Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 16th, 2018

Cute blurb for “The Hill” on Facebook

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In its entirety, emphasis added:

Rudy Giuliani claimed in a new interview that special counsel Robert Mueller told President Trump’s legal team that a sitting president cannot be indicted. He did not explain why the subject of indictment came up.

Here’s The Hill‘s report.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2018 at 6:20 pm

7 big things we just learned from the Trump Tower meeting testimony

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Aaron Blake reports in the Washington Post:

The Senate Judiciary Committee released 2,500 pages of congressional testimony on Wednesday. The trove of information provides a new window into that ill-fated June 2016 Trump Tower meeting before which Donald Trump Jr. was promised damaging Russian government information about Hillary Clinton — from Natalia Veselnitskaya, who turned out to be a Kremlin-connected lawyer.

The episode has been a centerpiece of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. And now we know much more about what the people who were there said under oath about it.

Here are some key findings.

1. Trump Jr. was clearly anxious for dirt on Hillary Clinton

One line from Trump Jr.’s email exchange with a publicist for a Russian musician stood out: “I love it.” Publicist Rob Goldstone had said his source could provide “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” and said the information came from Russia’s “crown prosecutor” — a position which doesn’t exist but is roughly equivalent to attorney general in Goldstone’s native Britain.

Trump Jr.’s response: “Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

In his testimony to Congress, Trump Jr. confirmed that he was talking about the opposition research when he said “I love it.”

This is key because Trump Jr. wasn’t completely clear about what he was talking about in the email. It suggests that he was eager to have the meeting specifically because of the opposition research that was supposedly being supplied by official sources in the Russian government. His initial explanation of the meeting suggested that it was primarily about adoptions, although that explanation quickly fell apart.

Other witnesses also suggested Trump Jr. was eager to get dirt. Russian lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin told senators Trump Jr. started the meeting by saying something like, “So you have some information for us?” Ike Kaveladze, an American-based employee of a Russian real estate company and who was at the meeting, said Trump Jr. asked “if they got anything on Hillary.”

2. Trump Jr. says President Trump may have personally influenced misleading explanations about the meeting

The Washington Post has reported that the president dictated some of the misleading explanations for the meeting — which aides worried could open him up to charges of a coverup.

Trump Jr. said he didn’t know about his father’s direct involvement and actively discouraged it, but he said he thinks Trump may have influenced the messaging about the meeting through then-White House communications aide Hope Hicks:

Q. To the best of your knowledge, did the president provide any edits to the statement or other input?

A. He may have commented through Hope Hicks.

Q. And do you know if his comments provided through Hope Hicks were incorporated into the final statement?

A. I believe some may have been, but this was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel.

3. Trump Jr. says he doesn’t recall whether a key call with a blocked phone number was his father

Trump Jr. has said he never told his father about the meeting. But one particular phone call has raised lots of eyebrows.

It came June 6 shortly after a call with Russian pop star Emin Agalarov about the meeting, but we don’t know whom it was with was from because the number was blocked. A big question has been whether it was his father, and whether Trump Jr. might have informed his father about the meeting on that call. (The elder Trump has also denied knowing about the meeting.)

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has testified that the president’s primary residence utilizes a blocked number, but Trump Jr. said in testimony that he doesn’t recall whether the call was with his father:

Q. Does your father used a blocked number on his cellphone or on any phones that you call him on?

A. I don’t know.

Q. So you don’t know whether this might have been your father?

A. I don’t.

Philip Bump lays out the timeline in detail here:

  • June 6, 4:04 p.m.: Agalarov calls Trump Jr. Call logs suggest that the call lasts between 60 seconds and two minutes.
  • June 6, 4:27 p.m.: Trump Jr. is in contact with a blocked number. It lasts for four minutes. It’s not clear if the call was outgoing or incoming; the testimony suggests that it was incoming but a report from Senate Democrats suggests it was outgoing. (The phone records are redacted in the documents released on Wednesday.)
  • June 6, 4:31 p.m.: Trump Jr. calls Agalarov. The call lasts for three minutes.
  • June 6, 4:38 p.m.: Trump Jr. emails Goldstone. “Rob thanks for the help.”

4. Goldstone suggests Veselnitskaya was pitched as having Russian government connections . .

Continue reading. Read ’em all, and then ponder those who still to this day call for the investigation to be closed, Mueller fired, shut it down, because they’ve come up with nothing!!!!

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2018 at 6:17 pm

Wow! third time today: “Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife”

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Watch it now on Netflix.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2018 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Wow! again today: Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records

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Ronan Farrow (a young man who I predict will go far) reports in the New Yorker:

Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael CohenPresident Trump’s personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration. In the days since, there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, and the Treasury Department’s inspector general has launched a probe to find the source. That source, a law-enforcement official, is speaking publicly for the first time, to The New Yorker, to explain the motivation: the official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen’s financial activity in a government database. The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents.

The payments to Cohen that have emerged in the past week come primarily from a single document, a “suspicious-activity report” filed by First Republic Bank, where Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, L.L.C., maintained an account. The document detailed sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Cohen by the pharmaceutical company Novartis, the telecommunications giant A.T. & T., and an investment firm with ties to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The report also refers to two previous suspicious-activity reports, or sars, that the bank had filed, which documented even larger flows of questionable money into Cohen’s account. Those two reports detail more than three million dollars in additional transactions—triple the amount in the report released last week. Which individuals or corporations were involved remains a mystery. But, according to the official who leaked the report, these sars were absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or fincen. The official, who has spent a career in law enforcement, told me, “I have never seen something pulled off the system. . . . That system is a safeguard for the bank. It’s a stockpile of information. When something’s not there that should be, I immediately became concerned.” The official added, “That’s why I came forward.”

Seven former government officials and other experts familiar with the Treasury Department’s fincen database expressed varying levels of concern about the missing reports. Some speculated that fincen may have restricted access to the reports due to the sensitivity of their content, which they said would be nearly unprecedented. One called the possibility “explosive.” A record-retention policy on fincen’s Web site notes that false documents or those “deemed highly sensitive” and “requiring strict limitations on access” may be transferred out of its master file. Nevertheless, a former prosecutor who spent years working with the fincen database said that she knew of no mechanism for restricting access to sars. She speculated that fincen may have taken the extraordinary step of restricting access “because of the highly sensitive nature of a potential investigation. It may be that someone reached out to fincen to ask to limit disclosure of certain sars related to an investigation, whether it was the special counsel or the Southern District of New York.” (The special counsel, Robert Mueller, is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. The Southern District is investigating Cohen, and the F.B.I. raided his office and hotel room last month.)

Whatever the explanation for the missing reports, the appearance that some, but not all, had been removed or restricted troubled the official who released the report last week. “Why just those two missing?” the official, who feared that the contents of those two reports might be permanently withheld, said. “That’s what alarms me the most.”

fincen said in a statement that it protects the confidentiality of sars “in order to protect both filers and potentially named individuals.” The statement added, “FinCEN neither confirms nor denies the existence of purported SARs.” Spokespeople for the special counsel’s office and the Southern District of New York declined to comment. Michael Cohen and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Banks are legally mandated to file suspicious-activity reports with the government in order to call attention to activity that resembles money laundering, fraud, and other criminal conduct. These reports are routed to a permanent database maintained by fincen, which can be searched by tens of thousands of law-enforcement and other federal government personnel. The reports are a routine response to any financial activity that appears suspicious. They are not proof of criminal activity, and often do not result in criminal charges, though the information in them can be used in law-enforcement proceedings. “This is a permanent record. They should be there,” the official, who described an exhaustive search for the reports, said. “And there is nothing there.”

Cohen set up the First Republic account for Essential Consultants in October, 2016, shortly before the Presidential election, in order to pay the adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, who performs under the name Stormy Daniels, a hundred and thirty thousand dollars in return for signing a nondisclosure agreement about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. First Republic’s compliance officers later began flagging Cohen’s transactions in the account as possible signs of money laundering. Among other potential violations, the documents cite “suspicion concerning the source of funds,” “suspicious EFT/ wire transfers,” “suspicious use of multiple accounts,” and “transaction with no apparent economic, business, or lawful purpose.” (A spokesperson for First Republic Bank declined to comment.)

By January of this year, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2018 at 5:23 pm

Republicans Prove They’re the World Champs of Working the Refs

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Good Kevin Drum post.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2018 at 4:29 pm

Posted in GOP

Wow. Kremlin may have used the NRA to help Trump campaign

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Funneling money through the NRA?! Avery Anapol reports in The Hill:

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee say they have obtained documents that suggest Russia used the National Rifle Association (NRA) to help President Trump‘s 2016 campaign.

The Democrats on Wednesday released a document outlining preliminary findings from their investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. It states that the Kremlin may have “used the NRA to secretly fund Mr. Trump’s campaign.”

“The Committee has obtained a number of documents that suggest the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association as a means of accessing and assisting Mr. Trump and his campaign,” the document reads.

The Democrats identified two figures of particular interest: Maria Butina, a Russian national living in the U.S., and Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia. The Democrats noted that Butina, who worked as an assistant to Torshin, has refused to cooperate as a witness.

The document says that Butina and Torshin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, were key parts of the Kremlin’s effort to use the NRA to aid Trump.

“[Butina and Torshin] repeatedly offered the campaign back channels to Russia and relayed requests from President Putin to meet with Mr. Trump,” the committee said.

Both Butina and Torshin have ties to former NRA President David Keene and hosted him for a pro-gun conference in Russia. Butina founded Right to Bear Arms, the Russian equivalent of the NRA, and also started a business with former Trump adviser Paul Erickson.

The Democrats said they have requested from Butina an interview and documents related to Torshin’s efforts to arrange a meeting between Putin and Trump. They are also looking into “possible use of the National Rifle Association (NRA) by Russia to contribute money to the Trump campaign,” according to the document.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is reportedly investigatingwhether the NRA accepted illegal contributions from Russians in the 2016 campaign. The NRA and its lobbying arm spent $30 million in support Trump’s campaign.

The Democrats noted Erickson and Keene have refused to cooperate.

The Hill has reached out to the NRA for comment.

The release from Democrats came after Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) released hundreds of pages of transcripts of the panel’s interviews with participants at a controversial Trump Tower meeting in 2016. Donald Trump Jr. took that meeting after being promised dirt on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton‘s campaign.

In their document, the Democrats said the transcripts are interviews with just five of the eight participants in the meeting. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2018 at 3:13 pm

Trump’s bizarre ZTE tweets: Payback for a huge real estate deal in Indonesia?

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Heather Digby Parton writes in Salon:

ack in January of 2017, President-elect Trump gave a wide-ranging press conference (one of very few, to date) to announce that he would turn over management of the Trump Organization to his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.

He revealed that he had just been offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a man named Hussain Sajwani of DAMAC Properties but hadn’t taken it:

I didn’t have to turn it down, because as you know, I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president, which is — I didn’t know about that until about three months ago, but it’s a nice thing to have. But I don’t want to take advantage of something. I have something that others don’t have, Vice President Pence also has it. I don’t think he’ll need it, I have a feeling he’s not going to need it. But I have a “no conflict of interest” provision as president. It was many, many years old, this is for presidents. Because they don’t want presidents getting — I understand they don’t want presidents getting tangled up in minutia; they want a president to run the country. So I could actually run my business, I could actually run my business and run government at the same time.

I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to. I would be the only one to be able to do that. You can’t do that in any other capacity. But as president, I could run the Trump Organization, great, great company, and I could run the company — the country. I’d do a very good job, but I don’t want to do that.

In the words of Richard Nixon, he believes that if the president does it, it’s not illegal. Or more specifically, he believes that if he does a business deal for personal profit it cannot be a conflict.

Trump didn’t divest himself of his businesses, but there was an understanding that his sons would not enter into any new foreign deals. In fact, the boys have been all over the world touting foreign projects, from a recent high-profile sales trip and/or government mission to India to the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Dubai and Canada. The company recently was reported to have appealed to the government of Panama to interject itself on its behalf in a business dispute with the Trump-branded resort.

Donald Trump himself has made a fetish of making personal appearances at his foreign properties and commonly promotes them in his speeches overseas. He’s planning yet another promotional visit to one of his golf courses in Scotland when he visits the U.K. in July.

There is, in other words, every reason to be concerned that Trump and his family might be selling favors to foreign governments for personal gain. They certainly have made almost no attempt to reassure the public that they won’t do it. Trump said in that very first press conference that foreign interests were offering him large sums of money as president-elect, which he believed he was legally entitled to take.

Among the cascade of news stories about the Russia investigation over the past year, there have been intermittent questions about Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner seeking loans from various players in the Middle East. There have also been some bizarre turns in foreign policy associated with them that have not been adequately explained. Just this week, Stormy Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, pushed out a story implicating Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen in some sort of pay-to-play arrangement with representatives of the government of Qatar, which has long been on the radar as a possible intermediary between Russian money and the Trumps and Kushner. (Law professor Jed Shugerman has created a helpful timeline showing all the Qatari events that lead to this speculation.)

It is assumed the Mueller team is following that thread, since it has a possible direct connection to Russia. But this past weekend we got evidence of something else that may be a blatant conflict of interest relating to China.

As Bob Cesca wrote for Salon on Monday, that was an extremely strange tweet. First of all, Trump spent the entire presidential campaign bashing China for stealing American jobs. So this sudden concern for Chinese workers is inconsistent, to say the least. Nobody knew what to make of it. It seemed to come out of the blue, and experts from across the political spectrum were puzzled as to what Trump’s motives might be.

On Monday, Trump followed up with this:

That tweet doesn’t sound as if Trump personally wrote it. If it is “reflective” of his own thinking, it’s a big change. Trump has shown almost no concern for American exporters in all of his bellicose trade talk. The most he has ever said to the farmers who voted for him is that he assumes they are patriots who are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the country.

Moreover, while the Chinese government may want this to be part of the larger “trade deal” Trump is allegedly negotiating, the issue with ZTE wasn’t unfair trading practices. It was punished for violating sanctions against North Korea and Iran, and was accused by the intelligence community of using its technology to spy on Americans on behalf of the Chinese government. What possible reason could Trump have for deciding to unilaterally reverse this decision without explaining it to anyone?

Well, there may be an obvious explanation. It turns out that three days before Trump sent that tweet, a Chinese company with strong ties to the government had agreed to invest $500 million in a major Trump-branded development in Indonesia. The deal is a big one, with a high up side for Trump and his Indonesian partners, whom he invited to the inauguration and met with at Trump Tower during the presidential transition.

Could this be a coincidence? . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2018 at 1:45 pm

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