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Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with KremlinI

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I think it’s natural to wonder exactly why the son-in-law and close adviser of the president wanted a secret communication channel with the Kremlin. Perhaps he will explain and it will all turn out to be a big misunderstanding. Or it may turn out that Russia is putting serious moves on the US now that they believe we have a weak, venal, easily manipulated, ignorant, angry, and impulsive man as president.

Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous, and Greg Miller report in the Washington Post:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergei Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, then President-elect Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The White House disclosed the fact of the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

Neither the meeting nor the communications of Americans involved were under U.S. surveillance, officials said.

The White House declined to comment. Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Flynn, declined to comment. The Russian embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Russia at times feeds false information into communication streams it suspects are monitored as a way of sowing misinformation and confusion among U.S. analysts. But officials said that it’s unclear what Kislyak would have had to gain by falsely characterizing his contacts with Kushner to Moscow, particularly at a time when the Kremlin still saw the prospect of dramatically improved relations with Trump.

Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than rely on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2017 at 4:15 pm

Arkansas executed a man for a crime to which another person had confessed

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Arkansas doesn’t seem to value human life all that much, for all its “Pro-Life” enthusiasm. Among Radley Balko’s morning links (and it’s worth looking at them all):

Last night, Alabama executed Thomas Arthur, despite the fact that there was DNA that may have shown he was innocent — and that another man confessed to the crime.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2017 at 11:06 am

Kafka in Vegas

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The blurb:

Fred Steese served more than 20 years in prison for the murder of a Vegas showman even though evidence in the prosecution’s files proved he didn’t do it. But when the truth came to light, he was offered a confounding deal known as an Alford plea. If he took it he could go free, but he’d remain a convicted killer.

Megan Rose reports in ProPublica:

FRED STEESE, Inmate No. 45595, often gazed at the 18-wheelers rumbling by the state prison on a desolate stretch of highway outside Las Vegas, yearning to be behind the wheel. Lying in his bunk in Cell Block A, Unit 7, he’d picture himself double-clutching down hills, filling out the logbook, expertly backing up as he made deliveries. Semis had been an obsession since he’d begun hitching rides with truckers between stints with foster families and in group homes. By 16 he’d stolen his first big rig. Now middle-aged, Steese treasured a commercial driver’s license manual, so well-used it was held together by tape.

As a lifer, however, he knew that even this modest ambition was out of reach. In 1992, a once famous trapeze artist who’d moved on to performing with a costumed poodle act on the Strip had been found murdered, stabbed dozens of times in his trailer on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Police found a prime suspect in Steese, a drifter with a record, who for a short time had been the victim’s lover and assistant, and who, after protesting that he was innocent, offered a confession.

But there was evidence Steese had been 670 miles away at the time — and prosecutors in Las Vegas didn’t share it. The prosecutors went on to win seats as state district court judges, where they still sit. Steese went to prison for life with no possibility of parole. That would have remained his fate except that, somehow, in a life with few breaks, Steese finally caught one. Prodded by his original attorney, the federal public defender sent a team burrowing into the prosecution’s files and ultimately dismantled its case.

In October 2012, a judge declared that Steese, after 20 years in prison, was innocent. It was an extraordinary ruling — in fact, unprecedented in that court. But the Clark County district attorney was not willing to free Steese. Prosecutors vowed to put him through lengthy appeals. Even to re-try him. The process would take years. Or, if Steese just wanted to be released, the prosecutors had a tantalizing proposition: he could agree to an Alford plea. In a feat of logical gymnastics, this obscure plea allows defendants to maintain their innocence while at the same time pleading guilty and accepting the status of a convicted felon. And, perhaps most damaging to prisoners like Steese, after decades behind bars, the plea meant giving up the right to sue. It would also allow prosecutors to keep a “win” on the books, admit no wrongdoing, and avoid civil and criminal sanctions for their behavior. In exchange for all this, the prosecution in Las Vegas would let Steese go.

In legal circles, prosecutorial misconduct is viewed by many as a pervasive problem — an “epidemic,” as one prominent federal judge called it in 2013. Jurisdictions large and small are riddled with corrupt practices. Misconduct lies behind more than half of all cases nationwide in which convicted defendants are ultimately exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Driven by a win-at-all-costs culture, such misbehavior is especially hard to root out because, many experts say, there’s little incentive to play by the rules. Appellate courts often sweep misconduct aside as harmless. Top prosecutors, burnishing their own careers, rarely punish underlings for it — and indeed they often flourish, going on to become judges reluctant to police their former peers. And the law gives prosecutors broad immunity from civil lawsuits, even when their bad behavior lands the wrong people in prison.

Fred Steese’s case exposed the rot in the system that robbed him of two decades of his life. Yet even then prosecutors worked to keep it hidden, forcing him into an almost incomprehensible choice: Risk freedom to fight for an uncertain exoneration that might take years, or cop to a crime he didn’t commit and walk away.

II. Death of a Poodle Master

LUCKY THE CLOWN, a 123-foot-tall blast of frenzied neon, has greeted visitors to the Strip since 1976. With its massive grin and pinwheel lollipop, the marquee beckons gamblers inside the striped big top at the Circus Circus hotel and casino. In 1992, low rollers fed cups of change into slot machines while acrobats swung overhead. A rotating lineup of circus performers did free shows on a small dark stage on the second floor until midnight. Passersby would stop to watch before moving along to the $2.99 dinner buffet. Among the performers was a faded but still handsome dog trainer with the bearing of a dancer, often dressed elaborately in sequined tails and matching bow tie. Gerard Soules, known as Jerry, was circus royalty of sorts, a trapeze artist who had traveled the world, performing for the queen of England and dazzling the crowd in the Ringling Bros. center ring. A preening showman, he had worn a cape that he would fling open before beginning the 40-foot climb to the pedestal. From there he’d launch his daring signature move, a somersault forward off the trapeze, catching himself by his heels at the last second on the bar of the same trapeze.

Soules had grown up devoutly Catholic in 1940s blue-collar Michigan. When he came out as gay to his mother as a teenager, his family defied expectations by supporting him. Soules left home at 16 to join the circus. After a trapeze accident in his late 20s, he reinvented himself as the ringmaster of a pack of well-dressed poodles. In 1992, Soules took his act to Circus Circus, where, six days a week, his 14 poodles hopped on their hind legs across the stage: One in a poncho and sombrero to a Mexican march, another to a can-can with her dress attached to her front paws, Moulin Rouge-style, still others wearing three-foot-tall hats or giant hoopskirts — all of the outfits handstitched by Soules himself.

Despite the act’s popularity, Soules had lost his spirit. The casino wouldn’t let him stay at its own RV park with his poodles, so he was banished to the Silver Nugget Camperland, in much less desirable North Las Vegas. And he’d been living in a heartbroken fog since his partner of decades had died, several years earlier. Eager for companionship, the 55-year-old had recently taken to helping young men in need. . .

Continue reading. It is an extremely interesting story.

And also note:

Vegas Judge Had Long History of Prosecutorial Misconduct

The behavior of Bill Kephart, who led the murder prosecution of Fred Steese, was repeatedly lambasted by the Supreme Court of Nevada. But that didn’t stop him from becoming a judge. Read the story.


Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2017 at 10:24 am

D.E.A. Misled Overseers on Deadly Honduras Operations, Watchdogs Say

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Disgusting story about the DEA, which seems to feature in a lot of disgusting stories. Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

The Drug Enforcement Administration misled the public, Congress and the Justice Department about a 2012 operation in which commando-style squads of American agents sent to Honduras to disrupt drug smuggling became involved in three deadly shootings, two inspectors general said Wednesday.

The D.E.A. said in response that it had shut down the program, the Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team.

Under the program, known as FAST, squads received military-style training to combat Taliban-linked opium traffickers in the Afghanistan war zone. It was expanded to Latin America in 2008 to help fight transnational drug smugglers, leading to the series of violent encounters in Honduras in 2012.

A scathing 424-page joint report from the inspectors general of the Justice and State Departments underscored the risk that Americans accompanying partner forces on missions in developing countries, ostensibly as trainers and advisers, sometimes drift into directly running dangerous operations with little oversight.

The report focused on the first shooting, on a river near the village of Ahuas on May 11, 2012. A boat collided with a disabled vessel carrying American and Honduran agents and seized cocaine. Gunfire erupted, and four people on the boat were killed.

The D.E.A. said at the time that the victims were drug traffickers who had attacked to try to retrieve the cocaine, but villagers said they were bystanders. The inspectors general found no evidence to support the agency’s version, disputing a claim that surveillance video showed evidence that the people on the boat had fired on the disabled vessel.

“Even as information became available to D.E.A. that conflicted with its initial reporting, including that the passenger boat may have been a water taxi carrying passengers on an overnight trip,” the report said, “D.E.A. officials remained steadfast — with little credible corroborating evidence — that any individuals shot by the Hondurans were drug traffickers who were attempting to retrieve the cocaine.”

The inspectors general also rejected the D.E.A.’s insistence at the time that the operation — as well as two others, in June and July 2012 — had been led by Honduran law enforcement officials. The review “concluded this was inaccurate” and said D.E.A. agents “maintained substantial control.”

In the shooting on the river, the report said, a Honduran police officer did fire a machine gun from a helicopter at the boat, but an American agent directed him to do so. In one of the later missions, American agents shot to death smugglers they said had refused to surrender who they feared might be reaching for weapon.

Indeed, the report said, only D.E.A. agents, not the Hondurans, had the necessary equipment to command the operation and had direct access to intelligence. Rather than taking orders from Honduran police, the agents gave “tactical commands” to the Hondurans during missions. Accounts of all three shootings, it said, showed that agency leaders “made the critical decisions and directed the actions taken during the mission.”

The D.E.A. refused to cooperate with the State Department as it sought to investigate what had happened in Ahuas. Michele M. Leonhart, then the agency’s administrator, told the inspector general she had approved that decision because subordinates told her there was no precedent for the State Department to investigate a D.E.A. shooting and it might compromise its investigations, the report said. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2017 at 6:50 pm

Another Trump scam: Despite promise, Trump’s business offers little information about foreign profits

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Drew Harwell and Tom Hamburger report in the Washington Post:

Despite President Trump’s promise to donate all profits from foreign-government sources at his Washington hotel and other businesses, recently released internal documents reveal that Trump’s private company has made only a limited effort at identifying foreign funds.

An undated document sent throughout the Trump Organization, called “Donations of Profits from Foreign Government Patronage,” says asking guests to identify whether they are connected to a foreign government would be “impractical” and “impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.”

“It is not the intention nor design of this policy for our properties to attempt to identify individual travelers who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity,” the document says.

The company pamphlet shows the ease with which foreign money could be paid into the president’s business interests. Ethics advisers have warned for months that such foreign payments could be used to curry favor with the president and could run afoul of a constitutional ban.

The Trump Organization said it would track foreign-state money by reviewing three sources: direct billings to foreign governments; group, banquet and catering business with foreign governments; and payments from a “reasonably identifiable foreign government entity.”

But that description was similarly loose. The company said state-owned and state-controlled entities in industries such as banking and defense “may not be reasonably identifiable” and would not be included in profit donations.

Lawyers and ethics experts have said foreign-government payments to the Trump International Hotel Washington, a few blocks from the White House, would violate the Constitution’s rarely litigated emoluments clause, which forbids foreign gifts or payments to the president. Trump’s attorneys have said the constitutional ban should not apply to fair-market transactions such as stays at the president’s hotel.

The White House on Wednesday referred questions to the Trump Organization. The company said through a spokeswoman: “We take these matters seriously and are fully committed to complying with all of our legal and ethical obligations.”

In a letter Wednesday to Trump company executives, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the pamphlet showed the company had little interest in identifying foreign funds.

“Complying with the United States Constitution is not an optional exercise, but a requirement for serving as our nation’s President,” Cummings said. “If President Trump believes that identifying all of the prohibited foreign emoluments he is currently receiving would be too challenging or would harm his business ventures, his options are to divest his ownership or submit a proposal to Congress to ask for our consent.”

Trump has refused to divest his assets and instead placed much of his real estate empire into a trust managed by his sons and a longtime employee. The president can pull money from that trust whenever he likes, trust documents show. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

A lot of people who liked Trump said that they didn’t like Hillary because she lies. She’s not even in the same league as Trump.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2017 at 3:11 pm

Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer—and the FBI just watched

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Why no action by FBI or other intelligence services? They seemed to have known exactly what was going on but acted merely as by-standers, curious to see what would happen. Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman, and Matt Apuzzo report in the NY Times:

American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.

Continue reading the main story

The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is ongoing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election.

John O. Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., testified Tuesday about a tense period last year when he came to believe that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was trying to steer the outcome of the election. He said he saw intelligence suggesting that Russia wanted to use Trump campaign officials, wittingly or not, to help in that effort. He spoke vaguely about contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, without giving names, saying they “raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

Whether the Russians worked directly with any Trump advisers is one of the central questions that federal investigators, now led by Robert S. Mueller III, the newly appointed special counsel, are seeking to answer. President Trump, for his part, has dismissed talk of Russian interference in the election as “fake news,” insisting there was no contact between his campaign and Russian officials.

The White House, F.B.I. and C.I.A. declined to comment, as did spokesmen for Mr. Manafort. Mr. Flynn’s attorney did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The current and former officials agreed to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity because much of it remains highly classified, and they could be prosecuted for disclosing it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2017 at 3:04 pm

Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire: The Beleaguered Tenants of ‘Kushnerville’

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Alec McGillis reports in the NY Tiimes about Jared Kushner’s role as a Baltimore slumlord. If that’s behind a paywall, you can also read it at ProPublica. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.


Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2017 at 5:34 pm

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