Monthly Archives: March 2017

At The Intersection of Trump And Mob Street

Investigative reporting is a lot like hunting dangerous wild game, except you’re unarmed, the forest is populated with documents instead of trees, and you’re competing with a lot of other hunters for the same trophy buck. The mystery of President Donald Trump’s Russian connections has brought out some of the best big-game reporters.

They smell blood, and with good reason. Why, every time a new revelation between a Trump surrogate and an unsavory Russian connection hits the headlines, does the President tweet out an unrelated distraction? Or orders a lackey to become a distraction? Logic suggests that if Trump and minions had nothing beyond the merely embarrassing to hide, they would not go to such extreme lengths to change the subject every time Moscow comes up. What could possibly be so important to keep buried?

Two words: Russian Mafia. And two more words: FBI informant.

Anyone really interested in the Trump-Russia connection needs to read this whole report by former Village Voice investigative reporters Jonathan Larsen and Russ Baker, and their associate at news website WhoWhatWhy, C. Collins:

In his March 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey said that he could not go into detail about its probe into the Trump administration’s Russian connection.

If he had, we might have learned that, for more than three decades the FBI has had Trump Tower in its sights. Many of its occupants have been targets of major investigations, others have been surveilled, and yet others have served as informants. One thing many of them have in common is deep ties to organized crime — including the Russian mafia.

Felix Sater fits all of these categories. A convicted felon, Sater worked in Trump Tower, made business deals with Donald Trump through Sater’s real estate firm, Bayrock, cooperated with the FBI and CIA and was subsequently protected by the DOJ from paying for his crimes. And the Moscow-born immigrant remains deeply linked to Russia and Ukraine…

The resulting picture is not a pretty one for Donald Trump. However, because of its efforts to neutralize the organization of perhaps the world’s most powerful mobster — a man considered a serious national security threat — the Bureau might just have compromised its own ability to provide to Congress or inform the American public about all of the ties that exist between Trump, his presidential campaign and the regime of Vladimir Putin.

Apparently, WhoWhatWhy’s authors published their bombshell while USA Today’s Oren Dorrell was piecing together something similar, which USA Today published the next day:

To expand his real estate developments over the years, Donald Trump, his company and partners repeatedly turned to wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics — several allegedly connected to organized crime, according to a USA TODAY review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor.

The president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering.

Among those 10: Felix Sater.

While given not much more than passing notice by a few news outlets during the run-up to the election, Forbes editor for investigations Richard Behar found the Trump-Sater relationship of interest, and dug up a few fascinating documents in October:

Felix Sater is not a name that has come up much during the presidential campaign. That he has a colorful past is an understatement: The Russian-born Sater served a year in prison for stabbing a man in the face with a margarita glass during a bar fight, pleaded guilty to racketeering as part of a mafia-driven “pump-and-dump” stock fraud and then escaped jail time by becoming a highly valued government informant.

He was also an important figure at Bayrock, a development company and key Trump real estate partner during the 2000s, notably with the Trump SoHo hotel-condominium in New York City, and has said under oath that he represented Trump in Russia and subsequently billed himself as a senior Trump advisor, with an office in Trump Tower.

President Trump and his top aides have spent months trying to cultivate a hatred of the American news media. Trump himself has repeatedly called the media “the enemy of the American people.” But the truth is that an uncensored media is the friend of democracy. And we are all the media.


Posted in Be Afraid, Politics

Where We’re Headed

So yesterday, seemingly out of the blue, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (which supposedly has been investigating whether President Donald Trump’s campaign minions colluded with Russians to throw the recent election) held a press conference pretty obviously designed to provide cover to Trump’s recent outrageous lie that former President Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower.

The chairman said he’d been made aware of unspecified reports from the U.S. intelligence community showing that communication from members of the Trump transition team were “incidentally collected” as part of broader surveillance that supposedly had nothing to do with Russia. He refused to provide sources for his claim, and did not share the information with members of his investigation committee. Instead, he made the claims in a press conference and then ran inside the White House to brief the President whose actions he was allegedly investigating.

It is worth noting that the chairman, Devin Nunes, R-California, was a member of Trump’s transition team and remains a big pal of the prez.

Here’s a fair analysis of what Nunes may be up to. In my opinion, he and the President are clearly and desperately trying to divert public attention away from an FBI investigation into the same thing Nunes’ committee was supposed to be investigating.

The diversion isn’t working.

From Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day at The Associated Press:

Before signing up with Donald Trump, former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian billionaire with a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government,” The Associated Press has learned. The White House attempted to brush the report aside Wednesday, but it quickly raised fresh alarms in Congress about Russian links to Trump associates.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Manafort pitched the plans to aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

From Pamela Brown, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz and Jim Sciutto at CNN:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, according to one source.

The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.

From Mike Allen, long-time reporter for the likes of The New York Times, the Washington Post, Time magazine, Politico and now Axios:

Watergate was a coverup of a burglary. This could be the coverup of a nuclear-armed U.S. nemesis that infiltrated our politics with the specific aim of disrupting the very foundation of our democracy — a presidential election — and did so, possibly, in a manner that elected its preferred candidate and locked in all party control that could decimate the opposition party for years.

From Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee that Nunes chairs:

“The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct, which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he’s going to act as a surrogate of the White House. Because he cannot do both.”

From me: Congress, dominated as it is by a strand of Republicans who put party and campaign contributions first and the country last, can’t be trusted to investigate the Trump administration in this mess, as more patriotic Republicans did in the Nixon era. It’s obvious the American people need an independent special prosecutor to lead an investigation. And it’s obvious we now need a Congress that puts America first.

Posted in Be Afraid, Politics

The Emperor Has No Clothes

On Nov. 9, I vowed to stop criticizing just-elected Donald Trump and give the guy a chance to rise to the occasion of his new office.

“For at least a time,” I wrote, “I am setting aside my doubts and cynicism in order to allow Donald Trump the chance to prove me wrong and operate to the best of his ability for all Americans. After listening to his acceptance speech, I believe this is possible.”

Now, four months later, I am sad to say that my doubts and cynicism were right all along. Donald Trump has exceeded my worst fears and, I am pretty sure, your worst fears, too.

There’s no sense in trying to enumerate all the horribly thought out actions he and his chief manipulator, Steve Bannon, have foisted on the American public. Nor Trump’s crazed rants and lies.

President Donald Trump cemented the case against himself Saturday morning when he actually publicly accused former President Obama of “wire tapping” his New York Trump Tower.

Gotta say this, folks, the president of the United States is pretty clearly delusional, and really needs a psychiatric evaluation. But how do you get that done?

Posted in Be Afraid, Government, Politics