While you console yourself with all of Trumps failures, remember he’s still a wrecking ball swinging through our country

Trump has been paralyzed on healthcare and tax reform, but his administration has been active in eroding safeguards and protections elsewhere

 

Six ways Trump is ‘dismantling’ the US after six months in office

Business and the economy

Given all that Donald Trump promised the business world during his bombastic campaign, it’s tempting to dismiss the president’s first six months with a “meh”. It would also be myopic.

While protesters are worried about the future, the president has so far failed to pass his tax reforms, which business wanted. But at the same time fears that his China rhetoric, threats of trade wars and Tweets about penalties for US businesses who ship jobs overseas, have not amounted to much.

The economic trends started under Obama have continued: stock markets have continued their giddy ride to uncharted highs, unemployment has continued to drift down and interest rates have remained low.

Trump’s overture may seem a little weak but the president has already made significant moves and still more may be happening in the wings. Trump has ordered a review of Dodd-Frank, the regulations brought in to tame US financial institutions after they triggered the worst recession in living memory. He has appointed a sworn enemy of net neutrality over at the Federal Communications Commission who is now working to dismantle Obama-era open internet protections. He has freed up energy firms to start polluting rivers again and scrapped a rule which barred companies from receiving federal contracts if they had a history of violating wage, labor or safety laws.

After years of gains for consumer, environmental and worker rights groups, the pendulum is being swung the other way – but most often those changes are happening behind closed doors.

In March, Trump pledged to “remove every job-killing regulation we can find” and deregulation teams have been set up to comb through the statutes looking for rules to cull. A recent ProPublica and New York Times investigation found Trump’s deregulation teams were being conducted in the dark in large part by appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts of interest.

It’s hardly surprising given that the Trump administration has literally removed the White House visitors book, so we may never know who has been whispering in the president’s ear. Six months in, it is hard to tell what is being cut and by whom. We may never know the consequences of Trump’s regulation death squads until it’s too late. Dominic Rushe

The environment

In the past week, both Emmanuel Macron and Sir Richard Branson have claimed that Donald Trump has been gripped by regret over his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement. But hopes that the US president will reverse this decision sit uneasily with the consistency of his administration’s environmental rollbacks.

In Scott Pruitt, Trump has an Environmental Protection Agency chief who understands how the agency works and how to hobble it. Pruitt, who has dismissed the mainstream scientific understanding of climate change, has spearheaded a concerted effort to excise or delay dozens of environmental rules.

Emissions standards for cars and trucks, the clean power plan, water pollution restrictions, a proposed ban on a pesticide linked to developmental problems in children, regulations that stop power plants dumping toxins such as mercury into their surrounds – all have been targeted with efficacious zeal by Pruitt.

The EPA administrator was also a fierce proponent of a US exit from the Paris accord, ensuring that Trump wasn’t swayed by doubts raised by Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and Ivanka Trump, his daughter and adviser. The US won’t be able to officially pull out until 2020, but the decision has dealt a hefty blow to the effort to slow dangerous global warming and provided a tangible victory for the nationalist, climate change denying elements that now roam the White House.

Elsewhere, public land has been thrown open to coal mining – an industry repeatedly fetishized by Trump – and oil and gas drilling is being ushered into America’s Arctic and Atlantic waters. Two dozen national monuments are under review, several may be shrunk or even eliminated. In less than six months, Trump has begun to tear up almost all of the key planks of Barack Obama’s environmental agenda. This blitzkrieg is likely to slow now that it faces a thicket of legal action launched by enraged environmental groups and some states, such as New York. But to Trump’s supporters, the president, who pledged during the campaign to reduce the EPA to “tidbits”, is delivering on his crusade to transport the environmental and industrial outlook of the late 19th century to the modern day. Oliver Milman

Immigration

Donald Trump’s bluster over his harsh immigration reform – namely the implementation of a diluted Muslim-targeted travel ban and a crackdown on undocumented immigrants – belies the cost these self-proclaimed victories have had on both the fundamental institutions of democracy and the most vulnerable communities in the United States.

Take the travel ban, which targets refugees and visa applicants from six Muslim majority countries. The president’s first failed order, haphazardly issued in January, provoked scenes of chaos at airports around the country – temporarily separating families, canceling legitimately issued visas and propelling the country towards a constitutional crisis, before a series of federal courts intervened to block it.

After his second attempt in March was blocked again in the lower courts, the president, seemingly without care for due process or respect for the co-equal branches of government, threatened to simply abolish the federal appeals court he incorrectly identified as responsible for the decision.

‘I have the right to be here’: becoming an American under a Trump presidency

Trump’s bullish perseverance on the ban, which has left many in Muslim and refugee communities around the US living in fear, has resulted in a temporary ruling in the supreme court that allows a much-diluted version of the order to come into effect. Although the president heralded the decision a victory, the ultimate test comes in autumn when the country’s highest court will ultimately rule on the ban’s constitutionality.

The president has also moved quickly to supercharge efforts to round up and deport undocumented immigrants. By empowering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), the federal agency responsible deportations, to target essentially anyone in the country without legal paperwork, the number of immigration arrests has soared. Although the administration has celebrated this uptick, it has actually been able to deport people at a much slower rate due to the crippling backlog inside America’s immigration courts.

Trump’s attempt at a solution to this has been to create a network of new courts, attached to remote detention centers and far from the reach of immigration attorneys. The strategy, plagued with due process concerns, has enjoyed mixed success. But, once again, it is those most vulnerable – many of whom have lived in America without paperwork for decades and have no criminal history – who have paid the highest price. Oliver Laughland

no one wants to sit next to the mean kid

Diplomacy

First, the good news. Donald Trump has not started a war. He has, therefore, so far, avoided the worst case scenario that some predicted for his presidency. One-eighth of the way through his term, he does not yet have a stain on his record like George W Bush has with Iraq. Instead, his Twitter spats with cable TV hosts and their indulgence by the media are a luxury of peacetime.

But in other, important ways, the US president has set about diminishing America’s global leadership role and diplomatic standing. He has emphasized the defense of America and western civilization and downplayed democracy and human rights. He has warmed to authoritarian leaders in China, the Philippines, Russia, and Saudi Arabia while going cold on Britain (still no visit), the European Union and Australia. His attacks on the press send an alarming message to dictators everywhere.

The world has noticed. A major survey of 37 countries by Pew Research last month found that just 22% of respondents had some or a great deal of confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. After his performance at Nato and G7 meetings, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said pointedly: “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over. I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.” At the G-20, he cut a lonely, isolated figure.

Trump appears to push aside Montenegro PM at Nato photocall

This damage could be undone relatively quickly but the “America first” president’s proposed 30% cut to the state department, where many top staff have left and not been replaced, threatens to be a lasting legacy. Max Bergmann, a former official, wrote in Politico: “The deconstruction of the state department is well underway… This is how diplomacy dies. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. With empty offices on a midweek afternoon.”

The outlier in Trump’s foreign policy came on 6 April, when the US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at an airfield in Syria in retaliation for the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. It was a move welcomed by hawks and loathed by “anti-globalists” in Trump’s support base. But the most urgent issue, enough to test any US president, is North Korea. There is little evidence so far to suggest he will succeed where others have failed. David Smith

 

Gender and Equality

Trump’s White House has wasted little time erasing many of the changes that advocates for trans rights, reproductive rights and survivors of sexual assault achieved under the Obama administration.

The Trump team is in the middle of sharply reversing how the federal government enforces laws against gender bias. In February, the administration withdrew the Obama-era guidelines requiring schools to give transgender students unfettered access to bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity. And Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, may restrict the federal government’s ability to intervene when colleges and universities do a questionable job of handling students’ complaints of sexual assault.

Trump is also attempting to dismantle the nation’s public safety net for family planning, with an assist from his party in Congress. The president has signed legislation encouraging states to withhold federal family planning dollars from Planned Parenthood. The latest version of Republican’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act would eliminate the birth control mandate – which is also under fire from Trump’s health department – not to mention maternity coverage requirements.

Every repeal attempt has contained a measure to block women on Medicaid from using their insurance at Planned Parenthood – measures that would shutter scores of Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. And the administration is poised to give the green light to states, like Texas, that axe Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs.

The White House also has aims to zero out funding for the government-funded Legal Services Corporation, which is the main source of legal assistance for women attempting to escape domestic violence, when Congress passes a budget this fall.

Finally, there’s US supreme court justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia, who observers say “has all the makings of an extreme anti-abortion justice”. Trump named Gorsuch eleven days into his presidency, fulfilling a longtime campaign promise to nominate justices who will vote to overturn Roe v Wade. Molly Redden

 

Criminal justice

Much of what the federal government can do on criminal justice is left to Congress since most criminal justice happens at state and local, rather than federal levels. However, Trump’s administration hasn’t spared much time doing what it can to reverse a roughly decades long retreat from the peak of tough-on-crime, mass-incarceration dogma.

So far, efforts on criminal justice have been much more sizzle than steak, but the prospect of dramatic policy change looms just around the corner. Stuffed in a suite of executive orders signed in February, Trump commissioned a task force to make recommendations on combating “the menace of rising crime”, which has been an enduring theme of the administration despite being debunked by experts. That task force, which reportedly, and curiously, does not include police chiefs or criminologists is scheduled to make its recommendations on 27 July.

“If you’re going to see anything from the Trump administration proposing new [or longer] mandatory minimums and a general return to the tough on crime tactics, I think you’ll see those recommendations made by the task force,” said Ames Grawert, a criminal justice researcher with the Brennan Center for Justice.

It remains unclear how much support there might be in Congress for taking up such recommendations. As recently as December there was real momentum behind a bipartisan bill to make sentencing less punitive, not more.

In the interim, attorney general Jeff Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors to seek the highest possible penalty in every case and has championed initiatives to push state cases for federal prosecutors to obtain harsher sentencing.

In another reversal from the Obama era, Sessions has also signaled that the DoJ will not use its authority to investigate or reform local police departments, even in cases where gross negligence, or rampant civil rights violations may be occurring. Sessions tried and failed, to pause a consent decree negotiated in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray unrest, and his department has so far flaked-out of a similar effort that was slated for Chicago under the previous administration.

“We will not sign consent decrees for political expediency that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of the criminals,” Sessions wrote in an April 18 op-ed in USA Today. Jamiles Lartey

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/19/six-ways-trump-is-dismantling-america-after-six-months-in-white-house?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=235673&subid=9599609&CMP=GT_US_collection

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

Another astoundingly dumb “deal” by Donny Dealmaker; a cybersecurity deal with his BFF Putin

We might as well mail our ballot boxes to Moscow!

Congressman Adam Schiff

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) blasted President Trump’s idea of working together with Russia on election hacking, saying if that were to happen, “we might as well mail our ballot boxes to Moscow.”

“I don’t think we can expect the Russians to be any kind of credible partner in some cyber security unit. I think that would be dangerously naïve for this country. If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow,” Schiff told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”

Trump said in tweets earlier Sunday that he had pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin on Russian election meddling, but said the two leaders discussed forming “an impenetrable Cyber Security unit.” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on the same show called for further cooperation with the Russians on cyber security, despite a lack of trust between Washington and Moscow.

“We need them, you know, what we think should happen, shouldn’t happen, and if we talk to them about it, hopefully we can get them to stop,” Haley said on CNN.

“It doesn’t mean we ever take our eyes off of the ball, it doesn’t mean we ever trust Russia. We can’t trust Russia, and we won’t ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don’t trust closer, so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check,” she continued.

Vladimir Putin could be of “enormous assistance”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday joked that he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin could be of “enormous assistance” regarding cybersecurity because he is the one doing the hacking.

During an interview on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” McCain was asked about President Trump’s earlier tweet in which the president said he talked with Putin during their meeting about creating an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to guard against election hacking.

“I’m sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort since he is doing the hacking,” McCain said, laughing.

Valdy casts a loving glance at Donny

Mobbed up Russian operative Felix Sater rats on his former business partner Trump

The Financial Times reported Thursday morning that Felix Sater, former business partner of President Donald Trump with deep ties to the Mafia and the Russian government, is cooperating in an international investigation into an alleged money-laundering network. Sater has a history of channeling money from prominent families in the Eastern bloc into Trump properties. This could pose problems for Trump, given Sater’s history of outing former close associates in exchange for immunity.

Dumbo Don with reputed Russian mobster Felix Sater

According to recent reports from The New York Times and Bloomberg, these financial connections are also being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.

Sater is undoubtedly one of the more unsavory people the president has conducted business with. He was famously involved in a clash at a bar where he stabbed another man in the face with the stem of a martini glass, an assault that landed him in prison for a year. He pleaded guilty to racketeering as part of a $40 million stock fraud scheme orchestrated by the Mafia but avoided jail time by becoming a valuable federal informant for the FBI and CIA. Andrew Weissmann, the prosecutor who negotiated that plea deal, has been hired by Robert Mueller.

Then-U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch said in a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch during her confirmation as Barack Obama’s Attorney General that Sater provided “information crucial to national security and the conviction of over 20 individuals, including those responsible for committing massive financial fraud and members of La Cosa Nostra.”

In 2002, Sater reinvented himself, working at a real estate development firm called Bayrock Group. Bayrock’s offices are conveniently located on the 24th floor of Trump Tower in New York, which is where the paths of Sater and Trump cross. In a 2008 sworn deposition Sater said he would pitch Trump business deals (“just me and him”) on a “constant basis.”

By around 2005, Trump began licensing his name for real estate developments in New York and Florida. He struck up an exclusive deal with Bayrock to develop a property in Russia, a deal which later fell through while the others remained.

The same 2008 deposition reveals more of the casual nature of the business relationship between Sater and Trump. Sater says he would “pop [his] head into Mr. Trump’s office” to tell him how the Russia deal was coming along. According to Sater, Trump asked him to escort Donald Jr. and Ivanka Trump during their 2006 trip to Moscow.

Looming in the background of all this, however, is Sater’s murky and checkered past. In 2007, Bayrock Group became a partner in Trump’s SoHo property. The property offering plan to New York State says that there were “no prior felony convictions of Sponsor [Bayrock], or any principals of Sponsor.” In December of 2007, The New York Times ran an article unearthing Sater’s criminal history. Two days later, Trump was deposed in a lawsuit. He stated multiple times that he had “very little” interaction with Sater. Despite this, in 2010 Sater toted around a business card that read he was a “senior adviser” at the Trump Organization.

 

Trump has stated repeatedly that he doesn’t know who Sater is and denied any meaningful relationship, maintaining that all deals were done directly with Bayrock, not Sater (who was employed by Bayrock.) In a 2013 deposition tape for a lawsuit about alleged fraud in a Fort Lauderdale condo Sater helped develop, Trump said he wouldn’t recognize Sater if he were sitting in the same room with him.

When asked in a 2013 BBC Panorama interview about why Trump remained in a deal with Sater considering his past with the Mafia, Trump walked off set.

Trump has a troubling pattern of distancing himself from close associates, whether it be a business deal or a presidential campaign, as soon as their dark history is revealed to the public.

Take for example Carter Page, the investment banker who had a brief stint as a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign. Page had traveled multiple times to Russia, met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and often spoke favorably of the Russian government and called for warmer U.S.-Russia relations.

As soon as reports came out in September of 2016 that U.S. investigators were looking into Page’s potential ties to the Russian government, the Trump campaign distanced themselves from Page. Kellyanne Conway appeared on CNN and said that he was “certainly not involved” in the campaign she was running, despite Page being one of the first national security advisors on the Trump team. In late September Page announced he would be taking a “leave of absence” from the campaign.

Although Trump attempted to distance himself from Page, last spring, when many foreign policy experts wanted nothing to do with the Trump campaign, Trump volunteered Page’s name when asked who had advised him on the topic.

This distancing also occurred when former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn were scrutinized for their undisclosed relationships with Russian officials. In a press conference, White House press secretary Sean Spicer even went so far as to say Manafort played a “very limited role” in the campaign while Flynn was just a “volunteer.”

Trump’s connections with Russia continue to haunt him despite his attempts to dismiss the story. A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Thursday morning found that a majority of Americans believe that Trump either acted illegally or unethically with Russia.

https://thinkprogress.org/https-thinkprogress-org-felix-sater-news-bad-for-trump-99e4ebe9a1ad

Dead Smiths tell no tales, except Peter did before he died

Peter W Smith, the potential missing link in the Trump-Russia probe

Connecting the dots.

The Wall Street Journal published two explosive reports detailing the actions of Republican operative Peter W. Smith during last year’s presidential election. According to the WSJ, Smith was seeking to acquire stolen Hillary Clinton emails from Russian hackers. Smith told associates that he discussed his activities with a key member of the Trump campaign, Michael Flynn.

The Trump campaign did not deny the connection, telling the WSJ that “if Mr. Flynn coordinated with him in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual.”

Smith could be the missing link in the Trump-Russia probe that is now being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The FBI, CIA, NSA and Director of National Intelligence have publicly stated that Russia hacked emails to help Trump win the election. The extent to which the Trump campaign collaborated with Russia in that effort is unknown. (Trump and his advisers have denied involvement.)

But beyond his alleged connections to Flynn, Smith has deep ties to the Trump orbit and the Republican establishment.

Smith was a longtime supporter and confidant to Newt Gingrich, a key member of the Trump campaign

“[W]hen Peter W. Smith talks, Newt Gingrich listens.” That was the introduction to a 1995 article in Crain’s Chicago Business about Gingrich’s “Illinois patrons.”

Smith was one of the earliest and most enthusiastic backers of Gingrich. The article details how Smith contributed “more than $109,000…since 1989 to Mr. Gingrich and his affiliated interests.” He raised even more money. It made Smith the “No. 1 financial backer of Mr. Gingrich, and one of the top 20 contributors nationwide.”

Smith, who worked in finance, also hosted “lunches in his Wrigley Building offices every month or so for visiting GOP luminaries, such as Mr. Gingrich.”

A couple of decades later, Gingrich was a top adviser to Trump and his campaign. Smith was seeking to connect with Russian hackers to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton.

Smith had ties to Breitbart, the online news outlet run by Trump’s chief strategist

While Smith’s ties to Gingrich goes back decades, he more recently became acquainted with Matt Boyle, the Washington Political Editor of Breitbart. That publication was run by Steve Bannon until he left, first to join the Trump campaign and then the White House as chief strategist.

Smith’s connection to Boyle was revealed, ironically, when his emails were hacked and released on a website called DC Leaks. The emails have been taken offline but are accessible through archive.org.

Smith was collaborating with Boyle on efforts to try to force out Paul Ryan as speaker, a cause shared by Bannon.

Boyle was closely connected to the Trump campaign. After Trump was elected, Boyle was granted a rare Oval Office interview.

Smith has a history of funding dirty tricks against the Clintons

Smith’s attempt to connect with Russian hackers wasn’t the first time he sought to cross ethical lines to damage someone with the last name Clinton. In the 1990s, Smith “was behind the so-called ‘Troopergate’ affair, in which four state troopers who served on Mr. Clinton’s security detail when he was Governor of Arkansas charged that he had used them to procure women for sex.”

Smith brought the story to David Brock, then a right-wing reporter with the American Spectator. Eventually, Smith admitted in 1998 “to the Chicago Sun-Times that he had spent about $ 80,000 to get negative information about Clinton into the mainstream press.” The payments went to the troopers and Brock.

The story “led to the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton and to special prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s investigation into whether Clinton had sex in the White House with an intern,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Just as he told the WSJ about his efforts to collaborate with the Russians to obtain Clinton emails, Smith claimed he was acting independently.

Smith claimed a connection to the Trump campaign

Smith’s history suggests he may have been in contact with the Trump campaign. This is also consistent with what Smith told potential collaborators as he sought hacked emails.

In a document Smith used for recruiting others to the effort, Smith listed four members of the Trump campaign: Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sam Clovis and Michael Flynn. He said that he was working “in coordination to the extent permitted as an independent expenditure” with the officials.

Bannon denied ever hearing of Smith, but we know that Smith was in contact with one of his most prominent reporters. Conway admitted she knew Smith but said she hadn’t spoken to him recently. Clovis and Flynn did not comment.

Smith had information that suggests he was in contact with the Trump campaign

Smith’s activities were exposed after he contacted a UK security expert named Matt Tait. In a blog post detailing his interactions with Smith, Tait says Smith seemed well-informed about the inner workings of the Trump campaign.

Although it wasn’t initially clear to me how independent Smith’s operation was from Flynn or the Trump campaign, it was immediately apparent that Smith was both well connected within the top echelons of the campaign and he seemed to know both Lt. Gen. Flynn and his son well. Smith routinely talked about the goings on at the top of the Trump team, offering deep insights into the bizarre world at the top of the Trump campaign. Smith told of Flynn’s deep dislike of DNI Clapper, whom Flynn blamed for his dismissal by President Obama. Smith told of Flynn’s moves to position himself to become CIA Director under Trump, but also that Flynn had been persuaded that the Senate confirmation process would be prohibitively difficult. He would instead therefore become National Security Advisor should Trump win the election, Smith said.

This is, of course, exactly what happened. (After being named National Security Adviser, Flynn was forced to resign after lying about his conversations with Russian officials.)

Smith set up a shell company ‘to avoid campaign reporting

According to Tait, Smith said he set up a shell corporation in Delaware, KLS Research, “to avoid campaign reporting.” This comment suggests Smith may have been paid by an entity operating under the Federal Election Commission that is required to disclose their expenditures. This could mean either a campaign or a Super PAC.

The cause of Smith’s death is unknown

Smith died about 10 days after talking to the Wall Street Journal reporter Shane Harris. While there is no evidence of foul play, and Smith was 81 years old, the cause of his death is unknown and not discussed in his obituary.

On MSNBC, Harris said he tried to find out how Smith died. “I should say we do not know how he died. We made multiple attempts, both with family members and with associates of his, as well as government officials in the town where he lived, to try and determine his cause of death, and we were unsuccessful,”????????????????????

https://thinkprogress.org/know-about-peter-w-smith-fd05b9284cbd

Trump Takes a Dump on America’s global standing

America’s global standing plummets under Donald Trump

A new survey from Pew Research Centre shows sharp drops in approval

They love him in Russia!

It’s no surprise that a fast-tweeting, obnoxious pugnacious President, with little regard for diplomatic niceties or enthusiasm for treaty obligations, is not much liked outside his borders. Nonetheless, the magnitude of the change in global opinions on America’s leadership since Doofus Donald took office is still remarkable.

A new survey by the Pew Research Centre of 40,447 people in 37 countries shows that trust in Trump pales in comparison with Barack Obama’s final ratings. Whereas 64% of those surveyed had confidence in Obama to do the right thing, just 22% are similarly optimistic about his successor, whom they described as “arrogant” (75%), “intolerant” (65%) and “dangerous” (62%). Citizens in Western Europe put no more stock in Trump—who took office just five months ago—than they did in George W. Bush, the architect of the highly unpopular war in Iraq when he limped out of the White House in 2008. Respondents’ approval rating for America overall has also slumped, from 64% to 49%.

Of all the countries surveyed by Pew, Trump’s worst ratings come from Mexico, America’s southern neighbor. The president has characterized its immigrants to his country as rapists and promised to force its government to pay for a wall on their shared border. Sure enough, just 5% of Mexicans say they are confident in him.

At the other extreme, respondents in only two countries prefer Trump to his predecessor. Israelis are fonder of him by seven percentage points, perhaps because he has sounded, at times, friendlier toward settlements and harsher towards Iran. A far greater gain comes from Russia, where only 11% liked Barack Obama, but 53% say that they like Trump. The FBI is currently investigating whether anyone involved in Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election on his behalf.

Even in countries where he is mostly despised, Trump still found some support from those who share his ideology. Across Europe, people with favorable views of their hometown populist party have much higher appraisals for Trump—though, even among them, confidence was not above 50%. Of those who approve of the National Front, 39% express confidence in Trump; for those who disapprove of Marine Le Pen’s party, that number is just 6%.

America’s president is often described as the “leader of the free world”. Trump may be making that moniker an anachronism. Given his reluctance to reiterate America’s commitment to NATO’s collective defense policy, it is little wonder that Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and a staunch defender of liberal internationalism, inspires more confidence than Trump does. However, he also fell short of leaders with far weaker democratic credentials. Even autocrats like Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin scored better.

info from The Economist

http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/06/daily-chart-19

Trump’s business partnerships with shadowy Russians in New York real estate deals

A bombshell Bloomberg View report dropped Wednesday morning detailing President Donald Trump’s shadowy business partnerships with Russian investors on New York City real estate deals.

Rachel Maddow teased the report, which links the president to possible money laundering operations through his business associate Felix Sater — a mob informant and felon who has boasted of his ties to the Kremlin and Russian intelligence.

While special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether Trump obstructed justice in firing former FBI Director James Comey, the investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia also continues. As The Washington Post reported last week, the investigation into Trump also involves tracking concerning financial activities. The New York Times went even further, saying that Mueller is looking into whether Trump associates laundered payoffs from Russians and funneled them through offshore accounts.

“It’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t be investing in Russia,” Trump said during a 2007 deposition. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.”

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. said a year later.

A troubling history of possibly compromising business relationships has scored cash for Trump for years, according to Bloomberg. The Bayrock Group, a now-dormant development firm that operated in Trump Tower, partnered with Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump on a series of deals between 2002 and 2011. The largest of the deals was part of a project in Manhattan, the Trump Soho Hotel.

During the years that the two worked together, Bayrock was a link between several dark projects in the U.S. and Europe that once named after Trump. Bayrock used Icelandic banks to launder money from government investors, legislators and others, Bloomberg reported.

One principal was a career criminal, according to Bloomberg, named Felix Sater, who worked with organized crime in both the U.S. and Russia. Before he brought the company to Trump he worked as a mob informant for the FBI and ran to Moscow to avoid any criminal charges.

Trump, Arif and Sater, at right

A former Bayrock insider, Jody Kriss, admitted that he left the firm out of fear the company was a front for a money laundering scheme and filed a lawsuit claiming he’d been swindled out of millions by cash skimming and tax dodging.

A federal judge agreed in December that Kriss’ suit could move forward as a racketeering case.

Trump claims he barely knows Sater, but the two met frequently at Trump Tower and Sater showed Trump’s children around Moscow on a visit, and he also carried Trump Organization business cards.

Sater was also involved with Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen and former national security adviser Michael Flynn on a Ukrainian peace proposal.

He went to prison for 15 months in 1993 for slashing the man’s face open with a margarita glass during a bar fight, and Sater later fled to Moscow after federal prosecutors charged him and his associates with laundering about $40 million from elderly Holocaust survivors for the mob.

Sater “was always hustling and scheming, and his contacts in Russia were the same kind of contacts he had in the United States,” Lauria wrote in his 2003 memoir, “The Scorpion and the Frog.” “The difference was that in Russia his crooked contacts were links between Russian organized crime, the Russian military, the KGB, and operatives who played both ways, or sometimes three ways.”

He eventually came back to the U.S. to face charges but traded on his knowledge of Stinger missiles for sale on the black market in Afghanistan to strike a plea deal in the money laundering case, which was then sealed.

Sater and Kriss joined Bayrock, headquartered at Trump Tower, in 2002 with a $10 million investment from former Soviet official Tevfik Arif, who reportedly made his fortune running upscale hotels in Turkey that catered to wealthy Russians.

Marketing documents for Bayrock pitched prospective investors claiming a former Soviet oligarch, Alexander Mashkevich, was one of Bayrock’s primary sources of capital.

According to Bloomberg, Bayrock was never out of money, despite running a small development firm. Kriss’ lawsuit alleges they could operate “month after month, for two years, in fact, more frequently, whenever Bayrock ran out of cash.” If times got tight, Bayrock’s owners would “magically show up with a wire from ‘somewhere’ just large enough to keep the company going.”

Both Sater and Arif wooed Kriss to Bayrock by promising him 10 percent of the firm’s profits, according to the lawsuit. Being located in Trump Tower gave “an air of success” to the company, according to Kriss — as well as an opportunity to work with Trump.

Sater was the one who built the relationship with the future president, according to court records. He used three Trump Organization executives to eventually lead him to Trump in 2002, when the celebrity real estate developer wasn’t in a good place financially and had barely escaped personal bankruptcy in the 1990s. His reputation was sunk and no bank wanted anything to do with him, so Trump turned to developing golf courses. Arif and Sater pitched him the idea of doing international hotel chains with Trump’s name, according to Kriss — which they claimed would help pump up his “brand.”

The relationship proved mutually beneficial, and both Bayrock and Trump saw their fortunes rise after the debut of his reality show, “The Apprentice,” in 2004.

“That put Bayrock in a great position once the show debuted,” Kriss said. “The show did it for Trump, man. Nobody was interested in licensing his name before that.”

Bayrock promised Trump an 18 percent equity stake in the Trump Soho hotel, which would provide a steady stream of cash from fees and his name on a Manhattan building. No one knows whether Trump did any research into the Bayrock partners backgrounds, but Bloomberg alleges that Trump was known for lacking concern for such matters.

Sater claims he revealed his convictions to Trump Organization members and assumed they relayed it to Trump, but he can’t say for sure.

“It’s not very hard to get connected to Donald if you make it known that you have a lot of money and you want to do deals and you want to put his name on it,” said Abe Wallach, who served as Trump’s right-hand man from 1990 to 2002. “Donald doesn’t do due diligence. He relies on his gut and whether he thinks you have good genes.”

Due to a language barrier, Arif had little to do with Trump, so it was left to Sater and Kriss — who had most of their interactions with Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, but the future president always had final say.

According to a deposition, Sater met with Trump multiple times a week to talk about business, including a plan to use Sater’s Russian connections to build a “high-rise” in Moscow.

Sater claimed he wouldn’t call Trump “my friend” in a 2008 deposition, but the two traveled together to look at deals. “Anybody can come in and build a tower,” he said. “I can build a Trump Tower because of my relationship with Trump.”

They began the international hotel-condo projects by exploring deals in Turkey, Poland, and Ukraine. Sater took Ivanka and Don Jr. to Moscow looking for land for a Trump-branded hotel, but none got past the planning stages. In the U.S., however, Bayrock and Trump projects moved forward.

Developing a Phoenix hotel became a nightmare when a zoning debate surfaced and Sater ended up in court with a local investor named Ernest Mennes. In a lawsuit, Mennes claimed he threatened to reveal Sater’s criminal history, and Sater said that he had a cousin that would “electrically shock Mr. Mennes’ testicles, cut off Mr. Mennes’ legs, and leave Mr. Mennes dead in the trunk of his car.”

Mennes also claimed Bayrock and Sater skimmed money off of the development. They ultimately settled the suit, sealed the court documents and Sater’s lawyers deny Mennes’s allegations

They then started the Trump International Hotel and Tower project in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005. It ultimately ended up in foreclosure. Finally, Bayrock and Trump built the Soho hotel with a Trump, Sater and Arif photo from a launch party in 2007 — which Trump advertised as part of “The Apprentice.”

An influx of funding came in from an Icelandic investment bank named the FL Group. Sater and Lauria had a longtime mob ally recruited into FL. Trump didn’t seem concerned about vetting the firm despite operating in a country with problematic banking systems. The FL Group went under, a little more than a year after its investment, but was never prosecuted despite other Icelandic banks being jailed for money laundering.

In an interview, Kriss said competitors of the FL Group also asked to invest in Bayrock. He took the proposal to Sater and Arif, who told him that the money from Icelandic banks “was mostly Russian,” and that the group was forced to take FL’s funds for other deals with Trump because the firm was “closer to Putin.”

“I thought it was a lie or a joke when they said Putin,” Kriss remembers, though he doesn’t have financial records to prove it. “I didn’t know how to make sense of it at all.”

When Kriss complained he was owed a payout after the FL deal, but he said that Sater threatened him, so he took $500,000 and eventually quit.

By December 2007 Sater’s past was splashed across the New York Times, and he began using an alternative spelling of his name, “Satter.” Just days following that article, Trump sat for a deposition with the Bloomberg story’s author, Timothy O’Brien, as part of a libel lawsuit Trump had filed for “TrumpNation.” O’Brien’s attorneys asked if Trump planned to sever ties with Sater because of the organized crime ties and The Times article. Trump said he wasn’t sure yet.

“Have you previously associated with people you knew were members of organized crime?” one of O’Brien’s lawyers asked Trump.

“No, I haven’t,” Trump replied. “And it’s hard to overly blame Bayrock. Things like that can happen. But I want to see what action Bayrock takes before I make a decision.”

When asked about Sater any time since Trump claimed they weren’t close. In a 2013 deposition around the failed Fort Lauderdale project, Trump was asked about Sater again.

“He was supposedly very close to the government of the United States as a witness or something,” Trump claimed. “I don’t think he was connected to the Mafia. He got into trouble because he got into a barroom fight.”

“I don’t know him very well,” Trump swore under oath. He then claimed he hadn’t spoken much to Sater. “If he were sitting in the room right now I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

Trump continued, claiming that he didn’t think any questions about Sater’s background should have influenced his business partnership. “Somebody said that he is in the Mafia. What am I going to do?” Trump said.

By 2008, Sater was forced to resign from Bayrock. The Trump Soho hotel was a flop, opening in 2010 with unfilled units. Those who did buy condos sued Bayrock and Trump and it was forced into foreclosure.

When Kris left Bayrock he set up another firm and sued Sater, Arif, Trump and Bayrock in Delaware in 2008. He claimed Bayrock was a criminal operation and demanded back pay. The case was moved to New York in 2010. Interestingly, however, Sater accidentally left a copy of his deal with the government for the Stinger missile on an old Bayrock computer. An employee found it and gave it to Kriss’s attorney, who filed it as an exhibit.

Trump was ultimately dropped from the case, and Sater came after Kriss with multiple lawsuits claiming, among other things, that Kriss used the courts to come after Slater.

Kriss then began receiving threatening emails, and he discovered there were hundreds of websites that had false and disparaging information about him. He moved to sue the anonymous authors for defamation and the court ruled in his favor and the sites were delisted from Google. He used the court order to find the source of the sites and found them tracked back to Sater’s home address in Sands Point.

At one point, Kriss claims “goons” showed up at his real estate projects in Brooklyn asking his workers if they knew the stories about their boss. Letters questioning his background arrived in every mailbox of every resident in two buildings where Kriss had apartments. Investors in his new company, East River Partners, stood by him but Kris said that Sater’s digital attack on him may be impossible to overcome.

His new attorney, Bradley Simon, stated that he continues to be mystified by how Sater has managed to stay in business this long.

“Sater was a cooperating witness for the Eastern District of New York and he continued going on a crime rampage,” says Simon. “He’s filed all kinds of frivolous lawsuits, but that’s what he does. He seems to have unlimited funds.”

After leaving Bayrock, the Trump Organization briefly employed Sater as a consultant and more recently he was named in other litigation for an Ohio shopping mall where millions allegedly disappeared. The case was settled in 2013.

Sater and others at Bayrock would not comment for O’Brien’s expose.

http://www.rawstory.com/2017/06/trumps-links-to-russian-money-laundering-raises-new-questions-about-secret-real-estate-deals-since-election/