.”

Over at Esquire Charles Pierce adds, “I don’t think he deliberately sells the most loyal of his people out. I don’t think his mind works that way. I think he sees everyone close to him as fungible assets, like his casinos and his estates.He also captures the second conclusion here, “this whole mess is another demonstration, as if we needed another one, of the unavoidable truth that the president* will do anything to keep from getting truly serious with Vladimir Putin.”


The Washington Post warns: Mitch McConnell: “inviting a constitutional crisis”.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the prototypical example of GOP partisanship treasuring party over country, even more so than House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). What better example than McConnell’s block of Obama’s SCOTUS nomination for Merrick Garland leading to the appointment of Neil Gorsuch following the election. Now we have McConnell risking a constitutional crisis by refusing to hold a senate floor vote over bipartisan legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s job

“There is evidently no limit on the complicity [McConnell] is willing to shoulder,” argued Norman Eisen, a former White House ethics counsel during the Obama administration. “Even as bipartisan support for the legislation is emerging in both houses of Congress — or perhaps because it is emerging — he stands in the way.” He added: “It is a betrayal of the rule of law for McConnell to take this position when the president has reportedly tried twice to fire Mueller, and discussed it frequently, and is now agitated over the Michael Cohen developments. McConnell will be fully as responsible as Trump if the special counsel is fired.”

Ryan doesn’t escape criticism. As Jennifer Rubin adds:

There is no one — with the possible exceptions of Ryan and House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — who has done more to embolden Trump. Seeing no opposition, Trump has continued his crusade to intimidate and bully the Justice Department and the FBI.

A defense offered on behalf of Trump is that the people like Comey in the position of the head of the FBI serve at the discretion of the president. It is also true that the president swore an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

“Aside from his failure to live up to his constitutional responsibilities, the majority leader is taking an awfully big political risk. “It’s very nice that Sen. McConnell is confident President Trump will not interfere with the work of the special counsel, but that does not help me sleep at night in view of the President’s constant threats to fire Mueller,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, told me. “It is outrageous that Sen. McConnell and other Republican leaders won’t allow a vote on a bill to protect the investigation — a bicameral, bipartisan bill that continues to gain support on both sides of the aisle.”

“Well, if Trump does fire Mueller or Rosenstein, the country will rightly blame McConnell and the GOP-controlled Senate. It would be quite a political legacy.”

Let’s be clear – Trump, McConnell and Ryan are failing to uphold the oaths they took to protect the U.S. Constitution. Risk of failure may be their legacy, but the impact of all of us with the rule of law, country over party, is far more important. Their failure and cowardice are of historic proportions.


Hannity’s turn in the barrel…

A huge twist in the Michael Cohen trial was a ruling by Southern District New York federal Judge Kimba Wood. A challenge was brought by lawyer’s on behalf of Cohen and Trump to have exclusive first access to documents seized by the FBI in the raid of Cohen’s office and residence. Wood ruled against Trump and Cohen through the legal process it was disclosed that Cohen has three clients: Trump; GOP donor and Trump associate Eliott Broidy; and…. Sean Hannity. When the disclosure was announced there was an audible gasp in the courtroom: The words Hannity likely never uttered about Michael Cohen: ‘In the interest of full disclosure …’

Hannity is sure to stay in the news and there is plenty of reporting on the events and reactions. A main take-away is Hannity’s failure to disclose his relationship with not only Cohen, but three other Trump lawyers

But we’ll rush past this because aside from the damage to Hannity and Fox integrity as a news outlet (such as it is), the bigger story is Cohen. It is worth noting (from Kerry Eleveld for Daily Kos):

“If you had been hearing that on a news outlet with even a scintilla of integrity, Hannity would have had to disclose his ties to Michael Cohen with something like, “In the interest of full disclosure, Michael Cohen has provided representation to me…” or something like that. It’s standard journalistic practice to give at least some kind of indication to your audience that your coverage might be skewed by your relationship to the subject of the report.

“But Fox News isn’t just any “news” outlet and Sean Hannity isn’t just any journalist—in fact, he’s no journalist at all and he’s working for an outlet that has effectively become a state-sponsored bullhorn for the Trump administration.”


He knows where all the bodies are buried in Trump World

CNN labels Trump’s ‘lawyer’ as Michael Cohen — Trump’s Loyal Fixer.

Cohen has been the subject of the Russia Monitor a number of times including the last edition with a story about his (possible) trip to Prague in the summer of 2016, consistent with his role as ‘Trump’s fixer’, to act as the go-between for Trump-Russia collusion.

This CNN article is a good Cohen-lite version of his history with Trump with an end focus on why Trump did not bring Cohen “to Washington with him”:

“He was such a good fixer for Donald Trump the business mogul that he couldn’t serve him in the White House,” he said. Cohen “not only knows where all the bodies are buried he buried a lot of them himself. And that ironically disqualified him.”

Given the current case against Cohen is being handled by the Southern District of New York federal court, any proceedings can continue regardless of what, if anything, happens to Mueller.

A much more in-depth history of Trump and his fixer is found here. Thank you to a The Commoner Call reader for forwarding this Tuesday article from Talking Points MemoGood Grief. Cohen’s World Gets Mobbier The Closer I Look.

The article has an excellent podcast: “Why Did Donald Trump Get in So Deep with Michael Cohen”.

I cannot emphasize enough how well done this history of Cohen’s cozy relationship to Trump is. Cohen’s mob ties have a family history preceding Cohen.

“According to published reports, in the 70s and early 80s, the boss of the Russian mob in New York (and for practical purposes the whole U.S) was a man named Evsei Agron. Things ended badly for Agron when was gunned down in a mob hit in 1985. After Agron was assassinated, his organization was taken over by under-boss Marat Balagula. Authorities believed Balagula was behind Agron’s killing. But he was never charged with the crime. Balagula ran things until 1991 when he was convicted of gasoline bootlegging. Nayfeld had been the bodyguard and enforcer for both Agron and Balagula, one would say more successfully in the latter case than the former. He took over the organization when Balagula went to prison.

“What I didn’t realize until now is that both Agron and his successor Balagula ran their operations out of an office in the El Caribe social club. So the El Caribe wasn’t just a mob hangout. From the 70s through the 90s at least, the bosses of the Russian mafia in the U.S. literally ran their crime organization out of the El Caribe.

“So Michael Cohen’s uncle Morton Levine’s social club was the headquarters of Russian organized crime in the U.S.”

The podcast lays out how Trump and Cohen became so inter-connected, so it’s easy to understand why…

“According to Levine, who is apparently still alive, all his nieces and nephews owned shares of the El Caribe and still do. Levine told the AP that Michael Cohen owned his stake in the club until Donald Trump was elected President when he “gave up his stake.””

Comey may be “inside Trump’s head”, but it’s Cohen that is the big story and the link to the greatest legal and criminal risk Trump always faced.


Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine had the best headline of the week: I’m A Peeliever And You Should Be, Too.

Comey’s new book, “A Higher Loyalty”, has Trump “obsessed” with allegations from the former MI6 Russia desk head and Steele dossier author Christopher Steele’s work, especially the more salacious reports such as the reported “pee tape”. Chait makes a strong case that Steele is credible. This case is further strengthened if — as McClatchy News reported — Cohen did visit Prague in the summer of 2016 to collude with Russians.

Focusing specifically on the pee tape, Chait notes the credibility of Steele and Trump’s unhealthy obsession with Obama (the urination was on a bed once slept in by President Obama).

Chait notes that in Corn and Isikoff’s recent book “Russian Roulette”, Trump visited a Las Vegas nightclub with an entourage:

“The Act was no ordinary nightclub. Since March, it had been the target of undercover surveillance by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and investigators for the club’s landlord—the Palazzo, which was owned by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson—after complaints about its obscene performances. The club featured seminude women performing simulated sex acts of bestiality and grotesque sadomasochism—skits that a few months later would prompt a Nevada state judge to issue an injunction barring any more of its “lewd” and “offensive” performances. Among the club’s regular acts cited by the judge was one called “Hot for Teacher,” in which naked college girls simulate urinating on a professor. In another act, two women disrobe and then “one female stands over the other female and simulates urinating while the other female catches the urine in two wine glasses.” (The Act shut down after the judge’s ruling. There is no public record of which skits were performed the night Trump was present.)”

So often Trump’s denials crumble and we realize that all along he’s been telling us what did happen by way of his denials.


Another Russian journalist has died: Russian Investigative Journalist Dies After Falling From Balcony.

Maksim Borodin reported he had been assaulted in 2017 by a man wielding a metal pipe.

“A Russian investigative journalist who confirmed the deaths of Russian mercenaries in Syria has died after falling from his fifth-floor balcony in the city of Yekaterinburg.

“Maksim Borodin, 32, was a reporter for the Yekaterinburg’s Novy Den website, gaining national attention for his reports on the Russian private military company Wagner, and local repute for his investigations into prisons and corrupt officials in his native Sverdlovsk region.”

Borodin’s death is reported as a suicide after jumping from his fifth floor balcony. This should be considered in the context of, 38 journalists have been murdered since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.


The Putin model for puppeteering and his involvement in the governments of Western democracies would be his relationship with German ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder: Why Putin’s Pal, Germany’s Ex-Chancellor Schroeder, Isn’t On A Sanctions List.

Here’s an excerpt from the short Thursday National Public Radio broadcast:

“In late 2004, Schroeder was widely criticized for calling Putin a “flawless Democrat.” German respect for Schroeder plummeted further over his ties to Russian business.

“During his final months as chancellor, he shocked many Germans by shepherding through a multibillion-dollar pipeline project called Nord Stream, transporting gas from Russia to Germany. The pipeline is majority-owned by the Russian state gas company Gazprom. Shortly after leaving office, Schroeder became chairman of the pipeline shareholders’ committee.”


Three final comments.

First, if there is nothing to hide, why are Russpublicans lining up to say Cohen will never flip on Trump. No flip or nothing to hide – mutually exclusive?

The there is this tweet from never-Trumper and commentator David Frum:


FollowingFollowing @davidfrum


In fairness, if you wanted to know stuff, you wouldn’t be watching the Hannity program in the first place

12:19 PM – 16 Apr 2018

Finally, this quote from James Comey:

There is a danger that we will become numb to it and we will stop noticing the threats to our norms, the threats to the rule of law and the threats, most of all, to the truth.”