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

Trump was a More Stealth 9/11

Trump was a More Stealth 9/11

Trump was a More Stealth 9/11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These views are solidified daily by our choices of news, social media, and interpersonal interactions, all of which reinforce one of two widespread but wildly different realities. Ongoing reinforcement of these realities makes mending the divide nearly impossible.

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

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

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

– rob rünt

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

When Will He Wake Up About Putin?

When Will He Wake Up About Putin?

Remember during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, when political pundits and career politicians soberly asserted that if Donald Trump won the election, he would rise to the dignity and magnitude of the office? And once he won the election and nothing changed, they asserted that spending time in the job would surely change him? And although the change still didn’t materialize, they nonetheless held out hope, pouncing on isolated incidents like his scripted first State of the Union address as evidence that now he was finally becoming Presidential. Until he returns to his usual behavior within hours.

The same thing seems to be happening in regards to Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki. Politicians and journalists have been asking aghast for over a year “How can President Trump possibly trust Putin?” “Why doesn’t he realize that Putin isn’t our friend?” etc. These questions are even asked regularly by bright commentators who should know better. Their framing of the issue in this way not only misses the mark, but imposes a naïve bias on America’s predicament which (possibly inaccurately) colors public perception about what is happening.

Nobody but Donald Trump can possibly know whether or not he trusts Vladimir Putin. It is just as possible – if not more so – that he does not trust Putin at all, but is being aggressively blackmailed by the Russian President, and is profoundly terrified of him. Of course, that is not a dignified assumption for the media to make about the President of the United States, but neither is assuming that he is some wide eyed boob who is too foolish or totalitariophilic to recognize a major and obvious threat to our nation about which he has been warned continuously and repeatedly for the entirety of his time in office.

We are in a potentially perilous time right now. Yet many of us seem to be eager to assume the best-case scenario about what is happening, even after witnessing the President’s subservience to Putin with our own eyes – his shell-shocked, slumping, dead-man-walking body language as the two emerged from their private meeting and Putin jauntily strode to the podium, his refusal to hold Putin in any way accountable for actions that America’s own intelligence community have told him undeniably took place.

We need to prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that what we are seeing is exactly what it looks like: a self-centered, emotionally immature man who has lived a life of impulsive desire fulfillment, lack of accountability, and petty one-upsmanship, whose wealth, behavior and influence brought him to the attention of Russian intelligence long ago as a U.S. person upon whom to compile a dossier of “kompromat,” who is now realizing to his own horror that his past behavior and his present job are conflicting in a way that can lead to deep embarrassment and humiliation at best, and prison time for him and his associates at worst.

The first step to acknowledging and bracing ourselves for this potential reality is to stop asking why the President does not realize that Putin is a threat, and to accept that he may already understand the threat of Vladimir Putin all to well.

– 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

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 9: Fusion GPS

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 9: Fusion GPS

Fusion GPS

(Full Transcript of Senate Testimony – 312 pages)
(Full Transcript of House Testimony – 165 pages)


Disclaimer: This is a summary of part of Glenn Simpson’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 17, 2017 and before the House Intelligence Committee on November 14, 2017. The information below was presented by Glenn Simpson in his testimony, and is not being represented here as either fact or as the opinion of the webmaster unless specifically stated. All statements and assertions should be read as if prefaced by “Glenn Simpson states that …” Any content that I add will be surrounded by [brackets] and will likely include a link or reference to the source.


Who is Fusion GPS?

The following are details of how Glenn Simpson described his company, Fusion GPS.

Fusion GPS (the Washington DC trade name of Simpson’s company Bean LLC) is a small research, strategy and consulting firm based in Washington DC, with approximately 12 employees. The company handles a small number of projects each year. Their clients are mainly corporations and law firms, but they occasionally do research for major political campaigns as well, although political work is not their “niche.”

Fusion primarily collects public record information, sifts through it to determine which information is relevant to their client, and analyzes that information. Their law firm clients, who prefer clear, documented evidence that will be useful to them in a court of law, appreciate Fusion’s focus on document-and-data-based research. Fusion also interacts with the press regularly. Fusion typically responds to inquiries from media instead of actively sending out information, although they also sometimes pitch stories and send out press releases when their clients ask them to.

Fusion’s process is generally not directed by the client: rather than being told to find information that will result in the answer that the client wants, Fusion gathers as much information and data on the given topic, determines what that information might mean and/or what questions it might raise, and then goes in the direction that the data points them. Fusion makes clear to their clients up front that this is how they operate. Simpson states, “if you predetermine the result that you’re looking for, you tend to miss things.”

Fusion is hired to do “reliable treatments” of a subject – to produce accurate information, positive or negative, that can help their client understand the person, business or event that they are dealing with. The goal is not to do a “hit piece,” even for political clients. That does not mean that some information gathered will not be unflattering to the subject: it means that Fusion believes the information that they gather – flattering or unflattering – is accurate. It does not serve Fusion’s clients well to be given an inaccurate understanding of the subject being researched.

Fusion gathers facts, which Simpson described as “provable facts,” “established facts,” and occasionally “factual allegations.” Simpson makes a distinction between the first two, which are objectively verifiable, and allegations, which are unconfirmed.

Because Fusion’s clients are often attorneys, and attorneys’ clients are not always honest with the attorneys, one of the first things that Fusion does in analyzing their gathered information and data is to try to assess whether the attorney’s client’s story matches with known facts. Much of Fusion’s work is described as “decision support” – helping Fusion’s client learn what the facts are so that the client can decide how best to proceed.

Fusion has a small staff, and intentionally chooses researchers who do not have strong partisan leanings, because “ideological prisms are not helpful for doing research.” Fusion occasionally hires subcontractors for tasks that do not fall under their areas of expertise. In order to ensure the integrity of the information that Fusion provides, all Fusion subcontractors (as well as Fusion themselves) sign a non-disclosure agreement before being engaged for a project: in general, this means that nobody working for Fusion on a project may discuss the project outside of Fusion, and Fusion does not discuss one client’s project with another client. To further ensure the integrity of the information that Fusion takes in, Fusion does not let subcontractors on a given project know of each other’s existence. Fusion often does not even let subcontractors know who the client is unless Fusion believes that there may be a need to verify that the subcontractor does not have any conflict of interest.

Clients generally hire Fusion for 30 days at a time: at the end of each 30 days, the client gets a report with Fusion’s findings, and if they want more, they sign up for another 30 days. When Fusion completes a project, they are often asked to hand over all copies of the documentation for the case so that the client can ensure that it has been disposed of. Simpson said that he could not answer whether the Steele dossier was handed over to the client.


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


 

 

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 4: Timeline, Key Relationships, Key Places

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 4: Timeline, Key Relationships, Key Places

Timeline, Key Relationships, Key Places


Disclaimer: The information, events, and relationships described in the pdf files below are based on the Steele dossier, the opening statement of William Browder, the Nunes memo, and the House and Senate testimonies of Glenn Simpson. The information has been compiled to help understand what has been communicated in these documents and testimonies, and is not being represented here as either fact or as the opinion of the webmaster unless specifically stated. All statements and assertions should be read as if prefaced by “The documents referenced in this series indicate …” Additional detail has been gathered from external sources like Wikipedia and news accounts, and is indicated by [brackets].


Timeline

Timeline_Graphic


Key Relationships

_Key_Relationships


Key Places

_Map-TrumpRussia


 

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