Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mueller Is Making Them Very Nervous

Via the Washington Post:

The special counsel investigating Russian election meddling has requested extensive records and email correspondence from the White House, covering areas including the president’s private discussions about firing his FBI director and his response to news that the then-national security adviser was under investigation, according to two people briefed on the requests.

White House lawyers are now working to turn over internal documents that span 13 categories that investigators for the special counsel have identified as critical to their probe, the people said. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, appointed in May in the wake of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, took over the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians in that effort.

The list of requests was described in detail by two people briefed on them. Both insisted on anonymity to discuss a sensitive investigation. Some details of the requests were first reported Wednesday afternoon by the New York Times.

The requests broadly ask for any document or email related to a series of highly publicized incidents since Trump became president, including the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn and firing of Comey, the people said.

The list demonstrates Mueller’s focus on key moments and actions by the president and close advisers that could shed light on whether Trump sought to block the FBI investigations of Flynn and of Russian interference.

The newest wrinkle is that former campaign manager Paul Manafort offered a Russian billionaire “private briefings” on what the Trump campaign was doing.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.

The emails are among tens of thousands of documents that have been turned over to congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team as they probe whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia as part of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.

I’m guessing that this was a requirement on the part of the Russians.  They were paying good money to buy off this election and they needed to be kept up to speed with how it was going.

Trump’s defenders are complaining that Mr. Mueller is going on a fishing expedition for anything that he can find that might possibly lead to a criminal indictment and it’s SO unfair.  Well, when Kenneth Starr did that with Bill Clinton, those same whiners were all in favor of it because they were sure that there was real corruption and murder and mayhem going on, and oh yeah, what about Hillary’s e-mails; did she steal the chocolate chip cookie recipe from Neiman-Marcus, too?

Friday, September 1, 2017

“The Auditor Is Here”

Having spent the last fifteen years working with budgets, accounting, and how money is spent and tracked, I can tell you that nothing makes the blood run cold more than hearing the words, “the auditor is here.”  It has nothing to do with the people who are doing the audit or a sense of guilt for having tried to pull off something shady.  It’s more to do with the fact that if there is a record missing or a number that is off, they will find it and patiently ask you to find it, rectify it, or prove why it shouldn’t be brought to the attention of the authorities, be they your boss or the people who issue subpoenas.

In short, don’t mess with them.  They have a job to do, they do it well, numbers and math don’t lie, and if they have a sense of humor — and many of them do, along with pleasant personalities — they are all business when it comes to doing their job.  And the best of them work for the IRS.

So this should be interesting.

Special counsel Bob Mueller has teamed up with the IRS. According to sources familiar with his investigation into alleged Russian election interference, his probe has enlisted the help of agents from the IRS’ Criminal Investigations unit.

This unit—known as CI—is one of the federal government’s most tight-knit, specialized, and secretive investigative entities. Its 2,500 agents focus exclusively on financial crime, including tax evasion and money laundering. A former colleague of Mueller’s said he always liked working with IRS’ special agents, especially when he was a U.S. Attorney.

And it goes without saying that the IRS has access to Trump’s tax returns—documents that the president has long resisted releasing to the public.

Potential financial crimes are a central part of Mueller’s probe. One of his top deputies, Andy Weissmann, formerly helmed the Justice Department’s Enron probe and has extensive experience working with investigative agents from the IRS.

“From the agents, I know everyone has the utmost respect for both Mueller and Weissmann,” said Martin Sheil, a retired IRS Criminal Investigations agent.

And he said Mueller and Weissmann are known admirers of those agents’ work.

“They view them with the highest regard,” Sheil said. “IRS special agents are the very best in the business of conducting financial investigations. They will quickly tell you that it took an accountant to nab Al Capone, and it’s true.”

[…]

It’s been widely reported that the special counsel’s team is trying to “flip” Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign CEO, in hopes he will provide evidence against his former colleagues. Former federal prosecutors tell The Daily Beast one of Manafort’s biggest legal liabilities could be to what’s called a “check the box” prosecution. Federal law requires that people who have money in foreign bank accounts check a box on their tax returns disclosing that. And there’s speculation that Manafort may have neglected to check that box, which would be a felony. This is exactly the kind of allegation the IRS would look into.

Like they said, that’s how the Feds nailed Al Capone.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

That Russian Thing

We’ve all been thinking about the millions of people under water in Texas, about the state of race relations after Charlottesville, about the missiles of North Korea, and well we should be concerned about all of them.  But there’s also the ongoing and sometimes forgotten investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 and the involvement of the Trump campaign in it.

It’s not a question any more of whether or not Russia did it.  It’s now to what degree — criminal or otherwise — did Trump’s people and perhaps even himself participate in it.  The latest bit of news comes via the New York Times which is reporting that a Trump associate was bragging about how they’d get their man elected president if a real estate deal in Moscow went through.

A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.

The associate, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which he boasted about his ties to Mr. Putin. He predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would highlight Mr. Trump’s savvy negotiating skills and be a political boon to his candidacy.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Mr. Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

The emails show that, from the earliest months of Mr. Trump’s campaign, some of his associates viewed close ties with Moscow as a political advantage. Those ties are now under investigation by the Justice Department and multiple congressional committees.

American intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election to try to help Mr. Trump. Investigators want to know whether anyone on Mr. Trump’s team was part of that process.

Mr. Sater, a Russian immigrant, said he had lined up financing for the Trump Tower deal with VTB Bank, a Russian bank that was under American sanctions for involvement in Moscow’s efforts to undermine democracy in Ukraine. In another email, Mr. Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Moscow.

“I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote.

Of course the Trump organization is trying their best to distance themselves from all of this: “Sater?  Never heard of him,” along with asserting that they have never had any real estate holdings in Russia.

If Mr. Sater is not high enough up the food chain then, how about Michael Cohen, who is described in the Washington Post as a top Trump organization executive trying to work his way with the authorities in Moscow?

A top executive from Donald Trump’s real estate company emailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s personal spokesman during the U.S. presidential campaign last year to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow, according to documents submitted to Congress on Monday.

The request came in a mid-January 2016 email from Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s closest business advisers, who asked longtime Putin lieutenant Dmitry Peskov for assistance in reviving a deal that Cohen suggested was languishing.

“Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower-Moscow project in Moscow City,” Cohen wrote to Peskov, according to a person familiar with the email. “Without getting into lengthy specifics, the communication between our two sides has stalled.

“As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon,” Cohen wrote.

Cohen’s email marks the most direct outreach documented by a top Trump aide to a similarly senior member of Putin’s government.

Cohen told congressional investigators in a statement Monday that he did not recall receiving a response from Peskov or having further contact with Russian government officials about the project. The email, addressed to Peskov, appeared to have been sent to a general Kremlin press account.

The note adds to the list of contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials that have been a focus of multiple congressional inquiries as well as an investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III exploring Russian interference in the 2016 election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Kremlin intervened to help elect Trump.

Unlike hurricanes or riots in the streets, a story like this doesn’t come with dramatic pictures and BREAKING NEWS banners across the screens of cable TV networks, and besides, it is complicated; you can’t tell the players without a program and knowing their backstories.  “Game of Thrones” is easier to follow because it has dragons (or so I’ve heard).  But while the story may lack those elements of high drama, it is the stuff of which brings down the players as surely as a wall of water.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Consciousness Of Guilt, Cont’d

Trump gets really jumpy when Robert Mueller’s name pops up.

Trump called Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and expressed his unhappiness with a bill Tillis co-sponsored to shield Justice Department special counsels from political influence, Politico reported Wednesday evening.

Politico reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the call, that Trump told Tillis that he was unhappy with the bill the senator co-sponsored with Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), and did not want it to pass.

Trump called Tillis on Aug. 7, according to the report, a day after Tillis said on Fox News that there was “no question” the bill was partly directed at Trump.

Tillis said the bill reflected concern about Trump’s reaction to Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and that he and Coons set its effective date to reflect that concern.

It’s like Trump knows what he’s done and what the investigation will uncover.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Legal Moves

Paul Manafort has new lawyers.

Normally that kind of news isn’t a big deal; in Washington and other places where there’s a lot of complicated stuff going on, high-profile people change attorneys as often as some people change socks.  But this seems to be in reaction to the F.B.I. raid two weeks ago.

Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort on Thursday switched up his legal team amid several new reports on the federal investigation into his personal finances.

“Mr. Manafort is in the process of retaining his former counsel, Miller & Chevalier, to represent him in the office of special counsel investigation,” Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni said in a statement to Politico. “As of today, WilmerHale no longer represents Mr. Manafort.”

According to Politico, Miller & Chevalier is known for its work specializing in complicated financial crimes.

Manafort was Trump’s campaign chair in the stretch leading up to the 2016 election, and resigned in August 2016 amid scrutiny of his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

It’s about the money.  It always has been.  Who paid it, who’s taking it, what they’re getting for it, where it’s kept… those are the motivators behind it all.  And these legal moves are telling me that Mr. Manafort is going to be the one to turn states evidence on Trump.

Bonus Track: From Bloomberg Businessweek, Trump’s legal team is no match to that being put together by Robert Mueller.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Who’s Going To Sing First?

Anyone who watches cop shows knows that one of the ways to get to an indictment of a suspect is to put the squeeze on one of his minions.

It sounds like that’s what Robert Mueller is up to here.

There are a couple reasons the special counsel’s expanding Russia investigation might be so interested in former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort that they showed up at his door before dawn, unannounced, searched his home and seized documents, as The Washington Post reports.

In many ways, Manafort is squarely in the crosshairs of the Russia-Trump collusion investigation: His brief tenure as the head of Trump’s campaign happened as concerns about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election were heating up, he’s got high-level connections to Russia in his own right, and he’s got a whole host of scrutinized financial dealings that could make him a useful tool for investigators seeking cooperation.

They may also go after Michael Flynn or even Jared Kushner.  A guy like Trump doesn’t engender a lot of loyalty (Exhibit A: the way he’s treated Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the first senator to endorse him), and political ideology and family ties go only so far.

If one of them is offered a deal to rat out the Trump organization, especially if they’re facing criminal charges, it won’t be a question of if they’ll turn but who will be the first to jump at the offer.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Friday, August 4, 2017

You’ve Been Served

Via the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s presidential election, has issued subpoenas from a Washington-based grand jury in recent weeks, according to several lawyers involved in the case.

At least some of the subpoenas were for documents related to the business dealings of Michael T. Flynn, the retired general who briefly served as President Trump’s national security adviser. Mr. Flynn is under investigation for foreign lobbying work, as well as for conversations he had during the transition with Sergey I. Kislyak, who was Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

Mr. Mueller’s team is broadly investigating whether any Trump associates colluded with the Russian government in its attempts to disrupt the election. It is unclear whether the subpoenas issued in recent weeks relate to other members of Mr. Trump’s campaign who have been a focus of the Mueller investigation, including Paul J. Manafort, the former campaign chairman.

A grand jury based in Alexandria, Va., began issuing subpoenas in the Flynn case months ago. Mr. Mueller took over the investigation in May and assembled a team of prosecutors in an office in downtown Washington. Mr. Mueller has not impaneled a special grand jury, the lawyers involved in the case said, and has decided instead to use one of several grand juries that regularly sit in Washington.

Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said that he was not aware that Mr. Mueller had started using a new grand jury. “Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Mr. Cobb said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly.”

He added, “The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”

The Trump minions think this is great news because they think it means that Mueller is floundering and desperate to dig up anything to nail their hero.  After all, a grand jury under the thrall of a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich, right?  Funny how those same people thought that Bill Clinton was toast when Ken Starr convened a grand jury and were dancing on his grave when he actually had to testify.

The thing about grand juries is that they don’t go away.  They can look at anything.  Charlie Pierce:

If Mueller wants to look at how the Trump Organization did its business with Russian interests before the president* even thought of being president, he can do that. If he wants to conduct exploratory surgery on Jared Kushner’s financial records, he can do that, too. If he wants to examine the working conditions in the Chinese factories where Ivanka’s line of shoes are made, it’s off to Asia we go. Meanwhile, congresscritters on both sides of the aisle are pushing legislation aimed at protecting Mueller from presidential retribution. In other words, as Blackstone once put it, shit’s getting really real.

As Bill Clinton found out, what started out as an investigation into a shady land deal in Arkansas ended up in his lap and a blue dress.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Consciousness Of Guilt

What would a day be like without at least two breaking news stories out of the Trump dumpster fire?  First the firing of Anthony Scaramucci before he officially starts work as White House Communications Director, and now this from the Washington Post:

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

The claims were later shown to be misleading.

Over the next three days, multiple accounts of the meeting were provided to the news media as public pressure mounted, with Trump Jr. ultimately acknowledging that he had accepted the meeting after receiving an email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

So if the meeting was truly a nothinburger, as Trump’s minions in the White House and on cable TV claim, why did Trump Sr. help draft the statement that turned out to be bullshit?

Lying or misleading the news media isn’t a crime but it sure makes the people who are doing it look guilty, and as any prosecutor will tell you, consciousness of guilt is basically a tacit confession.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Get Out While You Still Can, Jeff

Trump attacks his own Attorney General in the New York Times:

Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”

[Read excerpts of The Times’s interview with President Trump.]

In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’s decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.

If Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III had any integrity, he’d walk into the Oval Office and resign.  Then again, he took the job in the first place knowing full well who he would be dealing with, so thinking that he has any integrity is assuming facts not in evidence.

On another note during this recorded stream-of-conscious ramble, Trump warned Robert Mueller, the special counsel, not to look into his finances beyond the scope of the initial investigation.

Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”

Two things: First, now of course the special counsel is going to look into his family finances even more; it’s like a six-year-old telling his mom “Don’t look in my room!” where he’s hiding a bobcat under the bed.  Second, investigations have a funny way of following leads no matter where they go.  Watergate started out by investigating a “third-rate burglary” and led to the downfall of Richard Nixon.  Whitewater started out as an investigation into a failed land deal and ended up teaching America way too much about blowjobs.

Mr. Sessions has already hired a lawyer.  Maybe the only reason he’s not quitting now is that he needs the income to pay for him.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

“Oh, THAT Meeting”

Trump first denied knowing anything about Don Jr. meeting up with the Russian lawyer.  Then as the shit got closer to the fan, he maybe heard about it.

On Wednesday afternoon, Trump told Reuters that “No. That I didn’t know. Until a couple of days ago, when I heard about this. No I didn’t know about that,” referring to the meeting between Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.

Trump changed his tune later in the day, when he told reporters on Air Force One: “In fact maybe it was mentioned at some point,” referring to the meeting. (Reporters on the plane initially thought the conversation was off-the-record, but the President said otherwise on Thursday.)

Asked whether he had been told the meeting was about Hillary Clinton and dirt against her, Trump said no, according to a White House pool report. On Thursday, Trump called the meeting “very standard.”

I suppose later today we’ll find out that Trump himself was at the meeting and complimented the Russian lawyer on her looks.

Thursday, July 13, 2017