July 22, 2017

Week 36

Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things
subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.

This week Trump’s ties to Russia came increasingly front and center, as news of a second, clandestine meeting between Trump and Putin at the G20 surfaced, and Trump moved forward with actions that seemed oddly pro-Moscow. Trump also caused alarm on both sides by raising the specter of firing Mueller and the possibility of pardoning himself and members of his regime.

For the first time this week there was bipartisan reaction: there were resignations, and pushback from national security officials who called out Russia for election meddling. Also of major importance, Congress agreed on an outline for a bipartisan bill to impose sweeping sanctions on Russia — a direct repudiation of Trump.

  1. According to a FEC filing, Trump’s re-election campaign paid $50k to Donald Jr.’s attorney on June 27, six days after Kushner updated his security clearance form to include the meeting with Veselnitskaya.
  2. WIRED reported that according to FEC filings, Trump re-election campaign has already paid out $600k to Trump-owned properties.
  3. Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, was the sole face for the Trump regime on all five of the Sunday shows.
  4. Sekulow suggested that US Secret Service would have vetted Donald Jr.’s meetings. The USSS issued a statement denying they screened anyone: “Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016.”
  5. The US Women’s Open, hosted at a Trump golf course, posted its lowest final round rating in at least 30 years. Trump had tweeted about attending the event.
  6. WSJ reported there were nearly 150k attempts to penetrate South Carolina’s voter-registration system on Election Day, even though SC was not a competitive state. So far, there is evidence 21 states were targeted.
  7. TIME reported on a previously undisclosed 15-page plan produced by Obama’s cybersecurity officials which shows how concerned the administration was about Russian hacking.
  8. The concern was so grave, on November 1, the Obama administration did a war-game, practice attack. Obama’s NSC ran a fictional attack and rehearsed how federal agencies would communicate and respond.
  9. TIME reported concern was born over a California primary in which some voters were prevented from voting because their registrations had been altered. Russia was suspected of the hacking.
  10. A WAPO/ABC poll showed Trump approval rating has fallen to 36% from 42% in April. His net approval fell from -11 to -22. Trump’s support from Independents has fallen to 32%.
  11. A Monmouth Poll found that 41% of Americans support impeaching Trump, significantly higher than Nixon at the start of Watergate (24%).
  12. A PPP poll found 45% support impeaching Trump, and 43% are opposed.
  13. CNN tracked highlights of Trump’s first six months: he passed no major legislation, held just one press conference, sent 991 tweets, golfed 40 times, and spent 21 of 26 weekends at Trump properties.
  14. Criticism of Kobach and the Election Integrity Commission continued from all sides as their first public meeting took place, with many calling it a veiled attempt at voter suppression and purging.
  15. Kobach responded to MSNBC when asked if Hillary won the popular vote, “We will probably never know the answer to that question.”
  16. Daily Beast reported that civilian casualties have skyrocketed under Trump from the US-led war against ISIS. Trump’s air war has already killed more than 2k civilians.
  17. CREW won a legal battle to compel Trump to turn over the Mar-A-Lago visitor logs by September 8. CREW said they will make the information available to the public, when and if they receive it.
  18. Outgoing Office of Government Ethics chair Shaub told NYT that actions by Trump and his regime have created a historic ethics crisis. On the world stage, this has rendered US “close to the laughingstock,” and it “affects our credibility.”
  19. DHS announced a one-time increase of 15k H-2B visas, a reversal from Trump’s rhetoric as he launched Made in America Week. The change came after lobbying by industries that rely on temporary foreign workers.
  20. AP reported the Trump Organization has asked the federal government to grant dozens of special visas to allow foreign nationals to work at two of Trump’s private clubs in Florida.
  21. Of note, this occurred during Trump’s ‘Made in America’ week. Also of note, none of Ivanka’s products are produced in the US.
  22. In a vote along party lines, the Senate confirmed political blogger John Bush, Trump’s most controversial nominee yet, to the federal courts of appeal in Kentucky. Bush’s blog posts disparage gays, women, and people of color, and contain conspiracy theories and false information.
  23. Poland, the country chosen by Trump for a major speech en route to the G20, may be stripped of EU voting rights for the right wing government’s plan to abolish the independence of the country’s judiciary.
  24. Former diplomats and national security officials urged Tillerson not to eliminate the State Dept’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), citing “profound and negative implications” of doing so.
  25. FP reported Tillerson is set to also shutter the State Dept’s War Crimes Office, the office that for two decades held war criminals accountable.
  26. Christopher Painter, the top cyber diplomat, will leave his State Department job at the end of the month. Painter has led the American delegations to international cyber meetings since 2011.
  27. US Treasury fined Exxon-Mobil $2 million, saying the company showed “reckless disregard” for Russian sanctions while Tillerson was CEO.
  28. House Republicans will seek to defund the Election Assistance Commission, the only federal agency that exclusively works to ensure the voting process is secure.
  29. The defunding comes as the Election Assistance Commission is working with the FBI to examine an attack late last year on the agency’s computer systems by a Russian hacker.
  30. Manafort filed reports with the DOJ showing his firm received nearly $17 million for two years of work for a Ukrainian political party with links to the Kremlin — more than the party’s operations reported spending.
  31. Manhattan’s DA office subpoenaed Federal Savings Bank, a Chicago bank run by Steve Calk, for records on a $16 million in loans made to Manafort in November and January. At the time, Manafort was underwater on loans to a Brooklyn townhouse and a family investment in CA properties.
  32. The loans to Manafort represent 24% of the bank’s reported $67 million of equity capital. Calk was a member of Trump’s economic advisory panel, and had expressed interest in becoming Army Secretary.
  33. On Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Rybakov said the Russian government is “almost” at a deal to get their seized compounds returned.
  34. On Tuesday, Trump again tweeted his demand that the Senate must change its rules to make repealing Obamacare easier.
  35. In a memo sent to station news directors, Sinclair’s VP of News defended the company from charges of being biased. In Week 35, Sinclair has mandated segments by Trump ally Epshteyn.
  36. Sessions said he would be issuing a new directive aimed at increasing police seizures of cash and property.
  37. Sen. Rand Paul called on Sessions to stop, tweeting, “Asset forfeiture is an unconstitutional taking of property without trial.”
  38. After Republicans failed in their repeal and replace, and then failed again at repeal, Trump said Republicans should “let Obamacare fail,” adding, “I’m not going to own it.”
  39. CNN reported Trump aides could face scrutiny by Mueller over their role in strategizing with Trump to craft the initial statement issued by Donald Jr. as the NYT story broke about the June 9 meeting.
  40. AP reported that according to Akhmetshin, Veselnitskaya brought a plastic folder with printed-out documents thought to be damaging to Clinton to the meeting with Donald Jr., Kushner, and Manafort.
  41. WAPO reported the eighth person in the Donald Jr./Veselnitskaya meeting was Ike Kaveladze, who attended as a representative of Aras and Emin Agalarov.
  42. Kaveladze’s attorney said he had received a phone call over the weekend from a representative of Mueller, asking to set up an interview.
  43. Kaveladze was once the focus of a Congressional money laundering probe involving Russian oligarchs.
  44. On an interview with Charlie Rose, Ian Bremmer said Trump and Putin had a second hour-long private meeting on sidelines of the G20.
  45. Trump’s WH was forced to confirm the meeting Tuesday, as reports surfaced that some guests had been surprised that it occurred.
  46. Trump’s WH sought to minimize the disclosure, claiming in a statement the private meeting was “just a brief conversation at the end of dinner.” Spicer said of the meeting, “It was pleasantries and small talk.”
  47. Daily Beast reported that after being sent a secret document by officials in Moscow in April 2016, GOP Rep Dana Rohrabacher, a long-time Russia advocate, aimed to alter the Magnitsky Act.
  48. Without stated rationale, Trump ended a covert CIA program to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels battling al-Assad, a victory for Russia.
  49. The day after a shocking announcing he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, John McCain issued a statement condemning the Trump’s action in Syria, saying this is, “playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin.”
  50. Reuters reported that Russia says it is in talk with the US to create a cyber security working group.
  51. Trump gave a bizarre, wide-ranging interview to the NYT, which made it apparent he believes he is accountable to no one, and has full control over who occupies positions of power.
  52. Trump said he would never have hired Sessions if he knew he would recuse himself from the Trump-Russia probe. Expectations for Sessions resignation followed, but Sessions said he would stay on.
  53. Trump started to diminish Deputy AG Rosenstein for appointing a special prosecutor, saying, “There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any. So, he’s from Baltimore.”
  54. On the topic of his private conversation with Putin at the G20, Trump repeated Donald Jr. initial false claim: “We talked about Russian adoption. Yeah. I always found that interesting.”
  55. Trump also claimed he spoke to Putin because he was seated next to the First Lady of Japan, and didn’t have a Japanese language interpreter. Videos surfaced of Akie Abe speaking fluent English.
  56. Trump also opened the door for firing Mueller, saying the special prosecutor would cross a red line if investigations delve into Trump family finances unrelated to Russia.
  57. Bloomberg reported Mueller has expanded the probe into Trump’s businesses ties to Russia, including Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump SoHo, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch.
  58. Mueller’s team is also absorbing the money laundering probe of Manafort, started by federal prosecutors in New York.
  59. WSJ reported the Senate and House Intel Comm are also investigating Manafort for possible money laundering. The Senate committee received reports by the Treasury Department’s FinCen unit which tracks Russian ties.
  60. Manafort has borrowed and spent tens of millions of dollars over the past decade to finance real estate purchases in Brooklyn, NY and CA.
  61. NYT reported Deutsche Bank is under investigation by regulators for their lending relationship with Trump. The bank is also likely to have to provide information to Mueller as part of the Trump-Russia probe.
  62. As per Week 19, Deutsche Bank recently paid a $630 million settlement over charges of laundering $10 billion for Russia from the bank’s Moscow office.
  63. In the past six years, Deutsche’s private wealth area financed three Trump deals, lending $300 million.
  64. The commercial real estate area, which would typically lend for such transactions, would not finance the deals. It is also highly unusual for a private wealth area to lend such a high dollar amount.
  65. NYT also reported that Deutsche Bank was the referenced European financial institution that had partnered with Russia’s Prevezon, the massive money laundering tax fraud mentioned in Week 35.
  66. Prevezon’s case was settled by Sessions’ DOJ two days before trial.
  67. AP reported Trump repeated overtures towards Russia are increasingly putting him at odds with his national security and foreign policy advisers. The second meeting with Putin at the G20 exacerbated the rift.
  68. AP reported it was highly unusual for only Tillerson, but not McMaster, to have attended the meeting with Putin at the G20. McMaster has been warning Trump that Putin is not to be trusted.
  69. The legal team defending Trump in the Russia probe had a shake-up on Thursday, with long-time personal attorney Kasowitz leaving. Mark Corrallo, a spokesperson for Trump’s legal team, also resigned.
  70. Sean Spicer resigned Friday after Trump appointed New York financier Anthony Scaramucci to communications director. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was named as his replacement.
  71. Senators Ben Cardin and Elizabeth Warren have pushed for an investigation into whether Scaramucci’s company, SkyBridge Capital, violated sanctions against Russia.
  72. On Friday following Spicer’s resignation, Sanders held an on-camera press briefing, the first one since June 29 (22 days ago).
  73. Breaking from Trump, CIA Director Pompeo, Homeland Security Secretary Kelly, and WH Homeland and Counterterrorism adviser Bossert said they believe Russia meddled in our election.
  74. Reuters reported Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Jr., had Russian spy agency FSB as a client.
  75. After interviewing Susan Rice as part of the Senate Intel Committee, Republican chairman Burr commented, “The unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes.
  76. Michael Flynn opened a new consulting firm, Resilient Patriot, LLC. Flynn’s new firm will advise private equity firms.
  77. Trump named a temporary director, David Apol, to replace Walter Shaub as head of the OGE as he seeks a permanent director. Watchdogs groups expressed concern that Trump bypassed Shaub’s designated successor, Shelley Finlayson.
  78. WAPO reported some of Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut Mueller’s Trump-Russia probe, building a case around alleged conflicts of interest of Mueller and his staff.
  79. Sekulow said Mueller investigating Trump’s business dealings, including transactions like a Russian oligarch’s purchase of Trump’s Palm Beach mansion, “is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”
  80. WAPO also reported Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members, and himself.
  81. Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee, warned Trump that pardoning targets of the Russia probe would be “crossing a fundamental line.”
  82. Trump loyalist Newt Gingrich told Fox News Friday, “The Mueller investigation has so many conflicts of interests, it’s almost an absurdity.”
  83. A New Republic op-ed titled, “We’re on the Brink of an Authoritarian Crisis,” cited Trump’s NYT interview, information on efforts to attack Mueller, and questions about issuing pardons, as cause for concern.
  84. WAPO reported Kislyak told his superiors he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Sessions. The conversations were intercepted by US spy agencies.
  85. In March, Sessions had said he never had meetings with Russian operatives or intermediaries about the Trump campaign. He also lied under oath during the Senate confirmation hearings about the meetings.
  86. WAPO reported Sessions had three meetings with Kislyak including at his Senate office in September, at the Republican National Convention in July, and at the Mayflower Hotel in April.
  87. Kushner agreed to testify in front of the Senate Intel Comm next Monday, and the House Intel Comm on Tuesday.
  88. Bypassing Tillerson and the State Dept after a contentious meeting, Trump assigned a WH team of loyalists to review the Iran Nuclear Deal and give him the option to say Tehran was not in compliance.
  89. WAPO reported late Friday that Kushner filed a revised financial disclosure form, showing he had failed to disclose dozens of financial holdings that he was required to declare when he joined the WH.
  90. Of note, Kushner had failed to disclose a $285 million loan that his company received from Deutsche Bank one month before the election.
  91. A separate form filed Friday showed Ivanka has personally profited by as much as $5 million since Trump took office from her outside businesses, despite a promise to distance herself from her private holdings.
  92. Also late Friday, a deal between Donald Jr., Manafort, and the Senate Judiciary Committee was announced, in which the two will provide records and be interviewed in a closed-door session to avoid being subpoenaed.
  93. On Saturday morning, starting at 6:30 a.m EST, Trump sent a bizarre litany of tweets on topics ranging from his usual trashing of the media, Hillary and Comey, to the topic of pardons and Mueller.
  94. Trump continued to tweet, despite a new ABC/WAPO poll that showed 67% of Americans disapprove of his using Twitter, including 68% saying his tweets were inappropriate, and half said his tweets were dangerous.
  95. Saturday, in a repudiation of Trump, Congress reached a deal on sweeping sanctions to punish Russia for election-meddling. The legislation will limit Trump’s ability to suspend or terminate sanctions.

Copyright Amy Siskind, July 22, 2017

Trump tested out a fire truck at his ‘Made in America’ event.