Lights Out.

Lights Out.

Lights Out.

Yesterday, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as America’s 114th Supreme Court Justice. This took place despite all of the following:

  • A confirmation process that appeared rushed by Republicans at every step
  • President Trump declaring 90% of Kavanaugh’s legal writings  to be covered by “executive privilege” and therefore unviewable by the Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Five women expressing a willingness to testify under oath that Kavanaugh had behaved in a sexually inappropriate way toward them – including accusations of gang rape
  • Only one of those women, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testifying to the Senate under oath, despite death threats against her and her family
  • Fox News and President Trump declaring immediately after Ford’s testimony that she was very credible
  • Republicans forcing Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s testimony to be merely a “he said/she said” by refusing to allow a thorough FBI investigation before they testified: such an investigation could have added valuable facts to help corroborate one side or the other
  • Kavanaugh telling the Senate Judiciary Committee numerous lies under oath, according to many who knew him during the era in question, including former roommate James Roche, and former classmates Charles “Chad” LudingtonLynn Brookes and Liz Swisher. Such false statements under oath before the U.S. Senate constitute perjury – a prosecutable federal crime that should absolutely be a disqualifier for a Supreme Court seat. Most notably, Kavanaugh denied ever having had so much to drink that he couldn’t remember his actions, and gave clearly misleading testimony about the meanings of terms that he had used in his high school yearbook around the time of Ford’s assault
  • Kavanaugh’s proclamation that he was a victim of a smear campaign to avenge Hillary Clinton – a highly partisan statement that raises questions about his ability to be an impartial Supreme Court Justice
  • Republicans trying to avoid any FBI investigation into these allegations until they were forced by a reluctant Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to allow one
  • An FBI investigation that:
    • Was limited in subject matter by the White House solely to the Ford assault and allegations by one other woman, Deborah Ramirez – not any of the other women who had come public
    • Was limited in scope by the White House to a handful of pre-specified witnesses: numerous individuals were not allowed to be interviewed, despite having relevant information, and despite the fact that many were making every effort to provide the FBI with their testimonies
    • Did not include FBI interviews with the key individuals, Kavanaugh and Ford: their Senate testimonies had to be considered their interviews
    • Could not look at Kavanaugh’s drinking habits, information about which might have helped corroborate part of Ford’s story and uncover additional evidence, and which would also have likely proven that Kavanaugh had perjured himself before the Senate
    • Was limited by the White House to no more than a week – apparently an unnecessary constraint because, with so few witnesses allowed to be interviewed, the FBI completed their report more than a day early
  • Republicans proclaimed this to a legitimate and sufficient investigation, despite its clear deficiencies and despite protests by Democrats

Senators who voted for Kavanaugh conceded that “something” happened to Dr. Ford, but placated themselves and their constituents with the pathetic and insulting claim that she must have just been confused, because it could not possibly have been Brett Kavanaugh. After all, he sounded genuinely upset during his testimony, and he went to Yale.

Yesterday was a dark, dark day for women, a dark day for justice, a dark day for America, and a dark signal for what the future holds. Kavanaugh’s nomination was a grotesque slap in the face to the legitimacy of our political process and to basic decency and morality. Admittedly this is one of hundreds by the Trump Administration and its Republican enablers, but this one somehow seems much uglier. Perhaps it is compounded by the President’s mocking of Christine Blasey Ford at a recent rally, to the gleeful cheers of his supporters. This is where we are at as a nation.

I’ve concluded – perhaps late in the game – that social media posts, participating in protests, and writing this blog are in large part a waste of time and energy. For those who oppose Trump, these activities are merely comforting self-reinforcement. For those who support Trump, these actions do not convince, but rather provide inspiration and a fresh supply of kindling, reassuring them that they are getting under the skin of the weak and overly sensitive “snowflakes” that they blame for their hardships. And for those who might be swayed, these actions are all little more that annoying background noise.

My political energy therefore will now be spent door knocking, phone banking, and doing other activities to help Democratic candidates for the House and Senate – particularly those who are in tough races – between now and November. I intend to keep my emotions in check, be polite and respectful to all whom I encounter, and disengage quickly and cordially from those who clearly cannot be convinced so that my time is not wasted. I hope to see you out there too. Time to leave the screen.

Lights out.

– rob rünt

Brett Kavanaugh: Parties and Perjury

Brett Kavanaugh: Parties and Perjury

Brett Kavanaugh: Parties and Perjury

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee spent several hours questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh about a sexual assault that Dr. Ford alleged took place in 1982. Ford’s painful testimony of a “stumbling drunk,” hysterically laughing Brett Kavanaugh pushing her onto a bed, groping her, and putting his hand over her mouth so she couldn’t scream came across as deeply moving and highly credible to any objective observer. Kavanaugh responded fiercely with a pained testimony of his own, portraying himself as a victim of a Democratic smear campaign seeking to avenge Hillary Clinton.

At the last minute on Friday, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) called for what Senate Democrats had been urging throughout the hearing: an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh, rather than needlessly forcing the situation to remain merely a “he said/she said.” President Trump, lacking the Senate votes to push Kavanaugh through, relented and called for a brief FBI investigation that would be “limited in scope.” Close to the same time, an alleged witness to the drunken sexual assault – Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge – agreed to be interviewed privately by law enforcement.

Kavanaugh now faces the possibility of multiple criminal charges.

First, there is no statute of limitations for sexual assault in Maryland, meaning that Christine Blasey Ford could potentially bring criminal charges against Kavanaugh if she wishes. Realistically, after 36 years, it would be very difficult to successfully prosecute such a case in a court of law, even after the completed FBI investigation. Those present at the party (other than Kavanaugh, Judge and Ford) likely have no recollection of what for these other party-goers was just another small, run-of-the-mill teenage party of many that happened regularly in the area. And Judge, being a potential accomplice to the crime, and who also has admitted in his book to having engaged in drinking to excess, is unlikely to provide any valuable corroborating testimony beyond “I don’t remember anything.” The same dynamic would likely be the case for any investigations of pubic allegations against Kavanaugh by two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick.

However, far more recently and with millions of television viewers as witnesses, Kavanaugh may well have committed the federal crime of perjury numerous times before Congress in his testimony on Thursday. Beyond the possibility of lying under oath about the assault on Ford, he made several far more easily provable or disprovable statements.

Kavanaugh was asked several times if he ever drank to the point that he couldn’t remember the next day what he had done. He said that he had not. Several people who knew him at the time have disputed that. Among them:

Lynn Brookes:
(Yale classmate of Kavanaugh and college roommate of Deborah Ramirez)
“There is no doubt in my mind that while at Yale, he was a big partier, often drank to excess, and there had to be a number of nights where he does not remember. In fact, I was witness to the night that he got tapped into that fraternity, and he was stumbling drunk, in a ridiculous costume, saying really dumb things, and I can almost guarantee that there’s no way that he remembers that night … drinking to excess was a big thing on Saturday night, so it wasn’t every night…there were a lot of e-mails and a lot of texts flying around about how he was lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
(CNN interview – 9/27/18)

Liz Swisher:
(Yale classmate of Kavanaugh)
“I’ve known Brett since the very beginning of freshman year. He was always one of the beer drinking boys, and I drank beer with him. I liked beer. There’s no problem with drinking beer in college. The problem is lying about it. He drank heavily. He was a partier. He liked to do beer bongs. He played drinking games. He was a sloppy drunk … I don’t think many of his answers were credible … I would have stayed on the sidelines if he had said ‘I drank to excess in high school, I drank to excess in college, I did some stupid things, but I never sexually assaulted anybody.’ That I would have stayed on the sidelines for – I didn’t have any credible evidence to the contrary. But to lie under oath, to lie about that, then what else is true?”
(CNN interview – 9/28/28)

An unnamed Yale classmate of Kavanaugh who spoke with the New Yorker also recalled that Kavanaugh belonged to a social group that often drank to excess, and that while Kavanaugh was normally “relatively shy,” he would become “aggressive and even belligerent” when he was drunk.

KavanaughHighSchool-pics2
High school era photos: Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey ((Ford)

Then there are the references on Brett Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook page – the relevance of which has been laughed off by Republicans, despite the fact that they give insight into Kavanaugh’s mindset, lifestyle and behavior at the time of the alleged assault on Ford. Kavanaugh was not asked about being part of the “Keg City Club (Treasurer) – 100 Kegs or Bust” (“100 Kegs or Bust” was listed on Mark Judge’s yearbook page as well – an apparent pledge by the high school seniors to drink 100 kegs of beer that year) or Kavanaugh’s unattributed quote: “He that would live in peace and at ease must not speak all he knows, nor JUDGE all he sees,” which one could interpret as an allusion to things that he and Mark Judge may have done together.

However, Kavanaugh was asked under oath about several other references on his yearbook page, to which he gave misleading answers:

Renate Alumnius:
This was listed on a number of yearbook pages of boys at Kavanaugh’s high school, Georgetown Prep. Kavanaugh admits that this is a reference to a girl at a neighboring Catholic girl’s high school. High school classmates of Kavanaugh told the New York Times that it was a disrespectful, boasting reference to (unsubstantiated) sexual conquests of some of the football players. Kavanaugh asserted under oath that it was meant to be a sign of respect to communicate that she was “one of us.” He said that he regrets that a “media circus” has portrayed it as anything else. The woman in question, when informed of the yearbook references, described them as “hurtful.”

Ralphing:
Kavanaugh mentioned in his yearbook that he was part of the “Beach Week Ralph Club – Biggest Contributor.” According to the Chicago Tribune, Mark Judge describes Beach Week as “an annual drunken vacation of private school pals convened as soon as school ended, a week earlier than public schools.” The week-long party involved male and female students. Urban Dictionary describes ralphing as throwing up, so it is reasonable to interpret Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry to mean that his degree of alcohol consumption resulted in him throwing up more than anyone else at Beach Week. Kavanaugh told the Senate under oath that this was not due to excessive drinking, but rather due to his sensitive stomach.

Devil’s Triangle:
The Urban Dictionary describes a “Devil’s Triangle” as a threesome with two males and one female – the exact scenario that Christine Blasey Ford describes Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge having tried to force her into against her will. Kavanaugh stated under oath that it was a reference to a drinking game, like “quarters.” It should be noted that, immediately after Kavanaugh’s testimony, this “drinking game” definition also began appearing on Urban Dictionary, which accepts public input to stay current. This definition had not been there before that.

Boofing:
Kavanaugh wrote on his high school yearbook page “Judge – Have You Boofed Yet?” Mark Judge similarly wrote on his yearbook page “Bart, have you boofed yet?” (Bart appears to have been a nickname that Kavanaugh was referred to due to a teacher’s mispronunciation of his name.) When I was in high school in the 1980s, around the same time as Kavanaugh, “boofing” referred to anal sex. This is also one of the definitions provided by Urban Dictionary, although it can also apparently refer to putting illicit substances in one’s anus. It should be noted that Kavanaugh is a Catholic, and many Catholics believe that one can have anal sex and still consider themselves a “virgin.” Kavanaugh stated under oath that “boofing” was another word for farting – a definition that I had never heard until his testimony.

Whether or not the horrific act against Christine Blasey Ford or any of the other women can be proven, all of these other minor but important inconsistencies in Kavanaugh’s testimony are likely to be revealed in the course of the FBI’s investigation this week. As Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate Liz Swisher said, “there’s no problem with drinking beer in college: the problem is lying about it.” Lying under oath to Congress is a federal crime, and numerous parts of Kavanaugh’s testimony to Congress appear to have been deliberately misleading, regardless of his guilt or innocence in the alleged sexual assaults. Kavanaugh may or may not be prosecuted, but at the very least, he should not be rewarded for perjury by being appointed to the Supreme Court.

– rob rünt

The Potential Pros and Cons of Rachel Mitchell

The Potential Pros and Cons of Rachel Mitchell

The Potential Pros and Cons of Rachel Mitchell

In what appears to be a cowardly move, the Republican majority Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to bring in an outside female attorney to question Christine Blasey Ford on this Thursday regarding allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. The initial appearance is that the Committee, whose Republican members are all old white men, do not want a repeat of the optics from the hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, where an all male panel – some of them the same old white men – aggressively questioned Anita Hill about her allegations of harassment by Thomas.

Yet there may be a number of benefits of this approach – benefits to Ford and to the truth.

Having a woman interview Ford may be less emotionally traumatic for Ford, the victim, than being surrounded by a group of old white men interrogating her. It is likely that this female attorney will be more capable of asking questions in a sensitive way.

More importantly, though, is the background of this particular female attorney, Rachel Mitchell. She is a sex crimes prosecutor with a track record of handling cases where the crime was committed years ago. Surely such an individual will have a degree of expertise that the Senators do not have regarding what questions to ask.

Mitchell’s ability to perform her responsibility here will be impaired by the Committee’s unwillingness to have the FBI include an investigation of these allegations in their background check of Kavanaugh. Prosecutors in court typically have the benefit of an attempt at fact-finding by law enforcement.

Mitchell’s political allegiance to hardcore Republican former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, as well as her appointment by a highly partisan Republican Senate Committee bent of pushing Kavanaugh through regardless of the facts, make her presence worthy of skepticism. However, if she can be balanced in her pursuit of the truth with both Ford and Kavanaugh, the results may be more humane and effective than if the task had been left to the likes of Committee members Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Kennedy (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Michael Lee (R-UT), Ben Sasse (R-NB), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

Perhaps the Democrats should consider bringing in their own prosecuting attorney with specific expertise in sex crimes as well.

– rob rünt

Trump Will Provide Classified Intelligence to Kremlin

Trump Will Provide Classified Intelligence to Kremlin

Trump Will Provide Classified Intelligence to Kremlin

This is what today’s headlines should read, because it conveys what will actually happen when the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of National Intelligence are forced to comply with the President’s reckless order to declassify and publicly release numerous classified documents in the name of “transparency.” According to a September 17, 2018 press release from the White House, the documents to be declassified will include:

  • Pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the June 2017 application to the FISA court in the matter of Carter W. Page
  • All FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation
  • All FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications
  • All text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction [blacking out portions of text], of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr

WhiteHousePressRelease-Declassification


 

The backgrounds of the people in question are:

  • Carter Page:
    • American citizen who regularly does business in Russia
    • Lost a large amount of money if Russian investments
    • Came to the attention of the FBI in 2013 when the FBI believed that he was being actively recruited by Russian operatives
    • Became Trump Campaign Foreign Policy Adviser in March 2016
    • Gave pro-Russia speech in Moscow in July 2016
    • Went to Moscow again in December 2016
  • Bruce Ohr
    • High-ranking Department of Justice official with expertise in Russian organized crime
    • Long-time friend of highly regarded Russia expert/former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele; Steele had been contracted to begin investigating Trump’s activities in Russia in mid 2016 by research firm Fusion GPS (the company paid indirectly by the Clinton Campaign to do opposition research into Trump); Steele’s interviews with his trusted sources in Russia resulted in the “Steele dossier”
    • Bruce Ohr and Christopher Steele apparently had conversations after and possibly during the campaign about the information that Steele was uncovering
    • Bruce Ohr’s wife Nellie worked for Fusion GPS on the different aspects of the same Trump project that Steele was hired to work on (see article of this coincidence)
  • James Comey
    • FBI Director during the 2016 Campaign and for the early months of the Trump Administration
    • Fired by President Trump in May 2017, triggering special counsel investigation into Trump for obstruction of justice
  • Andrew McCabe
    • Deputy Director of the FBI during the 2016 Campaign
    • Temporary acting Director of the FBI after James Comey was fired
    • Was found by the DOJ Inspector General’s office to have made unauthorized releases to the media and to have “lacked candor” when asked about it
  • Peter Strzok
    • Former FBI Chief of Counterespionage
    • Led FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server
    • Worked for first two months of Mueller investigation into Russian interference in 2016 election
    • Removed from Mueller investigation after Mueller learned of anti-Trump text messages between Strzok and an extramarital mistress, Lisa Page, sent between August 2015 and December 2016
    • Discussed a “media strategy” in texts with Page
  • Lisa Page
    • Former FBI lawyer
    • Briefly served on Mueller investigative team
    • Had affair with FBI officer Peter Strzok

 

There may be validity to initiating a deeper investigation into the actions of some of these individuals and determining whether their personal political biases crept into their professional activities. However, declassifying and releasing these documents to the public is not the appropriate way to do that. The information should instead be evaluated by a special counsel and/or by the courts. Releasing the information publicly will contribute to the legitimacy of an obstruction of justice case against the President and will jeopardize our national security.

When we hear that a government document is being released to the public, we typically envision the public as the average American citizen. In American culture, such transparency with the public is generally considered a good thing. Yet when the government assigns a “classified” label to certain information, there is a reason for that. That reason for classifying the information is usually important and should be bypassed only with thorough consideration of the unintended consequences.

The President’s public release of classified information about an active investigation into himself can provide otherwise unobtainable insights that enable witnesses and accomplices to shape their stories to match the known facts while concealing vital, still undiscovered information. This would be tantamount to obstruction of justice, similar to providing inside police information to a criminal about that criminal’s own case.

Far more alarmingly, however, are the national security implications of the President’s decision. Successful intelligence and law enforcement operations depend on the security of “sources and methods.” This is shorthand for maintaining confidentiality of how information was obtained (disclosure of which would tip off guilty parties and foreign adversaries about, for example, what modes of communication to avoid) and who the information was obtained from (disclosure of which could at best result in those informants and spies no longer being useful sources of information, or could at worst result in those individuals and their families being killed).

In Russia, the mafia and the Kremlin have a symbiotic relationship. What benefit can Russia gain from knowing about the communications between Russian organized crime expert Bruce Ohr and Christopher Steele, who relied on numerous individuals inside Russia to compile his dossier? Which of Steele’s sources might be revealed in the declassified documents? How valuable would the Kremlin find information about how Russia’s election interference activities were first uncovered and how the investigation proceeded from there?

Even if names are redacted, the descriptions of dates and locations can enable a foreign adversary to determine how their activities became compromised, and who compromised them. By rendering certain intelligence sources and methods less useful or even useless, the President is jeopardizing our national security, making it that much harder for our intelligence community to determine what hostile adversaries are up to. He also may be intentionally or unintentionally tipping off Putin on how to cover tracks of Russian election interference activities being investigated by Mueller.

Trump’s decision to publicize valuable, unredacted, classified information is not only a disclosure to the average American: it is a prized treasure trove of information for the Kremlin.

– rob rünt

Trump was a More Stealth 9/11

Trump was a More Stealth 9/11

Trump was a More Stealth 9/11

Most Americans over the age of 22 can remember where they were on September 11, 2001 when the planes hit the Twin Towers. It was a memorable spectacle, and was intended to be so.

I was getting ready for work, watching with mild fascination as one of the network morning shows reported the oddity of a small plane or a commercial airline – they were unsure – that had accidentally flown into the Twin Towers. As the TV cameras focused on the smoke pouring out of the building, the second airline hit, prompting news anchors to speculate that there might a problem with the air traffic control at JFK. It was still largely unthinkable that this might be an intentional, coordinated act.

Few of us can say where we were when we first experienced Russia’s 2016 cyber-attack on the United States. It was an attack that was not intended to be seen, and it was just as successful as 9/11. Indeed, there are those to this day who deny that the attack even happened.

The 9/11 attack killed over 3,000 people and left a smoldering hole in the ground in downtown Manhattan.

The Russian cyber-attack – still in progress – has killed our civility to one another and left a smoldering hole in our democracy. Many of us can still see the black smoke rising daily from the Oval Office, ignored by a Republican-led Congress that nervously whistles and looks the other way.

But we often fail to notice the smoke emanating from each of us.

Putin’s attack was meant to divide America, to sow chaos, and ultimately bring down the nation that he holds most responsible for the humiliating collapse of his own then-much-larger nation – the USSR – in 1991. To the degree that we turn on each other, shun friends, demonize and belittle those on the “other side” of the Trump divide, we are doing exactly what Putin would like to see.

For a brief time after 9/11, an America that had been in deep disagreement over Bush Administration policies came together against a common foe. Today, many of us see a portion of our fellow Americans as the common foe. Trump supporters view “snowflakes” as naïve, blissfully or willfully unaware of the hardships of many, and too brainwashed to see how the Deep State is trying to bring down one of the greatest Presidents in history. Those who oppose Trump view his supporters as ignorant, racist, and/or uninformed, and too brainwashed to see the imminent threat to our nation posed by a corrupt, lying, divisive, mentally unstable, and woefully incompetent President.

These views are solidified daily by our choices of news, social media, and interpersonal interactions, all of which reinforce one of two widespread but wildly different realities. Ongoing reinforcement of these realities, seen as essential at a time when democracy is under attack (either by the President or the Deep State) makes mending the divide nearly impossible.

Today as we reflect on 9/11, we can honor those lost by reminding ourselves that we are all Americans, that our new attacker’s main goal is to see us divided and to watch our nation devour itself from the inside. A reconciliation between the two sides of our nation may not be realistic at the moment.

However, we can each commit to learning more about each other’s perspectives and “facts,” and trying to understand them – not agree with them, just understand them. This is a decision as personal and intimate as the Russia cyber-attack was. We can counter the effects of that ongoing attack by occasionally tuning in to news sources that we consider bogus and trying to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who believes what is being said there. Again, the goal is not to agree, but to understand. Wee can also commit to learning more about our common adversary, Vladimir Putin.

At some point, the Trump Presidency will be over. Then we will be left with ourselves.

– rob rünt

Yet Another Reason to Impeach

Yet Another Reason to Impeach

Yet Another Reason to Impeach

The September 5th New York Times Op-Ed by an anonymous senior White House Official confirms what many have long believed about the President and his leadership capabilities. President Trump is described by the senior staffer as amoral, anti-democratic, ill-informed, erratic, reckless, “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.” While these character traits are about as undesirable as one can imagine in a President, it is the response that they inspire from his staff that gives a very clear reason to seriously consider impeachment.

The senior staffer describes efforts by those around the President to “frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations” and “preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.” It is hard to find precedent for this, particularly as a long-term daily dynamic within the White House.

That things have come to this point is evidence of how truly broken our government system has become, particularly under Donald Trump. The staffer and his/her allies within the White House apparently (and rightly) have little faith in the Trump-intimidated, Republican-led Congress to respond appropriately to protect the nation from an unstable President. This particular staffer has thus instead chosen to go to the media, and the others have resigned themselves to grimly serving as an internal “resistance” to the Commander in Chief.

This is a risky situation under normal global conditions, which thankfully is all that our nation has thus far been confronted with during the Trump Presidency. But what happens in a crisis – particularly a military crisis? We have seen nations like Russia and China taking note of the global leadership vacuum left by Trump’s erratic and isolating approach. Such a void of steady, trusted leadership – which the United States and its western allies have imperfectly provided since World War II – can cause unscrupulous and power-hungry adversaries to test the boundaries, to try to fill the void.

So what happens if a foreign adversary were to launch a nuclear missile at the United States? In a normal White House, the President would have a scant few minutes to verify that the threat is real and decide how to respond. After that decision, it is imperative that the system operates smoothly, and that smooth operation is dependent on trust in the President’s judgment.

But what happens with this President under such a scenario? Do his staff respond by immediately rallying to his side, or do they reasonably write off his commands as the latest delusion or impulse? They have only minutes to choose the right path through their justifiable uncertainty.

If the pictures painted in the Op-Ed and the upcoming Bob Woodward book are accurate, we have a President who is incapable of leading his staff, and who, in his ineffectiveness, poses a danger to the country. There are two remedies for this.

One is to view the senior staff as the problem. In this case, the solution is to weed out these disobedient bad apples and replace them with senior staff who are more comfortably aligned with amoral, anti-democratic, ill-informed, erratic, reckless leadership. It is hard to see how this would benefit our nation.

The other is to use the impeachment process to remove the President and replace him with a leader whose judgment can be trusted by White House staff and the military. In general (Trump excepted), this would be anyone who has risen to the level of being elected to high-level national public office. In this case, of course, that replacement would be Mike Pence.

I personally disagree with Mike Pence on virtually every issue. I have disagreed with the policies of many Presidents. However, Mike Pence fits the bill as someone who can be trusted (as much as most Presidents in our nation’s history) by his White House staff and the military to show judgment that is within the spectrum of “reasonable,” and to make decisions accordingly – particularly on military issues. In short, he can lead. Trump cannot.

The New York Times Op-Ed on its own may not be sufficient justification to impeach Donald Trump. However, it absolutely warrants confidential, closed-committee House and Senate hearings to determine how widespread the apparent chaos and “resistance” within the White House actually is, and to learn what some of the President’s thwarted impulses have been. If what is revealed matches the White House described in the anonymous New York Times Op-Ed, impeachment is appropriate and necessary for the security of the nation.

– rob rünt

When the Right Wing Lunatic Fringe isn’t so Crazy

When the Right Wing Lunatic Fringe isn’t so Crazy

When the Right Wing Lunatic Fringe isn’t so Crazy

Many of us have become numb to the nonsensical right wing “Deep State” conspiracy theories being used by Trump and his most rabid supporters to discredit and prematurely end the Mueller investigation: Robert Mueller is a criminal; it was actually Hillary Clinton who colluded with Russia; James Comey was a “Clinton fixer.” So when legitimately questionable information surfaces, many on the left shrug and write it off as more of the same. There are two issues, however, which, if we are being intellectually honest, we need to acknowledge, discuss and come to terms with.

One of those is the role of Bruce and Nellie Ohr in the Trump-Russia case.

In late 2015, the conservative publication Washington Free Beacon, whose owner was believed to be a supporter of Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, hired research firm Fusion GPS to look into the background of then Presidential candidate Donald Trump. After Trump won the primary in mid 2016, the Beacon understandably stopped paying Fusion to research Trump. However, Perkins Coie, a law firm representing the Clinton Campaign, soon began paying Fusion GPS to continue the research.

By that point, according to Fusion founder Glenn Simpson’s testimonies to the House and Senate, Fusion had compiled enough information to see that the most curious aspects of Trump’s background were related to his potential organized crime connections and his activities in Russia.

To help perform further research into these matters, in mid 2016, Fusion contracted former-British-spy-turned-consultant Christopher Steele, with whom Simpson had worked on previous research projects, who was a top expert on Russia with a reputation for producing accurate information, and who had a number of longtime trusted sources within Russia for gathering his information. Over the next several months, Steele talked with his sources and produced 17 memos for Fusion GPS about Trump-Russia that came to be known as “the Steele dossier.”


 

FlowChart-SimpsonVeselOhr-8x11

View as pdf


According to Simpson, Steele quickly became so alarmed by what he was uncovering – an active plot by Russia to put a Kremlin-compromised President in the Oval Office – that he told Simpson that he considered it his professional duty to contact U.S. law enforcement immediately. Simpson told Steele that he did not know anyone that he could contact. Steele said that he had connected in the past with law enforcement in the U.S. on other cases and would take care of the notification. Steele followed through on this in early July of 2016.

The part of the narrative that becomes questionable is that one person to whom Steele reached out – either in July or later on – appears to have been a longtime acquaintance, Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr. Allegedly without Steele’s awareness, Bruce Ohr’s wife Nellie coincidentally happened to be one of a tiny group of people (countable on one’s fingers) who was also being employed by Fusion GPS to investigate Donald Trump. And Bruce Ohr was allegedly unaware that his wife was doing this work. And Glenn Simpson was apparently unaware of who Nellie Ohr’s husband was. The coincidences and lack of awareness of others’ activities within this small group of people seems remarkable.

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Another issue that is grossly under-reported in the mainstream media is the connection between Fusion GPS and the Trump Tower meeting.

Around 2013, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya retained U.S. law firm Baker Hostetler to assist her with a money laundering case that the U.S. government had brought against her client, Prevezon Holdings, a company based on the island of Cyprus. (Cyprus is notorious as a place where wealthy Russians launder illegally-obtained money). In Spring of 2014, Baker hired Fusion GPS to do research for the Prevezon case. Fusion’s Prevezon research led to questions about financial dealings of a hedge fund manager named William Browder.

William Browder has a long adversarial history with Vladimir Putin. In the mid 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, an atmosphere of lawlessness pervaded Russia. Wealthy oligarchs took advantage of the situation to dramatically increase their wealth by grabbing up former state-owned assets, and ethically unrestrained entrepreneurs found ways to get rich quickly as well. Browder allegedly made his own fortune by creating a hedge fund, Hermitage Capital, that assured investors that the Russian companies it invested in were uniquely law abiding and therefore less likely to be prone to unpredictable plunges in value.

To offer this assurance, Browder would investigate the companies. If he found wrongdoing, he reported it to the Russian government. This was looked upon favorably by a rising Vladimir Putin, who saw Browder’s investigations as a way to ensure that Russian businesses and oligarchs were not cheating the Russian government out of the tax money that it deserved.

As Putin’s power grew, Putin’s view of Browder’s activities changed sharply. According to Browder, Putin had begun directly taking a percentage of all illicit money “earned” by the Russian mafia and oligarchs, and Browder’s exposure of corruption was getting in the way.

In 2005, Browder was arrested and deported from Russia as a “threat to national security.” Eighteen months later, the Russian Interior Ministry raided the Moscow office of Browder’s company, Hermitage Capital Management, and seized “all the corporate documents connected to the investment holding companies of the funds that [Browder] advised.”

Browder hired attorney Sergei Magnitsky to investigate. Magnitsky determined that the documents were being used to re-register Browder’s holding companies to a convicted murderer named Viktor Markelov, and $230 million in taxes allegedly paid to the Russian government by Browder’s companies had been diverted elsewhere.

When Magnitsky notified the Russian authorities of this crime, he was jailed, where he remained for over a year under increasingly terrible conditions. He was regularly pressured, unsuccessfully, by the Russian government to sign a statement that he had stolen the $230 million from Browder. On November 16, 2009, Magnitsky was chained in an isolated prison cell and beaten to death by eight guards.

To avenge the man who had died on his behalf, Browder pushed the U.S. legislature to enact what eventually became known as the Magnitsky Act, which passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by then President Obama in November of 2012. The Act froze the U.S.-based assets of all Russian oligarchs (and Putin) who were believed to have been responsible for Magnitsky’s death. Russian oligarchs tend to invest their illicit wealth in law-governed countries like the U.S. where the wealth is safer than it would be in Russia.

As part of his retaliation against the U.S. for passing the Magnitsky Act, Putin banned the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans. That is what is being referred to when a Trump claims to have been merely talking with a Russian about “adoption.” Putin wants the Magnitsky Act repealed or weakened so that he can regain access to a large chunk of his wealth.

Natalia Veselnitskaya’s client, Prevezon Holdings was accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of laundering millions of dollars in New York real estate, using money from a $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme. If that number sounds familiar, it is because it is the amount that Browder alleges that he had paid in taxes to the Russian government but which had instead been misappropriated by the Kremlin. Browder was the one who had tipped off the U.S. Department of Justice that Prevezon had laundered the money.

The situation appears to be that Browder’s $230 million in taxes was received by the Russian government, who then denied that he had paid them. The Kremlin proceeded to launder the money to legitimize it/make it usable, and one of the parties through whom the money was laundered was Prevezon Holdings. Another interpretation is that Browder had never actually paid the taxes, but had instead used one of his many overseas tax shelters to hide the money.

In the New York case, Prevezon settled out of court for $5.9 million without admitting guilt, leading one to believe that the first interpretation above is closer to the truth.

During Fusion’s research for the Prevezon case, information about Browder’s financial dealings raised questions in the mind of Fusion founder Glenn Simpson, and Browder was notably difficult to obtain testimony from: he ran when attempts were made to serve him with a subpoena to testify. This bizarre response would seem to indicate guilt on the part of the man who had tipped off the DOJ about Prevezon, until one realizes that Browder had very good reason to believe that Putin had put a price on his head: under such circumstances, running in response to two strange men approaching him in a parking lot seems entirely appropriate and reasonable. Assassination attempts had been made on prominent Magnitsky Act advocates as well as on Browder’s own mother.

Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya apparently believed that some of Fusion’s information about Browder and his associates could be useful as a stepping stone to improving her own standing in Russia. The information on Browder could be used in the U.S. to raise questions about the legitimacy of the Magnitsky Act’s founder, and possibly result in the repeal of the Act, which would bring Veselnitskaya into high esteem with the Kremlin.

Seeing this opportunity, Veselnitskaya reported the information to Russia’s Prosecutor General, Yuri Chaika, in October of 2015. On February 18, 2016, Veselnitskaya registered what appears to be a fake NGO, the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGI), for the purpose of lobbying the U.S. Congress “on behalf of Russian orphans.”

On June 9, 2016, the  now infamous “Trump Tower meeting” took place. Veselnitskaya and an interpreter, along with a couple of other Russians, met with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton and to discuss “Russian adoptions.” The “dirt” on Hillary Clinton that Veselnitskaya appears to have offered was that the New York billionaire Ziff brothers – who were major Democratic donors – had invested with Browder. If the Ziff brothers had donated to the Clinton Campaign, Veselnitskaya reasoned, their donations would be tainted and possibly illegal because Browder had cheated the Russian government out of $230 million in taxes.

The part of this whole narrative that again seems highly coincidental is the relationship between Veselnitskaya and Fusion GPS. Veselnitskaya appears to have had only a handful of direct interactions with Fusion’s Glenn Simpson: most of the communication seems to have been indirectly through Baker Hostetler. But on the morning of June 9, 2016 – right before the Trump Tower meeting – Veselnitskaya and Simpson were in court together for a hearing related to the Prevezon case.

Simpson testified that Veselnitskaya’s English is very limited, as is his Russian, so they did little more than exchange pleasantries.

Simpson also testified that on June 10, 2016 – the day after the Trump Tower meeting – he had attended a Washington DC dinner held by Baker Hostetler attorney Mark Cymrot for people working on the Prevezon case. Again, Veselnitskaya was in attendance, but according to Simpson, she was sitting at the other end of the table from him and his wife.

In his testimonies before the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judicial Committee, Glenn Simpson comes across as straightforward, extremely forthcoming, and highly credible. Yet the fact that he – the man who was paid by the Clinton Campaign’s law firm to investigate Donald Trump – also happened to know Natalia Veselnitskaya , and was even physically in the same room with her hours before the Trump Tower meeting (where she presented information gathered by Fusion GPS for the Prevezon case) and was again in the same room with her the evening afterward seems staggeringly coincidental.

We on the left can be blindly partisan and simply accept all that we are being told about Trump-Russia. After all, a wealth of evidence points to the possibility that Trump knowingly or unknowingly helped Russian oligarchs and mafia figures launder money via his real estate empire for decades – a felony – and that Vladimir Putin is holding knowledge of this activity over Trump’s head. A U.S. President being blackmailed in such a manner by a hostile foreign power is a profound danger to the security of our nation.

However, when we come across inconsistencies and bizarre coincidences like the Bruce and Nellie Ohr issue or the Veselnitskaya/Fusion GPS issue, we also owe it to ourselves, if we have any genuine loyalty to the truth, to stop and take a serious look. What could explain these connections? Are we really just seeing shocking coincidences, or something more?

The most reasonable explanations that I can find are as follows:

Bruce and Nellie Ohr:

  • Nellie Ohr was hired by Fusion to comb through Russian newspapers and other public record Russian documents for information about Trump because she was fluent in Russian.
  • Nellie Ohr did not know of Christopher Steele’s involvement with Fusion, nor did Steele know of hers,  because it was Simpson’s practice not to let his employees know who Fusion’s contractors were (and vice versa) unless absolutely necessary. This was done to avoid tainting information gathered from different sources. If two sources found differing information on a particular point, that could be helpful to narrow in on that point as a place where more questions needed to be asked to get an accurate picture.
  • Nellie Ohr did not tell her husband Bruce what she was working on for Fusion because she was under a confidentiality agreement, and as a professional, she took that agreement seriously.
  • The information that Steele was uncovering was not shared with any Fusion employees other than Simpson. Nellie Ohr was unaware of the content (or possibly even the existence) of Steele’s memos. Therefore there was no reason for Nellie Ohr to feel the need to tell her husband about her work: the information that she was uncovering was far less dramatic.
  • Nellie Ohr never told Glenn Simpson that her husband was a Department of Justice official because it was not relevant to her job at Fusion, and because DOJ and other high level law enforcement officials generally do not like their identities to be widely known, for security reasons.
  • Still inexplicable:
    • The coincidence that Nellie Ohr’s husband happened to be Steele’s contact in the U.S. Department of Justice.
    • The coincidence that Bruce Ohr didn’t put two and two together to then ask his wife more about the research work that she was doing at Fusion.

 

Veselnitskaya/Fusion GPS:

  • Veselnitskaya probably had no idea that she would discover something about Putin’s public enemy #1, Wililiam Browder, when she was first hired by Prevezon Holdings: Prevezon was simply another legal case to her.
  • She engaged Baker Hostetler to help with the case because of her poor English, likely unfamiliarity with the intricacies of U.S. law, and the need for her client to have quality representation in a U.S. court.
  • Baker Hostetler hired Fusion to do investigative research for the Prevezon case, because money laundering cases are complicated and require a level of quality research that needed to be outsourced.
  • When Browder’s name turned up in Fusion’s research, Veselnitskaya recognized the name (Browder is famously vilified in Russia – there are even movies about him) and saw an opportunity for herself. From then on, for her the Prevezon case became partially a case for her client, but also a means to collect information that she could use to curry favor with the Kremlin.
  • Simpson was unaware of how Veselnitskaya was using his research.
  • Simpson was handling the case for Baker Hostetler in the same way that he would for any other client: doing research, analyzing it and passing it to his client, Baker Hostetler.
  • Veselnitskaya’s visa to enter the U.S. had been previously revoked, but she was able to get into the U.S. because she was the primary attorney for a case that was being tried in a U.S. court. That is why the Trump Tower meeting had to be scheduled for the same day that she was in court for the Prevezon case.
  • Simpson was in the same courtroom as her that day because, as a researcher for the Prevezon case, he had the greatest wealth of detailed knowledge to reinforce Prevezon’s position.
  • Veselnitskaya and Simpson were at the same Washington DC party the next evening because they had both been important parts of the Prevezon case.
  • While Fusion GPS has a central role in both the Trump Tower meeting and the Steele dossier, and there was even a brief overlap in the timeframes of the Prevezon project and the Trump project, there was no bleed-over between the two projects within Fusion GPS itself: Simpson kept all of Fusion’s projects separate to avoid information from one project contaminating another.
  • Still inexplicable:
    • The coincidence that the Trump Tower meeting involved people and information connected to the same tiny research firm that had later been hired by the Clinton Campaign’s law firm to investigate Donald Trump.

While it is sane and reasonable to dismiss the wild conspiracy theories coming out of the extreme right in their efforts to defend an indefensible President, it is also important to look at factual inconsistencies in the narrative that many Americans believe to be true. While the issue of Bruce and Nellie Ohr and the connection of Fusion GPS to Natalia Veselnitskaya can be explained, they require acceptance of an uncomfortable amount of coincidence.

– rob rünt