JOHN Mindermann is part of an unusual fraternity. A former agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), now 80 and retired in his hometown, San Francisco, he is among the relative handful of law-enforcement officials who have investigated a sitting president of the US.
In June, when it was reported that former FBI director Robert Mueller would investigate whether US president Donald Trump had obstructed the federal inquiry into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, I called Mindermann, who told me he was feeling a strong sense of déjà vu.
Mindermann joined the FBI 50 years ago, after a stint with the San Francisco police force. He was soon transferred to the bureau’s Washington field office, housed in the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Ave.
On the afternoon of Saturday, June 17, 1972, he was in the shower at home when the phone rang.
An FBI clerk told him that there had been a break-in overnight at the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex. He was to go to the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters and see the detective on duty.
The clerk confided that the bureau had run a name check on one of the burglars, James McCord.
It revealed that McCord had worked at both the FBI and the CIA. He would later be identified as the chief of security at the Committee to Re-elect the President, the Nixon campaign operation known as Creep.
Mindermann met the detective, who was wearing a loud sports jacket and smiling widely. The detective strode into the evidence vault and produced nearly three dozen $100 bills, each in a glassine envelope. They had been seized from one of the burglars.
Mindermann noticed the consecutive serial numbers. “That alone told me that they came from a bank through a person with economic power,” Mindermann told me.
“I got this instant cold chill. I thought: This is not an ordinary burglary.”
McCord had been carrying wire-tapping gear at the Watergate. This was evidence of a US federal crime — the illegal interception of communications — which meant the break-in was a case for the FBI.
Wire-tapping was standard practice at the FBI under J Edgar Hoover, who had ruled the bureau since 1924. But Hoover died six weeks before the Watergate break-in, and L Patrick Gray, a lawyer at the Justice Department and a staunch Nixon loyalist, was named acting director.
“I don’t believe he could bring himself to suspect his superiors in the White House — a suspicion which was well within the Watergate investigating agents’ world by about the third or fourth week,” said Mindermann.
A month after the break-in, Mindermann and a colleague named Paul Magallanes found their way to Judy Hoback, a Creep accountant.
They learned from Hoback that $3m or more in unaccountable cash was sloshing around at Creep, to finance crimes like the Watergate break-in.
Both men sensed instinctively that “people in the White House itself were involved”, Magallanes, who is now 79 and runs an international security firm near Los Angeles, told me. The agents typed up a 19-page statement that laid out Creep’s direct connections to Richard Nixon’s inner circle.
The following year, on Friday, April 27, as Nixon flew off to Camp David for the weekend, the FBI moved to secure White House records relevant to Watergate.
At 5.15 pm, 15 agents arose from their desks in the Old Post Office building and marched, fully armed, up Pennsylvania Avenue.
On Monday, Nixon returned to the White House to find a skinny FBI accountant standing watch outside a West Wing office. The president pushed him up against a wall and demanded to know how he had the authority to invade the White House.
Mindermann laughed at the memory: “What do you do,” he said, “when you’re mugged by the president of the United States?”
JAMES Comey, the former FBI director, said in June, testifying before the US Senate Intelligence Committee a month after his dismissal from his post by the president: “I take the president at his word — that I was fired because of the Russia investigation.”
Comey was referring to the account Trump gave in an NBC interview on May 11 — and Comey took issue with the rest of the story as Trump told it.
Trump, he said, “chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organisation was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.”
Trump, Comey said, had asked his FBI director for his loyalty — and that seemed to shock Comey the most. The FBI’s stated mission is “to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States” — not to protect the president.
Trump might have been less confused about how Comey saw his job if he had ever visited the FBI director in his office. On his desk, under glass, Comey kept a copy of a 1963 order authorising Hoover to conduct round-the-clock FBI surveillance of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
It was signed by the young attorney general, Robert F Kennedy, after Hoover convinced John F Kennedy and his brother that King had communists in his organisation — a reminder of the abuses of power that had emanated from the desk where Comey sat.
One of history’s great what ifs is whether the Watergate investigation would have gone forward if Hoover hadn’t died before the break-in. Hoover’s FBI was not unlike what Trump seems to have imagined the agency still to be: A law-enforcement apparatus whose flexible loyalties were bent to fit the whims of its director.
In his half-century at the helm of the FBI, Hoover rarely approved cases against politicians. In the 1960s, he much preferred going after the civil rights and anti-war movements.
The Iran-Contra scandal provided the bureau with its first great post-Watergate test. On October 5, 1986, Sandinistas in Nicaragua shot down a cargo plane, which was found to contain 60 Kalashnikov rifles, tens of thousands of cartridges, and other gear.
One crew member was captured and revealed the first inklings of what turned out to be an extraordinary plot. President Ronald Reagan’s national-security team had conspired to sell American weapons to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and, after marking up the price fivefold, skimmed the proceeds and slipped them to the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
This was a direct violation of federal law, as US Congress had passed a bill cutting off aid to the rebels, which made Iran-contra a case for the FBI.
In a major feat of forensics, FBI agents recovered 5,000 deleted emails from National Security Council office computers, which laid out the scheme. They opened a burn bag of top-secret documents belonging to the NSC aide Oliver North and found a copy of elaborately falsified secret testimony to Congress.
They dusted it for fingerprints and found ones belonging to Clair George, chief of the clandestine service of the CIA. Almost all the major evidence that led to the indictments of 12 top national-security officials was uncovered by the FBI.
George HW Bush pardoned many of the key defendants at the end of his presidency, on Christmas Eve 1992. This was the limit of the agency’s influence, the one presidential power that the FBI could not fight.
But over the course of two decades, the post-Hoover relationship between the FBI and the White House had settled into a delicate balance between the rule of law and the chief of state. Presidents could use secrecy to push their executive powers to the limit. But the FBI retained a powerful unofficial check on these privileges: The ability to amass, and unveil, deep secrets of state.
The agency might not have been able to stop presidents like Nixon and Reagan from overreaching, but when it did intervene, there was little presidents could do to keep the FBI from making their lives very difficult — as Bill Clinton discovered in 1993, when he appointed Louis J Freeh as his FBI director.
Freeh was an FBI agent early in his career but had been gone from the agency for some time when he was named to run it — so he was alarmed to discover that the FBI was in the midst of investigating real estate deals involving the Clintons in Arkansas.
Freeh saw Clinton as a criminal suspect in the Whitewater affair, in which the FBI and a special prosecutor bushwhacked through the brambles of Arkansas politics and business for four years — and, through a most circuitous route, wound up grilling a 24-year-old former White House intern named Monica Lewinsky in a hotel.
The bureau had blood drawn from the president to match the DNA on Lewinsky’s blue dress — evidence that the president perjured himself under oath about sex, opening the door to his impeachment by the House of Representatives.
Clinton’s allies complained after the fact that Freeh’s serial investigations of the president were a fatal distraction. From 1996 to 2001, when al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden bombed two American Embassies in Africa and plotted the September 11 attacks, the FBI spent less time and money on any counterterrorism investigation than it did investigating claims that Chinese money bought influence over Clinton though illegal 1996 campaign contributions.
One of the FBI’s informants in the investigation was a politically connected Californian named Katrina Leung. At the time, Leung was in a sexual relationship with her FBI handler, James J Smith. Smith
had reason to suspect that Leung might be a double agent working for Chinese intelligence, but he protected her anyway.
The FBI buried the scandal until after Clinton left the White House in 2001. By the time it came to light, Freeh was out the door and President George W Bush had chosen Mueller as the sixth director of the FBI.
Mueller arrived at FBI headquarters with years of service as a United States attorney and US Justice Department official. It was a week before the September 11 attacks, and he was inheriting an agency ill-suited for the mission that would soon loom enormously before it. Richard A Clarke, the White House counterterrorism czar under Clinton and Bush, later wrote that Freeh’s FBI had not done enough to seek out foreign terrorists.
In a speech Mueller gave at Stanford University in 2002, concerning the nation’s newest threat, he spoke of “the balance we must strike to protect our national security and our civil liberties as we address the threat of terrorism”.
He concluded: “We will be judged by history, not just on how we disrupt and deter terrorism, but also on how we protect the civil liberties and the constitutional rights of all Americans, including those Americans who wish us ill. We must do both of these things, and we must do them exceptionally well.”
These views made Mueller something of an outlier in the Bush administration; five days after the September 11 attacks, vice president Dick Cheney was warning that the White House needed to go over to “the dark side” to fight al-Qaida.
Among the darkest places was a top-secret programme code-named Stellar Wind, under which the National Security Agency eavesdropped freely in the US without search warrants.
By the end of 2003, Mueller had a new boss: James Comey, who was named deputy attorney general. Comey read into the Stellar Wind programme and deemed it unconstitutional. He briefed Mueller, who concurred. In the first week of March, the two men agreed that the FBI could not continue to go along with the surveillance programmes. They also thought attorney general John Ashcroft should not re-endorse Stellar Wind.
Comey made the case to Ashcroft. In remarkable congressional testimony in 2007, Comey described what happened next: Hours later, Ashcroft keeled over with gallstone pancreatitis. Comey was now acting attorney general.
Comey read into the Stellar Wind programme and deemed it unconstitutional. He briefed Mueller, who concurred. In the first week of March, the two men agreed that the FBI could not continue to go along with the surveillance programmes.
They also thought attorney general John Ashcroft should not re-endorse Stellar Wind. Comey made the case to Ashcroft. In remarkable congressional testimony in 2007, Comey described what happened next: Hours later, Ashcroft keeled over with gallstone pancreatitis. Comey was now acting attorney general.
He and the president were required to reauthorise Stellar Wind on March 11 for the programme to continue. When Comey learned the White House counsel and chief of staff were heading to the hospital on the night of March 10 to get the signature of the barely conscious Ashcroft, Comey raced to Ashcroft’s hospital room to head them off.
When they arrived, Ashcroft told the president’s men that he wouldn’t sign. Pointing at Comey, he said: “There is the attorney general.”
Bush signed the authorisation alone anyway, asserting that he had constitutional power to do so. Mueller took meticulous notes of these events; they were partly declassified years later.
On March 11, he wrote that the president was “trying to do an end run around” Comey. At 1.30am on March 12, Mueller drafted a letter of resignation.
“I am forced to withdraw the FBI from participation in the program,” he wrote. If the president did not back down, “I would be constrained to resign as director of the FBI.”
And Comey and Ashcroft would go with him. Seven hours later Mueller sat alone with Bush in the Oval Office. Once again, the FBI had joined a battle against a president.
Mueller’s notes show that he told Bush in no uncertain terms that “a presidential order alone” could not legalise Stellar Wind.
Unless the NSA brought Stellar Wind within the constraints of the law, he would lose his FBI director, attorney general and acting attorney general. In the end, Bush relented. It took years, but the programmes were put on what Mueller considered a defensible legal footing.
Trump’s showdown with Comey and its aftermath is the fifth confrontation between the FBI and a sitting president since Hoover’s death, and the first in which the president’s principal antagonists, Mueller and Comey, have been there before. For the Watergate veterans Mindermann and Magallanes, the news of recent weeks came with a certain amount of professional gratification. When I spoke to them on June 14, both said they wanted the bureau’s role as a check on the president to be in the public eye.
Magallanes had always been bothered by how, in the collective American memory, Nixon’s downfall was attributed to so many other authors: Woodward and Bernstein, crusading congressional committees, hard-nosed special prosecutors.
To the agents who were present at the time, it was first and foremost an FBI story.
“We were the people who did the work,” Magallanes told me. “It was we, the FBI, who brought Richard Nixon down. We showed that our government can investigate itself.”
Tim Weiner was a reporter for The New York Times from 1993 to 2009. His work has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. His books include Enemies: A History of the FBI.
Adapted from an article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine.
© 2017 The New York Times
Up to now, the confirmed meetings between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia have all been highly suspicious but have all had ways in which they could be explained away. Jeff Sessions claimed he only met with the Russian Ambassador because he was doing so in his role as a Senator, for instance. But now comes confirmation of a meeting that could not have been anything but collusion between the Trump team and the Russian government.
Key members of Donald Trump’s family and campaign staff held a meeting with a top Kremlin lawyer during the campaign, then lied about it, according to an explosive new report from the New York Times (link) – and incredibly, Donald Trump Jr is now admitting to the meeting but is insisting that it was about the adoption of Russian kids.
So we’re supposed to believe that everyone from Donald Trump Jr to Jared Kushner to Paul Manafort had such a strong moral compunction about Russian adoption that they stopped what they were doing in the middle of the campaign to hold a meeting with a Kremlin lawyer, just to get the adoption issue cleared up. This might actually be the weakest on-the-fly excuse that a stupid criminal has ever come up with to try to explain away criminal activities after getting caught in the act.
To be clear, we still don’t know what was discussed in the meeting. If there are tapes of the meeting, as Donald Trump seems to keep unwittingly hinting at during his recent Twitter rants, then the NY Times doesn’t appear to have those tapes. But considering that the upper ranks of the Trump campaign all piled into a meeting with a notorious Kremlin attorney like Natalia Veselnitskaya during the campaign, this is nothing short of a collusion bombshell. Moreover, there are likely larger collusion bombshells forthcoming. If you’re a regular reader, feel free to support Palmer Report.
The post Collusion bombshell: Donald Trump team secretly met with Kremlin lawyer during campaignappeared first on Palmer Report.
American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers and propagandists worked to tip the election toward Mr. Trump, and a special prosecutor and congressional committees are now investigating whether his campaign associates colluded with Russians. Mr. Trump has disputed that, but the investigation has cast a shadow over his administration for months.
Mr. Trump has also equivocated on whether the Russians were solely responsible for the hacking. But in Germany on Friday, meeting President Vladimir V. Putin for the first time as president, Mr. Trump questioned him about the hacking. The Russian leader denied meddling in the election.
The Russian lawyer invited to the Trump Tower meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, is best known for mounting a multipronged attack against the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The law so enraged Mr. Putin that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children.
The adoption impasse is a frequently used talking point for opponents of the Magnitsky Act. Ms. Veselnitskaya’s campaign against the law has also included attempts to discredit its namesake, Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer and auditor who died in under mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing one of the biggest corruption scandals during Mr. Putin’s rule.
Ms. Veselnitskaya is married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region, and her clients include state-owned businesses and a senior government official’s son, whose company was under investigation in the United States at the time of the meeting. Her activities and associations had previously drawn the attention of the F.B.I., according to a former senior law enforcement official.
In his statement, Donald J. Trump Jr. said: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”
He added: “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”
Donald J. Trump Jr. had denied participating in any campaign-related meetings with Russian nationals when he was interviewed by The Times in March. “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” he said. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
Asked at that time whether he had ever discussed government policies related to Russia, the younger Mr. Trump replied, “A hundred percent no.”
The Trump Tower meeting was not disclosed to government officials until recently, when Mr. Kushner, who is also a senior White House aide, filed a revised version of a form required to obtain a security clearance. The Times reported in April that he had failed to disclose any foreign contacts, including meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States and the head of a Russian state bank. Failure to report such contacts can result in a loss of access to classified information and even, if information is knowingly falsified or concealed, in imprisonment.
Mr. Kushner’s advisers said at the time that the omissions were an error, and that he had immediately notified the F.B.I. that he would be revising the filing. They also said he had met with the Russians in his official transition capacity as a main point of contact for foreign officials.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said: “He has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows.”
Mr. Kushner’s lawyers referred all other questions about the Trump Tower meeting to Donald J. Trump Jr.
Mr. Manafort, the former campaign chairman, also recently disclosed the meeting, and Donald J. Trump Jr.’s role in organizing it, to congressional investigators who had questions about his foreign contacts, according to people familiar with the events.
A spokesman for Mr. Manafort declined to comment. Ms. Veselnitskaya did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Because Donald J. Trump Jr. does not serve in the administration and does not have a security clearance, he was not required to disclose his foreign contacts. Federal and congressional investigators have not publicly asked for any records that would require his disclosure of Russian contacts. It is not clear whether the Justice Department was aware of the meeting before Mr. Kushner disclosed it recently. Neither Mr. Kushner nor Mr. Manafort was required to disclose the content of the meeting in their government filings.
During the campaign, Donald J. Trump Jr. served as a close adviser to his father, frequently appearing at campaign events. Since the president took office, the younger Mr. Trump and his brother, who have worked for the Trump Organization for most of their adult lives, assumed day-to-day control of their father’s real estate empire.
But a quick internet search would have revealed Ms. Veselnitskaya as a formidable operator with a history of pushing the Kremlin’s agenda. Most notable is her campaign against the Magnitsky Act, which provoked a Cold War-style, tit-for-tat row with the Kremlin when President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2012.
Under the law, some 44 Russian citizenshave been put on a list that allows the United States to seize their American assets and deny them visas. The United States asserts that many of them are connected to fraud exposed by Mr. Magnitsky, who after being jailed for more than a year was found dead in his cell. A Russian human rights panel found that he had been assaulted. To critics of Mr. Putin, Mr. Magnitsky, in death, became a symbol of corruption and brutality in the Russian state.
An infuriated Mr. Putin has called the law an “outrageous act,” and, in addition to banning American adoptions, compiled what became known as an “anti-Magnitsky” blacklist of United States citizens.
Among those blacklisted was Preet Bharara, then the United States district attorney in Manhattan, who led high-profile convictions of Russian arms and drug dealers. Mr. Bharara was abruptly fired in March, after previously being asked to stay on by Mr. Trump.
One of Ms. Veselnitskaya’s clients is Denis Katsyv, the Russian owner of a Cyprus-based investment company called Prevezon Holdings. . In a civil forfeiture case prosecuted by Mr. Bharara’s office, the Justice Department alleged that Prevezon had helped launder money tied to a $230 million corruption scheme exposed by Mr. Magnitsky by parking it in New York real estate and bank accounts. As a result, the government froze $14 million of its assets. Prevezon recently settled the case for $6 million without admitting wrongdoing.
Ms. Veselnitskaya and her client hired a team of political and legal operatives that has worked unsuccessfully in Washington to repeal the Magnitsky Act. They also tried but failed to keep Mr. Magnitsky’s name off a new law that takes aim at human-rights abusers across the globe.
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Ms. Veselnitskaya was also deeply involved in the making of an anti-Magnitsky film that premiered just weeks before the Trump Tower meeting. Titled “The Magnitsky Act — Behind the Scenes,” the film echoes the Kremlin line that the widely accepted version of Mr. Magnitsky’s life and death is wrong. The film claims that he was not assaulted and alleges that he never testified that government officials conspired to steal $230 million in fraudulent tax rebates.
In the film’s telling, the true culprit of the fraud was William F. Browder, an American-born financier who hired Mr. Magnitsky to investigate the fraud after he had three of his investment funds companies in Russia seized. On RussiaTV5, a station whose owners are known to be close to Mr. Putin, Ms. Veselnitskaya was lauded as “one of those who gave the film crew the real proofs and records of testimony.”
Mr. Browder, who stopped the screening of the film in Europe by threatening libel suits, called the film a state-sponsored smear campaign.
“She’s not just some private lawyer,” Mr. Browder said of Ms. Veselnitskaya. “She is a tool of the Russian government.”
John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, testified in May that he had been concerned last year by Russian government efforts to contact and manipulate members of Mr. Trump’s campaign. “Russian intelligence agencies do not hesitate at all to use private companies and Russian persons who are unaffiliated with the Russian government to support their objectives,” he said.
Among those now under investigation is Michael T. Flynn, who was forced to resign as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser after it became known that he had falsely denied speaking to the Russian ambassador about sanctions imposed by the Obama administration over the election hacking.
Congress later discovered that Mr. Flynn had been paid more than $65,000 by companies linked to Russia, and that he had failed to disclose those payments when he renewed his security clearance and underwent an additional background check to join the White House staff.
In May, the president fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, who days later provided information about a meeting with Mr. Trump at the White House. According to Mr. Comey, the president asked him to end the bureau’s investigation into Mr. Flynn. That led to the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, as special counsel.
The status of Mr. Mueller’s investigation is not clear, but he has assembled a veteran team of prosecutors and agents to dig into any possible collusion.
Then there was an initial, strange silence from Trump and his aides about a rash of anti-Semitic vandalism and bomb threats around the country in January and February.
In May, in Israel, Trump insisted on a much shorter stop at Yad Vashem, an important Holocaust memorial and museum, than either Barack Obama or George W. Bush had made, and he stuck to that plan even as many Israelis and American Jews cried foul. The tone-deaf breeziness of his approach was accentuated by the message he left in the visitors’ book: “It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends — so amazing & will never forget!” As Yair Rosenberg of the Jewish magazine Tablet tweeted, it was “basically just what teenagers write in each other’s high school yearbooks.”
Ivanka Trump went to the Warsaw memorial in her father’s stead, though Trump softened that blow somewhat by mentioning, in his big Warsaw speech, that “the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens.”
Ivanka converted to Judaism to marry Jared Kushner, and the couple’s key roles in the White House mean that Trump has observant Jews at the very core of his presidency — and of his life.
But that didn’t stop him from making remarks to Jewish Republican donors in December 2015 that seemed to play into an anti-Semitic stereotype. “I’m a negotiator — like you folks,” he said, later adding: “Is there anybody that doesn’t renegotiate deals in this room? Perhaps more than any room I’ve ever spoken to.”
During his presidential campaign, he embraced the favor of groups and people who trafficked in white supremacy. He re-tweeted material from proudly anti-Semitic Twitter feeds, and prompted a furor by promoting an image that placed Hillary Clinton’s face atop a pile of cash and beside a six-pointed star on which “most corrupt candidate ever” was written.
The website PolitiFact concluded that it was “unlikely that the Trump campaign intended to put out a Star of David image. In fact, the campaign moved to replace the star with a circle when the image gained attention.” Even so, PolitiFact noted, Trump had an unusual habit of “using social media to broadcast material that comes from sources with a history of spreading racism, anti-Semitism or white supremacy.”
I’m not convinced that Trump is much of an anti-Semite, any more than I’m convinced that he’s much of a homophobe. (Racism and sexism are another matter.) But I think he’s so thirsty for, and intoxicated by, whatever love comes his way that he’s loath to rebuff the sources of it.
A prominent Jewish Republican put it well. “I think Trump is such a pathological narcissist that the act of telling people who love you that you reject them — he can’t get around that,” he told me, interpreting Trump’s reasoning this way: “What can be wrong with them? They’re for me!”
Trump is disinclined to denounce any constituency or tactics that elevate him to the throne, where he’s sure that he belongs. The outcome validates even the ugliest and most divisive ascent.
“I don’t think he’s goading these people or associating with them because he shares their views,” the Republican added. “I do think that he’s so insensitive about the presidency — about the responsibilities of the leader of the free world — that he doesn’t realize it’s not enough to say, once or twice, ‘I don’t agree with them.’ He doesn’t realize that you have to be very clear.” And he doesn’t realize — or care — that he’s validating and encouraging them.
He doesn’t understand the message of zipping through Yad Vashem when predecessors lingered, because he’s less concerned with the weight of his office than with the whims and convenience of Donald Trump. It’s all about him, always — and if he’s sure in his own heart that he’s good with Jews, then he shouldn’t have to prove it.
Go back to his mini-tantrum during a White House news conference in February, when a reporter for a Jewish magazine tried to ask him whether he was paying proper heed to the anti-Semitic bomb threats. Trump interpreted the question as an indictment not of his behavior but of his being — “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life!” he trumpeted — and turned the discussion toward the big, bad media. Forget about any persecution of Jews. Let’s talk about the persecution of Trump.
You can be only so considerate to others when you never stop considering yourself. And the flamboyantly nonconformist culture of Trump’s presidency has downsides. This administration shrugs off and throws away some rituals and niceties that do matter to people, estranging them in the process.
Gay Pride Month came and went without even a banal word of recognition from the White House. So while Trump likes to crow, in a hallucinatory fashion, that gays love him, we made do in June with a tweet from his outsourced conscience, by which of course I mean Ivanka.
Some of this is Steve Bannon and his ilk. Their idea of nationalism is chilly to the recognition of subgroups, including Jewish Americans.
Some of it boils down to an absent professionalism. Trump isn’t matching the respectful choreography of other presidents because there’s no one in his inner circle familiar with the dance. Kushner, Bannon, Stephen Miller and Reince Priebus are all new to this kind and level of work. They lack institutional memory, along with any awareness of how easily those blind spots become insensitivity.
I can’t know definitively how Trump feels about Jews or gays or a whole lot else. But I can see clearly his sloppiness and self-absorption, and they’re cause enough for alarm.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A man accused of selling Top Secret information to China has been ordered held without bond after prosecutors revealed his links to the CIA.
A magistrate had initially ruled that 60-year-old Kevin Mallory of Leesburg could be free on bond while he awaits trial on charges of violating the Espionage Act. Prosecutors say Mallory was caught by Customs agents with $16,500 in undeclared cash earlier this year on a flight from Shanghai, prompting the investigation.
In court papers Friday, prosecutors revealed for the first time that Mallory was a covert CIA case officer from 1990 to 1996, and later a CIA contractor.
At Friday’s hearing in Alexandria, U.S. Senior Judge T.S. Ellis III ordered Mallory held without bond after prosecutors argued his experience in spycraft makes him a flight risk.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Rob Reiner: ‘Russia Has Invaded US’
Filmmaker and actor Rob Reiner took to Twitter Friday to proclaim that Russia has “invaded” the United States, shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg. “Russia has invaded US …
A few years back, in one of his finest moments, Senator John McCain said on a Sunday talk show that “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country.” It was right when he said it, and it’s even more right today.
Vladimir Putin’s circle of corrupt oligarchs gouge whatever money they can from the impoverished Russian economy and move it to bank accounts overseas. And they do this after giving Putin his cut, after which he apparently also sends the money overseas.
Many say Putin is the richest man in Russia, worth billions and billions. So the old Soviet model of the nomenklatura communist bureaucrats getting rich while the rest of the country declines is still in place.
But with energy prices falling, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has essentially been in a recession over the past four years. With oil at $50 a barrel or less, Russian budgets plunge deeper into debt. It’s even doubtful the Russians have enough money to upgrade their military-energy industrial complex.
Through crafty media relations and his own bravado, a deluded Putin struggles to maintain the illusion that Russia is a strong economic power. But it ain’t so. Not even close.
Now, Russia still has a lot of oil and gas reserves. And it uses this to bully Eastern and Western Europe. It threatens to cut off these resources if Europe dares to complain about Putin power-grabs in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, the Baltics, and elsewhere.
But enter President Donald Trump. In his brilliant speech in Warsaw, Poland, earlier this week, he called Putin’s energy bluff.
It may well have been the best speech of his young presidency. Trump delivered a stirring leadership message, emphasizing the importance of God, freedom, strong families, and democratic values.
And while unambiguously pledging to uphold NATO’s Article 5 — committing the members to protect one another — Trump went even deeper: “The fundamental question of our time,” he said, “is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?”
He said, “if we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive.” He also spoke several times of the religious leadership and bravery of Pope John Paul II.
It was a bold strike for the West.
But in an absolutely key part of the speech, he took direct aim at Vladimir Putin’s energy bullying.
Trump said, “We are committed to securing your access to alternative sources of energy so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy.” Italics are all mine.
President Donald Trump has quickly made it clear that Barack Obama’s war on business is over. He’s also made it clear, through regulatory rollbacks of breathtaking scope, that the Obama war on fossil fuels is over.
Trump wants America to achieve energy dominance. He withdrew from the costly Paris climate accord, which would have severely damaged the American economy. He directed the EPA to rescind the Obama Clean Power Plan, which would have led to skyrocketing electricity rates. He fast-tracked the Keystone XL pipeline. He reopened the door for a modernized American coal industry. He’s overturning all the Obama obstacles to hydraulic fracturing, which his presidential opponent Hillary Clinton would have dramatically increased. And he has opened the floodgates wide to energy exports.
Right now, U.S. oil reserves are almost in parity with those of Saudi Arabia. We have the second-most coal reserves in the world. There are enough U.S. gas reserves to last us a century. We have already passed Russia as the world’s top natural-gas producer. We are the world’s top producer of oil and petroleum hydrocarbons. And exports of liquified national gas are surging, with the Energy Department rapidly approving new LNG projects and other export terminals.
All these America-first energy policies are huge economic-growth and high-wage-job producers at home. But in the Warsaw speech, Trump made it clear that America’s energy dominance will be used to help our friends across Europe. No longer will our allies have to rely on Russian Gazprom supplies with inflated, prosperity-killing prices.
In short, with the free-market policies he’s putting in place in America’s energy sector and throughout the U.S. economy, the business-man president fully intends to destroy Russia’s energy-market share. And as that takes hold, Russia’s gas-station economy will sink further.
And as that takes hold, bully-boy Putin will have to think twice about Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltics. He’ll have to think twice about his anti-American policies in the Middle East and North Korea. And he’ll have to think twice about his increasingly precarious position as the modern-day Russian tsar.
And the world may yet become a safer place.
Trump has Putin over a barrel.
– Larry Kudlow is CNBC’s senior contributor. His new book is JFK and the Reagan Revolution: A Secret History of American Prosperity, written with Brian Domitrovic.
From Nixon to Trump, the FBI has always had a duty to keep the President in check
JOHN Mindermann is part of an unusual fraternity. A former agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), now 80 and retired in his hometown, San Francisco, he is among the relative handful of law-enforcement officials who have investigated a …
Russia steps up spying efforts after election
“Russians have maintained an aggressive collection posture in the US, and their success in election meddling has not deterred them,” said a former senior intelligence official familiar withTrump administration efforts. Russians could also be seeking …
Russia is believed to be ramping up an ‘aggressive’ spying campaign in the US
The suspected operatives currently in the US are said to be engaged in a number of activities, including collecting information on the Trump administration. Steve Hall, former chief of operations at the CIA. told CNN that move is indicative of a …
Trump doubts Russia’s role in 2016 attack, mocks US intel agenciesMSNBC
Russia steps up spying efforts after electionCNN International
Investigators explore if Russia colluded with pro-Trump sites during US electionThe Guardian
all 69 news articles »
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Russia is believed to be stepping up its efforts to gather intelligence inside the US, despite ongoing investigations here to determine how much its activities affected the 2016 presidential election.
Citing multiple current and former US intelligence officials on Thursday, CNN reported some 150 suspected Russian operatives are in the US. The Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats in December and closed two Russian compounds thought to be connected to election hacking in the heat of the 2016 election.
The suspected operatives currently in the US are said to be engaged in a number of activities, including collecting information on the Trump administration. Steve Hall, former chief of operations at the CIA. told CNN that move is indicative of a “deterioration of relations” between rival nations.
“The espionage and intelligence collection part becomes that much more important as they try to determine the plans and intentions of the adversarial government,” Hall said.
The operatives were also believed to be searching for inroads among people in the US “who can provide access to classified information,” and in some cases, obtaining temporary duty visas to secure employment at businesses that manage private information.
The State Department has continued issuing temporary duty visas to Russian travelers, CNN reported, citing intelligence officials — despite the assessment of several US intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and hacked Democratic Party organizations — and despite the Kremlin’s apparent increased activities inside the US post-election.
Without commenting specifically on the visas, a State Department official told the news network, “Where we do not see eye to eye with Russia, the United States will continue to stand up for the interests and values of America, our allies and our partners.”
Whether at home or abroad, President Donald Trump’s alleged links to Russia dog the U.S. executive at every turn. Especially when it comes to his financial real estate empire.
The latest revelation came Thursday morning as the Financial Times reported Russia-born real estate dealmaker Felix Sater, who allegedly has organized crime links, had agreed to assist in an international probe into a Kazakh family’s real estate dealings in the U.S.— including one of Trump’s most famed properties, the Trump SoHo in downtown New York City.
The report, citing five people privy to the investigation, states Sater will cooperate with a probe into former Kazakh government minister Viktor Khrapunov and his family for spending millions on real estate in the U.S. via front companies. Sater is supposed to work with attorneys and investigators on cases spanning three continents.
Members of the Kazakh government have alleged Khrapunov stashed public funds across the world, including using money from oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is alleged to have “[stolen] billions from a bank,” the FT reports.
Records show that the Khrapunovs purchased three luxury apartments in the Trump SoHo in April 2013 at a grand total price of $3.1 million.
Sater has been a questionable person in Trump’s orbit long before he stood for president. As a principal in the Bayrock Group, which worked with both Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump on a number of real estate deals between 2002 and roughly 2011, Sater worked to construct the Trump SoHo, Bloomberg reports. Sater has also previously claimed to have links to both the Kremlin and Russia’s KGB, the older version of Russia’s top security and intelligence services—now the FSB and SVR.
Before working with the Trumps—and with the Bayrock Group, which is based two floors below the president’s office in Trump Tower—Sater previously worked on Wall Street and became involved in money laundering and stock fraud, which eventually led to him becoming an informant for the U.S. government.
Throughout his campaign and well into office, Trump has repeatedly denied any business dealings or conflicts of interest in Russia. In May, just days after he dismissed former FBI director James Comey, Trump insisted to NBC News that he had no business in Moscow.
“I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago. I had the Miss Universe pageant — which I owned for quite a while—I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia,” the president said.
But during a deposition in 2007, Trump testified that Bayrock brought investors from Russia to Trump Tower to discuss possible deals.
“It’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t be investing in Russia,” Trump said at the time, according to Bloomberg. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.”
Trump defends Western civilization – and media call it racist
“In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to ‘the West’ and five times to ‘our civilization,’” Peter Beinart wrote. “His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other Americans …
What the idea of civilization does (and doesn’t) mean to TrumpWashington Post
The Falsehood at the Core of Trump’s Warsaw SpeechThe Atlantic
Trump, in Poland, Asks if West Has the ‘Will to Survive’New York Times
all 1,689 news articles »
A former business associate of President Donald Trump has agreed to cooperate in an international money laundering investigation targeting a Kazakh family whom he helped make real estate deals with Trump, the Financial Times reported Thursday.
The Russian-born Felix Sater is a “career criminal” with alleged ties to Russian and American organized criminal groups, Bloomberg reported.
Trump Soho in Manhattan (Photo: Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Sater formerly worked at a real estate development firm called the Bayrock Group, which partnered with Trump and his children Donald Jr. and Ivanka on several deals between 2002 and about 2011, the outlet claims.
Most notably, Bayrock partnered with the Trumps on the construction of the Trump Soho hotel and condominium in Manhattan.
Bayrock also once had an office in Trump Tower, in Midtown Manhattan, two floors beneath Trump’s own.
Trump has repeatedly insisted that he barely knows Sater despite the accounts of former Bayrock employees who say the two men met frequently while Sater worked for the company.
Bloomberg also reported that Sater used to carry a Trump Organization business card and once accompanied the now-president and his children to Moscow.
In October, the Financial Times reported that Sater had helped the family of Viktor Khrapunov invest millions of dollars in US real estate through front companies – including buying apartments in Trump Soho.
Now, Sater has turned on the Khrapunovs and is cooperating with lawyers and private investigators pursuing civil cases against the family across three continents, according to the Financial Times’ Thursday report.
Trump is not the primary focus of the investigation, but the development comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into money laundering by his associates, The New York Times reports.
Khrapunov is the ex-mayor of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, and a former energy minister. His family is accused of “cleaning” illicit money by purchasing and quickly selling luxury US properties, like the Trump-branded condos Sater helped them buy, according to a joint investigation by McClatchy and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
Both Viktor Khrapunov and his son Ilyas face money laundering charges in the US and charges in Kazakhstan. Ilyas’ father-in-law, Mukhtar Ablyazov, also faces Kazakh criminal charges over US$ 10 billion that disappeared from the bank he owned until it was seized by regulators in 2009.
The three men maintain that they are the victims of political persecution by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The mounting evidence of Trump’s ties to individuals accused of money laundering is raising questions about the precautions he’s taken to discourage the investment of illegally-obtained funds into his global real estate empire.
Trump Associate Agrees to Cooperate in International Money Laundering Investigation
A former business associate of President Donald Trump has agreed to cooperate in an international money laundering investigation targeting a Kazakh family whom he helped make real estate deals with Trump, the Financial Times reported Thursday.
felix sater – Google News