We’re back with the latest update on my quest to get 100 literary submission rejections this year! I got the idea from several friends who did the challenge last year. So far I’ve found it’s an amazingly effective way to reverse the emotional charge of the submission process by making rejection the target, AND ensuring that you hustle enough in your submission volume to get some positive momentum. So, what’s happened in the month since our Q3 update?
First, the bad news:
In a serious failure of rejection, my poem “Twelve Steps to the New Israel of the Beats” got honorable mention in the 2017 William Faulkner Literary Competition. I was even invited to go the awards ceremony in New Albany, Mississippi, which unfortunately turned out to be unworkable schedule-wise. In any case, it’s definitely an honor, even if it hurt my rejection stats.
I also had an alarming close-call with the UK-based journal all the sins, who informed me that a poem I’d submitted made it past their first round, but ultimately wasn’t selected.
Now, on the plus side:
Feverish spreadsheet calculations informed me going in that, in order to get 100 rejections in the year, I’d need to do 143 submissions. So far I’m at 100, leaving me with 43 to go in the next two months and five days. That’s brisk, but achievable. And my rejection total so far is 58, leaving 42 to go. That would be a rejection every 1.57 days for the remainder of the year. I don’t know if I can make it, but I’ll do my best!
It certainly seemed as of our last update that a steady buzz of activity from Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicates he has some pretty specific targets for his investigation. As you’ll see below, developments in the last month make that seem even more likely. Meanwhile, the Congressional investigation has also rolled along, and new revelations of the scale and sophistication of the Russian manipulation efforts continue to emerge, especially regarding social media.
Before we get to the latest, an overview of where we are so far:
Russian interests systematically interfered in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. The consistent thrust of this interference was to boost Trump, and harm Clinton.
This interference involved senior intelligence officials and business leaders close to Putin, and was approved of and directed by him.
The specific targeting of some of this manipulation indicates access to sophisticated election data analytics.
There is an unusual density of business & personal contacts with Russian interests among key people in Trump’s campaign and/or administration. There isn’t a similar density of contacts with other nations equally (or more) important to the U.S..
The actions of several Trump confidants in connection with Russia involve 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. Donald Trump Jr., Felix Sater, Jared Kushner, and Michael Cohen may well be.
Despite denials and disavowals, Trump has years-worth of history of praising Putin and seeking contact with him.
Despite denials and disavowals, Trump has years-worth of extensive involvement with Russian businesses and financiers, many of whom are part of Putin’s inner circle, and some of whom have ties to Russian organized crime.
The Russian interests working to interfere in the election actively cultivated and sought to make use of contacts with Trump-connected individuals.
Despite prior denials and disavowals, people involved with the Trump campaign were talking about Russian connections helping with the election at least as early as December 2015, and senior campaign officials were aware that the Russian government was seeking to harm Clinton’s candidacy and help Trump’s at least as early as June, 2016.
Trump administration officials, including the President himself, have taken multiple actions to discourage the progress of the investigation.
How much did Trump confidants come to know about Russian election interference after first becoming aware of it in June 2016?
Were any of them aware of it before that date?
Were any of Trump’s confidants active, knowing participants in this interference?
Did Trump share his senior campaign officials’ awareness of Russian election interference, either during the campaign or afterwards, and is thus liable for not exposing it?
Or, even worse, was Trump himself an active, knowing participant in these efforts?
Do any of the actions that the President and his administration have taken to discourage the investigation amount to an actionable case of obstruction of justice?
Given that the Russian election manipulation seems to have been based at least in part on sophisticated election data analytics, how (and from whom) did they get this information?
What else may come out as a result of this investigation now that an independent counsel is investigating the finances of trump and his associates? Recall that Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal was an outgrowth of, but not in any way directly connected to, the Whitewater investigation.
If you want to explore further based on this blog, the following sources may be of interest:
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.
The first Congressional hearings on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible Trump ties to Russia, conducted by the House Intelligence Committee, opened on Monday 3/20/17 with testimony from FBI director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers. Among the highlights:
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.
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.
Former Obama-administration national security advisor Susan Rice declined an invitation to testify to the Subcommittee on Russian hacking. Rice had initially accepted the invitation from committee chair Lindsey Graham, but then subsequently declined after being informed by Committee ranking Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse that the invitation was not issued with his knowledge, and was the only request for testimony the committee issued that was not bipartisan. Rice had earlier become the subject of allegations, which do not appear to be substantiated, that she had improperly unmasked and revealed information about surveillance of Trump-related personnel’s contacts with Russia.
Yates detailed how she had informed Trump administration officials that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn was susceptible to blackmail from Russia 18 days before he was fired.
She also testified that she warned White House counsel Don McGahn in late January that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials and that as a result, public statements by White House officials were inaccurate.
Clapper clarified earlier his remarks, oft-repeated by the Trump administration, that he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He sought to make clear this statement reflects the fact that he had not seen the FBI evidence, and not an authoritative opinion that the evidence itself was lacking.
Clapper stated that the Russians had also collected information on certain Republican Party affiliated targets but did not release any Republican related data, and only leaked information involving the Democratic Party.
In relation to allegations involving Rice, Clapper explained that the request from intelligence officials for unmasking of a US citizen is “legitimate” and essential to determine motives of the foreign agent being monitored, and does not constitute “improper” leaking
Yates and Clapper both told members of the Subcommittee that they had never leaked classified information to the news media, nor authorized anyone else to do so.
On 6/7/17 Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. There had been reporting that Trump had asked Coats and Rogers to influence the FBI to shut down its investigation. In response to repeated questioning along these lines, both men refused to answer, invoking confidentiality and security, indicating they could not answer further in open hearings but might be able to be more forthcoming in closed hearings. They indicated that even then they might need to consult with White House counsel first. This was widely understood to indicate that the allegations could not be clearly refuted, and that legal concerns are now front and center as figures involved in the investigation seek to make sure they do not commit perjury in public statements.
Comey stated that there was absolutely no doubt that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.
He confirmed previous public reporting of numerous encounters initiated by Trump in which Trump encouraged him to drop the Flynn investigation, asked for loyalty, and confirmation that he was not personally under investigation.
Comey started to document these as he felt the communications were improper, endangered the integrity of the FBI investigation, and did not trust Trump to be honest about what was said later.
Comey contradicted a February New York times story about U.S’ Intelligence Agencies concerns about extensive contacts between Trump-related parties and Russian intelligence officials saying it was, “in the main, not factual”. Predictably, Right-leaning media outlets cited a single New York Times article being contradicted as a complete refutation of all mainstream media Russia-related reporting.
Comey also revealed that former Obama Attorney General Lynch ordered him to refer to the investigation into Hillary’s e-mail server as the “e-mail matter” and not as an investigation, and he felt a need to accelerate the investigation following Lynch’s airport tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton.
Comey declined to publicly answer several questions, including the status of investigations into the Steele Documents, Jared Kushner’s activity regarding a “back channel” with Russia, if the FBI had indications of contact between Trump officials and Russian intelligence, and whether he thinks the President colluded with Russia. Such refusals are not in and of themselves indications of wrongdoing, but they do often indicate sensitive areas of ongoing investigation.
Sessions denied that he had deliberately withheld disclosures on his prior Russian contacts.
He indicated that his recusal from the case was because of his campaign work for Trump, not because of any sense of impropriety about his Russian contacts.
Sessions also denied that he had any undisclosed further meetings with Russian parties, though he allowed after further questioning that there may have been “an encounter’ but no substantive talk with Ambassador Kisylak at the Mayflower Hotel conference in April 2016.
He did corroborate two key areas of Comey’s testimony: that Trump had asked Sessions to leave the room during a meeting and then talked with Comey privately, and that Comey had afterwards asked him not to leave him alone with Trump again.
Sessions used some version of the line “I can’t recall” 21 times during his testimony.
In an interesting aside, Sessions indicated that he had not closely followed the news on Russian campaign interference, and could not recall it being a subject of focus or concern at any point during the transition.
Kushner strongly denied any collusion, or improper financial relations, with Russia-connected interests.
He reiterated earlier statements that he had not read the full e-mail string on the June 2016 meeting with Russian representatives, Donald Trump Jr., and then-Trump campaign director Paul Manafort before attending.
He stated that he deemed the meeting so unimportant that he e-mailed an assistant to call him so he had an excuse to leave. Kushner further stated that he never met with, or heard from, the Russian lawyer again after that point.
He described briefly meeting Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at an event at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016, but disputed press reports that he had any further meetings or calls with Kislyak after that time, except for a brief meeting requested by the ambassador and Michael Flynn in December 2016 to discuss policy matters (chiefly Syria) related to the coming transition.
Regarding his December 2016 meeting with Russian Banker Sergey Gorkov, Kushner said he took the meeting at Kislyak’s request after being told that Gorkov was “someone with a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together.” Kushner stated that no business ties or deals were discussed at the meeting.
Kushner blamed serial revision of his disclosure forms after they had initially omitted the above meetings on the forms being prematurely filed by an assistant before they were ready.
ABC news reported on 8/11/17 that Congressional investigators want to meet with Rhona Graff, a senior vice president at the Trump Organization who has worked at Trump Tower for nearly 30 years. Graff is widely considered to be a gatekeeper to Trump who has often been central to coordinating between business associates, politicians, and journalists who have sought access. Graff is one of the parties copied in the e-mail chain involved in setting up the June 2016 meeting in which representatives of Russian interests met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and then campaign manager Paul Manfort while offering material damaging to Clinton in what was described as part of the Russian government’s support of the Trump campaign.
While Donald Trump Jr. was able to delay a planned July appearance before a the Senate Judiciary Committee, President Trump’s eldest son has agreed to sit down for a transcribed interview. Trump Jr. will be interviewed by senior committee staff, and senators could also attend. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are also interested in interviewing Trump Jr., Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, as all three committees prepare to ramp up their activities in the fall.
Donald Trump Jr. appeared before staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee on 9/7/17 to testify about his June 2016 meeting, along with Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, with representatives of Russian interests who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Trump claimed in the testimony that he took the meeting, despite qualms about it, because he thought it was important to evaluate the fitness of Clinton for the Presidency. “To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out…Depending on what, if any, information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration.” He also insisted that he did not collude with Russia, and that his e-mail saying “I love it” when promised Russian-provided information about Clinton was a colloquial way of expressing his appreciation for the meeting organizer, and not approving of the source or contents. This testimony is the fourth version of why he took the meeting that Trump Jr. has offered.
He believes that the investigation is an irresponsible political proceeding.
He denied having any ties to Russia or to pro-Russian Ukranian politicians.
He indicated doubt that Russian interests generally, or the hacker Guccifer 2.0 specifically had anything to do with the DNC hack, which he believes evidence indicates was not a hack at all, but a download of data from someone on the inside.
He cast doubt on the Intelligence community’s assessment of Russian campaign interference, noting many times that intelligence analysts have been wrong.
He characterized his 8/21/16 tweet that “it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel” as having nothing to do with the hacked DNC materials that was released shortly afterward, and was instead prompted by his feeling that childhood friend Paul Manafort was being treated unfairly for his Russian connections, and that Podesta had improper connections that should also come to light.
He denied ever having had direct contact with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and indicated that his Twitter communications with Guccifer 2.0 between 8/14/16 and 9/9/16 were entirely public, and benign.
He closed by urging Congress to investigate evidence that the Clinton campaign was working with Russian and Ukranian interests to influence the election.
A good case can be made that Trump’s firing of Comey constitutes a case of obstruction of justice. This would be true of Session’s behavior as well, and could additionally result in him losing his license to practice law, as it would seem to violate his previous recusal of himself from anything Russia-related. Making the case would require establishing (1) “Corrupt” intent, (2) Interference with a pending judicial proceeding, (3) A material impact on that proceeding, and (4) Knowledge of that proceeding. #2 & #4 are easily demonstrable, so it would depend on #1 and #3. Obstruction of Justice was one of the impeachment charges brought against Nixon in Watergate.
It was announced on 7/15/17 that Washington Lawyer Ty Cobb was joining Trump’s legal defense team. Indications are that Cobb, whose legal expertise lies in white-collar crime and congressional investigations, will be coordinating all legal defense and media issues related to Russia. He will coordinating with Trump’s personal defense lawyer Marc Kasowitz, and his appointment has led some to wonder if this is part of a process of sidelining Kasowitz. Also, since the question must arise, Cobb is indeed related to baseball legend Ty Cobb.
On 7/27/17 Senator Lindsey Graham unveiled plans for legislation that would make it much harder for any special counsel to be fired. He specifically stated that the intention of the legislation was to make it impossible for President Trump to file Special Counsel Mueller without a separate judicial review to okay it. The constitutionality of such a measure is unclear. Meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate took measures to adjourn for the Summer without formally going into recess so that the President could not fire Attorney General Sessions during the recess and replace him with an interim appointee (who might be willing to fire Mueller) without need for Senate confirmation.
On 9/6/17, in a series of private e-mail exchanges, Trump legal team head Ty Cobb indicated he may not be in his position long. The exchanges were with Washington noodle shop owner Jeff Jetton, who has been contacting people involved with the Russia investigation whose e-mail addresses he can figure out, and in this case was quite aggressive. The conversation eventually got to a more civil place, but along the way Cobb made a statement that he might not be in his position for long, and indicated that he was one of the few “adults in the room” in the White House.
On 9/16/17 Ty Cobb, the head of President Trump’s legal defense team, was overheard by a reporter for The New York Times discussing disputes within the legal defense team during a lunchtime conversation at a popular Washington steakhouse. Mr. Cobb was heard talking about a White House lawyer he deemed “a McGahn spy” and saying White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn had “a couple documents locked in a safe” that he seemed to suggest he wanted access to. He also mentioned a colleague whom he blamed for “some of these earlier leaks,” and who he said “tried to push Jared out,” meaning Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser. The crux of the dispute seems to be a disagreement between whetehr to turn over everything to try and end the inquiry as quickly as possible (which Cobb favors) or whether to assert privilege over some information in order to protect the President’s institutional authority (which McGahn favors).
A New York Times piece on 9/18/17 reveals that Mueller’s team is looking into thirteen separate categories of documents as part of its investigation. The story also reveals that Mueller’s team has shown a measure of deference to White House officials, sparing them grand jury subpoenas and allowing them to appear for voluntary interviews. Trump legal team head, Ty Cobb, has instructed White House officials to be cooperative in order to avoid any subpoenas. Mueller’s office is putting more pressure on figures currently outside the White House, such as Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, and it seems increasingly likely that there will be indictments involving these individuals.
CNN reported on 9/26/17 that the IRS is formally sharing information with Robert Mueller’s investigation, after the two entities clashed this summer over both the scope of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and a raid on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s home. Part of the concern centered on the far-reaching and broad requests from Mueller’s team. In the case of Manafort, Mueller’s investigators are reaching back 11 years as they investigate possible tax and financial crimes, according to search warrant documents. Mueller is bound by a written order issued by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in May which allows the special counsel to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” After several months of being at odds, the IRS Criminal Investigation division is now sharing information about campaign associates, including Manafort and former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
White House officials once debated a scorched-earth strategy of publicly criticizing and undercutting Mueller, but now hope that Mr. Mueller will declare in the coming months that President Trump is not a target of the Russia inquiry. Trump has long sought such a public declaration. He fired F.B.I. director James Comey in May after Mr. Comey refused to say openly that Trump was not under investigation. According to more than a half dozen White House officials, witnesses and outside lawyers connected to the Russia inquiry, the President’s legal team is working swiftly to respond to requests from Mr. Mueller for emails, documents and memos, and will make White House officials available for interviews. Once Mr. Mueller has combed through the evidence, Mr. Trump’s lawyers plan to ask him to affirm that Mr. Trump is not under investigation, either for colluding with Russian operatives or for trying to obstruct justice.
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 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.
The New York Times traces the development of false online profiles in a 9/7/17 article. The article describes how social media profiles using false names and pictures borrowed from other users began to proliferate in June 2016. The first generation of these accounts pointed to the website DCLeaks, which was a clearinghouse for the relase of hacked e-mails from Democratic officials. There were eventually hundreds of thousands of these kinds of accounts on Facebook and Twitter, with strong signs of Russian origin.
On 10/4/17 CNN reported that a number of Russian-linked Facebook ads specifically targeted Michigan and Wisconsin, according to four sources with direct knowledge of the situation. Some of the Russian ads appeared highly sophisticated in their targeting of key demographic groups in areas of the states that turned out to be pivotal. The ads employed a series of divisive messages aimed at breaking through the clutter of campaign ads online, including promoting anti-Muslim messages. While one source said that a large number of ads appeared in areas of the country that were not heavily contested in the elections, some clearly were geared at swaying opinion in the most heavily contested battlegrounds. Michigan saw the closest presidential contest in the country — Trump beat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by about 10,700 votes out of nearly 4.8 million ballots cast. Wisconsin was also one of the tightest states, and Trump won there by only about 22,700 votes. Both states were key to Trump’s victory in the Electoral College.
Acoording to 10/6/17 CNN reports, a Russia-supported group sold merchandise through “Blacktivist”-branded Facebook and Twitter accounts, which “have been suspended and are among those handed over to Congress as part of its investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.” The Blacktivist Facebook page sold various T-shirts and sweatshirts with messages including “melanin and muscles,” “our sons matter,” and others that mirror slogans for the Black Lives Matter movement. Jonathon Morgan, founder and CEO of New Knowledge, a company that identifies online propaganda, told CNN that the page’s activity “fits a pattern of Russian propagandists’ attempts at appearing as authentic Americans participating in politics,” by selling merchandise and promoting events.
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.
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.”
On the eve of his 7/7/17 first official meeting with Russian President Putin at the July 2017 G20 summit, President Trump made remarks that once again seemed to cast doubt on his acceptance of Russia’s role in influencing the 2016 election: “I think it was Russia. And I think it could have been other people and other countries. It could have been a lot of people interfered. I’ve said it very simply. I think it could very well have been Russia but I think it could very well have been other countries, and I won’t be specific. But I think a lot of people interfere. I think it has been happening for a long time. It has been happening for many, many years.” He also took advantage of the opportunity to again attack fake news, and blame Obama for not taking stronger action against electoral influence.
President Trump has thus far denied any knowledge of the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort with a Russian lawyer who Trump Jr. had been promised had damaging information on Clinton provided as part of the Russian government’s support for Trump’s candidacy. Kushner and trump Jr. have both indicated they never passed on information about it. What can be verified is that the person who arranged the meeting, Bristish-born consultant Rob Goldstone, and the alleged providers of the information, Azerbaijani-Russian billionaires Aras Agalarov and Emin Agalarov, have been involved in business transactions with Trump and previously socialized him. Their relationship dates back to the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, which is also where Trump once stated he first met Putin, before denying during the 2016 campaign that he had ever met him.
McClatchy reported on 7/21/17 that former Trump associate Felix Sater helped the family of wealthy Kazakh fugitives make extensive investments in the United States. Sater, an ex-con and one-time senior adviser in the Trump Organization, helped the Trump family scout deals in Russia. He led an effort that began in 2012 to assist the stepchildren of Viktor Khrapunov, who that year had been placed on an international detention request list by the global police agency Interpol. Khrapunov, a former Kazakh energy minister and ex-mayor of Almaty, that nation’s most populous city, fled to Switzerland after Kazakhstan’s leaders accused him and his wife of stealing government funds. They are now accused in civil lawsuits of laundering money through luxury properties, including Trump-branded condos in the Soho neighborhood New York.
McClatchy DC reported on 9/21/17 that Trump’s former bodyguard had extensive knowledge of Trump associate Felix Sater’s connections to Russian criminal figures. Trump has played down his relationship with Sater, despite growing evidence of links between the two, including recently published emails detailing how Sater worked with a top Trump Organization lawyer on a planned Moscow property deal as late as 2016, during the presidential campaign. Before he became Trump’s bodyguard in 2015, Gary Uher was an FBI agent involved in a complex deal to bring Sater back from Russia in the late 1990s. The resulting plea deal allowed Sater to avoid prison time in a Wall Street probe by serving as a government informant until his sentencing in 2009. During much of the time that he was a secret informant, Sater was a Trump Organization business associate, working on projects in New York, Florida and Arizona.
The Washington Post reported on 10/2/17 that an additional two previously undisclosed contacts between the Trump Organization and Russian parties during the 2016 election have come to light. Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen and a business associate exchanged emails weeks before the Republican National Convention about Cohen possibly traveling to an economic conference in Russia that would be attended by top Russian financial and government leaders, including President Vladimir Putin. In the other case, Cohen received a proposal in late 2015 for a Moscow residential project from a company founded by billionaire Sergei Gordeev who once served in the upper house of the Russian parliament. The previously unreported inquiry marks the second proposal for a Trump-branded Moscow project that was delivered to the company during the presidential campaign. While Cohen does not appear to have followed through on either initiative, all of these contacts stand out sharply against Trump’s repeated denials of having any communication or business interests involving Russia.
At this point, his story changed to one where he had been offered the information, but when it came time for the meeting nothing of substance was provided. Minutes before the new York Times was going live with the text of the e-mails that lead to the meeting, Trump Jr. himself tweeted them out. For her part, Natalia Veselnitskaya denied any connection to the Russian government or having any campaign-related information. Veselnitskaya has extensive ties to close allies of Putin. She came to the United States last year in connection with a $230 million tax fraud case initially exposed by Sergei Magnitsky, the accountant who died in a Russian prison after accusing prosecutors in that country of the fraud.
A 7/12/17 story from Politico examines what criminal charges could conceivably result from the meeting. The story makes the point that “collusion” is not an meaningful legal term, and seeking opposition research is not itself illegal. Actual charges could include conspiring to violate the election laws of the United States, which prohibit foreign nationals from contributing any “thing of value” to an electoral campaign. To the extent that the Trump campaign aided, abetted or advised the Russians (or any other hackers) about what would be most useful to steal from the Democrats or how best to enhance the impact of their release, they may well have violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. And lying to the federal government in your registration forms or your security application is a false statement. Using the wires to perpetrate your crime is often wire fraud.
The Guardian reported on 8/4/17 that Michael Flynn belatedly disclosed a brief advisory role with Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis company that aided the Trump campaign. The disclosure came in an amended public financial filing in which shows that just before the end of the campaign, Flynn entered into a consulting agreement with SCL Group, a Virginia-based company related to Cambridge Analytica, the data mining and analysis firm that worked with Trump’s campaign. Cambridge Anlaytica is run by Robert Mercer, a prominent Trump funder and backer of former senior strategist Steve Bannon. The firm also (see the Unconfirmed section below) is alleged to ultimately have Russian funding, and to have possibly been a source of data Russian interests used to target their social media campaign to influence the 2016 election.
While most of the attention for the June 3, 2016 meeting has been on Donald Trump Jr., Kushner also attended the meeting on Trump Jr.’s invitation. As reported in a 7/13/17 Time Magazine cover story on the meeting, Kushner has maintained that he didn’t read to the bottom of the forwarded e-mail invitation where Russian government support for Trump and the offer of material damaging to Clinton was discussed.
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.”.
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.
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.
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.
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 associate Carter Page the brokerage fee on the sale of a 19% share of Rosneft if Trump 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.
The blogger behind Patribotics 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 above sections, 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.
The indefatigable Patribotics blogger published research on 4/23/17 linking Hostkey.com, a hacking and spamming company owned by hacker Peter Chayanov with Russian-based servers provided to Wikileaks shortly before the DNC e-mail leak. The blog provides further evidence that Ocean Way Capital, a Florida-based shell company that hosts Hostkey.com and all its servers, is linked to Russian-Ukranian money laundering to Trump-connected shell companies.
It was reported on 6/28/17 that the FBI had interviewed multiple U.S.-based employees of the Russian cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab. No specific link to the Russian election interference investigation has been established, but senior intelligence official’s concerns about Kapersky were discussed in several Russian investigation congressional committee hearings. Kaspersky Lab paid former national security adviser Michael Flynn $11,250 in 2015 for cyber-security consulting, according to public documents, but that was not a focus of the FBI questioning, multiple sources said.
It was revealed on 7/13/17 that Peter Smith’s April 2017 death was from suicide. Smith was a political operative who had been recruiting hackers (including Russian) to recover missing e-mails from Hillary Clinton in October 2016 on behalf of the firm KLS Research, which he claimed Michael Flynn was affiliated with. I hesitate to include this here, as there is no indication of foul play- Smith was in his 80s, experiencing health problems, and had a large life insurance policy which was about to expire, a pretty common suicide set-up. But I’d hate to be accused of withholding information!
John Sipher and Steve Hall, two former CIA officials with expertise in Russia, penned an 8/2/17 New York Times editorial making the case that Russian collusion with the Trump campaign is plausible. They base this on examining the sequence of events from the June 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian representatives, subsequent activity by Wikileaks, and coordinated events between the Trump team and the Russian influence campaign, in light of their own professional experience of how Russian counterintelligence operations work.
On 9/5/17 a Russian politician threatened to “hit Donald Trump with our Kompromat” on state TV. Nikita Isaev, leader of the far-right New Russia Movement, said the compromising material should be released in retaliation over the closure of several Russian diplomatic compounds across the US. When asked whether Russia has such material, Mr Isaev, who is also director of the Russian Institute of Contemporary Economics, replied: “Of course we have it!”. Isaev is an extremist politician known for over the top pronouncements, so you may want to take the statement with all appropriate grains of salt.
A 9/18/17 piece by former Federal Prosecurtor Renato Mariotti speculates on the case Robert Mueller’s team is building. Mariotti sees evidence that the team is preparing for indictments against Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. And such indictments may be standalone, and not relate to the rest of the main body of the investigation, which includes a focus on possible Trump administration obstruction of justice, the details of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with representatives of Russian interests promising information damaging to Clinton as part of official Rusisan support for Trump, the mechanics of the Russian social media influence campaign, and some form of money laundering or financial impropriety. Mariotti expects the investigation will not conclude before the end of the year, and that the charges Mueller brings will likely be narrower and more targeted than many observers expect.