Looks like the Steele Dossier pissed off Putin even more than the Republicans?

Was This Russian General Murdered Over the Steele Dossier?

The notorious dossier on Trump that Republicans want to discredit may well have been credible enough in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eyes to get at least one person killed

Gen. Oleg Erovinkin of Russia’s State Security Service (FSB)

The dossier on Donald Trump compiled by former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele—which made headlines for its salacious, unconfirmed passage about Trump and hookers performing for him in a Moscow hotel room—has been denounced by the president’s people as fake news, of course.

But the document was a mixed collection of information and allegations far more precise than the rumors about compromising sexual activities, and some of what’s in it may have unnerved not only Trump, but the Kremlin, where hunting down leaks can take a fatal turn.

During his recently released August 2017 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Glenn Simpson was asked about sources for the sensational dossier, which Simpson’s firm, Fusion GPS, commissioned. Responding for him, Simpson’s lawyer, Joshua Levy, blurted out a surprising warning: “Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier.”

In his subsequent November testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, which was made available last Thursday, Simpson denied knowing specific cases of people being killed because of the dossier, but he then noted cryptically that “people literally risked their lives to tell us some of this stuff.”

In fact, there is evidence that at least one Russian was murdered because of Steele’s revelations: Gen. Oleg Erovinkin of Russia’s State Security Service (FSB). On the morning of Dec. 26, 2016, Erovinkin, age 61, was found dead in his car in central Moscow. Life News, known to be a Kremlin mouthpiece, first claimed on its website that Erovinkin had been “killed,” but then quickly changed its story, saying simply that Erovinkin had “died.” FSB investigators were called immediately to the death scene, and news outlets soon reported that Erovinkin had succumbed to a heart attack. There was no more official Russian mention of him.

Erovinkin, who joined the KGB (the FSB’s predecessor) in 1976, had in the mid-1990s worked in the Russian Presidential Administration, where his job was to monitor compliance with security procedures. (He was known as “the keeper of the Kremlin’s secrets.”) He then served under Igor Sechin when the latter was deputy premier and subsequently followed Sechin to Rosneft in 2012, after Sechin became CEO of the state oil giant.

Of all the officials who serve under Putin, Sechin is the most powerful. Erovinkin, as chief administrator at Rosneft, was Sechin’s right-hand man and must have known everything about Sechin’s contacts with Americans. Those included the former head of ExxonMobile, now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Sechin once said he felt thwarted by U.S. imposed sanctions that kept him from riding motorcycles in America with his friend Tillerson.)

https://www.thedailybeast.com/was-this-russian-general-murdered-over-the-steele-dossier?ref=home

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Alexander Torshin from Russia’s central bank bankrolled the NRA’s campaign to elect Trump?

FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump

Paid for by Russians through the NRA?

WASHINGTON – The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.

All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because Mueller’s investigation is confidential and mostly involves classified information.

A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined comment.

Disclosure of the Torshin investigation signals a new dimension in the 18-month-old FBI probe of Russia’s interference. McClatchy reported a year ago that a multi-agency U.S. law enforcement and counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s intervention, begun even before the start of the 2016 general election campaign, initially included a focus on whether the Kremlin secretly helped fund efforts to boost Trump, but little has been said about that possibility in recent months.

The extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA, or of the NRA’s participation in the transfer of funds, could not be learned.

However, the NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump – triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. Most of that was money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors.

Two people with close connections to the powerful gun lobby said its total election spending actually approached or exceeded $70 million. The reporting gap could be explained by the fact that independent groups are not required to reveal how much they spend on Internet ads or field operations, including get-out-the-vote efforts.

During the campaign, Trump was an outspoken advocate of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, at one point drawing a hail of criticism by suggesting that, if Clinton were elected, gun rights advocates could stop her from winning confirmation of liberal Supreme Court justices who support gun control laws.

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks,” Trump said at a rally in August 2016. “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Spanish authorities tag Torshin for money laundering

Torshin, a leading figure in Putin’s party, has been implicated in money laundering by judicial authorities in Spain, as Bloomberg News first revealed in 2016. Spanish investigators alleged in an almost 500-page internal report that Torshin, who was then a senator, capitalized on his government role to assist mobsters laundering funds through Spanish properties and banks, Bloomberg reported

A summary obtained by McClatchy of the still-secret report links Torshin to Russian money laundering and describes him as a godfather in a major Russian criminal organization called Taganskaya.

Investigators for three congressional committees probing Russia’s 2016 operations also have shown interest in Torshin, a lifetime NRA member who has attended several of its annual conventions. At the group’s meeting in Kentucky in May 2016, Torshin spoke to Donald Trump Jr. during a gala event at the group’s national gathering in Kentucky in May 2016, when his father won an earlier-than-usual NRA presidential endorsement.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the investigation.

The NRA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Torshin could not be reached for comment, and emails to the Russian central bank seeking comment from Torshin and the bank elicited no response.

Mueller’s investigation has been edging closer to Trump’s inner circle. This week, The New York Times reported that Mueller had negotiated an agreement under which Steve Bannon, who was recently ousted from his post as a senior White House adviser, would fully respond to questions about the Trump campaign. Bannon headed the campaign over its final weeks.

Since taking over the investigation last May, Mueller has secured guilty pleas from two former Trump aides, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, both of whom agreed to cooperate with prosecutors; and criminal charges against two other top campaign figures, former campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates.

$30 million dollars:      The amount of money the National Rifle Association spent backing Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign – triple what the group spent on Republican Mitt Romney four years earlier

A year ago, three U.S. intelligence agencies signed off on a joint assessment that was the basis for the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and other sanctions against the Kremlin. The intelligence agencies concluded that what began as a sophisticated Russian operation to undermine Americans’ faith in democracy morphed into a drive to help Trump win.

Torshin is among a phalanx of Putin proxies to draw the close attention of U.S. investigators, who also have tracked the activities of several Russian billionaires and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs that have come in contact with Trump or his surrogates.

Torshin was a senior member of the Russian Senate and in recent years helped set up a Moscow gun rights group called Right to Bear Arms. He not only spoke with Trump Jr. at the NRA convention, but he also tried unsuccessfully to broker a meeting between Putin and the presidential candidate in 2016, according to the Times. He further sought to meet privately with the candidate himself near the 2016 NRA convention.

Torshin’s ties with the NRA have flourished in recent years. In late 2015, he hosted two dinners for a high-level NRA delegation during its week-long visit to Moscow that included meetings with influential Russian government and business figures.

In their internal report, Spanish prosecutors revealed a web of covert financial and money-laundering dealings between Torshin and Alexander Romanov, a Russian who pleaded guilty to money-laundering charges in 2016 and was sentenced to nearly four years in prison.

The prosecutors’ evidence included 33 audio recordings of phone conversations from mid-2012 to mid-2013 between Torshin and Romanov, who allegedly laundered funds to buy a hotel on the ritzy island of Mallorca. Torshin had an 80 percent stake in the venture, the Spanish report said.

In the phone conversations, Romanov referred to Torshin as the “godfather” or “boss.” Torshin has denied any links to organized crime and said his dealings with Romanov were purely “social.”

The Madrid-based newspaper El Pais last year reported that Spanish police were on the verge of arresting Torshin in the summer of 2013, when he had planned to attend a birthday party for Romanov, but a Russian prosecutor tipped the banker to plans to nab him if he set foot in Spain, and Torshin canceled his trip.

Congress looking at Torshin, too

The House and Senate Intelligence Committees and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee also have taken an interest in Torshin as part of their parallel inquiries into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.

In questioning Donald Trump Jr. at a closed-door hearing in mid-December, investigators for the Senate Intelligence Committee asked about his encounter with Torshin at the NRA convention, according to a source familiar with the hearing.

Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Trump Jr., said his client and Torshin talked only briefly when they were introduced during a meal.

“It was all gun-related small talk,” Futerfas told McClatchy.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent letters in November to two senior Trump foreign policy aides, J.D. Gordon and Sam Clovis, seeking copies of any communications they had with or related to Torshin; the NRA; veteran conservative operative Paul Erickson; Maria Butina, a Torshin protege who ran the Russian pro-gun group he helped launch, and others linked to Torshin.

Erickson has raised funds for the NRA and is a friend of Butina’s. Shortly before the NRA’s May 2016 convention, he emailed Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn about the possibility of setting up a meeting between Putin and Trump during the campaign, according to the Times.

Erickson’s email to Dearborn bore the subject line “Kremlin Connection.” In it, Erickson solicited advice from Dearborn and his boss, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a top foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, about the best way to connect Putin and Trump.

Both Dearborn and Butina, who has been enrolled as a graduate student at American University since mid 2016, have been asked to appear before the Judiciary Committee, but so far Erickson has not, sources familiar with the matter said.

Bridges LLC, a company that Erickson and Butina established in February 2016 in Erickson’s home state of South Dakota, also is expected to draw scrutiny. Public records don’t reveal any financial transactions involving Bridges. In a phone interview last year, Erickson said the firm was established in case Butina needed any monetary assistance for her graduate studies — an unusual way to use an LLC.

Erickson said he met Butina and Torshin when he and David Keene, a former NRA president, attended a meeting of Right to Bear Arms a few years ago in Moscow. Erickson described the links between Right to Bear Arms and the NRA as a “moral support operation both ways.”

Torshin’s contacts with the NRA and the Trump campaign last year also came to the attention of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and key adviser. When Torshin tried to arrange a personal meeting with Trump near the NRA convention site last May, Kushner scotched the idea, according to emails forwarded to Kushner.

On top of Torshin’s efforts to cozy up to the Trump campaign, the Moscow banker has forged ties with powerful conservatives, including Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the Californian whom some have deemed Putin’s best friend in Washington. In a phone interview in 2016, Rohrabacher recalled meeting Torshin in Moscow a few years earlier and described him as “a mover and shaker.”

Last February when Torshin visited Washington, Rockefeller heir and conservative patron George O’Neill Jr. hosted a fancy four-hour dinner for the banker on Capitol Hill, an event that drew Rohrabacher, Erickson and other big names on the right. Rohrabacher has labeled Torshin as “conservatives’ favorite Russian,” Torshin was in Washington at the time to lead his country’s delegation to the National Prayer Breakfast, where Trump spoke. The banker also was slated to see the presidentat a meet-and-greet event prior to a White House breakfast, but Torshin’s invitation was canceled after the White House learned of his alleged mob connections, Yahoo News reported.

Torshin’s involvement with the NRA may have begun in 2013 when he attended the group’s convention in Houston. Keene, the ex-NRA leader and an avid hunter, was instrumental in building a relationship with the Russian, according to multiple conservative sources.

Keene also helped lead a high-level NRA delegation to Moscow in December 2015 for a week of lavish meals and meetings with Russian business and political leaders. The week’s festivities included a visit to a Russian gun company and a meeting with a senior Kremlin official and wealthy Russians, according to a member of the delegation, Arnold Goldschlager, a California doctor who has been active in NRA programs to raise large donations.

Others on the trip included Joe Gregory, who runs the NRA’s Ring of Freedom program for elite donors who chip in checks of $1 million and upwards, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke and Pete Brownell, a chief executive of a gun company and longtime NRA board member.

In a phone interview, Goldschlager described the trip as a “people-to-people mission,” and said he was impressed with Torshin — who, he noted, hosted both a “welcoming” dinner for the NRA contingent and another one.

“They were killing us with vodka and the best Russian food,” Goldschlager said. “The trip exceeded my expectations by logarithmic levels.”

McClatchy News Service BY PETER STONE AND GREG GORDON January 18, 2018

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article195231139.html

 

Steele: “FBI had someone inside Trump’s network providing agents with information”

Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele

 

The ex-British spy who authored a dossier of allegations against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was told the FBI had someone inside Trump’s network providing agents with information, according to a newly-released transcript of a congressional interview.

Glenn R. Simpson, founder of research firm Fusion GPS, spoke to investigators with the Senate Judiciary Committee for 10 hours in August. As the partisan fight over Russian interference in the 2016 election has intensified, Simpson has urged that his testimony be released, and a copy of the transcript was made public Tuesday.

It was released by the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. That decision marks the most serious break yet in the once-cooperative relationship she has had with the Republican chairman of the committee, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).

Fusion GPS was hired in mid-2016 by a lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee to dig into the background of candidate Trump. Earlier that year, the firm had been probing Trump for a conservative website funded by a GOP donor, but that client stopped paying for the work after it became clear Trump would win the GOP nomination, according to people familiar with the matter.

Glenn R. Simpson, former Wall Street Journal journalist and co-founder of the research firm Fusion GPS, during his arrival for a scheduled appearance in November before a closed House Intelligence Committee hearing. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

After Democrats began paying for the research, Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele, a former British spy, to gather intelligence about any ties between the Kremlin and then-candidate Trump and his associates. Steele’s reports were eventually compiled into a dossier alleging the Trump campaign did coordinate with the Kremlin — a claim the president has repeatedly denied.

Steele first reached out to the FBI with his concerns in early July, according to people familiar with the matter. When they re-interviewed him in early October, agents made it clear, according to Simpson’s testimony released Tuesday, that they believed some of what Steele had told them.

“My understanding was that they believed Chris at this point — that they believed Chris might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization,” Simpson said. Using the parlance of spies and law enforcement officials, Simpson said the FBI had a “walk-in’’ whistleblower from someone in Trump’s organization.

In recent weeks, as the political fights about the Russia investigation and the dossier have intensified, Simpson has urged the committee to release the full transcript of his interview, arguing that Republicans are trying to obscure, rather than reveal, what happened in 2016.

Through much of 2017, Feinstein and Grassley made joint requests for information about Russia and the FBI’s investigation of election interference. In the fall, however, tensions between Grassley and Feinstein spilled out into the open as Grassley requested information from the FBI and other sources without Feinstein’s support.

Increasingly, the Democrats and Republicans on the committee are going in different directions — with Grassley moving to investigate matters involving Clinton when she was secretary of state, and Feinstein concentrating on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Simpson, the Fusion GPS founder, was interviewed by the Judiciary Committee for 10 hours in August.

While Simpson has accused conservative lawmakers of acting in bad faith, Republicans have accused Steele, while working for Fusion GPS, of misleading the FBI. Last week, Grassley made a criminal referral to the Justice Department, suggesting Steele may have lied to the FBI. While details of the referral are classified, it appears to be related to Mr. Steele’s contacts with reporters during the election campaign.

Republicans have attacked the credibility of Steele’s dossier, which Democrats say is an effort to discredit the ongoing probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into whether any Trump associates coordinated with Russian agents to interfere in the presidential election.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/feinstein-releases-testimony-of-glenn-simpson-whose-research-firm-fusion-gps-was-behind-trump-dossier/2018/01/09

Repeat a lie over and over and over again then it becomes true, right?

You know how if you repeat a word over and over, eventually it starts to sound strange to your ear, like merely a random collection of sounds? That is apparently what President Trump is doing with the word “collusion.” Say it often enough, and perhaps it will lose all meaning. (Collusion has already been established its proof of conspiracy that Mueller is looking for )

That’s just one of the things that comes through in this bizarre and disturbing interview Trump conducted at the Trump International Golf Club with Michael Schmidt of the New York Times, apparently on the spur of the moment and with no aides there to protect him. As we’ve almost come to expect by now, when Trump speaks at length without a script, he skitters back and forth along the line that divides the comical from the terrifying, telling one obvious lie after another, making endless digressions that devolve into incomprehensible word salad, and generally sounding like someone with only the most tenuous grip on his faculties.

But there’s one thing he’s very clear about wanting everyone to know: He and his campaign did not collude with Russia during 2016. In fact, without being prompted he returned again and again to the topic, repeating the word “collusion” no fewer than 23 times:

“Frankly there is absolutely no collusion…Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion…I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion…I can only tell you that there is absolutely no collusion…There’s been no collusion…There was no collusion. None whatsoever…everybody knows that there was no collusion. I saw Dianne Feinstein the other day on television saying there is no collusion [note: not true]…The Republicans, in terms of the House committees, they come out, they’re so angry because there is no collusion…there was collusion on behalf of the Democrats. There was collusion with the Russians and the Democrats. A lot of collusion…There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats. There was no collusion with respect to my campaign…But there is tremendous collusion with the Russians and with the Democratic Party…I watched Alan Dershowitz the other day, he said, No. 1, there is no collusion, No. 2, collusion is not a crime(conspiracy is a serious crime), but even if it was a crime, there was no collusion. And he said that very strongly. He said there was no collusion…There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime. But there’s no collusion…when you look at all of the tremendous, ah, real problems [Democrats] had, not made-up problems like Russian collusion.“

It should go without saying that no Democrats have said there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Some have said that we don’t yet have definitive proof that there was a conspiracy at work, but none have proclaimed Trump exonerated in the way he’s claiming. And Trump’s claim that Democrats were the ones colluding with Russia is simply nonsensical, likely plucked from an attempt Republicans and the conservative media made a couple of months ago to execute an “I know you are but what am I” strategy on this scandal that was so ludicrous it isn’t worth revisiting in any detail (you can read about it here if you care).

This is one of those moments when you are reminded that the president has the majestic resources of the U.S. government at his disposal, yet prefers to learn the truth of what’s going on in the world from the trio manning the couch on “Fox & Friends.” So perhaps it’s unsurprising that he thinks he can convince America of his innocence by merely repeating the words “There was no collusion” again and again. What is blindingly obvious is that Trump is very, very concerned that people might be thinking he and his campaign colluded with the Russians.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they did and he’s desperate to cover it up; it could also mean that he regards such collusion as a terrible betrayal of the country he loves and wants to make sure no one falsely concludes he would countenance such a thing. But we already know that officials on his campaign (and in his own family) had repeated contacts with representatives of the Russian government and others connected with the Russian government. That’s not in question. We also know that the topic of many of those conversations was whether Russia would provide the Trump campaign with damaging information on Hillary Clinton (see here, here and here). The most generous interpretation of those contacts is that people on both sides were interested in colluding but the operation never got off the ground.

There are a hundred questions that need to be answered before this is all over (to take just one: If Michael Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador were routine and appropriate, why did he feel the need to lie to the FBI about them?). What we don’t know is where Trump himself fits into this picture. So far, the only point at which we know of his involvement is that the president personally dictated the ham-handedly misleading statement Donald Trump Jr. released after the news broke of that fateful meeting that he, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort had with a group of Russians.

Did every other contact the campaign had with Russia happen without Trump’s knowledge? It might have. He may be so insistent that “There was no collusion” because he himself is utterly innocent. It’s also possible that he sees the collusion question as his area of greatest political and legal danger, which it may or may not be; at the moment there’s more evidence that he committed obstruction of justice, which is a separate question.

But there’s something important to keep in mind when we’re interpreting Trump’s words and actions: For someone who fancies himself a genius, he is almost completely lacking in any real guile. He doesn’t play eight-dimensional chess. His lies are obvious and straightforward, clearly false at the moment they leave his lips. His strategies require no deconstruction or disentanglement to understand. He’s almost always doing exactly what he appears to be doing.

So if he sounds like a pathetic perp on “Law & Order,” crying “I don’t know the guy! I wasn’t there! I didn’t do it!,” and it looks as though he thinks if he just says he’s innocent over and over then you’ll believe him, that’s probably what’s happening. But sooner or later, we’re going to find out the truth.

Far more than a witch hunt the “real” criminal investigation now includes the RNC

Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News

Steve Bannon’s eyes lit up. Several months before he left his job as a senior White House adviser last August, Bannon was talking to President Trump about the brewing political storm over the Justice Department investigation into his campaign’s alleged ties to the Kremlin. Suddenly, Trump had an inspiration. He looked straight at Bannon, jabbed at him with his finger and uttered the phrase that would become the slogan of the White House pushback against the Russia probe: “Witch hunt!”

Brilliant, thought Bannon, as he later related the exchange to colleagues.

Ever since, it is a phrase Trump has returned to time and again — and repackaged with typical Trumpian hyperbole. “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Trump tweeted last May after ex-FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed as Justice Department special counsel to oversee the probe.

But now, as Trump prepares to end his first year in office, the witch hunt narrative may have outlived its usefulness. Mueller’s investigation has expanded and gained serious traction: The president’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s chief deputy, Rick Gates, have been indicted. His former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty and is now a cooperating witness. So too is a former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, who has admitted lying to the FBI about repeated contacts with alleged Russian cutouts who had offered the Trump campaign “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

As described by sources familiar with various aspects of the investigation, the Mueller probe is fast approaching a critical crossroads. The president’s lawyers, Ty Cobb and John Dowd, are pressing Mueller to wind down the investigation and exonerate their client, which they have assured the president will happen by early next year.

But the sources familiar with the probe say that such a rapid conclusion is — as one put it — “fanciful.” Mueller and his team, they say, are pursuing new leads, interrogating new witnesses and collecting a mountain of new evidence, including subpoenaed bank records and thousands of emails from the campaign and the Trump transition.

In just the last few weeks, his prosecutors have begun questioning Republican National Committee staffers about the party digital operation that worked with the Trump campaign to target voters in key swing states. They are seeking to determine if the joint effort was related to the activities of Russian trolls and bots aimed at influencing the American electorate, according to two of the sources.

In what is potentially another ominous sign for the White House, the lawyer for Jared Kushner, the president’s son in law and senior adviser who was in charge of the campaign’s digital operation, recently began searching for a crisis public relations firm to handle press inquiries — a step frequently taken by people who believe they may be facing criminal charges. (Kushner has denied all wrongdoing, and his lawyer, Abbe Lowell, has said he is cooperating with the Mueller investigation.)

Even if the new lines of inquiry don’t result in additional indictments — something unknowable at this point — the new material all but guarantees the Mueller investigation will stretch on for months, if not years, likely provoking Trump to revisit his decision not to fire the special counsel.

And if the president does take that step, many lawmakers and legal veterans say, it will cause a political explosion unlike any the capital has seen in decades. “It will be cataclysmic,” said Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor who lived through the so-called Saturday night massacre when President Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “It will create a constitutional crisis.”

In the meantime, the president’s allies are mounting a ferocious attack on Mueller’s team — pointing to tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats by the special counsel’s prosecutors, and to text messages disparaging Trump by FBI agent Peter Strzok, whom Mueller has since moved off the investigation. They are also gunning for top FBI officials, especially deputy director Andrew McCabe, who they believe began a counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign’s links to the Russians last year based in part on the controversial dossier prepared by a former British spy and funded as “opposition research” by the Clinton campaign.

“Everything points to the fact that there was an orchestrated plan to try to prevent Donald Trump from being the next president of the United States,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, in a recent television interview in which he vowed to subpoena senior FBI agents about the origins of the probe.

But for Democrats, the attacks on Mueller and the FBI are a distraction tactic meant to obscure how much has already been uncovered about the Trump team’s contacts with the Russians. Back in January, when the issue first starting getting political traction, the president and his top aides denied that he and his campaign had any connections to Moscow. “I have nothing to do with Russia,” Trump tweeted at the time.

Since then,’s team and congressional investigators have detailed numerous contacts, meetings and email exchanges between Trump’s campaign and Russian-connected operatives and officials that were unknown to the public when voters went to the polls in November 2016. Jeff Sessions, the Trump campaign’s chief national security adviser, met with the Russian ambassador at a hotel reception and later in his Senate office. Papadopoulos met with a Russia-connected professor and a woman introduced as “Putin’s niece” in an effort to set up a summit between Trump and the Russian president. And most famously, Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort all met in Trump Tower with a delegation of Russians who they believed had derogatory information on Hillary Clinton — including “official documents” — that came straight from the highest levels of the Kremlin.

“Just from what’s been made public, it’s pretty clear the Trump campaign and family were willing and eager to work with the Russians,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “They showed almost no restraint in engaging with the Russians to see what they had to offer on their opponent. It was a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality.”

Whether all this adds up to “collusion” — the sensational charge of active collaboration between the Trump campaign and Moscow that was first laid out in the controversial dossier commissioned by the Clinton campaign — is far from clear. But for Swalwell and quite a few others, it is already clear that the Russian probe has been far more than a witch hunt.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/mueller-probe-outgrows-witch-hunt-phase-100045988.html

More MICHAEL ISIKOFF Russia reporting:

Russian Doping Whistleblower Says He Fears For His Life

Heard on All Things Considered

NPR’s Robert Siegel speaks with Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News about Grigory Rodchenkov, the whistleblower in the Russian doping scandal. Rodchenkov fled to the U.S. and says he now fears for his life.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Two years ago, Grigory Rodchenkov fled Russia for the United States. He didn’t come empty-handed. Rodchenkov gave details of a massive state-run doping campaign that helped Russian athletes win big in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. His cooperation was instrumental in the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Well now, Rodchenkov fears Russia wants him dead, as reported by our guest Michael Isikoff, who is chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News. Welcome to the program once again.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Good to be here.

SIEGEL: And first, where is Grigory Rodchenkov, and what have you learned about him?

ISIKOFF: Well, we know that Grigory Rodchenkov somewhere in the United States, but he’s under the Federal Witness Protection Program. And in fact, because there are genuine concerns about threats to his life, his own lawyer has not even been able to communicate with him over the past week or so. That lawyer, Jim Walden, told me that he was recently informed by a U.S. government official that he should assume that there are Russian agents in the United States looking for Mr. Rodchenkov and that significant enhancements needed to be made in his security protections.

SIEGEL: Is it fair to say that Rodchenkov knew a lot about the Russian doping program because he in fact was doing it?

ISIKOFF: Well, he was the mastermind of the Russian doping program. He supervised it, but he did so under the direction of the Russian Olympic Committee and with the assistance of the FSB, the Russian secret police.

SIEGEL: The idea that there might be Russian agents looking for the now underground Grigory Rodchenkov, it raises the question of he’s not challenging Vladimir Putin as president of Russia, he didn’t send us nuclear secrets or tell us where Russian submarines are – how big a deal is disclosing the Russian athletic doping program?

ISIKOFF: This is a huge deal for Russia and for Vladimir Putin personally. The Sochi Olympics were a showcase for him. He took great pride in the fact that Russian athletes dominated those Olympics, winning more than 30 medals. And to have that prestige robbed from Russia, it was a huge embarrassment for Putin.

SIEGEL: When you’ve asked the Russian government about this, about the notion that Rodchenkov might be targeted by agents in the U.S., what are they saying?

ISIKOFF: Well, they have not responded to the specific information that Jim Walden, Rodchenkov’s lawyer, provided to me, but they have made clear that they view Rodchenkov as a criminal. They’ve filed criminal charges against him. They have demanded he be returned to Russia by the United States. And the former head of the Russian Olympic Committee has said that Rodchenkov should be executed the way Stalin would have done.

SIEGEL: So the Russians say they want to prosecute Rodchenkov, but if Rodchenkov enjoys witness protection here in the U.S., the implication is he is of some use to American prosecutors.

ISIKOFF: Exactly. One of the interesting things his lawyer, Mr. Walden, told me is that federal prosecutors are conducting investigations that could lead to criminal charges against Russian Olympic officials. These could be racketeering charges. And the idea would be that Americans who participated in the Olympics, the American Olympic Committee, American companies such as NBC, which broadcast the Olympics, would have been defrauded by this doping scheme.

SIEGEL: Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News, thanks.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

A dreadful year of Trump, but there is some cause for hope

Trump’s first year was even worse than feared

Grit your teeth. Persevere. Just a few more days and this awful, rotten, no-good, ridiculous, rancorous, sordid, disgraceful year in the civic life of our nation will be over. Here’s hoping that we all — particularly special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — have a better 2018.

Many of us began 2017 with the consoling thought that the Donald Trump presidency couldn’t possibly be as bad as we feared. It turned out to be worse.

Did you ever think you would hear a president use the words “very fine people” to describe participants in a torch-lit rally organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan? Did you ever think you would hear a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations thuggishly threaten that she would be “taking names” of countries that did not vote on a General Assembly resolution the way she wanted? Did you ever think the government of the world’s biggest military and economic power would reject not just science but also empiricism itself, preferring to use made-up “alternative facts” as the basis for major decisions?

We knew that Trump was narcissistic and shallow, but on Inauguration Day it was possible to at least hope he was self-aware enough to understand the weight that now rested on his shoulders, and perhaps grow into the job. He did not. If anything, he has gotten worse.

By all accounts, Trump spends hours each day watching cable news, buoyed by the shows that blindly support him — “Fox & Friends,” “Hannity,” a few others on Fox News — and enraged by those that seek to hold him accountable. His aides have had to shorten and dumb down his daily briefings on national security in an attempt to get him to pay attention. Members of his Cabinet try to outdo one another in lavishing him with flowery, obsequious praise that would embarrass the Sun King.

Trump and his enablers have waged a relentless war against truth in an attempt to delegitimize any and all critical voices. He wields the epithet “fake news” as a cudgel against inconvenient facts and those who report them. Can a democracy function without a commonly accepted chronicle of events and encyclopedia of knowledge? We are conducting a dangerous experiment to find out.

To understand how deviant the Trump administration is, consider this: Since its founding, the nation has treasured civilian control of the military as a restraint on adventurism. Now we must rely on three generals — Trump’s chief of staff, his national security adviser and his secretary of defense — to keep this rash and erratic president from careering off the rails.

Trump’s Republican allies in Congress, who have the power to restrain an out-of-control executive, have rolled over in passive submission. Many see clearly Trump’s unfitness but continue to support him because they fear the wrath of his hardcore base and see the chance to enact a conservative agenda. History will remember this craven opportunism and judge it harshly.

I haven’t even mentioned Trump’s nepotism — installing his daughter and son-in-law as high-ranking advisers, with portfolios they are in no way qualified to handle — or his inability to staff the executive branch with the best-and-brightest types who customarily serve. The Trump administration is not only transgressive, it is also mediocre.

The year has been terribly depressing — but not paralyzing. Let’s end on a more positive note.

The day after Trump’s inauguration, a much larger crowd descended on Washington for the Women’s March, an immense show of resistance. That passion might eventually have faded away, but all evidence suggests it has not. If anything, it seems to have intensified.

In November, Democrat Ralph Northam won the governor’s race in Virginia, a purple state, by a surprisingly big nine-point margin. His coattails were long enough to elect so many Democrats to the state House of Delegates that control of the chamber is still undecided pending recounts. And then on Dec. 12, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in a special election for a U.S. Senate seat — in Alabama, of all places, one of the most Republican states in the nation.

These races were not about D’s vs. R’s. They were about sanity vs. insanity, reason vs. chaos. They were about Trump, and he lost.

So Godspeed to the Mueller investigation, but let him worry about that. The rest of us — Democrats, independents, patriotic Republicans — should work toward the November election. Our duty is to elect a Congress that will bring this runaway train under control.

by Eugene Robinson Opinion writer Washington Post

It’s been a whole year, so let’s review the “15-point guide to surviving authoritarianism”

Predictions in a Polish journalist’s 15-point guide to surviving authoritarianism proved frighteningly accurate after Trump’s first year

Nearly a year ago, intuitively recognizing the Trump administration’s authoritarian aspirations, Polish journalist and activist Martin Mycielski wrote “Year 1 Under Authoritarianism.” In those early, nerve-racking days following Trump’s inauguration, the piece was shared across social media, an ominous portent of what was to come. The document — helpfully subtitled, “What To Expect?” — offered a list of predictions and warnings about Trump’s first year in office, and exhortations to fight back at every turn. In his introduction, published just days after Trump’s inauguration, Mycielski noted the article was based on his own experience in Poland, where extreme-right nationalists have taken over the government, and in a recent ugly demonstration, the streets. The piece should be read as an instructive manual of sorts, culled from firsthand observation of the “populists, authoritarians and tinpot dictators” leading right-wing movements across Europe.

“With each passing day, the [Polish] government is moving the country further away from the liberal West and toward the authoritarian models of the East,” Mycielski wrote. “Hundreds of thousands have protested against every illiberal, unlawful step. Every time we believed it couldn’t get any worse. We were wrong. This is why we want you, our American friends, to be spared the shock, the awe, the disbelief of this happening to you. Let’s hope history proves us wrong and the US wakes up in time…[H]ope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

Mycielski’s “survival guide” has only become more disturbingly relevant with time, its predictions proved frighteningly accurate. Like Umberto Eco’s guide to fascism, it presciently notes the actions and attitudes that now unquestionably define this presidency; the lies and obfuscation of truth, racist fear-mongering, historical revisionism, purposeful chaos and anti-First Amendment agenda. Manipulation and malice are the Trump regime’s forte. (To see how quickly a country can be remade by a charlatan and his abettors, go back and review some of the earliest entries from Amy Siskind’s weekly list tracking changes under Trump. It’s all pretty scary, especially seeing it unfold in real time.)

But if there’s any hope, it will only come from recognizing the reality of what’s happening here, how much damage is being done, how much earth already scorched. The year has somehow flown by, yet seemed interminable. It’s good to remember the very big, very frightening picture before us, how far we’ve already come, and to consider what recourse we have with complicit and corrupt forces standing in the way. — Kali Holloway

Here is Mycielski’s 15-point guide to surviving authoritarianism.

  1. They will come to power with a campaign based on fear, scaremongering and distorting the truth. Nevertheless, their victory will be achieved through a democratic electoral process. But beware, as this will be their argument every time you question the legitimacy of their actions. They will claim a mandate from the People to change the system.

Remember — gaining power through a democratic system does not give them permission to cross legal boundaries and undermine said democracy.

  1. They will divide and rule. Their strength lies in unity, in one voice and one ideology, and so should yours. They will call their supporters patriots, the only “true Americans.” You will be labelled as traitors, enemies of the state, unpatriotic, the corrupt elite, the old regime trying to regain power. Their supporters will be the “people,” the “sovereign” who chose their leaders.

Don’t let them divide you — remember you’re one people, one nation, with one common good.

  1. Through convoluted laws and threats they will try to control mainstream media and limit press freedom. They will ban critical press from their briefings, calling them “liars,” “fake news.” They will brand those media as “unpatriotic,” acting against the People (see point 2).

Fight for every media outlet, every journalist that is being banned, censored, sacked or labelled an “enemy of the state” — there’s no hope for freedom where there is no free press.

  1. They will create chaos, maintain a constant sense of conflict and danger. It will be their argument to enact new authoritarian laws, each one further limiting your freedoms and civil liberties. They will disguise them as being for your protection, for the good of the people.

See through the chaos, the fake danger; expose it before you wake up in a totalitarian, fascist state.

  1. They will distort the truth, deny facts and blatantly lie. They will try to make you forget what facts are, sedate your need to find the truth. They will feed “post-truths” and “alternative facts,” replace knowledge and logic with emotions and fiction.

Always think critically, fact-check and point out the truth, fight ignorance with facts.

  1. They will incite and then leak fake, superficial “scandals.” They will smear opposition with trivial accusations, blowing them out of proportion and then feeding the flame. This is just smokescreen for the legal steps they will be taking toward totalitarianism.

See through superficial topics in mainstream media (see point 3) and focus on what they are actually doing.

  1. They will propose shocking laws to provoke your outrage. You will focus your efforts on fighting them, so they will seemingly back off, giving you a false sense of victory. In the meantime they will push through less “flashy” legislation, slowly dismantling democracy (see points 4 and 6).

Focus your fight on what really matters.

  1. When invading your liberal sensibilities they will focus on what hurts the most — women and minorities. They will act as if democracy was majority rule without respect for the minority. They will paint foreigners and immigrants as potential threats. Racial, religious, sexual and other minorities will become enemies to the order and security they are supposedly providing. They will challenge women’s social status, undermine gender equality and interfere with reproductive rights (see point 7). But it means they are aware of the threat women and minorities pose to their rule, so make it your strength.

Women and minorities should fight the hardest, reminding the majority what true democracy is about.

[Editor’s note: This is a rare moment where I believe Mycielski gets it wrong. People of color and women of all races are doing all they can; existence is itself political, but many have already gone above and beyond, taking key roles in resisting. They cannot be expected to “fight the hardest.” We need the people with the most privilege to step up and use their powers for good.]

  1. They will try to take control of the judiciary. They will assault your highest court. They need to remove the checks and balances to be able to push through unconstitutional legislation. Controlling the judiciary they can also threat anyone that defies them with prosecution, including the press (see point 3).

Preserve the independence of your courts at all cost; they are your safety valve, the safeguard of the rule of law and the democratic system.

  1. They will try to limit freedom of assembly, calling it a necessity for your security. They will enact laws prioritizing state events and rallies, or those of a certain type or ideology. If they can choose who can demonstrate legally, they have a legal basis to forcefully disperse or prosecute the rest.

Oppose any legislation attempting to interfere with freedom of assembly, for whatever reason.

  1. They will distort the language, coin new terms and labels, repeat shocking phrases until you accept them as normal and subconsciously associate them with whom they like. A “thief,” “liar” or “traitor” will automatically mean the opposition, while a “patriot” or a “true American” will mean their follower (see point 2). Their slogans will have double meaning, giving strength to their supporters and instilling angst in their opponents.

Fight changes in language in the public sphere; remind and preserve the true meaning of words.

  1. They will take over your national symbols, associate them with their regime, remake them into attributes of their power. They want you to forget that your flag, your anthem and your symbols belong to you, the people, to everyone equally. Don’t let them be hijacked. Use and expose them in your fight as much as they do.

Show your national symbols with pride; let them give you strength, not associate you with the tyranny they brought onto your country.

  1. They will try to rewrite history to suit their needs and use the education system to support their agenda. They will smear any historical or living figure who wouldn’t approve of their actions, or distort their image to make you think they would. They will place emphasis on historical education in schools, feeding young minds with the “only correct” version of history and philosophy. They will raise a new generation of voters on their ideology, backing it with a distorted interpretation of history and view of the world.

Guard the education of your children; teach them critical thinking; ensure their open-mindedness and protect your real history and heritage.

  1. They will alienate foreign allies and partners, convincing you that you don’t need them. They won’t care for the rest of the world, with their focus on “making your country great again.” While ruining your economy to fulfill their populist promises, they will omit the fact that you’re part of a bigger world whose development depends on cooperation, on sharing and on trade.

Don’t let them build walls promising you security instead of bridges giving you prosperity.

  1. They will eventually manipulate the electoral system. They might say it’s to correct flaws, to make it more fair, more similar to the rest of the world, or just to make it better. Don’t believe it. They wouldn’t be messing with it at all if it wasn’t to benefit them in some way.

Oppose any changes to electoral law that an authoritarian regime wants to enact — rest assured it’s only to help them remain in power longer.

And above all, be strong, fight, endure and remember you’re on the good side of history.

EVERY authoritarian, totalitarian and fascist regime in history eventually failed, thanks to the PEOPLE.

— With love, your Eastern European friends

https://www.rawstory.com/2017/12/predictions-in-an-activists-15-point-guide-to-surviving-authoritarianism-proved-frighteningly-accurate-after-trumps-first-year/