Mueller’s Testimony: A Rorschach Test for Americans

Mueller’s Testimony: A Rorschach Test for Americans

Democrats believed that bringing Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees on July 24, 2019 was a way to allow a non-reading American public to finally hear the full story told in Mueller’s 448-page report: people could hear the testimony on TV or radio. Republicans saw the testimony as a stunt to resuscitate a non-issue, and an opportunity to prove some of their Deep State theories about the origins of the Trump-Russia story.

As a reluctant, and at times confused, Mueller testified, both sides got what they wanted, but their supporters likely heard – or willfully chose to overlook – uncomfortably contrary information in the process.

Democrats illuminated some major findings from Mueller’s Report:

  • The report did not exonerate the President on the charge of obstruction of justice
  • Some people interviewed by Mueller’s team lied, pled the 5th, destroyed evidence, and had communicated electronically in ways that could not be traced
  • These factors may have affected the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to prove coordination between the Trump Campaign and the Kremlin
  • Trump’s Campaign Manager, Paul Manafort, gave a Russian operative named Konstantin Kilimnik internal Trump Campaign strategy information and internal campaign polling data, which may have helped with the Russians’ social media activities to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election
  • The Trump Campaign did not try to discourage Russia’s illegal interference efforts – including hacking Clinton and Democratic emails – and in fact embraced those efforts and planned their media strategy and campaign messaging around them
  • Russians made approximately 120 known contacts with the Trump Campaign
  • After Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference began, the President publicly and privately worked to discourage key people from cooperating with the investigation
  • The President also encouraged key people to “stay strong” and avoid cooperating with the investigation: the President and his legal staff even suggested pardons for some
  • The President made multiple efforts to stop Mueller’s investigation, including asking a number of associates to fire Mueller
  • White House Lawyer Don McGahn was so upset at being asked to do this that he prepared to resign
  • The President asked McGahn to deny being asked to fire Mueller, and asked McGahn to create a written document for the White House’s records falsely stating that the request had never taken place
  • The President also made many efforts to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “un-recuse” himself from the Mueller investigation, because he wanted Sessions to protect him from the investigation
  • The Office of Legal Counsel’s guidance that a sitting President cannot be indicted factored significantly into Mueller’s decision not to charge the President with obstruction of justice
  • A President who has committed illegal acts can be indicted after leaving office
  • Other investigations that were spun off from the Mueller investigation are still in progress, which may reveal further acts of criminality

But Republican questioning also brought some important facts to light which have not been given adequate attention:

  • Natalia Veselnitskaya – the Russian lawyer in the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting – had hired Fusion GPS (producer of the Steele Dossier) in 2014 on behalf of her client, a Russian firm called Prevezon Holdings
  • From June 8-10, 2016, Veselnitskaya spent more time with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson than she did with Trump Campaign officials
  • The “dirt on Hillary Clinton” that Veselnitskaya was offering was information that Simpson had uncovered while working for Veselnitskaya and Prevezon Holdings
  • The relationship between Veselnitskaya and Simpson (whose hiring of former British MI6 officer Christopher Steele ultimately provided some of the first indications of Russian election interference) was never examined by Mueller
  • It is possible that the Steele Dossier contained misinformation intentionally provided to Christopher Steele by his Russian sources
  • Konstantin Kilimnik, the Russian intelligence operative to whom Paul Manafort gave Trump Campaign polling data and strategy information, may also be an asset of the U.S. State Department
  • Joseph Mifsud, the alleged source for George Papadopoulos’ belief that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary, was interviewed by the FBI and lied to them three times, but remarkably was never charged
  • Mifsud, a professor, may be a Russian intelligence agent or a western intelligence agent
  • Several of the prosecutors hired by Mueller to investigate Trump had collectively given over $60,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign

Time will tell whether Mueller’s testimony moves the needle toward at least beginning an impeachment inquiry, but Mueller’s testimony makes clear that Donald Trump committed federal crimes that would be immediately prosecutable if he were not the President. It also makes clear that there is still more of the story that has not been uncovered. In the end, what Mueller’s testimony may most effectively prove is Americans’ ability to tune out information that they don’t want to hear.

– rob rünt

Full Transcript of Mueller’s House Judiciary Committee Testimony

Full Transcript of Mueller’s House Intelligence Committee Testimony

Why Can’t Democrats Let Go of Their “Collusion Delusion?”

Why Can’t Democrats Let Go of Their “Collusion Delusion?”

Why Can’t Democrats Let Go of Their “Collusion Delusion?”

On Sunday, March 24, 2019, U.S. Attorney General William Barr gave Congress a four-page summary of Robert Mueller’s key findings. The summary disappointed many who believed that the President or his campaign conspired with Russia to win the 2016 election. According to Barr, Mueller did not prove that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and “did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other” on whether Trump obstructed justice. Such conclusions clearly seem to vindicate the President. The obstruction question was left undecided because, Barr claimed, if the President did not commit the crime of conspiring with Russia, by definition he cannot be guilty of trying to obstruct an investigation of that crime. Nonetheless, many on the left find Barr’s summary difficult to believe. To Trump’s supporters, Democrats appear wildly delusional in a hysterical desire to avenge their 2016 electoral defeat. So do the facts that we know actually contradict the most straightforward interpretation of Barr’s letter? Below are some established facts related to Trump and/or Russia:

  • In Russia, government, business, and organized crime are all deeply interconnected. Violence or the threat of it are used in Russia to influence others in business and politics. Another tactic used widely in Russia is “kompromat” – using something compromising as leverage over another (sometimes extending as far as blackmail) including sexual indiscretions, business relationships, debt/financial obligations, chemical dependency, friendships, or knowledge of something embarrassing or illegal.
  • Trump defied decades of standard practice by refusing to release his tax returns, thus preventing the public from seeing what kind of financial obligations and relationships he might have.
  • Trump had worked for years with real estate development company Bayrock – a company believed to have ties to Russian organized crime – to develop the Trump Soho Hotel.
  • Bayrock was owned by Russian-American mobster Felix Sater (Sater was convicted in 1998 of a $40 million federal racketeering charge) and former Soviet official Tefvik Arif (Arif was well-connected in the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, and Trump stated in a deposition that he was impressed by Arif’s ability to bring in wealthy Russian investors).
  • The other financier for Trump Soho was the Sapir family from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
  • Sater carried Trump Organization business cards, and had an office two floors below Trump’s in the Manhattan Trump Tower, but Trump claimed that he wouldn’t recognize Sater if he saw him.
  • Sater also worked with Michael Cohen to secure the Trump Tower Moscow project during the 2016 campaign, even though Trump repeatedly denied on the campaign trail that he had anything going on in Russia.
  • Sater is currently accused of seeking to use that project to launder money stolen from a large bank in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.
  • The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama was used by Russian organized crime figures to launder money.
  • In 2005, Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort had proposed an influence campaign on behalf of Russia to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet Republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government.”
  • Manafort had worked to help pro-Putin politician Viktor Yanukovych get elected President of Ukraine – work for which Manafort was allegedly paid millions of dollars “off the books.” Yanukovych was later exiled and fled to Russia.
  • More recently, Manafort had worked for Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with alleged ties to organized crime as well as being a close friend of Vladimir Putin. Manafort had allegedly ripped off Deripaska to the tune of millions of dollars – a debt that no doubt could have been used as kompromat over Manafort.
  • Once he began working for the Trump Campaign, Manafort emailed Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian/Ukrainian friend of Deripaska believed to be a former GRU (Russian military intelligence agency) officer. Manafort asked of the headlines about his being Trump’s Campaign Manager “How do we use to get whole? Has OVD [Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska] operation seen?”
  • Manafort later told Kilimnik that he could arrange for “private briefings” between Deripaska and Trump.
  • Manafort also provided Kilimnik with the Trump Campaign’s internal polling data.
  • Special Counsel Mueller indicted 12 GRU agents for their hacking of the DNC, and indicted a company called the Internet Research Agency for waging a social media campaign to interfere with the 2016 election – an interference campaign for which polling data could provide valuable demographic information.
  • At the 2016 Republican National Convention, the Trump Campaign had only one requested modification to the Republican Party platform: weakening the amount of aid that the U.S. provides to Ukraine to defend itself against Russian military aggression.
  • Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen has had a history of associating with Russian organized crime figures from the time that he was a child, and reportedly once claimed that he was part of the Russian mafia.
  • Trump Foreign Policy Advisor Carter Page had come to the attention of the FBI in 2013 when he began meeting with a Russian operative.
  • While a Foreign Policy Advisor for Trump, Carter Page gave a pro-Russia speech in Moscow on July 7, 2016.
  • In 2014, Eric Trump told sports journalist James Dodson of the money that financed the Trump golf courses “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
  • In December of 2018, Trump’s architect Alan Lapidus said of Donald Trump, “he could not get anybody in the United States to lend him anything. It was all coming out of Russia. His involvement with Russia was deeper than he’s acknowledged.”
  • Lapidus also said “Trump could not get money here. He found Russia, and the Russians gave him a lot of money. He has got to be doing a quid pro quo. It’s just logical. It’s just too much money.”
  • Russians invested nearly $100 million in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in Florida.
  • In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. stated, “In terms of high-end product influx into the U.S., Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”
  • Numerous people associated with the Trump Campaign inexplicably did not tell the truth (sometimes under oath) regarding communications or connections with Russia, including:
    • Former Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions (spoke more than once with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak but denied it to the U.S. Senate)
    • Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (spoke with Kislyak about lifting sanctions before Trump was inaugurated, undermining Obama Administration policy, and then denied it to the FBI)
    • Former Foreign Policy Advisor George Papadopoulos (lied about having been told about Russian “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and seeking to form a connection between the Trump Campaign and Russian government)
    • Former Foreign Policy Advisor Carter Page (met with Russian officials in July 2016, but denied it publicly until questioned under oath by the House Intelligence Committee)
    • Donald Trump Jr. (repeatedly changed his story about meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton – a meeting also attended by Manafort and Kushner)
    • Jared Kushner (had to repeatedly revise his federal security clearance application as various Russia ties, initially not mentioned, were uncovered – including a meeting shortly after the 2016 election with a Russian state-owned bank to get a multi-million dollar loan).
    • Donald Trump (among many lies, on the campaign trail, claimed that he had “nothing to do with Russia” at the same time as he was pursuing a Trump Tower Moscow. He intended to give Putin the penthouse suite in the tower. Later, in response to allegations that Trump participated in a lewd act in a room at the Moscow Ritz Carlton in 2013 when he was there for the Miss Universe Pageant, Trump claimed that he had not spent the night in Russia on that trip. His flight records refuted that.)
    • Michael Cohen (prosecuted and going to prison for lying to Congress – allegedly at the President’s request – about the Trump Tower Moscow deal).
    • Why all the lies about Russia?
  • On June 3, 2016, Rob Goldstone, promoter for Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, emailed Donald Trump Jr. to set up the Trump Tower meeting. In his email, Goldstone stated “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
  • Rather than reporting this to law enforcement, Trump Jr. responded to the email with “If it’s what you say it is, I love it,” and went on to set up the meeting.
  • Alexander Downer, a diplomat from Australia (an American ally), reported to his government that Trump Campaign aide George Papadopoulos had told him in May of 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. When the Russian hacking began during the 2016 election, the Australian government informed the U.S. intelligence community of the conversation.
  • Jared Kushner made attempts to set up a “back channel” of communications between the White House and the Kremlin through a Russian diplomatic facility that would bypass America’s national security agencies.
  • Trump had engaged in what appeared to be years of money laundering activities for wealthy Russians, like when he bought a Palm Beach mansion for $41 million and sold it to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev two years later with few improvements for $95 million. Putin keeps track of what Russia’s oligarchs do, and if he were aware of money laundering by Trump, he could use that knowledge to blackmail him.
  • Rybolovlev’s plane and yacht showed up a number of times near Trump Campaign events.
  • Interestingly, Rybolovlev’s plane and yacht also arrived in Dubrovnik, Croatia in mid August of 2016, and Ivanka and Jared suddenly appeared in Dubrovnik, Croatia in mid August of 2016.
  • On July 27, 2016, Donald Trump publicly called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails.
  • Immediately after that announcement by Trump, according to Mueller’s investigation, Russian hackers began an “after hours’ effort on July 27, 2016 to hack into Hillary Clinton’s private email account.
  • Russia’s interference with the 2016 election served generally to benefit Donald Trump.
  • During the 2016 campaign, U.S. intelligence detected a server at Alfa Bank, one of the largest banks in Russia, “pinging” a specific server at the Trump Organization thousands of times. The unusual activity remains unexplained to this day.
  • A pair of Russian operatives – banker Alexander Torshin and “student” Maria Butina – infiltrated the NRA, which spent $30 million to elect Trump. While the NRA has long supported Republican candidates, this was an unusually large amount for them, and some of that money appears to have been funneled into the NRA via Russia.
  • After Trump took office, acting Attorney General Sally Yates notified Trump that Michael Flynn was compromised by Russia, but Trump waited for over two weeks to fire Flynn.
  • Just before Trump nominated Wilbur Ross to be U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Ross had spent years as Co-Chair of the Bank of Cyprus. Cyprus, an island nation off the coast of Turkey, is known as a place where Russian oligarchs launder their illicit money.
  • Ross has significant financial ties to Russia.
  • Josef Ackermann, Deutsche Bank’s CEO from 2002-2012, was brought on as Chairman of Bank of Cyprus by Wilbur Ross in 2014.
  • Deutsche Bank, one of the only banks willing to loan money to Trump after his multiple bankruptcies, has a documented history of money laundering on a large scale for Russian oligarchs.
  • Wilbur Ross was also the person who initially connected Donald Trump and Dmitry Rybolovlev for the Palm Beach mansion purchase.
  • The day after firing James Comey, Russian Diplomat Sergey Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were Donald Trump’s guests in the Oval Office. No American reporters were allowed, but Russian journalists were.
  • During that meeting, Trump disclosed highly classified information to the two Russian officials, endangering the lives of U.S. intelligence assets and causing U.S. allies to question their own sharing of intelligence with the United States.
  • On July 8, 2017, the New York Times first broke the story of the existence of the Trump Tower meeting between Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, which had taken place on June 9, 2016.
  • On July 8, 2017, on the way back from the G20 Summit (at which Trump met with Putin for over 2 hours when they were only supposed to meet for 30-40 minutes), Trump felt the need to dictate his son’s cover story about the Trump Tower meeting.
  • The President’s misleading cover story for his son was that Veselnitskaya simply wanted to discuss “Russian adoption” – also the topic that the President claimed Putin wanted to talk with him about in a lengthy private discussion. The Magnitsky Act, which calls for the freezing of the U.S.-based assets of Putin and other wealthy Russian oligarchs as a consequence for their human rights violations, was put in place on December 14, 2012. Putin was outraged by this Act, and one of his retaliatory measures was to ban American adoption of Russian children.
  • During his time in office, Trump has had a pattern of taking actions favorable to Putin’s agenda and seemingly contrary to that of the United States, including:
    • Repeatedly making efforts to eliminate or weaken sanctions against wealthy and powerful Russians close to Putin
    • Questioning the legitimacy of and proposing to leave NATO, one of the biggest obstacles to Putin’s military expansion of Russian territory
    • Backing out of the Iran nuclear deal that America’s allies support, alienating us from our allies
    • Sowing division within the European Union
    • Backing out of the Paris Climate Accord that nearly every other country in the world has signed onto, further alienating us from our allies and making us less globally relevant
    • Legitimizing Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea and suggesting that Crimea should be considered part of Russia
    • Denying Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election despite the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community
    • Doing little since the 2016 election to protect future American elections from foreign interference, and actually weakening established efforts to defend our elections
    • Regularly telling easily disproven lies, which damages America’s international credibility and threatens our national security
    • Treating American allies (eg Britain, Germany and Australia) with disrespect, further alienating us from our allies
    • Treating American enemies (eg Russia) graciously, causing suspicion among our allies
    • Fueling and enhancing division within the United States
    • Weakening America’s institutions by appointing cabinet secretaries with backgrounds clearly antithetical to the missions of the institutions that they lead
  • With the exception of translators, Trump’s direct meetings with Putin have been without other aides present, and at times have been undisclosed until uncovered by the press. No detailed notes have been retained from any of these meetings. In fact, in the case of his meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Trump actually confiscated the translator’s notes afterward and told her that she could not tell anyone what had been discussed. Even Trump’s top staff do not know what he and have Putin talked about. All of this secrecy is even more baffling when one considers that Trump must know that everyone is paying attention to how he interacts with Putin.
  • Trump has repeatedly accepted Putin’s word over information from his own intelligence agencies.
  • After the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, Trump floated the idea of partnering with Putin to help the United States develop its cybersecurity efforts (the equivalent of inviting a burglar back into your home to help find evidence against them and make your home more secure).
  • After his formal discussion with Putin at the 2018 Helsinki Summit, Trump floated an “interesting idea” and “incredible offer” that Putin had suggested: American investigators could come to Russia to work with Russian investigators to determine if the 12 indicted GRU officers had committed any crimes, in exchange for letting the Kremlin interrogate certain U.S. officials, including Michael McFaul, a former U.S. Ambassador to Russia who has been critical of Putin’s human rights record.

These established facts are in addition to what was laid out in the Steele Dossier (compiled by a former British intelligence agent with a track record of reliably passing on accurate, factual information to U.S. law enforcement), which Trump’s supporters claim is the only reason that the Mueller investigation began. The above facts are also completely consistent with the only “collusion”-related quote provided in Attorney General William Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report:

“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

This quote does not necessarily mean that there was no conspiracy or coordination. It may well be a statement by Mueller that such a relationship simply could not be legally proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, despite all of the circumstantial evidence above.

And since Mueller’s report also “does not exonerate” the President on obstruction of justice, it is possible that coordination or conspiracy could not be proven because Trump was successful in obstructing justice, that witnesses were swayed by the President’s repeated public suggestions of pardons, that witnesses were afraid of retribution in prison by Trump’s supporters or by members of the Russian mafia, that evidence on the Russian side was successfully destroyed or silenced, or that witnesses were reluctant to willingly admit to outright treasonous acts which, regardless of plea deals, would result in lengthy prison time and lifelong branding of themselves and their families. And not definitively proving coordination with Russia does not mean that Donald Trump was not – and is not currently – compromised by the Kremlin in a way that causes him to act against America’s interests.

In other words, the public needs to see as much of the Mueller report as possible without jeopardizing national security or revealing sources and methods. It would also be very helpful to hear an account from Mueller himself on what is in his report and whether he believes that Barr’s representation of it is accurate. Republicans and Democrats should both be supportive of this, because it can help give the public a more commonly shared understanding of the investigation’s results – something which is not currently happening in the wake of Barr’s ambiguously worded four-page letter.

Lastly, the public needs to be reminded that, despite Barr’s assessment of inconclusive findings in the Mueller report, there are still numerous ongoing investigations into Trump yet to be completed, some of which were farmed out to other law enforcement agencies during the course of Mueller’s investigation.

Americans have witnessed a lot of smoke over the past three years, and many still find it difficult to believe that there is no fire.

– 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.

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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

Thoughts on Independence Day, 2018

Thoughts on Independence Day, 2018

On this Fourth of July, 2018, a brief check-in on the state of our nation’s independence seems in order:

  • In March of 2016, Paul Manafort became Chairman of the Trump Campaign. Manafort’s most recent job was working for pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
  • In May of 2016, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump Campaign boasted in a London bar to an Australian diplomat that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
  • In June of 2016, a respected former British intelligence agent, serving as a subcontractor doing opposition research on Donald Trump (which was ultimately paid for by the Clinton Campaign), uncovered an unthinkable plot by Russia to help elect Donald Trump, who the Kremlin believed they could blackmail. Out of a sense of responsibility to a British ally, he reported his findings to the FBI.
  • After hacked Clinton e-mails were made public leading into the July 2016 Democratic Convention, Australia told U.S. intelligence of the conversation between George Popadopoulos and their diplomat.
  • In 2017, the FBI, CIA, and NSA determined that Russia had in fact interfered in the 2016 election, with the goals of sowing discord and chaos, dismantling western alliances, and electing Donald Trump President.
  • On April 27, 2018, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee concluded its investigation into Trump-Russia, asserting that there was no evidence of cooperation between the Trump Campaign and the Kremlin. Democrats on the Committee issued a rebuttal, stating that no such conclusion could be drawn and that the committee leadership had avoided pursuing key evidence and witnesses.
  • Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, led by Devin Nunes, are continuing to investigate the possibility of inappropriate or illegal behavior by the agencies investigating Trump-Russia.
  • The President has acted in ways that alienate our western allies, has urged that Russia be brought back into the G7, and has expressed little more than a lukewarm willingness to continue in NATO (after previously declaring it obsolete). The only time that NATO has taken military action was to help the U.S. after we were attacked on 9/11.
  • To date, President Trump has done little to solicit, require or authorize actions that could prevent Russia from meddling in the 2018 midterm elections.
  • As recently as June 28, 2018, the President tweeted “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! “
  • President Trump regularly calls the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller a “witch hunt.” In a little over a year, the investigation has produced five guilty pleas and 17 indictments, including Paul Manafort.
  • Yesterday, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee announced its agreement with U.S. intelligence that Russia did interfere in the 2016 to help elect Donald Trump.
  • Fox News, Alex Jones, and numerous other right wing news sources use their freedom of speech/freedom of the press to put out a daily diet of “alternative facts” in which the President can do no wrong, and in which the FBI, the U.S. intelligence community, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are part of a “deep state” conspiracy to destroy the President – and along with him all hope of an American government that truly serves the people.
  • Our nation is deeply divided and misinformation is rampant.
  • Currently, seven Senators from the Appropriations Committee (responsible for allocating tax dollars to U.S. government agencies and departments) and one House Appropriations Committee member – all Republicans – are in Moscow. No Democrats have been invited. The extent to which these legislators have addressed election meddling has been a brief, passing, and milktoast “one should not interfere in elections.”
  • On July 16, 2018, President Trump will meet alone with Vladimir Putin.

Today, we Americans celebrate our independence.

– 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.”

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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.

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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