Russia Monitor: Ahh, The Music Of Breaking Broom Sticks!



“Manafort has flipped! BOOM (the sound of broomsticks breaking the sound barrier crashing to earth – NO witches). The entire Trump family now in jeopardy. No pardon for Paul from Trump. No nice things to say about Mansfort by Rudy. Nightmares at the White House will be unending.”

— Onetime Nixon White House attorney of Watergate fame John Dean tweet (9/14/18)

By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (9/17/18)

Dear Fellow Readers,

On Friday Trump campaign chariman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty. This is in addition to his recent conviction on eight federal criminal charges. Manafort’s plea deal says he agrees to cooperate fully with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia corruption investigation. Without reservations.

Manafort represents some key points of risk for Trump.

The list of Trump associates that have pleaded guilty include former long-term Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Deputy Campaign Chair Rick Gates, former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, lawyer and Rick Gates associate Alex van der Zwaan, identity fraudster Richard Pinedo and Republican operative Sam Patten.

At the same time Michael Cohen is also cooperating with Mueller. It’s not possible to know all the people cooperating with Mueller but this includes Cohen and the others who have been convicted or pleaded guilty but also Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and Trump loyalist and National Enquirer head, David Pecker.

We’re going to turn to Juan Cole of Informed Consent for his reporting and closing remarks. Thank you to a Commoner Call reader for this: Manafort’s Plea Deal Is a Constitutional Crisis, We Just Don’t Know It Yet.

“Trump’s campaign manager April-August of 2016, Paul Manafort has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring against the United States. In return for a reduction of his sentence he must answer fully and candidly all the questions asked him by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team about criminal wrongdoing. Since Manafort is alleged to have had close relations with Russian oligarchs, money-launderers and even organized crime, he almost certainly knows about a fair number of crimes.”

This will add weight to the seriousness of Manafort’s crimes and his plea:

“As it is, Manafort has to give to the Federal government over $40 million in ill-gotten gains. Manafort has been convicted of lobbying for pro-Russian politicians and interests in Ukraine, of not registering as a foreign agent, and of keeping tens of millions of dollars in payments from Russian oligarchs and their Ukrainian counter-parts in banks in Cyprus while never paying any taxes on them. He got paid for doing things like circulating a false charge that Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko (anti-Russian) was guilty of ordering people killed (Manafort said he wanted to “put some stink” on her).”

This was the trial that was to bring Mueller’s investigation closer to Trump and Trump’s inner circle. This was the trial that would have offered a daily drip-drip of evidence against Trump et al. While the plea deal now cuts this short, Cole makes this prediction:

“That is, Manafort is potentially in a position to begin putting Trump family members in jail, and to provide the smoking gun to Mueller against Trump himself.

“Moreover, since Manafort knows the Russian oligarchs and criminal elements, it is not impossible that he has incidental information about Trump moneylaundering via Moscow.

“If Mueller indicts Trump, that is a constitutional crisis. If Mueller hands over irrefutable evidence of criminal wrongdoing to the Department of Justice, that is a constitutional crisis. If he hands the dossier over to Congress, that is a constitutional crisis. This plane does not have a soft landing, folks. Fasten your seatbelts.”


Existential Threat

Manafort’s risk to Trump is huge. Manafort was part of Donnie Jr.’s 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians to discuss ‘dirt’ on Clinton. Manafort may well know what Trump knew about the meeting, when he knew it or even if he was connected into the meeting. But in addition to Trump, you now have both Donnie Jr. and Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner at the meeting.

But there is much more to know. The Daily Beast reports: After Getting Flipped By Mueller, Manafort Is Existential Threat to Trump.

“Beyond the Trump Tower meeting, we’d delve into the many strange circumstances around Manafort’s work for the Trump campaign. Why and how did Manafort, who owed millions of dollars to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, come to work as Trump’s campaign chair for no salary? How did Manafort plan to profit from his position with Trump? What did Trump know about Manafort’s prior foreign lobbying work when he hired Manafort? Why did the Republican campaign platform change after Manafort came on board, including by changing its stance to oppose providing arms to anti-Russian Ukrainian forces? Manafort should be able to answer these questions and more.

Manafort is the Trump conduit to Russian oligarchs, more so than Cohen. But let’s check in on Cohen: Michael Cohen Is Talking With Mueller, Too.

Vanity Fair reports:

“In recent weeks, it has also become common knowledge among close friends of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, that Cohen is talking to the Mueller team, according to people familiar with the situation. …”

Manafort and Cohen cooperating with Mueller cannot be good for Trump.


From one who knows: “BOOM!”

Let’s take a look at the opening tweet from John Dean and get his view on the risk to Trump: Watergate’s John Dean On Paul Manafort’s Flip: ‘BOOM!’

Mary Papenfuss explains in her sub-head: “Broomsticks breaking,” quips the former Nixon White House lawyer, slamming Trump’s claims that the Robert Mueller investigation is a witch hunt.

The added perspective here is that Manafort chose to plead and cooperate with Mueller over the promise of a pardon from Trump. Lawyer, Harvard law professor and cable news pundit Alan Dershowitz offered this:

“A presidential pardon now is “off the table; it’s too little, too late,” Dershowitz explained. “It would backfire at this point. If he’s given a pardon, then he [Manafort] can’t take the Fifth Amendment” to protect himself from self-incrimination. “He would have to testify anyway. He could be called in front of a grand jury.”

“From the point of view of Mueller, this is a “big win,” said Dershowitz. “It potentially opens up lots of doors that probably haven’t been opened before.””

A BIG WIN for Mueller.


Cracks are showing

But Trump can always counts on his base having his back. As New York Times columnist Timothy Egan writes: The Secret To Cracking Trump’s Base.

Egan’s sub-head is his summary: New polls show that some of the most hard-core Trumpsters are starting to get a clue. It might be because he finally crossed a line: He’s now insulting them.

We’ve been noting Trump’s approval ratings dipping across a raft of new polls. Here’s Egan’s view:

“The decline could be because Trump’s increasingly moonstruck tweets have lost their power. Or maybe it’s because all of the people around him believe he’s an idiot and they’re going public with the consensus inside the White House (another reason to get a dog). But I think Trump’s base is showing some erosion because his followers feel he finally crossed a line: He’s now insulting them.”

A turning point could be the admission made through author Bob Woodward’s book ‘Fear’ where he had Trump calling his Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions Beauregard III “a dumb Southerner”.

But maybe it’s a broader issue, maybe people are beginning to question what they signed up for; bringing the analysis closer to home:

“Working-class whites, particularly in the old Rust Belt, were the main beneficiaries of the expansion of health care under President Barack Obama. In Midwestern states that flipped from Obama to Trump, far more non-college-educated whites gained health coverage than did whites with degrees or members of ethnic minorities, according to an Urban Institute study. And if the president’s party succeeds in choking the last life out of Obamacare, these Trump voters stand to lose the most.”

Trump may be his own worst enemy on the campaign trail:

“In West Virginia, where Trump could shoot the Mountaineer mascot and still walk at the head of a parade, attacks on Obamacare are killing Republican chances of taking down Senator Joe Manchin.”


Nervous agents

Now for a quick BBC update on the Russian nerve agent attack on former Russian military intelligence officer  Sergei Skripal,and his daughter Yulia in March 2018. 

Britain is now waking up to the broader implications of the attack given how Putin has responded to two Russians being accused on the attack: Once Again, Putin Gives Us A Lesson On The Usefulness Of The Blatant Lie.

Putin’s denial of the involvement of the two Russians took this unusual form:

“Sweating, nervous, thuggishly coiffed and wearing similar sweaters, this is what Petrov and Boshirov (not their real names, say the British) told Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the propaganda channel RT (formerly Russia Today): Yes, they are the men in the videos and photographs produced by British police. Yes, they were in Salisbury at the time of the attack on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter. But no, they knew nothing of the Skripals or their house. “I wish somebody told us where it was,” said Petrov. “Maybe we passed it, or maybe we didn’t,” said Boshirov.

“The two men offered a reason for their visit: “They have a famous cathedral there, Salisbury Cathedral. It’s famous throughout Europe and, in fact, throughout the world, I think. It’s famous for its 123-meter spire.” Inspired, as it were, by the 123-meter spire (a statistic available in the second paragraph of the Salisbury Cathedral Wikipedia page), they went to Salisbury twice. On the first attempt — the British say this was a reconnaissance mission — the two men stayed only an hour and didn’t manage to walk the few hundred yards from the train station to the cathedral because of the terrible snow and slush. (Pictures from the day show the streets were clear.) On the second attempt — the day Novichok, a powerful nerve agent, was sprayed on Skripal’s front door — they say they made it to the cathedral, even though they were photographed walking in the opposite direction. Their memories of this Gothic masterpiece were not very detailed. “There are lots of tourists,” said Boshirov, “lots of Russian tourists.””

But here’s the connection to the Trump-Putin parallel:

“Why did she bother? Or, more accurately: Why was she told to bother? Because the production of blatant lies is useful. Although many in Britain mocked the interview (playing along, the @SalisburyCath account tweeted lovely photograph of its “123-meter spire”), far-left activists and conspiracy theorists have already seized on it, picked it apart and found enough shreds of “evidence” to keep their arguments going. Pro-Russian businesspeople, politicians and columnists who want to stop further sanctions will find something in it, too. Some will surely declare that this whole thing is so absurd, we’ll never know what really happened and we should just forget about it.

“This type of tactic has a history. At the time of the invasion of Crimea, Vladimir Putin insisted that the Russian troops marching across the peninsula were locals who had picked up their army equipment in “military surplus shops.” Absurd though it was, that lie was just plausible enough to muddy the waters. Remember, talk shows at the time were debating “Is this an invasion?” rather than “What are we going to do about it?” That worked for Russia — and also for those in the West who wanted to do nothing. The same will be true of this story. Russian money matters, not just in London but in Berlin, Paris and farther afield. Those who depend on it will happily lap up the holiday tales of Boshirov and Petrov as an excuse to ignore their crimes, postpone sanctions and change the subject.”

Putin sent a message that he could do what he wants and no one can stop him. As the Guardian reports, “Russia is mocking us”. 

Closer to home Trump has now told 5,000 lies, the 5,000th came on his 601st day in office. Russpublicans fly cover for Trump because they believe they are getting the better of their devil’s bargain. But there is also this from above, “far-left activists and conspiracy theorists have already seized on it, picked it apart and found enough shreds of “evidence” to keep their arguments going”.

Putin has managed to convince one pro-Putin advocate that he was wrong: I Was A Fool To Think We Could Reset Relations With Russia, Says Johnson.

Former UK foreign secretary and Brexit advocate finally throws in the towel with this:

“Boris Johnson has revealed that as foreign secretary he thought that a “reset” of relations with Russia was possible but that it was a “fool’s errand”.”


Tired of winning yet?

Mueller has certainly made Trump’s life more complicated. It’s also possible the Trump’s lies and insults are wearing out his audience as they become the subject of his attacks and lose valuable federal government support with the very real problems they face.

Trump is an unrepentant liar and Mueller’s investigation is producing results. Mueller has even eliminated one of Trump’s frequent criticisms about what we’re getting for the tax dollars spent – the government seized $42 million in assets from Manafort against an investigation cost to date of $25 million.

While Putin succeeds by spreading chaos, Trump’s role as the ‘useful idiot’ may not always be to his advantage. One theory offered is how Putin set Trump up in Helsinki by sending him home with a quid pro quo. Putin played his marker of his Internet Research Agency and “Mueller’s team issued 12 more indictments” in exchange for a reciprocal deal for the U.S. producing former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

“The White House then said it was a reasonable offer on Putin’s part to exchange miscreants, as it were, for local interrogation.”

But there was no way McFaul was going to Moscow or the Russians were coming to the U.S. to testify.

Putin set Trump up, making Trump look the fool he is

Trump faces a Putin risk:

“We can likely expect some sort of major financial corruption centring around his dream of a Trump Tower in Moscow. Given all of Trump’s hush payments to women, there also could be some lurid sexual antics. We could also expect some promises proffered by Trump to Putin, all secretly recorded by the Russians, that are treasonous and could implicate some of his congressional supporters.”

Russpublicans can always abandon Trump and scramble to GOP principles. Trump voters could abandon Trump. Trump’s blatant lying may be wearing thin.

Vote. Vote for Oversight. Vote to help the GOP and Trump voters to see the light.

(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2018. Open source and free for non-derivative use with link to )