New low after new low. If this is what “making America great” looks like, God help us.

So This Is What American Greatness Really Looks Like?

Russian nesting dolls Trump and Putin

This week, Garry Kasparov, former Russian chess champion and perennial critic of Vladimir Putin, tweeted about what autocrats do when caught:

1: Deny, lie, slander accusers.

2: Say it was a misunderstanding.

3. Say ‘What are you going to do about it?

The day after that tweet, Donald Trump stood on a dais in Paris beside the French president and said of his son’s now-confirmed willingness to receive campaign help for his father from Russia: “I think it’s a meeting that most people in politics probably would have taken.”

That would be jaw dropping and bizarre coming from a mob boss at his pretrial hearing, let alone from the president of the United States. But that line is now standard issue among much of Trump’s political party, which has come around to the notion that collusion with a foreign power—even an adversarial one like Russia—is no big deal.

Trump, his family, and his defenders in the once Grand Old Party have mounted various defenses for his campaign’s collusion with Russians and their cutouts to win the 2016 presidential election. They have tried to ignore Russiagate. They have said collusion with Russia never happened. They have blamed Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Loretta Lynch (Trump now says the Russian government lawyer who met with Donald Jr. was only in the country because Lynch let her in. It will surprise no one to discover that’s not true.) And they have landed on the notion that even if collusion did happen, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Check off all three of the Kasparov boxes.

With Trump’s ascension, the Russification of the Republican Party, which once supported apartheid-era South Africa and continues to back a Cuba embargo, both on the basis of keeping countries out of Russia’s sphere of influence, is complete. Trump, who in the 1980s complained that Ronald Reagan was too tough on the Soviets, and who has used Russians, including reputed mobsters, as everything from bailouts to buyers to brokers for the expansion of his hotel and pageant franchises, has officially brought kakistocracy to Washington. None but the most unmoored to any recognizable morality need apply. He has made fools of his own spokespeople. He has exposed the religious right’s leaders as very much men of this world, with all its hatred and avarice. He has unleashed the forces of white nationalism and even neo-Nazism in our country. And he has revealed an America that is far less than we thought we were eight years ago when the United States became the first former slave republic to make a member of its once entrapped minority population its national leader.

One wonders whether this democracy, as fragile as it has been revealed to be, and whether the presidency as an institution is entirely salvageable, now that Trump has exploded the norms we thought constrained the office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Since becoming president, Trump has flouted the emoluments clause and openly profited from his office, taking payments from all comers, from the State Department to foreign governments at his golf courses, hotels and his private Florida club. He has encouraged his children to treat the White House as a marketing tool for the Trump businesses, and allowed them to commingle their business activities and ongoing involvement in his government. He has turned American foreign policy into a Santa’s workshop for Saudi and Russian interests and goals, from the needless fight with Qatar to pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords to attempting to return the Kremlin’s spy facilities, which the Obama administration seized in retaliation for Russian interference in our election, to giving Russian oligarchs direct financial interest in the Keystone pipeline boondoggle to having his administration lean on House members to soften a Russia sanctions package. (He even briefly floated the outrageous and absurd notion of cybersecurity cooperation with the Kremlin.) He has invited the Russian foreign ministry into the Oval Office out of the eye and earshot of the American media, who now are reduced to audio-only press briefings where they take a back seat to Trump sycophant right-wing blogs, and he has now canoodled with Putin himself, taking the murderous Russian autocrat’s word for it that no election meddling occurred.

Trump has made political thuggery the new American political standard; throwing allies overboard and cuddling up to dictators and autocrats around the world. He has diminished American influence and credibility every day he has been in office.

Meanwhile, he has stripped the presidency of its basic dignity, tweeting his every thought at all hours of the day. He presents America in his world travels as a troglodyte nation, led by an ill-mannered, ill-tempered, praise-needy buffoon—a real life Joffrey Baratheon—who still thinks he’s a television performer, and whose attention to duty lasts only as long as his favorite Fox shows aren’t on.

Domestically, he has thrown the country into chaos, from his Muslim travel bans to his utter incoherence on health care, which he and his party are threatening to strip from up to 23 million people so they can fork over a trillion dollars to America’s own oligarchs. Putin must be positively gleeful at the damage his little ruse—tricking the arrogant ignoramuses of the Trump campaign into believing Russian hackers had the goods on Hillary, and then reeling them in—has wrought.

And so, a political party that long prided itself on a particular kind of patriotism now welcomes foreign interference, so long as it helps them win. A nation that dragged itself, painfully, from slavery to the Voting Rights Act now faces a federal government that is the single biggest threat to the right of all people to vote. A country that stuck out its chest in promoting a particular kind of greatness now wallows in defunding public education, gutting scientific research, and promoting basic ignorance about the planet in the service of bygone industries belching pollution into the air and water, as if American innovation that could create new industries and new jobs for those displaced workers is no longer possible.

Meanwhile, our children are learning that bullies do indeed prosper; that cruelty and narcissism can be a pathway to power, that one of our two major parties believes the poor and struggling do not deserve health care, and that according to the president of the United States, women essentially have no value beyond their looks and dress sizes.

One wonders whether the presidency can recover, or whether we’re doomed to live in an endless cycle of lowbrow celebrity autocracy—America remade in the image of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi.

Already, other entertainers are bellying up to the bar, eager to follow Trump’s grubby example and take their turn at political powerball. We could soon have a national leadership that includes The Rock, Kid Rock, and who knows, maybe Ted Nugent, now that white nationalism and public vulgarity have gone mainstream.

What hope is there for a country that has reduced itself to this? What future? For now, it’s hard to see a particularly bright one. If this is what making America great looks like, God help us when greatness ensues.

JOY-ANN REID in the Daily Beast

 

Trump Jr keeps lying and the right wants to get their way no matter what the price

A Russian American lobbyist and veteran of the Soviet military said Friday that he attended a June 2016 meeting between President Trump’s oldest son and a Kremlin-connected attorney.

The presence of Rinat Akhmetshin adds to the number of people in attendance at the Trump Tower gathering that emerged this week as the clearest evidence so far of interactions between Trump campaign officials and Russia.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Akhmetshin said he participated in the session with several others. His role in the meeting was first reported by NBC News and the Associated Press.

Akhmetshin, a U.S. citizen, was lobbying at the time against U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia for human rights violations.

Trump Jr. has waved away concerns about the 30-minute session, which he agreed to because he was promised negative information about his father’s political opponent, Hillary Clinton. He was joined at the meeting by Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, then chairman of the Trump campaign.

Trump Jr. has said that he did not receive the negative information on Clinton that he was promised by an acquaintance, Goldstone, and that he did not know the people with whom he was meeting.

Veselnitskaya said she and Akhmetshin were working at the time defending a Russian businessman from federal charges of money laundering in a suit that was settled early this year.

Akhmetshin was born in Russia, served in the military and told people he had worked in intelligence, according to one person who said he worked with Akhmetshin in the past but asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about it.

Akhmetshin emphatically denied to The Washington Post that he ever worked as an intelligence agent though he did confirm that he served as an 18-year-old draftee for two years in a unit of the Soviet military that had responsibility for law enforcement issues as well as some counterintelligence matters.

He said that he became a U.S. citizen in 2009 and is also still a Russian citizen.

According to AP, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin knows nothing about Akhmetshin.

Akhmetshin’s participation raises the level of the concern about the meeting. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said he was disturbed by the news.

“Today’s report that a former Russian counterintelligence officer was also present during the meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, if accurate, adds another deeply disturbing fact about this secret meeting,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

 

 

Rinat Akhmetshin is a Hacker and a spy

Rinat Akhmetshin, the former Russian intelligence officer who took part in Donald Trump Jr.’s infamous meeting at Trump Tower last June 9, has been accused of masterminding an international hacking conspiracy.

The Daily Beast reports that a case filed with New York Supreme Court in 2015 alleges that Akhmetshin successfully orchestrated the hacking of two computer systems and stole documents from International Mineral Resources (IMR), a Russian mining company.

“The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. was told in July 2015 that Akhmetshin had arranged the hacking of a mining company’s private records — stealing internal documents and then disseminating them,” the Daily Beast reports. “The corporate espionage case was brought by IMR, who alleged that Akhmetshin was hired by Russian oligarch Andrey Melinchenko, an industrialist worth around $12 billion.”

Akhmetshin denied that he orchestrated any hacking of the company, but acknowledged that he “found” a hard drive that just happened to contain sensitive IMR documents.

Akhmetshin, a registered congressional lobbyist, has in the past also done work on behalf of Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was also present at the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower.

The Right wants to get their way no matter what the price

To many, the revelation that Donald Trump Jr. was anxious to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians will not come as a surprise. It is but the latest example of the take-no-prisoners, anything-goes politics of our day. Sure, soliciting help from a hostile foreign power is exceptional, and it is certainly true that the Trumps have taken “unconventional” politics to new heights. But how we do politics in the United States, the boundaries of acceptable behavior, has been shifting for two decades.

The real surprise – the part of the story that we should be gravely concerned about – is that this disclosure will not matter to a great many American voters. After thinking and writing about politics for two decades, I have come to the conclusion that the real issue we face is not the conduct of public officials or their surrogates, but how nefarious acts are now sanctioned, and even applauded, by so many on both sides of the partisan fence.

So what’s changed in our politics?

Fear and loathing

For one, the nature of partisanship is different. Until about a decade ago, one’s attachment to a party was centered around policy disputes or cues from groups and associations. But today’s version is grounded in the fear and loathing of the other side. Trunkloads of data, much of it from the Pew Research Center, suggest each side sees the other party as crazy and certainly dangerous. So it does not matter what your side does so long as it keeps the nut jobs on the other side at bay.

A new volume by political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels further helps to fine-tune our understanding how people vote and which party they identify with. Their book, “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” suggests “issue congruence [between voters and parties], in so far as it exists, is mostly a byproduct of other connections, most of them lacking policy content.” In other words, we don’t think through issues, policies and candidate characteristics, but instead see elections as “us versus them.” These scholars argue voters tie themselves with racial, ethnic, occupational, religious, recreational and other groups, with partisanship as the byproduct. Our group identity, not policy concerns or ideology, determines vote choice. That is to say, we gather comfortably with our tribe and tune out other points of view.

A central force propelling hostility toward the “other” party is the partisan media. Many such outlets have figured out a sustainable business model. Smaller audiences can be profitable, so long as they remain loyal. Loyalty springs from “crisis” and, of course, “menace.” This leads to treating every issue as a true threat to our existence or a usurpation of fundamental “rights.” The other party is always the villain, and your side can do no wrong – so long as it is for the grand struggle.

And then there is the online world. Voters rarely explore new ideas and perspectives, but share, like and retweet concordant ones. We fence in and we fence out. As recently noted by journalist and author Megan McArdle, “Social media, of course, makes this problem worse. Even if we are not deliberately blocking people who disagree with us, Facebook curates our feeds so that we get more of the stuff we ‘like.’ What do we ‘like’? People and posts that agree with us.”

Sorting and filtering

Is the filtering of information really a new development? It is not at all clear that voters have ever absorbed a broad range of information or shifted though competing evidence. It is likely party bosses, elected officials, candidates and even media elites have always been able to manipulate mass opinion to a degree. Cognitive time-saving cues, especially party identification, have always been used to sort and filter.

But something very different is happening today. In the recent past, news was more widely viewed as objective, leading to a high degree of accepted facts and authority. When the news media unraveled the story of Watergate, for example, citizens of all partisan stripes accepted it as fact. What scholars dubbed “short-term influences” could override partisan leanings.

Which leads us to “alternative facts,” the aggressive spinning of policies and arguments regardless of contrary verifiable information. This may be a game-changer in our politics. The barrier for evidence has, it seems, evaporated, and emotion-rich information is used to draw more viewers, readers and listeners. If we add the continual drive for fresh “news” and the high costs of creating traditional journalism, we are left with little consensus or authority. New York Times blogger Farhad Manjoo put it this way: “We are roiled by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest – we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not.”

Finally, popular culture has also probably contributed to our growing indifference to nefarious acts. We pick our reality show contestant and applaud every backhanded, despicable move that gets him across the finish line. There can’t be two winners or a collective good, only a sole survivor. Or shall we say that only one apprentice can get the job? And the best part of the show – the segment that really gets the producers juiced – is when things get truly ugly.

Democratic accountability

The latest Trump team revelation is a shocker, but even more stunning is the meager impact it will likely have on his supporters. As noted in a recent USA Today story, in Trump country the Russia disclosure is no big deal.

As voters, citizens are called to judge those in power. But there must be an objective standard for the assessment, which is why the framers of the Constitution put so much stock in a free press. The governed in a democracy must be willing and able to fairly judge the acts of the governors. But today “your side” has always done a good job and the “other” party has always failed. Any contrary revelation can be explained away as fake news.

The key ingredient in the democratic accountability process – objectivity – is disappearing, and the foundation of our limited government has been shaken. In Federalist #51 and elsewhere, James Madison wrote, “A dependence upon the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government…” Many are starting to wonder if Americans are up to the job – and whether the fate of the grand experiment is at risk.

excepts From the Washington Post,  Raw Story and The Conversation

Trump’s “get out of jail free card” may not work

 

Can President Trump pardon himself? Can he pardon his close associates and family members?

These questions have begun to simmer as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ramps up his investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in its interference with the 2016 presidential election. Mueller is also, undoubtedly, looking into whether the president obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James B. Comey. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, is reportedly under investigation as well.

So it’s a live question: Infuriated by these investigations, will the president try to short-circuit them by pardoning himself and others caught up in the Mueller investigations? And, if he did, would those pardons be valid?

The Constitution’s pardon provision gives the president the power “to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Some argue that because the language is broad and there is no explicit prohibition, presidents may pardon themselves.

But this is simplistic and specious. Presidential self-pardoning would violate the basic structure of our Constitution, and the whole history of the pardon power strongly weighs against the concept.

Presidential power to pardon, including the impeachment exception, is directly modeled on the pardon power of the British monarch. Royal self-pardoning was inconceivable under the British system. Because British monarchs could commit no crime, they had no need to pardon themselves. Self-pardoning, therefore, was never part of the British pardon power — and was not incorporated into the U.S. version. There is no evidence the Constitution’s framers ever contemplated or supported a presidential self-pardoning power, as the debates during the Constitutional Convention make clear.

When presidential pardoning power was proposed at the convention, an amendment was offered to prevent a president from granting pardons in cases of treason. Supporters thought that would discourage presidents from committing treason. Opponents argued that was an unnecessary precaution because if a president were “guilty” of treason, he could be “impeached and prosecuted.” The Constitution specifically provides for “indictment, trial . . . and punishment” of a president under the criminal laws, in addition to impeachment.

Implicit in the opponents’ argument was the view that a president could not have any power to pardon himself. Otherwise, he could commit treason (or any other crime), pardon himself and then, except for being removed from office through impeachment, go scot-free. The power to self-pardon would thwart any criminal prosecution of the president and stymie full accountability.

At the constitutional convention, opponents of the amendment won. Their view that the president must be subject to prosecution rules out any presidential power of self-pardon. Because it prevailed then, that view must shape our interpretation of the Constitution today.

A presidential self-pardoning power would seriously undermine the rule of law. If presidents could self-pardon, they could engage in monstrously wrongful and criminal conduct with impunity. That would utterly violate the framers’ belief in a limited presidency and in the idea that no president is above the law.

James Madison said, “No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause.” Self-pardoning presidents would be acting as their own judge and jury, which no one is permitted to do in our constitutional scheme. It would stand in jarring contrast to the rest of the Constitution.

Then there’s the matter of actual precedent. No president has ever decided to pardon himself, including Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who all faced special prosecutors investigating their conduct. Self-pardoning would have been seen as a clear-cut admission of guilt, not to mention an outrage against the constitutional order. Further, if the pardons were challenged and invalidated, presidents would have the worst of both worlds — they would be open to prosecution, and their guilt would be widely believed.

So, if Trump pardoned himself, the pardon could be challenged in a prosecution brought against him, and a court could, and likely would invalidate it.

Although presidents may not pardon themselves, they may pardon their confederates in crime. But if these pardons are intended to shield a president from prosecution or otherwise facilitate committing a crime, the president could be impeached or prosecuted for granting such pardons. Remember, the Watergate burglars were offered presidential pardons for their silence. This formed one of the many charges against Nixon in the articles of impeachment voted by the House Judiciary Committee.

The Constitution treats the pardon power as it has generally been seen throughout history — as a way of injecting mercy into the justice system. It was never viewed as a vehicle for presidential abuse of power, which is what giving the president the power of self-pardon would be.

Washington Post – Elizabeth Holtzman, a Democrat from New York, served in the House of Representatives from 1973 to 1981, including on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate investigation.

 

Where’s all that macho bravado now? Lil’ Donny snowflake hides out in Poland

President Snowflake: Trump Needs a Safe Space in Europe

He’s a self-proclaimed brawler, but Trump didn’t head straight for the handshake-snubbing Macron or mean lady Merkel at the G-20. No, first he needed an adoring hug from Poland.

“Fuck your feelings” was a resonant refrain among many Trump supporters during the 2016 campaign.

In their view, we were living in a country where the coddling of youthful sensitivities had run amok, and Donald Trump was the unvarnished antidote to the left’s assault on American toughness. Can’t handle it? Then leave, snowflake.

But President Trump, champion of fuck your feelings, has proved to be the most delicate snowflake of all. While every modern president has favored sympathetic media outlets and friendly crowds, Trump is different in the degree to which his promises differ from his actions. Unlike his predecessors, his appeal is built around a bravado he won’t or can’t exhibit.

In the first six months of his presidency, the self-professed brawler has dodged the press, favoring pillow fights with Fox & Friends over substantive exchanges with critical journalists.

He’s lived in denial of his unpopularity, choosing instead to fluff his insatiable ego before campaign-style rallies where he makes wild claims he then sends his unprepared lackeys to defend.

He pulled out of the Paris climate deal reportedly because his feelings were hurt by French President Emmanuel Macron’s handshake snub.

He responds to negative news coverage with tantrums and personal insults on social media, where he can duck behind his army of anonymous affirmers.

He fired the FBI director and a U.S. attorney after both reportedly rebuffed his inappropriate overtures.

His closest aides fear exposing him to unflattering news coverage, lest they bruise their boss’ ego.

The man never apologizes.

The president’s true-believing base and the suckling underlings who see him as a means to an end still publicly express support for him. His social-media coordinator and barking sons, loyal to Trump as a trio of undersocialized rescue dogs, have never met a pro-Trump conspiracy theory they wouldn’t help spread.

But beyond that, the number of people who are willing to tell Donald Trump that he is wonderful is dwindling. Stateside, all the polling has him at a sub-40 percent approval rating, with no rally in sight. Internationally, it’s worse. In Europe, it’s abysmal.

Given Trump’s complete inability to process dissent, this week’s G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, puts President Snowflake directly in harm’s way. Thankfully, there’s Poland.

Poland is not on the way to Hamburg from the United States. It’s an overshoot. But it’s the closest place to the G-20 the president could land with the reasonable expectation that he wouldn’t be triggered by hordes of protesters the second he landed.

Just to be on the safe side, Polish officials bused extra Trump fans into Warsaw from across the countryside, armed with cheers and enthusiasm, and none of that scary dissent that frightens Donald so very much. Just what a brave president would want. Trump delivered a speech worthy of a B- from a middle-school civics teacher, and the crowd lost its mind. Stateside, Morning Joe, recently the target of one of Trump’s cowardly lobs, tiptoed around Trump’s ineptitude, apparently aware of what’s at stake globally if Trump’s in a bad mood on international trips.

Who knows what would have happened if the president had visited, say, Stockholm or Nice. Feelings could have been hurt! Feelings with nuclear launch codes!

The rest of this week promises to be even rougher for President Trump and his eggshell emotions. At the G-20, he’ll have to face the aforementioned Macron, the rude handshaker, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a mean lady who refuses to praise him even though he has done everything he is capable of as president, which is nothing.

Trump will have to face a harsh world, one far from the safe space of his office with the enormous TV screen and the approving hedgehog face of Sean Hannity.

Trump will also have a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Trump once halfway invited to a Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Apart from governing from the same city where a Miss Universe pageant once occurred, Putin is also a tiny despot, the sort of man Trump believes himself to be in the same way a cat watching a nature show on TV believes itself to be a lion. Incidentally, Russia is one of the only places in the world where Trump is popular.

Putin is also the sort of man most of America would hope the president would have the stones to confront, if given the opportunity. Putin is also behind an attempt to meddle in the 2016 American presidential election, according to every intelligence organization.

Trump will not be dwelling on this fact, according to The New York Times, because Russia meddling in the U.S. election undermines Trump’s electoral win, which he is apparently more proud of than he is in the continued integrity of the American electoral system. His fear of the disapproval of a masculine caricature is greater than any feeling of obligation to serve the interests of the country that elected him.

A normal person would take mass disdain—of the U.S., of Europe, of the industrialized world as a whole—as a clue that they, perhaps, are personally doing something wrong.

Not Donald Trump. Trump could drive northbound in the southbound lane of an expressway and interpret the other drivers’ honks as affronts to his inherent rightness, so fearful is he of being wrong.

It’s hard to fathom a person who demands so much personal toughness of those around him yet displays so little. Trump’s critics have called this behavior childlike, immature, id-driven. Even his supporters would find fault in a man so frightened by confrontation that he’s willing to fly several hundred miles out of the way to avoid it.

Trump is a wimp, a baby, a wuss, a chicken, a cupcake. To borrow from the vocabulary of the “Fuck your feelings” crowd: a puppet. Or something else that starts with a “p.”

ERIN GLORIA RYAN The Daily Beast

Trump successfully diverted us with misogyny yesterday while real news on collusion broke

Forget the stupid tweets: There’s big news on Trump’s Russia connections — and he doesn’t want you to read it
New reports link Michael Flynn to hacking and reveal Trump’s massive business deals in the former Soviet Union

Well, Thursday was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? We got to spend the day wallowing in presidential misogyny, a treat we haven’t been able to savor since we heard Donald Trump brag about getting away with random crotch grabbing because he is such a “star.” No one can be surprised. We knew he was a snake before we let him in.

As much as the president’s grotesque tweets served as a grim reminder of his true character, Trump did manage to do the one thing he has been dying to do for weeks: move the press off the Russia story. Sadly for him, it only lasted a few hours before yet another late-breaking Russia scoop hit. The Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris published a story that links former national security adviser Michael Flynn to a longtime right-wing operative named Peter W. Smith, who told Harris he had engaged with Russian hackers to obtain the so-called “missing emails” from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Smith also claimed he was in touch with Michael Flynn and possibly his son, both of whom he knew through some earlier business dealings.

Harris also reports that “investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary.” That would be quite a coincidence if there were two different operations described exactly that way. As they say, stay tuned. There’s no way of knowing if this man was just blowing smoke about Flynn or whether it represents the first evidence that there was some collusion between the campaign and Russia, in this case through an outside intermediary steeped in right-wing opposition research for decades.

Smith died in May, but his history suggests it’s at least plausible that what he told Harris is true. Murray Waas wrote in Salon way back in 1998 about Smith’s role as the instigator of  “Troopergate,” which led to the Paula Jones lawsuit against Bill Clinton (with which Kellyanne Conway’s husband George was intimately involved) and the rest was history. Smith is exactly the kind of man who would have involved himself in a nefarious scheme like this.

That story will undoubtedly be picked over quite a bit in the coming days. Unfortunately, another big Russia story, arguably even more significant, landed yesterday and few people seem to have noticed. Kevin G. Hall and Ben Weider of the McClatchy Washington bureau reported that Trump’s business dealings in countries of the former Soviet empire were much more substantial than he’s let on and his ties to bankers, oligarchs and politicians in the area are much more consequential. They write:

McClatchy’s investigation reveals how Trump sought a foothold not just in Russia but across the former Soviet empire. Not known before, the Trump Organization in 2012 negotiated with then-Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov for an obelisk-shaped tower to be built near the presidential palace, designed by architect John Fotiadis, who also did the Batumi project and lists offices in New York and the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Trump Diamond lost out to a rival project in Astana for the tallest building in Central Asia, the 75-story Abu Dhabi Plaza.

That’s the tip of the iceberg. The Trump Organization was involved in dozens of deals throughout the region with money traced back to Russian sources, in some cases including the big oil company Rosneft. Once again, Trump’s close relationship with Bayrock CEO Felix Sater, a known mob associate with ties to the CIA, the FBI and the Russian government, was implicated along with another controversial company called the Silk Road Group. Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, who has strong personal and business ties to Ukraine, was also involved with many of these negotiations. (Cohen was recently served with a subpoena by the House Intelligence Committee.)

What’s most interesting about all of these deals is their recent vintage. Indeed, the big tower project in Georgia mentioned in the McClatchy report wasn’t canceled until Jan. 6, 2017, two weeks before Trump took office. Trump said it was solely for business concerns (since he believes that it’s impossible for a president to have conflicts of interest) but the company he was involved with, Silk Road, said it was because of the massive publicity that was sure to follow, which hardly seems like convincing.

More likely the project was ditched because of the company’s relationship with Russia and Iran, two countries under U.S. sanctions. That would have been a bit of a problem for a sitting U.S. president, even one who believes that nothing is illegal if the president does it.

McClatchy reports that “none of this is revealed in Trump’s financial disclosure statements. And since he hasn’t released his tax returns, these sorts of relationships are not apparent.” We don’t know how many more situations like this exist that are still quietly percolating with Trump’s full knowledge while the country is kept in the dark.

There is a reason why Trump has been so desperate to end the Russia probe, and Occam’s razor says this is probably the reason. A G-Man with an unlimited mandate looking into all his dicey business dealings undoubtedly has him waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, the president has prevailed against all advice and will sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the upcoming G-20 meeting. Trump’s political advisers tried to impress on him just how bad it will look to be glad-handing with Vlad, while his policy advisers are surely petrified that he will make a major error. Trump’s vaunted negotiating skills have turned out to be hype, and nobody know if he’s going to give away the store.

According to the Guardian, Trump has tasked his staff to come up with some “deliverables” for his pal Putin, with no plans to ask for anything in return. One thing we know he won’t be doing is broaching the subject of cyber attacks. According to this report by CNN, his team cannot get him to devote any time or attention to the problem:

“I’ve seen no evidence of it,” one senior administration official said when asked whether Trump was convening any meetings on Russian meddling in the election. The official said there is no paper trail — schedules, readouts or briefing documents — to indicate Trump has dedicated time to the issue.

He is simply not interested. But then, in Trump’s worldview, if the Russian helped him get elected why would he do anything to stop them from doing it again? What he does want is to stop the investigation from delving too deeply into his relationships and business dealings in the region. It turns out there are a lot more of them then he’s admitted up until now.

HEATHER DIGBY PARTON – Salon

http://www.salon.com/2017/06/30/forget-the-stupid-tweets-theres-big-news-on-trumps-russia-connections-and-he-doesnt-want-you-to-read-it/

Lies and the lying liars who get paid big buck$ to tell them

A member of President Trump’s legal team said Sunday that Trump is not under investigation by the special counsel, an assessment at odds with a Washington Post report last week and seemingly with a tweet by Trump himself on Friday.

This comes on the heels of the bizarre Rod Rosenstein statement last Thursday night
https://tuluwatexaminer.wordpress.com/2017/06/16/is-deputy-attorney-general-rod-rosenstein-starting-buckle-under-pressure/

“Let me be very clear here, as it has been since the beginning, the president is not and has not been under investigation for obstruction,” lawyer Jay Sekulow said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” part of a blitz of bookings on the Sunday public affairs shows.

The Post reported last week that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who was appointed to oversee the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice.

On Twitter on Friday, Trump wrote as part of a tweet about the probe that “I am being investigated.”

Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump  I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt 6:07 AM – 16 Jun 2017

“The president is not under investigation by the special counsel,” Sekulow told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “The tweet from the president was in response to the five anonymous sources that were purportedly leaking information to The Washington Post about a potential investigation of the president.”

Sekulow cited congressional testimony by fired FBI Director James B. Comey that he had told Trump on several occasions that Trump was not personally under investigations. Those conversations, however, occurred before Comey was fired and before the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation.

The Post story cited five people briefed on the interview requests, who said that the current director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, head of the National Security Agency, Mike Rogers, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators.

The five people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Sekulow’s interview with NBC was one of four scheduled Sunday-morning television appearances.

Even FOX isn’t buying it

In a combative and testy exchange on “Fox News Sunday,” Sekulow acknowledged he could not know for sure that Mueller has not opened an investigation but said he had no reason to believe he had. “Nothing has changed” since Comey informed the president that he was not being personally investigated, he said.

The interview turned tense, however, when host Chris Wallace then asked Sekulow about the remainder of Trump’s tweet, in which Trump had complained that he was being investigated for firing Comey by the man who told him to fire Comey.

Wallace asked Sekulow if Trump believes that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who wrote a memo criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, has done anything wrong.

Sekulow responded that Trump had been getting at a “constitutional issue.”

“He’s being investigated for taking the action that the attorney general and the deputy attorney general recommended him to take, by the agency that recommended he take the action. That’s the constitutional threshold issue,” Sekulow said.

When Wallace pointed out that Sekulow had appeared to agree in his answer that the president is under investigation, the lawyer grew flustered. He said he had only been discussing the constitutional problem posed if the president were being investigated.

“I don’t appreciate you putting words in my mouth when I’ve been crystal clear that the president is not and has not been under investigation,” he said.

“But you don’t know that he’s not under investigation, right?” Wallace responded.

“You’re right, Chris. I cannot read the mind of the special prosecutor,” Sekulow responded. “We’re agreed, then,” Wallace said.

Wallace then asked if Trump believes the law allows for a president to be indicted.

Constitutional scholars have debated the question for years, though the Justice Department has said in formal opinions written under Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon that the Constitution bars a sitting president from facing legal indictment.

Sekulow responded that Trump couldn’t be indicted “because there’s not an investigation.”

“Oh boy, this is weird,” Wallace responded, noting, again, that Sekulow cannot know there is no investigation.

Sekulow also insisted that Trump’s tweets have posed no problems for his legal team. He said Trump had learned the effectiveness of social media as a communications tool during the campaign.

“Nothing he’s tweeted has caused me any issues whatsoever,” he said. “Nothing.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/06/18/trump-lawyer-the-president-is-not-under-investigation-for-obstruction/?utm_term=.95089a6839f8

Now the Special Council will look at Money Laundering, no wonder Trump wants to fire Mueller

Many readers have asked us “why we think Trump and his associates are so tight with the Russians and Putin?” Our answer from the beginning as always has been mob ties and money laundering. When the Steele “dossier” was published in Buzz Feed everyone was distracted by the pissing hookers but the part that has never been debunked is the accusation of Russian mob ties and money laundering. Read down to the last paragraph of this New York Times story below and you’ll see that the special counsel investigation is going to start looking at money laundering as a payment method. Our prediction is once they start looking they’ll find lots and lots of new trails to follow

WASHINGTON — Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel examining Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, has requested interviews with three high-ranking current or former intelligence officials, the latest indication that he will investigate whether President Trump obstructed justice, a person briefed on the investigation said on Wednesday.

Mr. Mueller wants to question Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence; Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency; and Richard Ledgett, the former N.S.A. deputy director.

None of the men were involved with Mr. Trump’s campaign. But recent news reports have raised questions about whether Mr. Trump requested their help in trying to get James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, to end an investigation into the president’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Last week, Mr. Coats and Admiral Rogers declined to answer questions before Congress about the matter.

Mr. Mueller’s office has also asked the N.S.A. for any documents or notes related to the agency’s interactions with the White House as part of the Russia investigation, according to an intelligence official.

The Washington Post first reported on Wednesday that Mr. Mueller had requested the interviews with the intelligence officials.

It has been clear since Mr. Mueller was appointed last month that he was likely to scrutinize the president’s actions. Mr. Trump has said he is willing to be interviewed by Mr. Mueller’s agents, and Mr. Comey said he was sure that the special counsel would investigate the possibility of obstruction.

In recent days, Mr. Trump is said to have considered firing Mr. Mueller but to have been talked out of it by aides. If the president is under investigation for obstruction, a move to fire Mr. Mueller would prove more complicated politically.

The F.B.I.’s gathering information about the possibility of a crime does not necessarily mean prosecutors are building a case against the president. In the early stages of investigations, F.B.I. agents typically want to gather all the facts. Agents then present those facts to prosecutors, who decide whether they want to take the case.

Mr. Mueller’s requests are among his first publicly known acts since he took over the investigation last month, after it was publicly revealed that Mr. Comey had written a memo about how Mr. Trump asked him to halt the inquiry into his fired national security adviser, Mr. Flynn.

In testimony on Capitol Hill last week, Mr. Comey said Mr. Mueller had a copy of that memo and several others Mr. Comey had written about his interactions with Mr. Trump.

A spokeswoman for the White House referred all questions on the matter to Mr. Trump’s outside lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz. A spokesman for Mr. Kasowitz said, “The F.B.I. leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal.”

The scrutiny of Mr. Trump’s actions is part of a ripple of unintended consequences that began when the president, frustrated by the cloud of investigations into Russian collusion, fired Mr. Comey last month. “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’” Mr. Trump told NBC. He then said: “I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people. He’s the wrong man for that position.”

The White House could try to assert executive privilege to keep the intelligence officials from discussing conversations between them and the president with Mr. Mueller. But that could set up a fight in court, where judges have generally held that criminal investigators can demand information that would normally be privileged.

In his memos, Mr. Comey said Mr. Trump had encouraged him to end an F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Flynn, an effort that Mr. Comey called “very disturbing.” There is a broad federal inquiry underway into Mr. Flynn’s actions. Among the issues being examined are whether he misled investigators about his ties to Russia, and his failure to disclose that he was working as a foreign agent of Turkey from August to November 2016: the same time he was advising the Trump campaign.

The Justice Department appointed Mr. Mueller last month to investigate whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives to influence the outcome of last year’s presidential election. Mr. Mueller inherited the criminal investigations into Mr. Flynn and Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. He was also given the authority to investigate obstruction.

While Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, has not said what exactly prompted him to appoint Mr. Mueller, his decision came after The New York Times published details about an Oval Office meeting Mr. Comey had with the president at the White House in February. During the meeting, the president brought up Mr. Flynn and told Mr. Comey, “I hope you can let this go,” according to the memo. Mr. Comey told the Senate that he viewed that as a clear directive from the president to drop the investigation.

A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates. The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.

New York Times By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and MATT APUZZO withAdam Goldman, Matthew Rosenberg and David E. Sanger contributed reporting.