Tag: Russia

The Flynn Flip

The internet is filled with the new that General Mike Flynn is seeking immunity in exchange for testifying about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. What exactly he would testify about it a bit unclear. And so far, no one has taken him up on the offer.

The Democrats are salivating over this, but let’s keep something in mind: Flynn may not know shit. He may just be trying desperately to evade any consequences of his own actions which, at the very least, included undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Turkey. Even is he does know something, that something may not be the thing that leads to the downfall of Trump.

I’m reminded a bit of Oliver North. During the Iran-Contra Affair, North was given immunity to testify to Congress. In the end, he didn’t give them what they wanted: nothing implicated Reagan. The prosecutors went after North himself and got a conviction but it was subsequently overturned because of the immunity Congress had given him.

Maybe Flynn cracks the Russia thing open. But I suspect this will go the same way. If he is given immunity, the stuff he will reveal will be less than damning or, at worst, implicate Manafort.

As I’ve said many times, the Russia thing demands full independent investigation (especially with Nunes going off the reservation). But I’m not going to say, “This is the end of Trump!” until it’s the end of Trump.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Two new reports on the Trump-Russia thing today.

This morning, the AP revealed that Paul Manafort, Trump’s first campaign manager, failed to disclose that he had worked for a Russian oligarch. The purpose of his job, according to the AP, was to advance the interest of Vladimir Putin:

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Manafort, you may remember, was forced out of the Trump team when it was revealed that he had taken Russian money to lobby on behalf of pro-Russia factions in the Ukraine. This was one of the first revelations that made people question Trump’s ties to Russia. The revelation that his campaigning on behalf of Putin goes back even further is disturbing. If there’s any fire to all this smoke on Russia, Manafort will be where you’ll find it.

Tonight, however, the news got even worse:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, according to one source.

The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.

Now, caveat time. All the sources that CNN sites are anonymous. Moreover, even if they are telling the truth, all this means is that the FBI is investigating these claims, not that they’ve found anything. At the moment, this is simply more smoke.

There have been allegations that the intelligence community has become politicized over this. Even though the loudest accuser is Roger Stone, who admitted to being in communication with the Wikileaks hackers, I’m not inclined to dismiss this line of criticism. It’s certainly possible that’s what we’re seeing.

Which is why we need to end the rumor mongering and put together a independent commission to look into this. To look into all of it. The current investigation — through the House Intelligence Committee — is only muddying the waters further. If Trump people cooperated with Russia to win the election, that’s a very serious scandal. And if the intelligence community is exaggerating this to undermine Trump, that’s a very serious scandal. Time to bring this all out in the open.

Tapping Trump

So this happened:

President Trump on Saturday angrily accused former president Barack Obama of orchestrating a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall in the run-up to the election.

While citing no evidence to support his explosive allegation, Trump said in a series of four tweets sent Saturday morning that Obama was “wire tapping” his New York offices before the election in a move he compared to McCarthyism. “Bad (or sick) guy!” he said of his predecessor, adding that the surveillance resulted in “nothing found.”

This appears to be a result of internet telephone. Last summer, Louise Mensch revealed that the FBI (not Obama) has sought a FISA warrant to investigate members of Trump’s team’s ties to the Russians (this was after it was discovered that a server in Trump tower was communicating with Russian banks). The FISA Court rejected the initial warrant, then granted one more narrowly focused on four members of the Trump team. These details have been reported on many times. A few days ago, Mark Levin did one of his connect-the-dots pieces alleging a conspiracy to derail Trump. It showed up today on Breitbart and thus went into Trump’s brain.

If that’s all there is to it, Trump is being incredibly stupid here because he is reminding the public that his campaign staff were under investigation for espionage owing to credible accusations that they were working with the Russians to enable Trump’s election. If there’s more, then Trump needs to provide the evidence because warrantless wiretapping by Obama would indeed be a gigantic political scandal.

The Russia Follies, Chapter 58

The advantage of being on vacation is that I can watch an entire Trump news cycle play out before commenting on it. So it is with the latest Russia scandal. Apparently, Jeff Sessions, our Attorney General, denied meeting with the Russians during the campaign. But it has now been revealed that he met with the Russian Ambassador twice. Today has brought more revelations of unreported meetings and unreported business ties.

As is usually the case with revelations about this Administration’s contacts with Russia, it provoked an instant reaction of “Treason! Impeachment! Worse than Watergate!” followed by the refractory period of, “OK, we’ll look into it.” as more facts come out. For example, most of these contacts between Trump officials and the Russian ambassador took place at the RNC … at an event organized by the Obama Administration State Department.

A few things to unpack from this.

First, one of the big claims is that Sessions perjured himself in his testimony to Congress. Having thought about this for a while and read quite a bit of online commentary, I’m inclined to think he didn’t. There’s enough leeway in his answers that he can honestly say he didn’t discuss the campaign with Kislyak. One of the most hilarious figures in this mess is now Claire McCaskill. After she claimed to have never met the Russian ambassador, it took ten seconds for conservative Twitter to show that she had. Sessions may have forgotten these meetings or regarded their content as insignificant. His answers were problematic, no question. But sticking a charge of perjury on them requires a lot of facts that are not yet in evidence.

Questions of perjury aside, I agree with the calls for Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the ongoing Russia investigation (after I drafted this, Sessions agreed to recuse himself). I also think Sessions needs to give a full account of his conversations with Kislyak to determine if he did perjure himself before Congress.

And I agree that there needs to be a full independent Congressional investigation into this matter. At minimum, we’re talking about members of the Administration potentially using their positions to advance their business interests. At worst, we’re talking about the subversion of Administration members by a foreign power. Even if you are a Trump supporter, you can not have this cloud hanging over him for the next four years. There is a tendency for partisans to hunker down and not want to “give in” to the other side. That’s a bad instinct. Bad for America. And frankly bad for Trump. Investigate now. Investigate fully. This isn’t some Daily Kos conspiracy theory any more.

(I suspect, incidentally, that the explanation here is closer to the “business interests” side of the spectrum than the “treason” side. The Trump Administration is filled with amateurs who have no idea how important disclosure is and filled with business people who have ties to Russia and potential conflicts of interests — all the way up to the President himself. If it were shown that the Administration is subverting American interests in favor of Russian ones, that would be one of the worst scandals in American political history. But I find that unlikely to be the case, especially with Sessions who is a notorious hawk on Russia.)

I’ll be honest. We’re a month and a half into the Trump years and I am frankly getting tired of this clown show with the Russians. This entire thing could have been avoided had Trump released his tax returns and disclosed his business interests (and not done his whole, “Putin, if you’re listening” routine). One thing that needs to come out of this is full financial disclosure from both the President and his advisors. Releasing tax returns can no longer be optional. And while we’re on it, we should make medical disclosure mandatory too. We don’t need another JFK hopped up on five kinds of prescription meds trying to navigate a potential nuclear war.

What the Hades? (Russian Pee Edition)

So … to quote a great sage, let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Yesterday, CNN ran an explosive story that the CIA had briefed Trump on Russian efforts to compromise him.

The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.

The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.

The report says Russia was trying to get information that would compromise Trump personally, financially or ethically.

Soon after that Buzzfeed ran the full report of allegations, which runs some 35 pages. It includes allegations that Trump people worked directly with the Russians and has some details on supposed compromising information. Buzzfeed stressed that this was unconfirmed but the internet and liberals jumped all over it.

And then it got even stranger. Every journalist on Twitter said that they’d gotten the same report as Buzzfeed but had refused to run it. The reason? Nothing in it could be verified (and as Liz Mair and other pointed out, there were reasons to doubt its authenticity even on its own merits). And then it got even stranger when Redditors began to claim the entire thing was a hoax sent to Rick Wilson as a joke (Wilson denies being the source of it). Trump, of course, took to Twitter to foam at the mouth about it.

So … to sum up … there is a document floating around making various claims about Trump and the Russians. It is from a single intelligence source, is absolutely unverified and contains information that crosses many as dubious. Buzzfeed, for reasons that elude me, decided to release the entire thing without any fact-checking. Based on this, a substantial part of the Left Wing — who were crying about “fake news” like yesterday — is calling for Trump to be impeached (although, TBF, they call for Trump to be impeached when it rains). So, in case you thought the bad crazy was going away, it isn’t.

(Necessary caveat, since I get accused of being a secret Trumpaloo anytime I defend him: Putin is a murderous kleptocrat; it’s alarming that he may have helped Trump in the election; it should be investigated thoroughly; this does not delegitimize Trump’s election; unless Trump worked with him, this is not an impeachable offense.)

Now … those are the facts. Here’s the fun:

The most frenzied allegation in the report was that, while in Russia, Trump rented out the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton and had Russian hookers pee on a bed the Obamas had slept in. I’ll be honest with you: as much as dislike Trump, this allegation sounds like a bunch of manure.

Trump’s “thing” isn’t sex; it’s worship. He’s a shameless braggart and a terribly insecure man. Hence slapping his name on everything in sight. Hence his insistence that Marla Maples tell the media he was the best sex she ever had. Hence his claims to have seduced married women and groped models. The Billy Bush tape was Trump in a nutshell: a rich 59-year-old man so desperate to impress people that he had to boast about sexual assault to a D-list celebrity. Hell, the rumor is that his entire Presidential campaign was motivated by his humiliation at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Frankly, he doesn’t cross me as well-adjusted enough or secure enough in who he is to be kinky.

But, maybe. My friend Maggie McNeill took to Twitter to note that many politicians see sex workers and many have unusual requests. The only reason it doesn’t come out is because sex workers, unlike politicians, have ethics. So it could be true.

But I honestly don’t care. Whatever Trump is into, that’s his business and not ours. There are many people who are into being peed on or watching people pee and, if that makes them happy and everyone’s a consenting adult, that’s their business. As long as Trump’s not breaking any laws or coercing anyone, I don’t care. Well … no … I do care because it’s fun to mock the powerful. Viz:

So, yes, I will find some relief as this story swirls around the internet. I think that these kind of leaks are dangerous but I don’t mind too much when they anger our #1 businessman. I’m sure that this won’t stop Trump from taking care of business no matter how much it pisses him off. And, who knows? Maybe I’m wrong about his Administration and a bright golden future really does await us. Maybe he will write his name on the wall of history.

I’ll show myself out.

All The News That’s Fit to Fake

Last week, the media filled with reports about how the Russians were hacking the power grid in Vermont. This was supposedly the first wave of more cyberattacks. The only problem? It wasn’t true:

As federal officials investigate suspicious Internet activity found last week on a Vermont utility computer, they are finding evidence that the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility, according to experts and officials close to the investigation.

An employee at Burlington Electric Department was checking his Yahoo email account Friday and triggered an alert indicating that his computer had connected to a suspicious IP address associated by authorities with the Russian hacking operation that infiltrated the Democratic Party. Officials told the company that traffic with this particular address is found elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric, suggesting the company wasn’t being targeted by the Russians. Indeed, officials say it is possible that the traffic is benign, since this particular IP address is not always connected to malicious activity.

In other words, the Washington Post, and most of the media, said a cyberwar was underway because someone clicked a link. This is part of the overall hysteria about Russia that has gripped the media since Trump’s election.

Look, I have no use for the murderous kleptocrat who runs Russia and has dreams of rebuilding his Empire. And it puzzles and alarms me that our President-Elect wants to snuggle up to him. But … let’s get a grip here. We’re not at war. We have a bit of a cold war thing going, but it’s not nearly what we were dealing with 25 years ago. For the time being, Putin’s imperial ambitions consist of wrecking his economy and getting his military bogged down in Syria and the Ukraine. Yes, we should pay attention to them and be concerned about cyber-warfare. But the speed with which people are going to DEFCON 2 is ridiculous.

(Note: it’s especially ridiculous because of many of these same jokers were useful idiots for the USSR when the latter actually was a superpower and we actually were in an intense Cold War. They were fine with seventy years of gulags and guerrilla wars, but a phishing attack on the DNC is apparently a step too far.)

I’ve been building up a diatribe on the “fake news” hysteria for a while and now is as good a time as any to unload. Pull up a chair.

Read more… »

Obama Whacks Russia

By comparison of Obama to Michael Corleone at the end of The Godfather is looking more and more apt:

President Barack Obama took unprecedented steps Thursday to retaliate against alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, prompting vows from Russian authorities that Moscow will respond in kind.

The administration described Russia’s involvement as “Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities” and sanctioned six Russian individuals and five Russian entities, as well as ordering dozens of Russian diplomats to leave the country. This is the first time the names of Russian officials involved in the hacking have become public on the sanctions list.

Obama said 35 Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave the country and two Russian compounds are being closed under Thursday’s actions.

“Russia’s cyberactivities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in US democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the US government,” a White House statement said. “These actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

According to statements from the White House and the Treasury Department, the government has sanctioned nine entities and individuals over their alleged interference in the election: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s operations. The US also sanctioned two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information.

I think this is appropriate, assuming the CIA is correct about Russian interference. The point is not that Russia “won” the election for Trump. The point is that they are sewing doubt and discord and trying to humiliate the US. It also, again, is about boxing Trump into a corner where he will have to actively lift the sanctions if he wants to kiss Putin’s butt.

Russia and Turkey

Last year, Turkey shot down a Russian plane. I wonder if this will make the tension worse:

Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated at an art exhibition in Ankara on Monday. The gunman shouted, “Do not forget Aleppo!” as he opened fire.

The shooting of Ambassador Andrey Karlov was captured on video. Russia’s foreign ministry described it as a “terror attack.”
“We are currently in contact with Turkish authorities, who are assuring us that a thorough, comprehensive investigation will be conducted,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in remarks broadcast on Russian television. “Murderers will be punished. Terrorism won’t sustain. We’ll fight it.”

For the moment, both countries are making the right noises, calling it an act of terror. But given the tensions in the region, specifically over Allepo, this has the potential to develop into a dangerous situation.

Russia, Trump and the Election

Ulp:

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

The Obama administration has been debating for months how to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions, with White House officials concerned about escalating tensions with Moscow and being accused of trying to boost Clinton’s campaign.

In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.

The key allegation here is that Russia hacked both the DNC and RNC but chose only to leak the DNC e-mails to make Clinton look bad. Trump, of course, is denying this was the case.

A natural caveat: these are anonymous sources within the CIA. We don’t necessarily know that the report is accurate. I think a Congressional investigation is necessary before we draw any big conclusions. And I do think this should be investigated. The results of the Wisconsin recount put to bed the conspiracy theory that Putin hacked the actual election results. But the allegation that a foreign power is using hacking and selective leaks of information to influence our election is a serious one.

The key problem at this stage is that the Democrats are seeing this in strictly partisan terms which, unsurprisingly, makes it a partisan issue. LGF, having completed its decent into madness, is one of several sites demanding that the Electoral College refuse to elect Trump based on this. That is, they are demanding that the College — which last week they denounced as an undemocratic artifact of slavery — overturn an election based on anonymous report from the CIA that Russia favored the winning candidate. That we respond to a foreign attempt to destabilize our political system by really destabilizing the political system.

It’s hard to describe how insane that is. Even if these allegations are true, they do not make Trump an illegitimate President. We have had foreign powers trying to influence our politics forever, through economic and political pressure. The Soviets were masters at this, covertly funding “peace” movements and nuclear disarmament movements. In fact, KGB documents alleged that Ted Kennedy — folk hero of the Democrats — ASKED the Soviets to interfere in the 1984 election.

Whatever role the Russians played in this, they did not make Clinton one of the most dishonest and distrusted people to run for President. They didn’t make her lie about everything from Bosnian snipers to pneumonia. They didn’t make her bungle healthcare reform in the 90’s. They didn’t make her ignore Wisconsin and Michigan. They didn’t make her lose the trust of black voters. She did that all on her own.

Now if the investigation were to discover that Trump knew of Russia’s intervention and worked with them, that’s a different kettle of fish. That would be an impeachable offense. But that’s a very high bar to clear.

As it happens, I am concerned about Trump’s pro-Russia stance (his rumored State Department head is the CEO of Exxon and, like Trump, has numerous business ties to Russia). I am sure that Putin did favor him. We need to look into this (and into Trump’s business ties to Russia). But let’s not start the revolution just yet.