Monthly Archives: April 2017

(4/21/17 update) From Russia, With Love…

eff Sessions

proud-papa

As promised, I will keep updating this regularly with new developments. I’ve been tracking this story for two months now! Having payed close attention to every major development for these two months, I believe there are a few things we can identify as established, reasonably surmised, and some open questions.

Established

  1. Russian interests systematically interfered in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. The consistent thrust of this interference was to boost Trump as a candidate, and harm the candidacy of Clinton.
  2. This interference effort involved senior intelligence officials and business leaders close to Putin, and was in some fashion approved of and directed by him.
  3. There is an unusual density of business and personal contacts with Russian interests among several key people in Trump’s campaign and/or administration. You don’t see a similar density of contacts with other nations equally (or more) important to the U.S..
  4. The contacts of several of these Trump confidants with Russia involved things that are illegal, either in initial commission or subsequent denial. Carter Page, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone certainly seem to be in this camp. Felix Sater, Jared Kushner, and Michael Cohen may well be.
  5. Despite denials and disavowals, Trump has years-worth of history of praising Putin and seeking contact with him.
  6. Despite denials and disavowals, Trump has years-worth of extensive involvement with Russian businesses and financiers, many of which are part of Putin’s inner circle, and some of whom have ties to Russian organized crime.

Reasonably Surmised

  1. Since so many Trump confidants had senior Russian ties, and since senior Russian interests were so actively working to interfere in the election, these Russian interests would almost certainly have made use of these Trump contacts in some fashion.

Open Questions:

  1. Were any of Trump’s confidants aware of Russian election interference efforts, either during the election or afterwards, and thus liable for not exposing them?
  2. Or, even worse, were any of Trump’s confidants active, knowing participants in these efforts?
  3. If so, was Trump aware of it, either during or afterwards, and thus liable for not exposing it?
  4. Or, even worse, was Trump himself an an active, knowing participant in these efforts? 

That’s where we are so far. Below is the original text of my entries since 2/21, with new content from the last week highlighted in blue. And if the trifling 8,500 some-odd words below isn’t enough for you, Political Wire has produced a complete timeline of Trump-Russia affairs dating back to the 80s that currently runs over 160 pages!  

Among my various ventures into activism since the election, I joined an online group where each member takes ownership of two issues. This group is based on the theory that nobody can be continuously engaged on all issues all the time. So, for our adopted issues, we each update the group on new information, issue action calls when appropriate, etc.

As an election wonk, one of my adopted issues is the midterm elections. The other I’ve chosen is keeping track of developments regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump official contacts with Russia. Being a Cold War kid from Reagan’s 80s Cold War relapse and a lifelong fan of spy fact and fiction, it was perhaps inevitable.

The good news is that I’ll be sharing my work not just with my group, but also with all of you! Below I’ve gathered some of the major news items relating to Russian interference/Russian contact, complete with links, arranged roughly chronologically, and sorted into “confirmed”, “probable” and “read this at your own risk” categories.

I have endeavored to provide sources from reliable journalistic outlets for the most part. Based on everything I read putting this together, I am developing some firm suspicions, and will share those, along with updates, along the way. But for now, to quote a well-known not always reliable journalistic outlet:  I report, you decide.

Confirmed

  • Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort was confirmed in August 2016 to have had former Ukranian-President Viktor Yanukovych as a consulting client. Manafort’s firm received over $12 million in payments from Yanukovych’s political party between 2007 and 2012. Yanukovych has close ties to Russia, and his push for Russian ties and alleged role in Russian incursions in the Ukraine was part of the impetus for his ouster as President following popular demonstrations. The status of Manafort’s communications with Russia are under FBI investigation.
  • Some sources believe Manafort was behind the watering down of a plank to the Republican platform calling for U.S. support in arming the Ukraine. The plank had been introduced to the foreign policy sub-committee by a Texas delegate who was a Reagan-administration appointee and an observer in the Ukraine’s first free elections in 1998. It was then weakened to include only “non-lethal support” was under pressure from two pro-Trump delegates who were in cell phone communication with someone after saying they had to call to talk to “Mr. Trump.”.
  •  The New York Times has reported that, in addition to Manafort, three other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election. American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election. Investigations into Manafort and the other three (Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and Roger Stone) are ongoing, but so far have not uncovered evidence of such cooperation.

  • Christopher Steele, a former MI6 official posted in Russia in the 90s, produced a 35-page dossier detailing allegations of improper contacts between Trump and Russian officials. The research behind the memo originally began in September 2015 as part of opposition research by Republican opponents of Trump. Steele was hired by the firm doing the research, Fusion GPS , in June 2016 after Russian interference allegations surfaced. It was subsequently continued in the Fall with Democratic clients paying Fusion GPS for the research. The dossier is composed of multiple several page memos written between June and December 2016. Pieces of it had circulated among several news organizations, intelligence agencies, and senior officials including John McCain. An intelligence briefing on the memo was shared with President-elect Trump and President Obama in early January 2017.  Multiple sources in British intelligence describe Steele as an experienced and professional asset, whose work was usually of very high quality.
  • It is important to note that some details in the memos have been proven incorrect, most prominently a meeting between Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a Russian official in Prague. The news organizations that were in possession of the memos pre-election had not gone public with them because they could not confirm enough details to feel comfortable releasing them.
  • In December 2016, the Russian government sold a 19.5% share of the state oil company, Rosneft. The sale was facilitated by finance companies in Qatar and Singapore, involves a Cayman Island holding-company, and the ultimate identity of the purchaser cannot be verified from public documents. The potential significance of this is that one of the allegations of the Steele memos is that Putin offered Trump a 19% share of Rosneft if he was elected and agreed to lift sanctions on Russia.
  • Oleg Erovinkin, a former KGB official and key aide to Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian State Oil company Rosneft and prominent figure in the Steele memos, was found dead in Moscow on 12/26/16. Steele’s documents indicate one of his primary sources was a figure close to Sechin, and there is speculation that Erovinkin was that source. The death appears to be due to foul play.
  • Russian media also announced that three senior officials of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, and a cyber-security contractor working with the FSB had been arrested and charged with treason on 1/28/17. Analysts believe that, given the timing, and the kinds of people involved, that this move likely has something to do with the U.S. intelligence finding on high-level Russian official participation in manipulating the U.S. election.
  • A Trump associate with definite ties to Russia is now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. As head of ExxonMobil, Tillerson was instrumental in negotiating billions of dollars worth of business with Rosneft. He was even been awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin, one of the highest honors Russia gives to private citizens. Tillerson has also frequently spoken out in the past against the sanctions placed on Russia after its intervention in the Ukraine, perhaps not coincidentally because lifting those sanctions and pipeline access to the Ukraine, would make Exxon’s deal with Rosneft vastly more profitable.
  • In a pre-Superbowl interview with Bill O’Reilly on 2/5/17, President Trump responded to O’Reilly’s questioning his support for the Putin regime given that Putin is a “killer” by saying, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” This echoes statements he made in response to similar questions from Joe Scarborough in December 2015: “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity.” Many, including some Republicans, questioned this latest assertion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and the Putin regime. Meanwhile, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov demanded an apology from Fox.
  • Meanwhile, the House is not so interested in doing investigations on Russian election interference, or on Michael Flynns’s Russian contacts. However, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter on 2/15/17 that urged the Office of Government Ethics to investigate who leaked information about Flynn to the media.
  • It was revealed on 3/7/17 that Page also made a trip to Moscow in July 2016, which he had first cleared with then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. A few weeks before he traveled to Moscow to give a July 7 speech, Page asked J.D. Gordon, his supervisor on the campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to make the trip, and Gordon strongly advised against it. Page then emailed Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks asking for formal approval, and was told by Lewandowski that he could make the trip, but not as an official representative of the campaign. Lewandowski claims that he does not specifically remember the e-mail, but does not dispute the accuracy of the story.
  • On 4/3/17, it was revealed that Page also had meetings with Russian intelligence agents in 2013. Page met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant who has worked for, among other clients, the Russian state energy company Gazprom. Podobnyy had apparently been seeking to recruit Page, but ultimately received nothing more than publicly available documents from him.
  • The House Intelligence Committee announced that it will hold its first hearings on Russian election interference on March 20th, 2017. Invited to testify are: FBI Director James Comey, National Security Agency head Adm. Mike Rogers, former CIA director John Brennan, former national intelligence director James Clapper, former acting attorney general Sally Yates and two senior officials from the cybersecurity firm that first put the finger on the Russians for the breach of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). While former NSA head Michael Flynn is not on the list, it was Yates who first informed the administration of his lying about pre-inauguration meetings with the Russian Ambassador, shortly before the President fired her.
  • While not willing to step down, Nunes was willing on 3/29/17 to cancel a hearing on Russia where former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was to testify. This followed the Trump administration voicing objections to him about her planned testimony. Yates briefly led the Justice Department while Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation was pending, but was fired by Trump after she refused to defend in court his initial travel ban executive order. After she was fired, it was revealed that Yates had notified the White House that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had not properly explained his contact with the Russian ambassador. The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department told Yates that her testimony would have to be seriously limited because of executive privilege, which she disputed.
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee began its hearings 3/31/17. Among the highlights from the first two days of testimony:
    • Marco Rubio’s campaign was also targeted by hackers with Russian IP addresses during the 2016 election.
    • Former FBI agent and cybersecurity expert Clinton Watts further revealed that all the major Republican candidates were targeted.
    • Such cyber-targeting continued even after the election, including attacks against Rubio on the first day of hearings, and coordinated social media attacks against Paul Ryan over recent weeks.
    • National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander and FireEye chief executive Kevin Mandia, a pair of cybersecurity experts, described how Russian agents and upwards of 1,000 paid Internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia pushed “fake news” during the election.
    • Senate Committee members of both parties also took pains to differentiate themselves from the increasingly politicized House hearings, promising an unbiased and bipartisan approach.
  • A report that was issued on 4/20/17 (by Reuters) revealed that a Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to three current and four former U.S. officials, a document prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies in June recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia. A second institute document, drafted in October, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency.

Looking Probable

  • Shifts in Russian media coverage of Trump following Flynn’s resignation have led some to wonder if Russia is souring on Trump. Such media coverage is thought to usually takes its cues from Putin. This comes as Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson, and Vice President Mike pence have all made statements criticizing Russia and/or re-affirming support for NATO and Ukrainian independence.
  • One open question is what, if anything, the legal ramifications of various Trump associates’ Russia ties might be. Unseemly contact with an unsavory regime, after all, is not a crime as such. Vox has published an article that lays out the three broad categories of activity that might involve actual legal infractions: violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, failing to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and making false statements to federal investigators. All of them are felonies and carry the potential penalty of prison time. While everyone Left and Right likes to use “treason” to describe the activities of their opponent de jour (see: Clinton, Hillary, Benghazi, for all of the Right for all of 2016), the Vox piece notes that being guilty of treason would mean that someone from Trump’s team would have to have been aiding a country or group that was legally at war with the US. Russia isn’t. Per Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California Davis, “Formally, we’re at peace with Russia, so even the most outrageous assistance to Russia or benefit to Russia wouldn’t count as treason.”

Unconfirmed (use with extreme caution)

  • The Steele Dossier has been published in full by Buzzfeed. As you’ll see above, some parts of it have been shown to be incorrect. And as you’ll also see above and below, other parts of it have been verified. You can find a link to the full document and a description of some of the controversy around it in the story here. As a still-uncorroborated source, I don’t plan to get into the gory details in this venue, but the gist of the document’s allegations are as follows:
    • Russia has been cultivating ties with Trump for years.
    • Part of this cultivation involves financial incentives promised to him should he become President and lift sanctions.
    • Russian intelligence agencies also have compromising material on Trump that leaves him vulnerable to blackmail.
    • There were extensive ties and cooperation between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence.
  • The blogger behind Patribiotics has put forth a speculative, but at least well-cited theory based on allegations that Alfa Bank and Dimitry Firtash, a Russian agent of influence, own Cambridge Analytica, the data targeting company used by Trump’s campaign, and its parent, self-described “global election management agency” SCL. The theory further alleges that Cambridge Analytica and SCL used Facebook data illegally stolen by a Russian spy working at Cambridge to build a target database of propaganda. In the closing days of the election, the Russian state hacked into the voter rolls of the United States. Russian intelligence did this in order that they could provide this information to Alfa Bank in order to use Cambridge Analytica’s targeting to precisely target voters and tip them to Trump. Paul Manafort, who has financial ties to Alfa Bank and Firtash, was involved in this effort.
  • The alleged but not confirmed to be from real-White House staff RoguePOTUS Twitter account alleged that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ryan-ally White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had insisted that Vice President Mike Pence sit in on Trump’s 1/28/17 informal first call with Vladimir Putin, despite Trump’s reluctance, over concerns that the Russian leader does indeed have compromising material on the President. Trump’s behavior during the call was said to increase those concerns.
  • I am extremely leery of “death lists” such as mysterious deaths associated with the JFK assassination, the Clinton “death list” etc. They tend to lump together genuine puzzlers with things that really aren’t that suspicious, have only a tangential relationship, and ignore the many not dead people also involved. But I will pass on this list of eight figures associated with the Steele dossier who have died. Some of these are not easy to directly relate to anything in particular, but others, like the deaths of Erovinkin & Oronov which are discussed in the “Confirmed” section above, are extremely interesting in terms of details and timing. I report, you decide.
  • WhoWhatWhy, an online news magazine founded by former Village Voice reporters and editors, has issued a 6,500 word expose alleging that the FBI cannot reveal the details of Trump’s contacts with Russia because doing so would jeopardize a long-running, ultra-sensitive operation targeting organized crime figures tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and to Trump.
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(4/14/17 update) From Russia, With Love…

static.politico.com

As promised, I will keep updating this regularly with new developments. You’ll find the text of my original posts from February & March below, with new content since then highlighted in blue. We don’t have any all-new bombshells since my last update from 3/29, more like an across-the-board deepening of multiple aspects of the story. As well as a valiant “investigate the investigators!” counter-attack from the Trump team! If the measly 7,600ish words below isn’t enough for you, Political Wire has produced a complete timeline of Trump-Russia affairs dating back to the 80s that currently runs over 150 pages!  

Among my various ventures into activism since the election, I joined an online group where each member takes ownership of two issues. This group is based on the theory that nobody can be continuously engaged on all issues all the time. So, for our adopted issues, we each update the group on new information, issue action calls when appropriate, etc.

As an election wonk, one of my adopted issues is the midterm elections. The other I’ve chosen is keeping track of developments regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump official contacts with Russia. Being a Cold War kid from Reagan’s 80s Cold War relapse and a lifelong fan of spy fact and fiction, it was perhaps inevitable.

The good news is that I’ll be sharing my work not just with my group, but also with all of you! Below I’ve gathered some of the major news items relating to Russian interference/Russian contact, complete with links, arranged roughly chronologically, and sorted into “confirmed”, “probable” and “read this at your own risk” categories.

I have endeavored to provide sources from reliable journalistic outlets for the most part. Based on everything I read putting this together, I am developing some firm suspicions, and will share those, along with updates, along the way. But for now, to quote a well-known not always reliable journalistic outlet:  I report, you decide.

Confirmed

  • Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort was confirmed in August 2016 to have had former Ukranian-President Viktor Yanukovych as a consulting client. Manafort’s firm received over $12 million in payments from Yanukovych’s political party between 2007 and 2012. Yanukovych has close ties to Russia, and his push for Russian ties and alleged role in Russian incursions in the Ukraine was part of the impetus for his ouster as President following popular demonstrations. The status of Manafort’s communications with Russia are under FBI investigation.
  • Some sources believe Manafort was behind the watering down of a plank to the Republican platform calling for U.S. support in arming the Ukraine. The plank had been introduced to the foreign policy sub-committee by a Texas delegate who was a Reagan-administration appointee and an observer in the Ukraine’s first free elections in 1998. It was then weakened to include only “non-lethal support” was under pressure from two pro-Trump delegates who were in cell phone communication with someone after saying they had to call to talk to “Mr. Trump.”.
  •  The New York Times has reported that, in addition to Manafort, three other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election. American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election. Investigations into Manafort and the other three (Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and Roger Stone) are ongoing, but so far have not uncovered evidence of such cooperation.

  • Christopher Steele, a former MI6 official posted in Russia in the 90s, produced a 35-page dossier detailing allegations of improper contacts between Trump and Russian officials. The research behind the memo originally began in September 2015 as part of opposition research by Republican opponents of Trump. Steele was hired by the firm doing the research, Fusion GPS , in June 2016 after Russian interference allegations surfaced. It was subsequently continued in the Fall with Democratic clients paying Fusion GPS for the research. The dossier is composed of multiple several page memos written between June and December 2016. Pieces of it had circulated among several news organizations, intelligence agencies, and senior officials including John McCain. An intelligence briefing on the memo was shared with President-elect Trump and President Obama in early January 2017.  Multiple sources in British intelligence describe Steele as an experienced and professional asset, whose work was usually of very high quality.
  • It is important to note that some details in the memos have been proven incorrect, most prominently a meeting between Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a Russian official in Prague. The news organizations that were in possession of the memos pre-election had not gone public with them because they could not confirm enough details to feel comfortable releasing them.
  • In December 2016, the Russian government sold a 19.5% share of the state oil company, Rosneft. The sale was facilitated by finance companies in Qatar and Singapore, involves a Cayman Island holding-company, and the ultimate identity of the purchaser cannot be verified from public documents. The potential significance of this is that one of the allegations of the Steele memos is that Putin offered Trump a 19% share of Rosneft if he was elected and agreed to lift sanctions on Russia.
  • Oleg Erovinkin, a former KGB official and key aide to Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian State Oil company Rosneft and prominent figure in the Steele memos, was found dead in Moscow on 12/26/16. Steele’s documents indicate one of his primary sources was a figure close to Sechin, and there is speculation that Erovinkin was that source. The death appears to be due to foul play.
  • Russian media also announced that three senior officials of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, and a cyber-security contractor working with the FSB had been arrested and charged with treason on 1/28/17. Analysts believe that, given the timing, and the kinds of people involved, that this move likely has something to do with the U.S. intelligence finding on high-level Russian official participation in manipulating the U.S. election.
  • A Trump associate with definite ties to Russia is now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. As head of ExxonMobil, Tillerson was instrumental in negotiating billions of dollars worth of business with Rosneft. He was even been awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin, one of the highest honors Russia gives to private citizens. Tillerson has also frequently spoken out in the past against the sanctions placed on Russia after its intervention in the Ukraine, perhaps not coincidentally because lifting those sanctions and pipeline access to the Ukraine, would make Exxon’s deal with Rosneft vastly more profitable.
  • In a pre-Superbowl interview with Bill O’Reilly on 2/5/17, President Trump responded to O’Reilly’s questioning his support for the Putin regime given that Putin is a “killer” by saying, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” This echoes statements he made in response to similar questions from Joe Scarborough in December 2015: “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity.” Many, including some Republicans, questioned this latest assertion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and the Putin regime. Meanwhile, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov demanded an apology from Fox.
  • Meanwhile, the House is not so interested in doing investigations on Russian election interference, or on Michael Flynns’s Russian contacts. However, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter on 2/15/17 that urged the Office of Government Ethics to investigate who leaked information about Flynn to the media.
  • It was revealed on 3/7/17 that Page also made a trip to Moscow in July 2016, which he had first cleared with then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. A few weeks before he traveled to Moscow to give a July 7 speech, Page asked J.D. Gordon, his supervisor on the campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to make the trip, and Gordon strongly advised against it. Page then emailed Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks asking for formal approval, and was told by Lewandowski that he could make the trip, but not as an official representative of the campaign. Lewandowski claims that he does not specifically remember the e-mail, but does not dispute the accuracy of the story.
  • On 4/3/17, it was revealed that Page also had meetings with Russian intelligence agents in 2013. Page met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant who has worked for, among other clients, the Russian state energy company Gazprom. Podobnyy had apparently been seeking to recruit Page, but ultimately received nothing more than publicly available documents from him.
  • The House Intelligence Committee announced that it will hold its first hearings on Russian election interference on March 20th, 2017. Invited to testify are: FBI Director James Comey, National Security Agency head Adm. Mike Rogers, former CIA director John Brennan, former national intelligence director James Clapper, former acting attorney general Sally Yates and two senior officials from the cybersecurity firm that first put the finger on the Russians for the breach of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). While former NSA head Michael Flynn is not on the list, it was Yates who first informed the administration of his lying about pre-inauguration meetings with the Russian Ambassador, shortly before the President fired her.
  • While not willing to step down, Nunes was willing on 3/29/17 to cancel a hearing on Russia where former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was to testify. This followed the Trump administration voicing objections to him about her planned testimony. Yates briefly led the Justice Department while Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation was pending, but was fired by Trump after she refused to defend in court his initial travel ban executive order. After she was fired, it was revealed that Yates had notified the White House that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had not properly explained his contact with the Russian ambassador. The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department told Yates that her testimony would have to be seriously limited because of executive privilege, which she disputed.
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee began its hearings 3/31/17. Among the highlights from the first two days of testimony:
    • Marco Rubio’s campaign was also targeted by hackers with Russian IP addresses during the 2016 election.
    • Former FBI agent and cybersecurity expert Clinton Watts further revealed that all the major Republican candidates were targeted.
    • Such cyber-targeting continued even after the election, including attacks against Rubio on the first day of hearings, and coordinated social media attacks against Paul Ryan over recent weeks.
    • National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander and FireEye chief executive Kevin Mandia, a pair of cybersecurity experts, described how Russian agents and upwards of 1,000 paid Internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia pushed “fake news” during the election.
    • Senate Committee members of both parties also took pains to differentiate themselves from the increasingly politicized House hearings, promising an unbiased and bipartisan approach.

Looking Probable

  • Shifts in Russian media coverage of Trump following Flynn’s resignation have led some to wonder if Russia is souring on Trump. Such media coverage is thought to usually takes its cues from Putin. This comes as Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson, and Vice President Mike pence have all made statements criticizing Russia and/or re-affirming support for NATO and Ukrainian independence.
  • One open question is what, if anything, the legal ramifications of various Trump associates’ Russia ties might be. Unseemly contact with an unsavory regime, after all, is not a crime as such. Vox has published an article that lays out the three broad categories of activity that might involve actual legal infractions: violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, failing to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and making false statements to federal investigators. All of them are felonies and carry the potential penalty of prison time. While everyone Left and Right likes to use “treason” to describe the activities of their opponent de jour (see: Clinton, Hillary, Benghazi, for all of the Right for all of 2016), the Vox piece notes that being guilty of treason would mean that someone from Trump’s team would have to have been aiding a country or group that was legally at war with the US. Russia isn’t. Per Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California Davis, “Formally, we’re at peace with Russia, so even the most outrageous assistance to Russia or benefit to Russia wouldn’t count as treason.”

Unconfirmed (use with extreme caution)

  • The Steele Dossier has been published in full by Buzzfeed. As you’ll see above, some parts of it have been shown to be incorrect. And as you’ll also see above and below, other parts of it have been verified. You can find a link to the full document and a description of some of the controversy around it in the story here. As a still-uncorroborated source, I don’t plan to get into the gory details in this venue, but the gist of the document’s allegations are as follows:
    • Russia has been cultivating ties with Trump for years.
    • Part of this cultivation involves financial incentives promised to him should he become President and lift sanctions.
    • Russian intelligence agencies also have compromising material on Trump that leaves him vulnerable to blackmail.
    • There were extensive ties and cooperation between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence.
  • The blogger behind Patribiotics has put forth a speculative, but at least well-cited theory based on allegations that Alfa Bank and Dimitry Firtash, a Russian agent of influence, own Cambridge Analytica, the data targeting company used by Trump’s campaign, and its parent, self-described “global election management agency” SCL. The theory further alleges that Cambridge Analytica and SCL used Facebook data illegally stolen by a Russian spy working at Cambridge to build a target database of propaganda. In the closing days of the election, the Russian state hacked into the voter rolls of the United States. Russian intelligence did this in order that they could provide this information to Alfa Bank in order to use Cambridge Analytica’s targeting to precisely target voters and tip them to Trump. Paul Manafort, who has financial ties to Alfa Bank and Firtash, was involved in this effort.
  • The alleged but not confirmed to be from real-White House staff RoguePOTUS Twitter account alleged that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ryan-ally White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had insisted that Vice President Mike Pence sit in on Trump’s 1/28/17 informal first call with Vladimir Putin, despite Trump’s reluctance, over concerns that the Russian leader does indeed have compromising material on the President. Trump’s behavior during the call was said to increase those concerns.
  • I am extremely leery of “death lists” such as mysterious deaths associated with the JFK assassination, the Clinton “death list” etc. They tend to lump together genuine puzzlers with things that really aren’t that suspicious, have only a tangential relationship, and ignore the many not dead people also involved. But I will pass on this list of eight figures associated with the Steele dossier who have died. Some of these are not easy to directly relate to anything in particular, but others, like the deaths of Erovinkin & Oronov which are discussed in the “Confirmed” section above, are extremely interesting in terms of details and timing. I report, you decide.
  • WhoWhatWhy, an online news magazine founded by former Village Voice reporters and editors, has issued a 6,500 word expose alleging that the FBI cannot reveal the details of Trump’s contacts with Russia because doing so would jeopardize a long-running, ultra-sensitive operation targeting organized crime figures tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and to Trump.