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

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 2: What’s What

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 2: What’s What

What’s What


NOTE: Names in red are most important to the narratives in this series.


Disclaimer: The information below was compiled from Simpson’s testimonies, the Steele dossier, and William Browder’s opening statement, and may or may not be accurate. Content that includes information that I add will be surrounded by [brackets] and/or will include a link or reference to the source.


Access Hollywood
An entertainment news show that occasionally delves into celebrity gossip. Shortly before the 2016 election, the show uncovered videotape of Donald Trump boasting about kissing and grabbing women without their consent.

Alfa Bank
The largest private commercial bank in Russia. Alfa’s server was detected by U.S. intelligence to be mysteriously “pinging” a Trump campaign server during the 2016 Presidential campaign. [Alfa Bank’s Kazakhstan office is in Almaty, a city that filed a New York lawsuit against Kazakh money launderers, some of which money, Simpson alleges, may have ended up with Trump Soho or Felix Sater. (Alfa Bank) (Fortune Magazine)

Baker Hostetler
A major law firm based in Cleveland, Ohio. Baker Hostetler represented Prevezon Holdings in a money laundering case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. Baker Hostetler retained Fusion GPS to do research for the case. Prevezon settled out of court for $5.9 million without admitting guilt. Baker Hostetler lawyers David Rivkin Jr. and Lee Casey later wrote an October 2017 op-ed to the Wall Street Journal encouraging Trump to pardon anyone believed to be involved in Russian interference with the U.S. election (Wall Street Journal)

Bates Numbers
A numbering system used for filing that usually includes some indication of the date of the document.

Bayrock
Felix Sater’s real estate development company. Bayrock developed the Trump Soho Hotel, and Simpson believed Sater and Bayrock to have connections to Russian organized crime.

Cambridge Analytica
A political data mining, analysis and communications company with offices in New York City, Washington DC and London. It is partially owned by the Mercer family, who are fervent and wealthy supporters of Donald Trump and who, until recently, were a major funding source for Steve Bannon. They worked on Ted Cruz’s Presidential primary campaign, Trump’s general election campaign, and also on the Brexit campaign in the UK.

Center for the National Interest
A think tank founded by former President Richard Nixon in 1994 to encourage “strategic realism” in U.S. foreign policy. Simpson encouraged the House Intelligence Committee to look into them. (Center for the National Interest)

CIS
Commonwealth of Independent States. An alliance of countries that used to make up the Soviet Union including: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The group was formed in 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Georgia was a member until 2008, and Turkmenistan is currently an associate member.

Cyprus
A small country off the coast of Turkey whose banking community has a reputation for laundering money for wealthy Russians. Prevezon Holdings is based in Cyprus. As a side note, Wilbur Ross was Vice Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus just prior to being appointed by Trump to be U.S. Secretary of Commerce, overseeing the flow of commerce between the U.S. and other countries.

DNC (Democratic National Committee)
The governing organization for the Democratic Party in the United States. The DNC provides strategy, helps candidates, and organizes the Democratic National Convention.

Foreign Agent Registration Act
A 1938 U.S. law requiring agents of foreign governments who engage in political or semi-political activities in the U.S. to register with the U.S. government and disclose their activities, finances, and their relationship with the foreign government.

FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act)
A U.S. law making it illegal for a U.S. citizen to bribe foreign government officials in order to get business. (U.S. Department of Justice)

FISA Warrant (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act)
A warrant authorizing U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agencies to perform surveillance on suspected foreign spies inside the United States. The request for the warrant must be approved by the Deputy Director of the FBI, then approved by the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General, and then brought before a federal judge from the U.S. FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) – a court that is closed to the public and specifically deals with such requests. Secrecy is essential due to the nature of the requests. As with all warrants, the judge must be shown sufficient evidence to show “probable cause” to perform surveillance.

FSB (Federal Security Service)
Formerly known as the KGB, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency.

Fusion GPS
A Washington-DC-based research firm founded by former Wall Street Journal investigative reporter Glenn Simpson. Fusion specializes in research of public records, often to help a client understand an event (e.g., fraud, theft) or relationship (e.g., repeatedly losing a government contract to a clearly inferior competitor) so that the client can have a better understanding of how best to move forward. Fusion also occasionally does opposition research for high-paying political clients. There work on two projects – a legal case against Prevezon Holdings and a project compiling information on Donald Trump – make them a key part of understanding the Trump-Russia connection.

 Gazprom
Russia’s largest company, involved in extracting, transporting and selling natural gas. Gazprom is supposedly a private company, but its majority owner is the Russian government.

Global Magnitsky Act
A generalization and expansion of the Magnitsky Act, allowing the U.S. President to deny visas and impose economic sanctions on specific foreign individuals associated with human rights violations.

GRU
Russia’s military intelligence agency.

Hermitage Capital Management
A wealth management firm run by William Browder. According to Browder, Hermitage was one of the largest financial advisers in Russia from 1996-2005, investing over $4 billion in Russian stocks. They are headquartered on an island in the English Channel, with additional offices in London, Moscow, and the Cayman Islands.

Hermitage Fund
A hedge fund created by William Browder’s company Hermitage Capital Management. The Hermitage Fund is HCM’s main investment fund. They claim that part of their success is achieved by exposing corporate corruption in the companies that they hold, with the goal of weeding out issues that negatively impact the value of those companies. One of those companies was Gazprom between 1998-2000. Russia filed fraud charges against Browder in 2013 related to Gazprom. (Reuters) Fusion GPD found that the Hermitage Fund was registered in Delaware, but Browder paid no U.S. taxes on the profits that he made with that fund.

HRAGI
Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (http://hragi.org ), a Washington DC-based nonprofit formed by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner at Trump Tower. The stated purpose of the organization is to restore adoption of Russian orphans by Americans. It may or may not be of any importance that the headquarters address listed on HRAGI’s web site is less than seven blocks from the offices of Fusion GPS. It may also be noteworthy that, as of this writing, every page on the web site other than the home page is “under construction.”

KGB
The primary intelligence and security agency in the former Soviet Union.

Kleptocracy
A corrupt government in which officials use their power and authority to take from the people or the country for their own personal gain.

Kompromat
A Russian term to describe compromising material that can be used as leverage over someone. This can encompass a wide range of things, including personal relationships, business entanglements, tainted political donations, and evidence of embarrassing or illegal activity. Kompromat is a common tactic used in Russian politics and business to gain advantage.

Kremlin
The Russian government headquarters, located in Moscow. The Russian equivalent of the White House.

Magnitsky Act
The Magnitsky Act, passed by Congress in 2012 after lobbying efforts by William Browder, imposes strict sanctions on Russians believed to be responsible for the death of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky. The Act impacts a number of wealthy Russian oligarchs. To retaliate, Putin stopped all adoptions of Russian children by Americans. When people in Trump’s circle are found to be “just talking about adoption” with Russians (Manafort, Kushner and Trump Jr. in the Trump Tower meeting, President Trump with Putin at the G20), they are likely discussing the Magnitsky Act and Putin’s desire to have those sanctions lifted.

Money Laundering
Putting illegally obtained money through a process that makes the money appear legitimate. Money laundering efforts may involve shell companies, real estate purchases, businesses with unusually high expenses, etc.

Mossack Fonseca
A Panamanian law firm that was revealed in the Panama Papers to have a decades-long history of creating offshore companies to help corrupt individuals – including many wealthy people – further enrich themselves illegally through money laundering and tax evasion. The Panama Papers had been leaked from this law firm. (Wikipedia)

 Newseum
A Washington DC museum dedicated to journalism and the First Amendment. (Newseum)

Oligarch
A wealthy businessperson with a lot of political influence.

 Orbis and Associates/Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd.
A research and consulting firm where Christopher Steele works.

P.A.
The Russian Presidential Administration.

Panama Papers
A massive set of millions of private financial and legal documents leaked to the public in 2015, revealing illegal and embarrassing information about a number of wealthy individuals around the globe. The documents had been created by and taken from a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca. (Wikipedia)

Party of Regions
The pro-Russia political party in the Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych was elected President of Ukraine in 2010 running under this party. Paul Manafort did work for the Party of Regions and for Yanukovych.

Perkins Coie
The law firm that hired Fusion GPS to do Trump research after the Republican Primary ended.

Potomac Group/Potomac Square Group
A Virginia-based marketing consulting firm that was hired by Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to create what Browder calls a “fake documentary” about Browder and Sergei Magnitsky.

Prevezon Holdings Limited
An investment holdings company based in Cyprus (see info on Cyprus). Prevezon was accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of laundering millions of dollars in New York real estate, using money from a $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme. Prevezon settled out of court for $5.9 million without admitting guilt.

Raiffeisen Bank
A Romania-based bank that Simpson says helped launder a lot of the money that Putin and the Russian mafia were skimming from the gas trade between Ukraine and Russia.

Red Notice
A book written by William Browder.

Russian State Investigative Committee
The Russian equivalent of the FBI.

Russotrudnichestvo
An NGO that the FBI considers to be a front for the SVR.

Shell Company
An inactive company whose purpose is often to hide business ownership from law enforcement or the public. (Investopedia)

Solntsevo Brotherhood
Russia’s largest organized crime family and the major dominant mafia clan in Moscow. They have a “robust U.S. presence,” according to Simpson.

Subpoena
A document issued by the government to require a person to testify in court.

 SVR
Russia’s foreign intelligence agency.

Tax Haven
A country with low taxes. Businesses and wealthy individuals sometimes claim their base of operations in a tax haven in order to avoid higher taxes in their actual country of operations.

Trump Administration
President Trump, his Cabinet and advisors, and other staff of the executive branch of government.

Trump Campaign
The group of volunteers and paid staff who worked between June 2015 and November 2016 to help elect Donald Trump President.

Trump Organization
Donald Trump’s real estate business – a privately held company.

Trump Transition
The group of people who worked to prepare the Trump Administration and select key people to put in place for it during the period between the election (November 8, 2016) and the inauguration (January 20, 2017).

UKIP
The UK Independence Party – a pro-Brexit, nationalist political party in the United Kingdom.

Washington Free Beacon
A conservative web site that initially hired Fusion to research Donald Trump. (Washington Examiner)

Weber Shandwick
A large public relations firm that Simpson recommended to Prevezon. Weber Shandwick has worked on campaigns to change public opinion for corporate clients and foreign governments.

WikiLeaks
An organization that started with the mission of promoting government transparency. WikiLeaks made public incriminating e-mails from the DNC and the Clinton Campaign. The organization has also been responsible for publicly releasing highly sensitive U.S. government material. (Wikipedia)

YBM Magnex
An elaborate stock fraud scheme in Philadelphia that was run by the Solntsevo Brotherhood. 


 

Read more of this special series:
The Trump-Russia Web


 

 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday, January 15, 2017

 


 The major Trump news this week was:

  • There will be protests in cities nationwide on Friday and Saturday – to find one near you, click here
  • The public release of a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer about incriminating material that Russia has allegedly collected on Mr. Trump
  • FBI Director James Comey reveals a possible double standard in his pre-election handling of incriminating evidence against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
  • Trump’s first press conference in over five months, announcing plans to eliminate his conflicts of interest
  • The confirmation hearings for Trump’s Cabinet picks, many of whom are controversial
  • Washington DC prepares for protests

Articles and Editorials


Russia’s “Kompromat” on Trump

On Tuesday, CNN reported that the CIA’s briefing to Donald Trump and President Obama on Russian hacking included a two-page summary of a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer about incriminating financial and personal material that Russia had gathered on Donald Trump over the past five years– material which, if it does exist, Russia could presumably use to blackmail Donald Trump as President (Full Article – CNN). Online news source Buzzfeed later published what they asserted to be the entire contents of the dossier (Full Article and Alleged Dossier), which they admitted that they could not verify as factual.

The former British intelligence officer was initially hired by one of Trump’s Republican primary opponents, and was later paid to continue his work by an anonymous Democrat (Full Article – BBC). The former British spy has since gone into hiding, which MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow speculated Friday was out of fear of experiencing the same kind of high-profile London assassination as other individuals who have angered the Kremlin like Georgi Markov and Alexander Litvinenko.


Comey’s Double Standard?

Shortly before the election, FBI Director James Comey took the unprecedented step of notifying Congress shortly before the election that he had reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Although he informed Congress immediately before the election that he had again closed the investigation, many Democrats consider his earlier announcement to be a factor in Trump winning the election.

On Friday, January 13, members of Congress were given a classified briefing by Comey and other intelligence officials regarding Russia’s influence on the Presidential election. Although the members of Congress could not elaborate afterward due to the classified nature of what they had been told, many Democrats left the meeting enraged, stating that Comey had lost credibility (Full Article – Huffington Post).


Trump’s Press Conference

On Wednesday, January 11, Donald Trump held his first press conference since July, 2016 (Full Transcript and Video – New York Times). After weeks of vehement denial, Trump admitted during the conference that Russia probably did interfere with the US election which has resulted in his impending Presidency. However, when questioned about the dossier, he angrily denied any truth it, pointing out that the Kremlin had just offered reassurance that they do not have such information (Full Article – Washington Post). It should be noted that such documents and videotapes would be of far more use to Russia after Mr. Trump has been officially sworn into office on Friday, January 20.

At the press conference, Mr. Trump also announced his plans for ensuring that he will put the interests of the American people above those of his businesses. His plan consists largely of turning his businesses over to his sons while he is President, along with an assurance that he and his sons will not discuss the businesses for the duration of his Presidency. Many ethicists believe that this plan does not address conflict of interest issues (Full Article – Tha Atlantic). A true resolution to his conflicts of interests would involve Trump selling his businesses and putting the cash in a blind trust, to be invested in a way that he has no knowledge of during his Presidency.


Confirmation of Trump’s Cabinet Picks

With vetting of most Cabinet members still unfinished, the Senate packed numerous Cabinet confirmation hearings into a very short time period – unusual particularly given how controversial many of Trump’s Cabinet selections are (Schedule and Links to Coverage – Politico). Also unprecedented was the decision by three African American Congressmen to present testimony against their colleague, Senator Jeff Sessions, who has a questionable record on civil rights, but whom Trump has chosen as Attorney General (Full Article – Politico).

Many of Trump’s selections expressed differences of opinion with him on significant issues – building the wall, the Muslim registry, etc. (Full Article – NPR). While this may be reassuring to some, it should also be noted that Trump’s Cabinet picks could simply have made these statements to ensure that they could get through the hearings, fully aware that they can always “change their opinion based on new information” later.


DC Prepares for Conflict

What do you get when put Donald Trump’s most passionate supporters and most passionate protesters together in the same city – in adjacent hotel rooms, eating at the same restaurants, overhearing each other’s conversations, and finally turning out in force in the streets to express themselves? We’re about to find out. Tens of thousands of supporters and protesters are expected to arrive in Washington DC for Trump’s Friday Inauguration Ceremony (Full Article – Politico), with another 1,200 busloads of protesters expected to come to the city for a Women’s March on Washington scheduled for Saturday. (Many cities around the country will also be having local protests on Friday and Women’s Marches on Saturday).


Cartoons, Images & Videos


Cartoon originally published by Norwegian news outlet VG, and falsely rumored to have been banned from Twitter and Facebook:

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Video of Donald Trump playing the accordion posted by Inga Love Belfast:

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Events & Actions


Resources & Organizations