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

The Coming Crisis – And A Realistic Solution To It

The Coming Crisis – And A Realistic Solution To It

Donald Trump’s July 16th press conference in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin should leave no doubt in the minds of objective observers that Putin holds a powerful sway over America’s President. Such bewildering influence by a hostile foreign adversary poses a major risk to our national security. At best, our President is woefully gullible. At worst – and given his body language, this seems a safe assumption – he is being blackmailed or otherwise compromised by the Russians.

President Trump’s Helsinki performance has left our nation – and our long-time allies – wondering: what was agreed to in that one-on-one meeting? Has a secure back channel now been established between the two leaders to enable ongoing real-time conversations, instructions and coercion that avoid detection by our national security agencies? Was the Helsinki meeting recorded by Putin to use to further blackmail the President? Has Trump been given a strategy to secretly help Putin and Russia’s oligarchs get at their money despite strong American sanctions like the Magnitsky Act (LINK)? What other instructions might have been given by this former Soviet intelligence officer, who would love to see the downfall of the U.S. and collapse of the West as retribution for the fall of the U.S.S.R.?

It seems increasingly possible that the person currently at the helm of our nation is not someone who should be trusted with our nation’s interests. Real but yet-unseen damage may already have been done since his inauguration. The danger to our country in a situation like this cannot be understated: Putin is not our friend.

Our Constitution thankfully provides a useful but flawed remedy to a corrupt, compromised, incapacitated, or mentally ill President: as we all know by now, the 25th Amendment allows Congress to remove the President from office as the ultimate check on his or her power. However, I believe that we may well be in a situation unforeseen by our great Constitution – one that can lead to a catastrophic crisis for America.

Most of us have watched Congress’s ongoing feeble or even enabling responses to President Trump through the lens of American politics. We believe that they are being blindly partisan, and that they are willfully putting their own re-election and the Republican Party over the wellbeing of the country. We should pray that this is all that we are seeing.

Glenn Simpson is a man who was hired by a DNC law firm to gather intelligence on Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, and who hired former British spy Christopher Steele as part of his information gathering. Simpson was brought before the House Intelligence Committee on November 14, 2017and gave lengthy, detailed and credible testimony about his activities.

At one point, he described why he left his position as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal. His beat of choice was Russian corruption and the possibility of Russian involvement in Washington DC. But the Wall Street Journal had lost interest in this topic: it was not as “sexy” and headline-grabbing as terrorism in the years immediately following 9/11.

Yet in talking to his sources in 2009, Glenn Simpson was hearing that “everyone said the Russians are back, and they are buying influence in Washington left and right, and they are trying to bribe all these Congressmen.”

This observation – paired in particular with the behavior of Congresspersons like Devin Nunes (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and French Hill (R-AR) – raises the question: what if our U.S. legislature is as compromised by Russia as our President appears to be? What if members of the branch of government entrusted to be a check on Presidential power would not only be disgraced, but possibly criminally prosecuted, if the extent of Russia’s activities were fully exposed? What if the “kompromat” that Russia has on them is at the very least the funneling of Kremlin money (through American collaborators) into their campaigns?

When Congress convened on January 2, 2017 for the first time after Trump’s election, the Republican leadership’s very first move – at night, behind closed doors, with no advance discussion – was to remove independent ethics oversight for Congress. Why was that? In the strong public backlash that followed the next day, they quickly reversed themselves, but the fact that that was their first agenda item is curious.

Since Trump’s inauguration, we have also seen a startling number of U.S. Congresspersons announce that they will not run for re-election. One of those – announced a day or two after news broke of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s office being raided by the FBI – is House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

I do not personally believe that Paul Ryan is directly compromised by Russia. However, I believe that he is aware of at least some of what is being held over his fellow Republican legislators. I believe that he, as Speaker of the House, has made the decision to remain silent and encourage the rest of his partisan lawmakers to do the same in order to avoid disgracing the GOP. I believe that he has decided not to seek re-election is because the weight of this is worrisome and uncomfortable for him, and he would prefer to just fade into the woodwork before the Trump indictments start rolling in.

In a way, this is complicity. If one were to watch the murder of a person, rather than a democracy, without notifying law enforcement of what they knew, one would be held legally responsible for that decision. And the longer that one held to that decision, the more legally culpable one would become. This may be the difficult position in which some or all Republican legislators who are not directly compromised by Russia find themselves. They all may have something to feel deeply uneasy about.

If Congress is compromised or complicit, it would be absolutely outrageous – a betrayal of our country by those whom we have most entrusted to protect it. There would be an impulse to see legislators punished severely for their actions, for selling out their country – our country – particularly as they spent years hypocritically branding people the left as spineless and soft on America’s foreign enemies.

Yet in venting our moral outrage, we are still stuck with the concrete legal problem: we need those same compromised or complicit Republican legislators – elected to a majority in both houses of Congress – to hold the executive branch in check. Depending on the outcome of the Mueller investigation, we may need them to not just be a check, but to actually remove Donald Trump from office. And if the President knows that the legislature is compromised, he could threaten to take them all down with him – his own form of kompromat. Which puts us in the silent stalemate between branches of government that I believe we have already been in for over a year.

Although our Constitution does not provide us with a legal remedy for this situation, we can be grateful to countries like South Africa who have provided us with a workable model for addressing and moving forward from horrific acts: amnesty.

My proposal is this.

If, as anticipated by many, Mueller’s investigation turns up evidence of impeachable acts by the President, all sitting members of the House and Senate – Republican and Democrat – should immediately be granted a short period (say, five days) during which they can confess to any ways that Russia has compromised them (including being silent about their knowledge of fellow compromised legislators) and any actions that they took because they were compromised – without fear of criminal prosecution.

These will not be detailed confessions, but merely public acknowledgments of how they have been compromised, so that the truth gets quickly out into the open. Anyone who is guilty but has not admitted so by the end of this short amnesty period can and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Congress should then be required to swiftly take the appropriate action to remove the President from office.

As part of their amnesty terms, those Congresspersons who have confessed must agree to step down from office at the end of their term, and to cooperate fully with law enforcement and U.S. intelligence to determine exactly how they became compromised and what they know of any Russian operations, so that those operations can be thwarted, neutralized or minimized by our national security community.

The advantages of this solution are many:

  • It enables our country to move through a dire and unforeseen crisis gracefully and with minimal disruption
  • It helps restore confidence in the functioning of our system going forward – at least in regard to Russian influence
  • It ensures that most or all of the compromised or complicit legislators – whom we might not otherwise know are compromised or complicit – will not continue to serve
  • It removes more bad (or unreliable) actors from the system than would other solutions
  • It avoids a lengthy, costly and ultimately less effective federal investigation of potentially hundreds of sitting Congresspersons
  • It makes the whole truth abundantly clear to all – including Trump supporters who may be in deep denial – and thereby reduces the domestic strife that may arise in the wake of President Trump being removed from office
  • It transparency reassures America’s allies that we can once again be trusted not to be pushing Russia’s agenda
  • It gives our intelligence community a clear and thorough understanding of what has been done and what to watch for in the future
  • By putting the truth out in the open for all to see, it sets the stage for a national conversation that may help heal and reunite a deeply divided nation

One thing seems certain: Donald Trump may be at times persuaded to say the right thing regarding Vladimir Putin, but waiting for him to do the right thing on the issue of Russia is a waste of time. Putin will always ultimately come out ahead of America with this President.

– rob rünt

“Finish It The Hell Up!”

“Finish It The Hell Up!”

Those words were spoken by U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC), expressing frustration over what he sees as the slow pace of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. Gowdy’s words reflect a perception among many on the right, fed and amplified by the likes of Fox News, that Mueller’s team is dawdling, and that a lack of charges against the President by now means unquestionably that there is nothing there. Because of the constant repetition of this misconception in some circles, some clarification is needed.

First, Gowdy’s statement is ironic, since the House Judiciary Committee, led by Trey Gowdy, spent 30 months investigating Hillary Clinton’s possible role in the Benghazi attack between May 8, 2014 and December 12, 2016. While Benghazi was a serious incident, it was far less consequential than a U.S. President being assisted by a hostile foreign adversary to get elected. We are currently in the 14th month of the Mueller investigation, which began on May 17, 2017. And as Special Counsel investigations go, this one has taken a relatively short length of time thus far. The chart below was published by the Washington Post.

a1cc60e49536bd317dda7cd0b3ebbff2-908-610-Length

It is also important to look at the types of crimes that Mueller is likely investigating. Steve Bannon reportedly said “this is all about money laundering.” I believe that Trump knowingly or unknowingly laundered money for Russian oligarchs and Russian organized crime figures for decades. There is an abundance of evidence of Trump real estate deals with Russians in which Trump properties were purchased at an inflated price and quickly resold for a significantly lower price, and in which properties were paid for with all cash – telltale signs of money laundering. An example would be the sight-unseen sale of a Palm Beach mansion to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev (whose yacht and plane coincidentally appeared numerous times near Trump campaign events).

Money laundering is an intentionally complex and opaque crime. That’s the point of money laundering: the goal is to disguise the original illegitimate source of the money by processing it – often through multiple opaque transactions, shell companies, etc. – in a way that ultimately makes the money appear legitimate (even if at a loss – at least now it can be used). Money laundering is therefore an extremely time-consuming crime to investigate, and this case likely involves many multiple incidents of it.

In Russia, Putin demands a cut of all illicit money that the Russian mafia and oligarchs take in. If Trump were laundering money (a felony) for them, Putin would absolutely have a long and thorough awareness of that. Such knowledge – far more than any alleged salacious video from the Moscow Ritz Carlton – is likely the “kompromat” (compromising material) that Putin has on Trump, and with which Putin may in fact be blackmailing the President of the United States.

In addition to a lengthy history of money laundering – a clear motive for Trump to cooperate with Russia – Mueller’s team must also look into evidence of cooperation between the Trump Campaign / Trump Transition Team / White House and a foreign government run by a former KGB officer who knows how to cover his tracks. Potential witnesses and participants from Russia cannot be subpoenaed, and also know that they could potentially be murdered or jailed if they choose to offer evidence or testimony to Mueller. Those witnesses must therefore be presumed inaccessible.

Even so, you might say, if Trump has been involved in any criminal activity and/or collusion with Russia, Mueller must certainly have evidence of it by now – over a year into the investigation – so Mueller’s silence clearly indicates that he has found no such evidence. I believe that Mueller currently has a ton of evidence against a number of people from Trump’s campaign and possibly against the President himself. But consider what you do when playing poker. Do you pick up your hand and announce excitedly “Hey, I just got two pair! If I get another ace or king. I’ll have a full house!” Or do you keep your mouth shut, betray no emotion, and move calmly forward?

Mueller disclosing the evidence that he has collected at this point could compromise the rest of the investigation in multiple ways. It could tip off wrongdoers about who is providing information and what that information is. It could enable the President to know which facts not to lie about if he is ever interviewed by Mueller, and it could give him time to develop a plausible explanation for those particular facts. It could result in some witnesses being paid off, or if the participants involved are dangerous enough, it could result in witnesses being killed.

Some Republicans have stated the Mueller should let Congress know what evidence has been gathered so far, to prove to them, as part of their oversight responsibility, that the investigation is pursuing real issues and not simply wasting taxpayer money on, as the President calls it, a “witch hunt.” This is a legitimate argument.

Yet many of the same Republicans leading this charge, like U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) – a former member of the Trump Transition Team and currently Chair of the House Intelligence Committee (who should theoretically know better than anyone about the proper handling of sensitive information) – have proven repeatedly that they cannot treat the information with the care that it deserves. Upon getting key information, Nunes has instead chosen to run to tell the President what he has learned, or has called a press conference to be the first to put a spin on the information. Both of these activities jeopardize the investigation by informing potential suspects about an ongoing investigation.

I want to see the Meuller investigation completed as soon as possible – likely for a different reason than Trey Gowdy does. But I also know that what Mueller is likely investigating is extremely complex, involves years of activity long pre-dating the 2016 campaign, involves witnesses who can never be questioned, and involves a Congress whose members cannot all be relied upon to put justice above partisan or selfish interests. So I force myself to be patient and believe that justice will prevail.

Of all the people in this situation, I trust Robert Mueller the most. Until the President and Fox News began their slanderous drumbeat to tarnish his name and reputation, Mueller was known to Republicans and Democrats alike as a brilliant and solid law enforcement official of unwavering integrity. That was why he was approved for his current responsibilities by both parties in an otherwise deeply divided House and Senate. Mueller is still the same man that he was before the smear campaign began, and I will trust whatever outcome he and his team arrive at, even if that outcome is that there is no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing by the President.

– rob rünt

GOP Backing Roy Moore is About Keeping the Presidency, Not Just a Senate Seat

GOP Backing Roy Moore is About Keeping the Presidency, Not Just a Senate Seat

How low can Republicans go, some may ask. After months of looking the other way as Donald Trump toys with nuclear war, alienates our international allies, reaps millions in profits from his Presidency, and tweets falsehoods on a regular basis, many thought that the Republican Party had hit rock bottom. Until they endorsed accused pedophile Roy Moore for the US Senate.

Multiple women have alleged that Roy Moore dated them or engaged in sexual activity with them when they were teens. At the time, Moore was a District Attorney in his 30s in Alabama. In his defense, Moore recently asserted on Fox’s Sean Hannity’s show that he had never dated any girl without first getting “permission of her mother.”

Signature-Nelson

Signature-Gibson
Alleged messages written by Alabama District Attorney Roy Moore to Debbie Gibson and Beverly Nelson when they were teenagers.

How can the Republican Party, which for years had sanctimoniously proclaimed itself the party of God and morality, throw its endorsement behind someone who appears to have sexually preyed on children? Is keeping one Senate seat really so important to them that they are willing to throw aside all pretense of integrity? Yes and no.

Republicans currently hold a slim majority in the Senate, and they would no doubt like to maintain that majority. But there is an office that is far more important to them to hang onto: the Presidency.

The tie-in here requires a look at the immediate circumstances of the President, the Mueller investigation, and what kind of political process could prematurely end that investigation.

Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has recently subpoenaed and received Donald Trump’s financial records from Germany’s Deutsche Bank. Aside from being one of the few financial institutions willing to lend money to Mr. Trump after one of his bankruptcies, Deutsche Bank was also fined $630 million by the US government in January of this year for laundering over $10 billion for wealthy Russians in a stock fraud scheme. (Money laundering means running illegally obtained money through some process to make it appear legitimate). My personal suspicion is that, prior to his life as a political figure, Donald Trump engaged in real estate transactions that assisted others, including wealthy Russians like oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, to launder or hide their money. Such assertions have been made in the infamous “dossier” compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.

Vladimir Putin would no doubt be aware of such illegal activity, and could use that knowledge to blackmail President Trump, which would explain the President’s baffling reluctance to criticize Putin while attacking virtually everyone else, including the US intelligence community.

As Mueller ”follows the money” and gets closer to areas that can bear fruit in his investigation, many Republicans, who initially supported the selection of Robert Mueller (a Republican with an excellent reputation within the legal community for his dogged investigative practices and impeccable integrity) have suddenly begun turning on the Special Prosecutor, now calling him “corrupt” and “the head of the snake.” The President has made no secret of his dislike of the Mueller probe, calling it a “witch hunt.”

Yet if Trump were seen as directly trying to remove Robert Mueller after already having fired FBI Director James Comey, it would be viewed as a blatant obstruction of justice. Republicans have discovered another way to get rid of Mueller, and it requires the election of Roy Moore to the Senate.

The Special Prosecutor would ordinarily be appointed by the US Attorney General. However, in the current situation, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions (former Alabama Senator) had recused himself from the Russia investigation, due to his potentially being considered a witness in that case. So instead, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was given the responsibility to appoint a Special Counsel. He chose former FBI Director Robert Mueller. Rosenstein would be the most appropriate person to remove Mueller from the case, but seems unlikely to do so, and Sessions cannot do so, because he has recused himself.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has been encouraging Alabamans to write in Jeff Sessions when they vote. He has also said that if Roy Moore is elected, the Senate will immediately begin an ethics investigation into the allegations of the various women against Moore. Such an investigation will likely find that these women are in fact telling the truth about their teenage encounters with Roy Moore, and such findings will likely result in the Senate expelling Moore or demanding his resignation.

When a Senator leaves office prematurely, that state’s Governor is empowered to appoint a replacement. Some Republican political operatives have advocated for Moore to be replaced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, essentially putting Sessions back in his old job as one of Alabama’s two Senators. It would seem a natural choice.

Yet the resulting absence in the US Attorney General’s office would allow the President a “mulligan” on appointing an Attorney General – enabling him to select a new Attorney General who would not need to recuse himself/herself from the Russia investigation and who would therefore have the authority to remove Robert Mueller and either replace him with a new Special Prosecutor or declare the investigation over.

MooreMeansEndingMuellerProbe

Currently, Roy Moore is ahead of his Democratic opponent Doug Jones in the Alabama polls. If Moore wins, the wheels can easily be put in motion for a premature end to the Russia probe, or for an investigation that avoids looking in the most meaningful and damning areas.

– rob rünt

The Mueller Investigation: Why Trump’s Finances and Beauty Pageants are 100% Relevant to Russia

The Mueller Investigation: Why Trump’s Finances and Beauty Pageants are 100% Relevant to Russia

The Mueller Investigation:
Why Trump’s Finances and Beauty Pageants are 100% Relevant to Russia


News outlets like the Washington Post and New York Times have reported that Trump’s legal advisors are looking for ways to disqualify Robert Mueller, the Special Prosecutor investigating possible Trump Campaign collusion with Russia. One way in which Team Trump hopes to do this is by claiming that Mueller is overstepping the scope of his investigation by looking into things like Trump’s personal finances. While such areas of inquiry might on the surface seem unrelated to electoral meddling by Russia, Trump’s taxes, financial dealings and other areas are in fact very legitimate and essential aspects to explore.

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as Special Prosecutor, he defined the scope of Mueller’s investigation as “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated” with Trump’s campaign, “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” and “any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a)” such as obstruction of justice, destroying evidence, and intimidating witnesses.

In looking at whether or not the Trump Campaign colluded with Russia – or if Trump or his Administration are currently colluding with Russia – Mueller needs to look at why Trump and Putin would possibly want to cooperate.

There are a number of possible explanations for such cooperation. One is “kompromat” – potentially compromising evidence of something embarrassing or illegal – that Putin might be using to blackmail Trump, as alleged in the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele (Buzzfeed – 1/10/17). Another explanation is major financial debts which Putin may in some way be helping Trump get rid of, or which Trump owes to Russia. And another explanation is the possibility of a financial crime yet to be committed against the United States, in which Putin or other Russians and Trump are currently coordinating.

Here is how some of Mueller’s possible avenues of investigation can help show whether there is anything of substance to any of those explanations.

Tax Returns

Donald Trump has been evasive about his tax returns ever since he was first asked about them. During his campaign, unlike previous Presidential candidates, he said that he would only disclose his tax returns if elected, citing the feeble and long debunked excuse that he was under a “routine audit” by the IRS. Once elected, Trump continued to refuse to make his tax returns public, claiming falsely that only the media care about them (The Hill – 1/11/17), when in fact even a majority of Republicans want him to release them (The Hill – 4/13/17).

Trump’s tax returns are relevant to the Russia investigation because they can show debts that he owes and business relationships that he has. Knowing to whom Trump owes money, and how much, can help Mueller connect the dots, if there are any, between those debts and Russia. Understanding Trump’s business relationships can also be a starting point toward uncovering closer connections with Putin than the President has admitted.

Bank Loans

As a real estate mogul, Donald Trump has taken out loans from financial institutions around the world in order to purchase real estate, build on or improve properties, and other legal real estate activities. If Trump has had difficulty repaying some of those loans, someone offering to help take care of them could be appealing to the President. If that person is Vladimir Putin or an associate of Putin’s, that is highly relevant information for Mueller’s investigation. The first step toward exploring this angle is to look at Trump’s bank debts.

The relevance of bank loans in the Russia scandal becomes even more acute if some of the banks are actually Russian banks, especially Russian state banks. As Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6 (British intelligence agency) said in April, “What lingers for Trump may be what deals — on what terms — he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money when others in the west apparently would not lend to him.” (The Sun UK – 4/13/17)

Real Estate Deals

Exploring Trump’s real estate deals can provide not only a starting point to learning more about Trump’s debts, but also about illegal activity that he may have been involved in during his civilian life or which he may currently be involved in – knowledge of which, if known by Putin or associates of Putin, could be used to blackmail the President.

In particular, learning more about Trump’s real estate deals can yield clues about money laundering. Money laundering is the act of putting illegally obtained money through a process that can give that money the appearance of legitimacy. Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort is currently under investigation for money laundering for some New York condos that he purchased with all cash (The Atlantic – 3/29/17).

Trump himself has had numerous questionable real estate transactions, including the 2006 purchase of a Palm Beach mansion, which stayed vacant until he sold it a year later to a wealthy Russian oligarch named Dmitry Rybolovlev – for nearly twice the amount that he had purchased it for (MSNBC – 3/27/17). Rybolovlev reportedly never even visited the home.

Wilbur Ross

Rybolovlev was introduced to the President by an old friend named Wilbur Ross (MSNBC – 3/27/17). Ross was appointed by Trump and confirmed as the US Secretary of Commerce in February. Prior to that, Ross was one of two Vice Chairmen of the Bank of Cyprus. Cyprus is an island off the coast of Turkey whose banks are often used by wealthy Russian oligarchs to launder money. The other Vice Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus is Viktor Vekselberg, the second wealthiest man in Russia and a close personal friend of Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, Ross and Vekselberg appointed Josef Ackerman to be President of the Bank of Cyprus (The Irish Times – 11/1/14). From 2002-2012, Ackerman had been CEO of Deutsche Bank, one of the largest banks in the world. Deutsche Bank had also been engaged in laundering approximately $10 billion for wealthy Russians in a stock fraud scheme (Vanity Fair – 7/20/17) – a crime discovered in 2013, and for which the United States fined the bank $630 million. Trump owed Deutsche Bank millions of dollars at the time that Wilbur Ross connected him with Dmitry Rybolovlev for the seemingly overpriced purchase of the Palm Beach mansion.

Untangling this mess, figuring out who knows what about it, looking at how Russia and Deutsche Bank and the Bank of Cyprus factor in, as well as understanding the role of Wilbur Ross, may help Mueller better decipher how Donald Trump may be compromised by Russia and why he may be unduly interested in cooperating with them.

Beauty Pageants

In 2013, Donald Trump brought his Miss Universe beauty pageant to Russia (New York Times – 7/11/17). The recently disclosed June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer was arranged by Rob Goldstone, a marketing executive who has worked for the Miss Universe pageants. Aras Agalarov, the person whom Goldstone cited as the connection to the Russian lawyer, had paid almost $20 million to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Russia.

While these connections are important for Mueller to investigate, the Miss Universe pageant is also relevant because the Christopher Steele dossier (Buzzfeed – 1/10/17) alleges that Trump participated in a potentially embarrassing private event in 2013 in a room at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow – an event which Vladimir Putin may possess video footage of. Such footage could be used to blackmail President Trump. In order to determine whether Trump is compromised as the Steele dossier alleges, Mueller needs to develop a timeline of Trump’s activities during any 2013 visits to Russia.

Donald Trump has proven to be a brilliant artist when it comes to smearing those he dislikes and branding them in a negative way. We should be conscious that news outlets are currently reporting possible plans by Trump’s associates to discredit and remove Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Mueller’s reputation as an ethical and dedicated law enforcement professional is impeccable. And the areas now believed to be coming under the scrutiny of his investigation are all absolutely relevant and necessary to get a full picture of any potential collusion between Donald Trump/his campaign/his Administration and Russia. We should also remain acutely aware that Vladimir Putin does not have the best interests of the United States at heart.

– rob rünt

What You Don’t Need to Know: Understanding Intelligence and Law Enforcement Regarding Trump

What You Don’t Need to Know: Understanding Intelligence and Law Enforcement Regarding Trump

What You Don’t Need to Know: Understanding Intelligence and Law Enforcement Regarding Trump


We are likely to hear plenty of testimony before Congress from law enforcement and intelligence officials in the coming months. People who see Donald Trump as corrupt or worse may find themselves frustrated by what appears to be an attempt by these officials to hide key information from Congress and from the public. Some Americans may even begin developing conspiracy theories about these officials’ silence or apparent evasiveness under oath.

It is possible that some individuals in the FBI, Secret Service, NSA, CIA, etc. may be inappropriately trying to conceal incriminating information about the President. However, when law enforcement or intelligence people conceal such information from Congress in open testimony, it is almost certainly not an attempt to protect the President. Rather, it is an attempt to protect the investigations into his campaign and administration from becoming compromised, because they want to ensure that any wrongdoing can be prosecuted with the best evidence possible when and if arrests are made.

Law enforcement and intelligence have obligations that at times can be hard to balance. They are supposed to serve the American public, which in the minds of many means that the public has a right to know everything that is going on in an investigation, what evidence has been compiled so far, how it was discovered, and all other important information. Americans want to quickly and definitively know, in the words of Richard Nixon, “if their President is a crook,” and they certainly don’t want a crook to stay in office if law enforcement have strong reason to believe that the person is corrupt in some way.

But law enforcement and intelligence personnel are also supposed to serve the American public by doing their job, by “getting the bad guys,” by performing as thorough an investigation as they can, by ensuring that their evidence is as airtight as it can be, by preventing crimes, sabotage, and foreign intelligence operations from being successful in the future. That means that not everything that they know can or should always be disclosed to the public all the time.

The audience for public statements from law enforcement and intelligence is not only the American public. Criminals being investigated are paying attention as well. People considering committing future crimes are paying attention. In the Russia investigation, the Russians are paying attention. Other hostile countries are paying attention. It is important not to give them useful information.

For this reason, there are things that law enforcement officials may be reluctant to disclose publicly, particularly in the middle of an active investigation, including:

  • Who is under surveillance
  • What facts, testimonies and evidence have been gathered so far
  • Who are the witnesses, informants or undercover agents
  • What don’t law enforcement currently know
  • What evidence don’t they have
  • How is information being collected/what techniques are being used
  • What is their strategy for getting the needed evidence or making an arrest
  • Any sensitive/classified/secret information
  • Conclusions that law enforcement have reached so far

Prematurely disclosing such information can damage an active investigation in many possible ways. It can enable a criminal to better know how to cover their tracks, who to stop trusting, who to kill to prevent testimony in court, what not to lie about under oath, or any number of other issues that can complicate or even completely ruin an investigation. That information is appropriate to reveal in court after the arrests, and much may be appropriate to reveal publicly as well at that time, but not during the investigation.

Similarly, there are things that intelligence officials may be reluctant to disclose publicly, especially in the middle of their operations or investigations, including:

  • Who or what their sources of information are (or things that could enable someone to figure that out)
  • What they know about other foreign powers (or how they know it)
  • What they don’t know about other foreign powers (or why they don’t know it)
  • What tactics and techniques they use
  • Where they are focusing their attention

Gathering intelligence, setting up an effective surveillance operation, and gaining access to key information is very difficult. It can require extensive resources, money, talent, and in some cases years of cultivating trustworthy relationships. Once that information is revealed publicly (and therefore to the people about whom it has been gathered), it becomes far less valuable, or sometimes completely useless. For that reason, intelligence officials are very careful about what they say about their work.

Publicly disclosing information about an intelligence operation or its results – or revealing that information to the wrong person – can have severe consequences beyond merely rendering years of hard work useless. Those consequences include:

  • Agents or informants being killed
  • Hostile countries learning of previously unknown vulnerabilities of the US, American allies, or themselves
  • Hostile countries being able to more effectively conduct intelligence or military operations to harm the US or its allies
  • Military operations of the US or Americas allies becoming compromised, resulting in American troops or those of our allies being needlessly killed
  • Hostile countries taking military actions elsewhere in the world which they otherwise might not have
  • Terrorists knowing how to better avoid detection of their plans and activities

That is why Israel was so outraged – and other nations so deeply concerned – when President Trump boastfully blabbed classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office: he had recklessy damaged an intelligence operation of an important ally, rendered the information less useful, made that ally’s future intelligence operations more difficult, and potentially put the lives of that ally’s informants or spies at risk – and for what?

Additionally, law enforcement see their own investigations in ways that may not always make immediate sense, especially during testimony or public comments.

Law enforcement treat investigations that are in progress differently from those that have been completed. An ongoing investigation requires some degree of secrecy, for reasons described above. Law enforcement consider an investigation complete when they have gathered what they believe to be all of the evidence, spoken to what they believe to be all of the relevant people involved, and come to a conclusion that the evidence collected is sufficient (or not) for a court of law to potentially determine the guilt or innocence of one or more persons. At that point, if that evidence points sufficiently to guilt, arrests are made, after which law enforcement officials feel more free to publicly discuss some of the details of the case.

An example of this would be former FBI Director James Comey’s controversial handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. The FBI had been investigating Hillary Clinton and those around her for evidence of conscious wrongdoing in their use of a private e-mail server (potentially more open to being hacked) to transmit classified government information.

The FBI considered that investigation to have been completed in July of 2016: they believed that they had reviewed all of the evidence, and because Clinton was a candidate for President, they took the step of publicly announcing that their investigation was complete. It should be noted that the closing of that investigation did not mean that Hillary had done nothing wrong, but merely that the FBI did not have sufficient evidence to prove in a court of law that she had knowingly and intentionally done something illegal.

In October of 2016, in a separate investigation into illegal online sexual activity by former Senator Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a large number of Clinton-related e-mails from Weiner’s wife, Clinton aid Huma Abedin, were discovered on Weiner’s computer. The FBI could not be instantly certain that all of these e-mails had already been reviewed during the Clinton e-mail investigation. In other words, it was possible that the FBI had been mistaken and premature in concluding in July that they had reviewed all of the evidence.

Because a public announcement had already been made that the Clinton e-mail investigation had been closed, because it now needed to be reopened, and because it was important for the public to know that the investigation’s status had changed, James Comey took the unusual – and to many, outrageous – step of notifying Congress shortly before the election that the FBI was reopening their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail activity. Through the allocation of extra staff, time and resources, the FBI was able to quickly process the potentially new e-mails and announce before the election that they were once again closing that investigation.

It is almost certain that Comey’s decision impacted the results of the election in favor of Donald Trump, and one can question Comey’s judgment in how he handled things, but looking at it from his perspective, the outcome of the Clinton investigation had become once again not known. Had Hillary become President, and then the e-mails on Weiner’s computer had revealed that she was guilty of provably, knowingly, and intentionally committing a crime, Americans would have been demanding why Comey had concealed from them the fact that the investigation had been reopened. The outrage currently felt by many Democrats about Comey’s last-minute Hillary revelation would have been felt even more strongly by Trump supporters, who would likely have made accusations and developed conspiracy theories about how the FBI had covered for Hillary Clinton to get a Washington insider unjustly elected to protect the status quo. In other words, it was a no-win for Comey, and he made the best decision that he could in a situation where there were no good decisions.

One could ask why Comey did not give what would seem to many people to be equal treatment to the Trump investigation, which was by then underway. Why did he choose not to notify Congress, at the same time as his announcement of reopening the Hillary investigation, that the Trump campaign was also under investigation for activity related to Russia? This again was a judgment call in a situation where there were no good decisions.

At the time, the Trump Campaign did not know that the FBI was actively investigating them. Notifying Congress of that fact while the investigation was ongoing – and in truth just starting – would have damaged the investigation, potentially causing people in the Trump Campaign or the Russians to be more cautious, cover their tracks more thoroughly, stop talking to certain people, etc., all of which would have made gathering sufficient evidence for an eventual prosecution much more difficult or even impossible. The efforts by Russia were huge and sophisticated: it was absolutely in America’s best interest to conduct a thorough and effective investigation of it to prevent such activity in the future. That meant that the FBI did not want to take action that could jeopardize the investigation.

On the other hand, not telling Congress about the Trump-Russia investigation could result in America having a President whose campaign – or who himself – was influenced by or compromised by a hostile foreign power. Comey apparently believed that this was at least something that could be managed through continued monitoring of the situation by the FBI and other law enforcement. This does not mean that he made the right decision, or that he did not. It merely explains the difficult decision that he made.

Finally, when law enforcement and intelligence officials are questioned publicly before Congress, they may say things like “I don’t think that’s appropriate to discuss here” or “I can’t talk about that in open session,” they are not being underhanded. We are used to assuming a greater likelihood of guilt or shiftiness when people “plea the Fifth” under oath, but that is not what is happening here.

Some Congressional hearings are held in “open session,” meaning that the public can potentially watch, listen to, or be made aware of what is said there. Other Congressional hearings are held in “closed session.” Statements and information revealed in closed hearings may not be disclosed publicly, and may only be attended by Senators or Representatives who have been properly “cleared” (formally assessed to be capable of keeping their mouths shut).

The reason for a closed hearing is usually so that Congress (in the form of the handful of “cleared” legislators) can be notified of information that cannot be revealed publicly. In the various Trump-, Russia-, and election-related investigations, referring some subjects to a closed session is likely because disclosing such information in a public setting could jeopardize an investigation or an intelligence operation in some way.

We live in a time when trust in government is low and our suspicions high. It is natural for us to question when someone testifying before Congress appears to be concealing the truth. Understanding the perspectives and priorities of law enforcement and intelligence officials can help us better assess what we are seeing and hearing – and not seeing and hearing – from them.

– rob rünt

Why Donald Trump Will Be Impeached and May Go To Prison

Why Donald Trump Will Be Impeached and May Go To Prison

Why Donald Trump Will Be Impeached and May Go To Prison

The appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel is the first glimmer of hope in many months that our system of government may still be able to function. Vice President Mike Pence and the Republican US House and Senate, faced with months of overwhelming daily evidence that our President is unfit for office, have merely looked at their shoes and whistled nervously, rather than taking the action that the Constitution provides under such circumstances. They have put craven partisanship and their own political agendas ahead of the well-being of the nation in a deeply reckless way.

Robert Mueller is a virtual guarantee that Donald Trump will be impeached. While there are many reasons why the President might or should be impeached – some already public knowledge and some yet to be revealed – there is one reason that impeachment is an absolute certainty: the President lies – regularly, clumsily, impulsively, uncontrollably, “bigly,” and without consideration of the consequences.

During Mueller’s investigation, Donald Trump will almost certainly be questioned by the FBI. After the first question is asked, Trump’s lips will begin to move. And then he will be asked another question, and his lips will move again …

Lying to the FBI is a felony.

Before or after the conclusion of Mueller’s investigation, there will also likely come a point when intensifying public pressure results in the President being called to testify before Congress. If he does so, he will be put under oath. He will be asked a question. And his lips will begin to move. And then he will be asked another question, and his lips will move again …

Lying to Congress is a felony.

The End.

 

– rob rünt