“Show me one quote/tweet from Trump personally (1) praising new sanctions on Russians, (2) endorsing lethal weapons to Ukraine (3) supporting more NATO troops near Russia’s border (4) calling for Russia to leave Crimea or (5) criticizing Putin’s anti-democratic policies. Just one.”
— Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweet (1/12/19).
“This is not a traditional president. He has unorthodox means but he is President of the United States. It’s pretty much up to him in terms of who he wants to read into his conversations with world leaders.”
— Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) CNN State of the Union tweet 1-13-19
By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (1/14/19)
Dear Fellow Readers,
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report is the only known remedy for dealing with a witting or unwitting agent of Russia as president. So one could wonder where this story came from: F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia.
How to digest this headline? If it’s not shocking maybe you’re waiting to see Trump in cuffs and an orange suit, or maybe you presume there is some simple reason this isn’t important – it is. If well considered, everything you’ve ever read about Trump-Russia corruption or heard Trump say takes on new meaning. Every deflection, denial, move to obstruct or defend by his enablers takes on new meaning.
“In the days after President Trump as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.
“The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.”
Concerns over obstruction of justice following Trump’s firing of then FBI Director James Comey contributed to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to take over the inquiry.
“The criminal and counterintelligence elements were coupled together into one investigation, former law enforcement officials said in interviews in recent weeks, because if Mr. Trump had ousted the head of the F.B.I. to impede or even end the Russia investigation, that was both a possible crime and a national security concern. The F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division handles national security matters.
“…Not only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,” Mr. Baker said in his testimony, portions of which were read to The New York Times. Mr. Baker did not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the investigation of Mr. Trump to congressional investigators.”
Trump has been his own worst enemy every step of the way. The first time he shot himself in the foot was his interview with NBC host Lester Holt. Before we jump to the second, note that in the NBC article Sen. Lindsay Graham shows up as part of a defense, “Trump said he had a law firm send a letter to Senator Lindsay Graham stating that the president did not have any financial connection to Russia. “I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever.“” We’ll come back to this.
And the second time — on the heals of firing Comey — Trump celebrated in the Oval Office with Russians:
““I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to a document summarizing the meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.””
Trump’s TV lawyer and most inane defender Rudy Giuliani shows up here as well, referring to news of the investigation with, “The fact that it goes back a year and a half and nothing came of it that showed a breach of national security means they found nothing.”
Many people say, “it’s taking too long”, but there is a reason. Giuliani is wrong. There is so much to investigate.
Off the map
We are in uncharted territory, the United States has no tested or proven means handling a president who is “knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence”: Trump’s Firing Of Comey Triggered FBI Counterintelligence Investigation. Here’s What ‘counterintelligence’ Entails.
The Sub-Head is a partial dismissal of Giuliani’s nonsensical statement: It is crucial that we have a robust counterintelligence capability housed within the FBI, even if you may not see most of its work.
We’re now considering a less understood responsibility of the FBI, beyond criminal investigations:
“…But that has monopolized the news cycle for the past year has focused attention on another — lesser known — aspect of the FBI’s role: as the leading “counterintelligence” agency on U.S. soil. Of vital importance, that work often occurs outside the public eye, and is less well understood by citizens. … what does counterintelligence entail — and what do we even mean when we say counterintelligence?”
A useful definition, “when the U.S. government collects information for other purposes, such as to inform and guide the decision-making of U.S. national security officials, we call it intelligence”.
The article is a good read for understanding the role of the FBI. But Trump is presenting a whole new challenge: The FBI Can’t Neutralize A Security Threat If The President Is The Threat.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York – he knows better, yet he tries a shoulder shrug to defend and deflect and here’s what he doesn’t want you to know:
“…once a counterintelligence investigation is opened, it is ultimately closed either by determining that no threat to national security exists or that it has ceased to exist, or by taking actions to render ineffective — in intelligence lingo, to “neutralize” — the threat.”
The the FBI can “monitor” the threat (we covered recently). The agency can force spies under diplomatic cover to leave the country “as the Obama administration did when it persona non grata in December 2016 in retaliation for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election”. BUT:
“Unfortunately, none of these is a feasible option if the national security threat is the president of the United States.
“…This leaves only one option for neutralization: exposure.”
“This is where Mueller’s report comes in. Until now, the American public has seen only snippets of Mueller’s investigation — those that he has chosen to make public through criminal charges. But since not all activities uncovered by a counterintelligence investigation, even those that pose a significant threat to national security, are necessarily criminal, they do not reveal the full breadth of what Mueller may have discovered. Only by laying out all of his counterintelligence findings — including what role, if any, Trump played in Russia’s intelligence operation against the United States — can the criminal charges be placed in context and the full scope of the threat be assessed.”
Before we move forward, let’s add commentary regarding Giuliani that sums up the man and his role: Rudy Giuliani’s Clients Are All In The Trump Russia Dossier’s Massive Oil Deal.
And finally — incredibly — given the singular importance of the Mueller report, Giuliani floats this, “Trump Team Should Be Allowed To ‘correct’ Final Mueller Report, Says Giuliani”.
Facts be damned
If the facts are on your side, pound the facts into the table. If the law is on your side, pound the law into the table. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table. A well known and now oft-cited legal guidance. Given the news, Trump follows that advice: Trump Tweets Lengthy Attack on F.B.I. Over Inquiry Into Possible Aid to Russia.
Trump’s response to the New York Times story was this:
“President Trump on Saturday unleashed an extended assault on the F.B.I. and the special counsel’s investigation, knitting together a comprehensive alternative story in which he had been framed by disgraced “losers” at the bureau’s highest levels.
“In a two-hour span starting at 7 a.m., the president made a series of false claims on Twitter about his adversaries and the events surrounding the inquiry.”
Trump’s table pounding targeted the FBI, Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Robert Mueller and more, all “bent on taking him down”. Trump fled to his friends at Fox News to plead his case and failed. “Mr. Trump continued his broadside on a friendly television venue, Jeanine Pirro’s show on Fox News. Asked “are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?” Mr. Trump did not directly answer the question.”
Trump didn’t even deny his guilt.
Giuliani deserves attention for his grifting and constant shilling for Trump. But there is also someone that offered an amazingly spot-on assessment in 2016. The four minute video is stunningly prescient.
Rojo to the rescue
Reconsider everything you’ve heard anyone say about Trump-Russia corruption. One of the opening quotes was from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) poo-pooing Trump’s ‘unusual style’. It’s almost too bad he’d decided to not seek a third term, we’ll miss the opportunity to hear him answer questions about his visit to Moscow on July 4, 2017 with six other US senators and one congresswoman: How Fraught Is Meeting With Russia? Just Ask Republican Senators.
Sen. Ron Johnson spent July 4, 2017 in the Moscow US embassy with Senators Shelby (R-AL), Daines (R-MT), Thune (R-SD), Kennedy (R-LA), Moran (R-KS) and Hoeven (R-ND), and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX).
The criticism was muted, “It is clear to me that there are members of the Senate who are either naïve or they don’t recognize the real risk factors that Russia imposes on our system of government,” said Senator Benjamin L. Cardin; the enthusiasm was less restrained.
“The wind is blowing in our sails,” Vyacheslav Nikonov, the chairman of the State Duma education committee, told a Russian state television talk show after meeting with the delegation.”
Johnson was one of the most vocal in talking down Trump-Russia risk, “we’ve blown it way out of proportion”, while Sen. Kennedy (R-LA) offered by comparison, “that the message for Russia was, ‘stop screwing with American elections.’”
The Gang of Eight knew
Importantly, Congressional Leadership all knew from the very beginning. A group of political leaders referred to as the Gang of Eight included House Intelligence leadership, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Senate Intelligence leadership, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), House Leadership, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate leadership, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
The Gang of Eight all knew. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA; minority leader Senate Intelligence Committee) appeared on CNN with Jake Tapper on Sunday morning.
“To start, Tapper asked the big question directly: “Do you think the president of the United States ever worked on behalf of the Russians against American interests?”
“Well, Jake, that’s the defining question of our investigation and the Mueller investigation,” said Warner. “Was there collusion?”
“I’m not going to talk about what we may have been briefed, in the gang of eight, when these investigations opened, he said. “But I do think it’s curious that throughout that whole summer when these investigations started, you had Vladimir Putin policies almost being parroted by Donald Trump.”
… “I just think we need to put this all three pieces of what happened in context of last week.” Warner continued. “We have the story of the level of concern that the FBI had — again, if the story is correct — in a sense, open their own investigation, whether Donald Trump was compromised. We have on top of that, the fact of the most recent story that Trump had a series of meetings with Putin, which he broke all protocol, where normally these meetings you bring in top aides, so that there is some record, so that you can have the appropriate follow-up.
“Finally, I know people have to stretch their memory, but we have to remember all the way back at the beginning of the week when the stories came out that Trump’s campaign chairman was sharing proprietary campaign data with a known Russian agent, Mr. Kilimnik,” said Warner. “Kilimnik who has ties both to Putin and Kilimnik who has ties to the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The very same oligarch the Trump Administration now wants to try to remove the sanctions on.”
The GANG of 8 KNEW:
“You seem to confirm that as a member of the gang of eight,” said Tapper. “Which is congressional leadership and the leadership of the House and Senate intelligence committees, you just seemed to confirm that you had been briefed when this counterintelligence investigation was launched –”
Warner would only confirm that subsequent to the briefing “there was of enough concern that the Senate intelligence committee, in a bipartisan fashion, the House intelligence committee, in a slightly less bipartisan fashion, launched investigations.”
Tapper and Warner talked about sanctions imposed against Russia which Warner noted as “actions came from bipartisan concerns in Congress, not from the White House… and that Trump is already attempting to undo some, again citing Deripaska”.
The key question from Tapper is here; note this is ONLY a distinction between Trump as a witting or unwitting agent of Russia:
“Before moving on, Tapper gave the blunt question one more time. “This is a very quick yes or no question,” he said. “Do you think President Trump is wittingly or unwittingly an agent of the Russians?”
“Warner gave a long answer again, but finally said “it is a very real question.”
“Okay, so, the answer is you don’t know yet,” said Tapper, to which Warner nodded affirmatively.”
What’s he hiding?
There were two news items referenced by Sen. Warner in his interview with Tapper. Warner references to Trump “breaking protocol” with his meetings with Putin: Trump Has Concealed Details Of His Face-to-face Encounters With Putin From Senior Officials In Administration.
“President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.”
Trump kept any knowledge of meetings with Putin from his administration, Congress and the public. Before you are tempted to dismiss the importance as a “nothing burger” to quote Gang of 8 former House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA), consider what other US-Russia meeting of leaders looked like – use this link to see Reagan-Gorbachev.
Further highlighting a comparison to Reagan, remember that following Trump’s “all-expenses-paid visit to Moscow in the 80’s he returned to run full-page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe attacking U.S. foreign policy and NATO. Trump’s pro-Russia ads were offered as part of his first time considering a run for the presidency.
Here’s Trump’s Helsinki example of how he met with Putin: “This photo will be in history textbooks for decades. It is such an incredible piece of art.”
Trump has attempted to relax sanctions against Russian oligarch, Putin associate and convicted Trump former campaign chair Manafort associate Oleg Deripaska: Democrats Push To Block Sanctions Relief For Russian Oligarch’s Companies.
White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders is lying when she tries to defend Trump by saying “Trump has actually been tough on Russia”. Instead it is the Democrats who are scrambling to block Trump’s removal of Russian sanctions.
Senate Democrats intend to force a vote this coming week on the Trump administration’s move to lift sanctions against companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, intensifying a new line of scrutiny of the administration’s handling of Russia policy.
Reframe everything you’ve heard
Never in the history of the United States have we dealt with the prospect of a president as a witting or unwitting agent of a hostile foreign power. We face a unique challenge with untested checks and balances. Responding to the attack exceeds the limits of the FBI.
The Mueller report is the only known remedy for dealing with a WITTING agent of Russia as president. We say witting because only weeks after Trump secured his party’s nomination he was warned about the risk of Russian infiltration. Everything he did after that with his campaign, the transition, his time in the White House — even his use of unsecured cell phones — has been in spite of those warnings.
Reframe everything you’ve heard to date and consider anything you hear going forward in this new context.
Esquire writer Charles Pierce highlights a critical point, a word buried in the New York Times article we used mentioned above: “No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials.” Pierce underscores this as a deliberate preview:
“…by dropping that fatal “publicly” in there, the Times and its sources likely are giving us a preview of coming attractions. (Judging by his manic episode on Saturday morning, the president* knows this, too.) And the one thing about which we can all be sure is that is whole megillah is nowhere near as weird as it’s going to get.”
Somehow even imaging the extent of Trump’s corruption, it’s still stunning to face it directly. To Pierce’s credit, he also added this tweet Sunday morning, a good reminder it’s not just worse, it’s far worse…
At the heel of the hunt, I think the key to general Republican complicity in this scandal is going to be the fact that a lot of them got laundered Russian money in 2016, a lot of which got washed by the NRA.
7:51 AM – 13 Jan 2019
Pay particular attention to the person who has now emerged as Trump’s #1 defender – Sen. Lindsay Graham. Guaranteed, you will be shaking your head and wondering.