Russia Monitor: How The Hell We Got Here


By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (9/24/18)

Dear Fellow Readers,

The news this cycle is complex. We’ll start with the most important which also turns out to be the easiest to present – the New York Times has produced an impactful summary of ‘how we got here’. So in this order:

  • Timeline of Russia’s Unprecedented Interference in the 2016 Election
  • Payments Made Before and After Donnie Jr.’s Trump Tower Meeting with Russians
  • The Lying and ‘Correction’ by Trump’s Former (pleaded guilty) National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s Assistant – K.T. McFarland
  • New Trump-Russia Book and a Chance to Directly Question the Author

Here we go: A Timeline Showing Full Scale of Russia’s Unprecedented Interference In 2016 Election, And Its Aftermath.

It was not that long ago that Trump used to claim, “no contact with Russians”. Even Trump runs away from his denials now claiming “no collusion (regarding Trump-Russia)”. The New York Times fed into Trump’s narrative of denial in October 2016 by publishing an article just ahead of the election citing n FBI refusal to confirm an investigation “no clear (Trump) link to Russia”.  Two years after that erroneous story this latest article could be seen as a mea culpa.

The timeline is linked to a very long series of articles titled “The Plot to Subvert An Election: Unraveling the Russia Story So Far”. 

The timeline runs from June 2015 through September 2018 (and ongoing) and is organized with events in five categories: Direct contacts with Russian by Trump officials; Russian social media fraud; Russian hacking; Denials of wrongdoing by Trump and associates; Federal investigation of Russian meddling. The timing is then considered by span of time like the ‘start of the campaign’, followed by ‘Russian Contacts, Hacking and Fraud Intensify Through the Election and so forth. This second time span is where we’ll find:

“Russians reached out to campaign officials with offers of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and invitations to back-channel meetings. The top military intelligence service in Russia hacked the Democrats while a network of Russian computer specialists use stolen identities, false personas and fake social media accounts and ads to sow discord and undermine the election.”

We highlight this as we’ll revisit this shortly with the flow of payments bookending the now well known Donnie Jr.-led meeting with Russians regarding “dirt” on Hillary.

There are some very busy parts of the timeline, defined by how many entries fit within a month like April 2016 and this example:

“APRIL26 The professor (Joseph Mifsud) tells Papadopoulos that the Russians have “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. »

“This occurs about two months before the Russian hacking is publicly revealed and is the first of at least two times the Trump campaign is told Russia has “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.”

George Papadopoulus is the former Trump foreign policy adviser pled guilty, and was part of the root cause for the start of the FBI investigation. Joseph Mifsud is the mysterious professor and accused Russian spy who has gone missing. There are more than two dozens entries simply just for April 2016.

“The Plot to Subvert America” is linked above and compiles a handful of articles offering a variety of perspective on how we got here and where we are now. The progression starts with a view of Putin’s motivation of feeling angry and vengeful over his presumption that Hillary Clinton sought to undermine his presidency. Putin blamed Hillary for the Panama Paper leaks that highlighted Putin’s vast accumulation of wealth:

“In the intervening two years, Mr. Putin’s ire at America only increased. He blamed the United States for pushing for a full investigation of illicit doping by Russian athletes, which would lead to mass suspensions of the country’s Olympic stars. And when the leaked Panama Papers were published in April 2016, revealing that a cellist who was Mr. Putin’s close friend had secret accounts that had handled $2 billion, he charged that it was a smear operation by the United States.”

The final article in the series of previously published articles ends with Trump’s efforts to solidify his base, convincing them:

“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” he wrote in a tweet.

Our challenge – simply scroll the timeline from June 2015 till now and see if you can  find any sympathy for Trump’s repeated “witch hunt” fulminations.


Seeing through the fog

We can also consider the opinions of a few people that offer their summaries: Seeing Through The Fog In The Mueller Russia Probe.

Ryan Goodman’s Op-Ed starts with a video collage of Trump and associate denials that now look shockingly transparent, these have not aged well, including Trump (“Russia is a ruse”), Russia recused Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III, former Trump national security adviser who pleaded guilty Michael Flynn angrily denying, VP Pence (“of course not”), former Trump campaign chair and recently convicted on federal charges Paul Manafort, Donnie Jr. (“it’s disgusting, it’s so phony”), spokesperson Kellyanne Conway (“absolutely not”), former Trump Chief of Staff Rence Priebus (“we don’t know of any contact with Russian agents”).

Goodman cites some levels of exposure for Trump and associates:

“This sustained pattern of lying to the media about any Russian contacts was almost surely done by design and coordinated from within Mr. Trump’s inner circle.”

But were the statements coordinated?

“If you direct your attention to the series of known cases when Trump officials have not told the truth to the F.B.I. and to Congress about Russian contacts, what emerges is a likely conspiracy on the part of Mr. Trump’s inner circle to mislead federal officials.”

Goodman points out this is a federal crime, but then offers this:

“Far worse are the numerous instances in which Trump campaign officials either lied to federal officials or came perilously close.

“We have two undisputed cases, through the indictments of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and George Papadopoulos, the former foreign policy adviser. It is difficult to see how the two men could expect to get away with it.”

Goodman highlights lying by Sessions, Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, possibly Donnie Jr. and eventually parks his questions at the front door of Trump himself.

From AlterNet, consider the view of former Watergate prosecutor Nick Ackerman: Watergate Prosecutor Explains How Mueller Has Effectively Cornered Trump — And Predicts We’ll See ‘New Major Indictments’.

Ackerman praises special counsel Mueller for his accomplishments and pace to date:

“Mueller has already accomplished something that was not done in the Watergate investigation: He has flipped two major figures close to the president — Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn,” wrote Akerman. “There was no cooperating witness comparable in Watergate who was as close to President Richard Nixon as Flynn and Manafort were to Trump. John Dean had the title of counsel to the president, but he was not one of Nixon’s close insiders.”

But it is THIS that should be most concerning to Trump and his associates:

“When Manafort’s testimony is combined with the additional testimony of Flynn, Cohen and Gates, it appears that Mueller is quite likely on the verge of handing down new major indictments,” Akerman concluded. “These indictments could very well answer the ultimate question of what Trump knew and when he knew it.”

 We are so far past fake Trump claims of “no contact with Russians”. Consider the amount of detail we now know about one of the most famous instances of “no contact”, Donnie Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting with Russians. BuzzFeed News reports: The Planners Of The Trump Tower Meeting Moved Millions, And Mueller Is Now Investigating

Initial denials tried to dismiss the meeting as a disappointing 20-minute discussion of adoptions of Russian babies that went nowhere. Now media reports are reviewing flows of payments between principals before and after the meeting.

“Documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News show that $3.3 million began moving on June 3 between two of the men who orchestrated the meeting: Aras Agalarov, a billionaire real estate developer close to both Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump, and Irakly “Ike” Kaveladze, a longtime Agalarov employee once investigated for money laundering.

“That money is on top of the more than $20 million that was flagged as suspicious, BuzzFeed News revealed earlier this month, after the money ricocheted among the planners and participants of the Trump Tower meeting.”

Here’s how we now know about these payments:

“None of these transactions was discovered until 2017, after the New York Times revealed the Trump Tower meeting. Shortly after that report, investigators asked financial institutions to look back at their accounts to learn how money flowed among the people who planned and attended the meeting: Agalarov; Kaveladze; Agalarov’s pop star son, Emin; their employee, Rob Goldstone, who sent the original email to Trump Jr.; and others.”

Citibank, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley were asked to investigate; here’s one additional interesting fact:

“All three banks cited a 2000 report by the Government Accountability Office, in which Kaveladze was investigated as part of a Russian money laundering scheme. Kaveladze, that report found, established more than 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian real estate brokers, then set up US bank accounts for them. The brokers used these accounts to transfer about $1.4 billion, the report found.”

Mueller of course knows all of this. There is even more Donnie Jr. meeting news with this acknowledgement that publicist, Trump associate and promoter for Russian oligarch and Trump partner Aras Agalarov’s son Emin, Rob Goldstone. The Raw Story report: British Publicist Who Set Up Trump Tower Meeting Spent 9 Hours With Robert Mueller’s Investigators.

The headline is the story so we’ll leave it there though there is also this very thorough Washington Post review of Goldstone’s history with Trump and his role in Trump-Russia and the investigation. 


Flynn flap

We’ll switch attention to the lies of Michael Flynn’s former deputy national security adviser J.T. McFarland: Former Top White House Official Revises Statement To Special Counsel About Flynn’s Calls With Russian Ambassador.

We’ll present this in a different order from the article to make it easier to summarize:

“When FBI agents first visited her at her Long Island home in the summer of 2017, McFarland denied ever talking to Flynn about any discussion of sanctions between him and the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in December 2016 during the presidential transition.”

Now, here’s the latest from MacFarland:

“A former top White House official has revised her statement to investigators about a key event in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, after her initial claim was contradicted by the guilty plea of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to people familiar with the matter.

“K.T. McFarland, who briefly served as Flynn’s deputy, has now said that he may have been referring to sanctions when they spoke in late December 2016 after Flynn’s calls with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, these people said.”

McFarland’s initial interview was seen as “inconsistent”. Questions about who else was involved and what they knew, including Trump, remain. There was a call with Flynn about “members of the Presidential Transition Team at Mar-a-Lago” not wanting Russian escalation in response to Obama sanctions in response to election interference. It was immediately after that call with McFarland that Flynn called Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak to ask that Russia not escalate (they did not).

One final note about McFarland that underscores the complicity and arrogance of Trump associates through Trump-Russia corruption:

“McFarland’s statements about Flynn and Kislyak also came under scrutiny by lawmakers and helped scuttle her nomination as the U.S. ambassador to Singapore.”

And that is the point of highlighting McFarland – so many denials, so many denials proven untrue and in some cases, people have faced consequences.


In the last edition of the Russia Monitor we highlighted a new book titled “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy” by Greg Miller. Miller is a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning national security reporter for the Washington Post.

At the bottom of the story we highlighted there is a link to an online chat with the author on Wednesday, October 3 from 11 AM till 12:30 PM (Central). You can submit a question for the author, attend the discussion and there will be a transcript at the end of the chat. We will ‘attend’.


Rosenstein at risk?

We’ll end the column by acknowledging a potentially major development for deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. There is a risk that Trump could fire Rosenstein based on this reporting. The presentation is based on the confusion over what really happened and the unknown around what may happen.

On Friday the New York Times reported: Rod Rosenstein Suggested Secretly Recording Trump and Discussed 25th Amendment.

The first paragraph is a perfect summary:

“The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, suggested last year that he secretly record President Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit.”

Fox News talking head Laura Ingraham quickly tweeted a demand that “Rod Rosenstein must be fired today”. On Saturday morning Ingraham deleted the message. Also on Saturday Fox talking head Sean Hannity offered this:

“I have a message for the president tonight,” Hannity said on his show Friday night. “Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody.”

Trump buddy, possibly the closest thing he has to a friend, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) warned Trump to be careful to “BEWARE of anything coming out of the @nytimes.”

It gets stranger as other media reports presented Rosenstein’s remarks as sarcastic and not serious based on comments from others present at the meeting. But the New York Times stands by their reporting though Daily Mail reported they had not talked directly to anyone present at the meeting. The breaking news was based on leaked contemporaneous memos from former FBI acting director Andrew McCabe who was fired. Rosenstein denied the claims, “The New York Times’ story is inaccurate and factually incorrect.” 

What was being discussed as the first shot fired in a developing constitutional crisis should Trump have fired Rosenstein so far resulted in no further actions.

“Advisers to President Trump are counseling him against firing Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein over memos written by the former acting director of the FBI that say Rosenstein proposed secretly recording the president and pushed for his removal from office.

“…But those close to Trump and some of his allies on Capitol Hill believe that a politically charged firing in advance of the midterm elections will feed a Democratic narrative of chaos in the administration, and that the president should wait until November to make any changes at the Justice Department.”

Similarly, on Friday, Trump, walked back his order earlier this week to declassify information in the ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying Justice Department officials and others had persuaded him not to do so for the time being.

For now, add Rosenstein to a long list of possible actions following the mid-term elections. Will Sessions be replaced, will Rosenstein be fired and replaced? There are discussions of other cabinet changes, but that is nothing new with this administration. But Sessions and Rosenstein are directly at the heart of Mueller’s investigation.


Will our luck run out?

We dodged a constitutional crisis when Nixon resigned. In a Friday Democracy Now! interview with Amy Goodman about his latest film Fahrenheit 11/9, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore warns we may well not be so lucky this time around.

“I took this man seriously from the beginning, and I’m here and I’m telling you now that he has his plans for the way he’d like things to be. He has no intention of leaving the White House. He knows he cannot be indicted. He knows the Constitution won’t allow Mueller to indict him. He can be an unindicted—not co-conspirator, but he’ll be an unindicted criminal. But he doesn’t think he’s going to be impeached. He’s going to call it all rigged. Even if he loses the 2020 election, he’ll say it’s rigged.”

Michael Moore predicted a Trump victory in 2016 and he’s predicting Trump will do whatever it takes to stay in the White House.

The question is: Are we up to the challenge?

Vote for Oversight.

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