Vox Provides Further Evidence That The Actual Trump/Russia Scandal Is About Money Laundering

Since the 2016 election we have seen three different interpretations of Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia. There has been the total denial from pro-Trump partisans, which has been heavily contradicted by the investigations in progress. There is the twisting of the facts by pro-Clinton partisans to see try to frame everything as a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency she deserved. The facts have also frequently contradicted this view. Then there is the evidence-based view which non-partisans such as myself have promoted that the real issue concerns financial crimes such as money laundering by family and associates of Donald Trump, along with a cover-up of their activities.

As I discussed yesterday, information in the portions of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House which were released yesterday are consistent with this view. Vox, which generally follows the Democratic Party line, has also provided evidence that the real crime here is money laundering. Vox has a post based upon information from a Russia expert which downplays the role of Vladimir Putin and politics and stresses the role of money laundering entitled, “Set aside Putin and follow the money”: a Russia expert’s theory of the Trump scandal. From the introduction:

“To understand the roots of the collusion, set aside Putin and follow the money.”

That’s what Seva Gunitsky, a politics professor at the University of Toronto and the author of Aftershocks, told me in a September interview. I reached out to Gunitsky after he posted a short but incisive thread on Twitter about the financial roots of the Trump-Russia collusion case.

Gunitsky, who was raised in Russia, has followed the evolving relationship between Donald Trump and Russia for more than a decade. He says the prevailing narrative about Putin interfering in the American election in order to undermine democracy is wildly overstated.

Putin is happy to sow confusion and distrust in America’s system, of course, but to assume that’s the basis of this operation is to overlook a much simpler motive: money.

The financial connections between Trump and various Russian banks and oligarchs (business elites with ties to the Kremlin) stretch back decades, which is likely a big reason why Trump won’t release his tax returns. Trump’s election, Gunitsky contends, presented Russian oligarchs with an opportunity to recoup losses and leverage Trump’s debts for political gain.

The interview began after this introduction. Here are some excerpts:

Sean Illing

This collusion story gets more convoluted by the day. But you seem to think it’s pretty straightforward.

Seva Gunitsky

I think it’s justifiable for you to say that it seems impossibly convoluted, but I would say it’s still much simpler than this idea that there’s a global conspiracy designed to bring down democracy. I’m not saying the political dimension is unimportant — surely it is. But if we’re talking about the roots of the collusion, we have to look at where Trump’s links with Russia begin. And it begins with money. [These roots] don’t start with the election; they start with money, and namely Russian oligarch money.

Sean Illing

So walk me through the trail. Where does the money lead?

Seva Gunitsky

Again, this doesn’t start with the election; it starts with Russian oligarch money pouring into Trump’s real estate and casino businesses. Many of them Trump has been working with for years, well before he developed any serious political ambitions. And we’re not talking about small change here; we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. Possibly even enough to keep Trump out of another bankruptcy.

Sean Illing

And we know this how, exactly?

Seva Gunitsky

We know because they’ve told us. We can talk about specific cases in a minute, but Donald Trump Jr. has already admitted the importance of Russian money to their business ventures. He said publicly in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Sean Illing

And this is why you think Western media has overplayed the centrality of Putin in all of this? We have this notion of Putin as a kind of master strategist playing 10-dimensional chess with Trump. I think it’s obvious that once Putin saw an opportunity he took it, but these financial ties go back a long way, long before the 2016 election.

Seva Gunitsky

I think that’s right. Putin is often put up as this sort of central antagonist, but the Russian government is not this shadowy monolith. It’s sometimes portrayed this way in the West, but in reality the Russian government is messy and disorganized and ad hoc.

It’s possible that Putin was not even fully aware of efforts to court Trump up until last year, or a couple years ago. Putin, we often forget, has supporters to keep happy as well, people who desperately want to open up those channels of Russian finance…

Sean Illing

As hard as it is to make sense of all this, it does help to explain Trump’s unusual consistency on all things Russia. This is a guy without a fixed ideological core, but his bizarre pro-Russia posture is arguably the only issue on which he’s been consistent.

Seva Gunitsky

I’d only slightly disagree here and say the thing about which he’s been most consistent is the desire to make money. And if we take that, then his consistency on Russia becomes much more sensible.

I think you’re absolutely right that he has no strong ideological commitments. We’ve seen that painfully over and over during the last few months. But if his financial interests are tied up with Russian oligarchs, who in turn are tied up with the Kremlin and thus have parallel interests, then Trump’s “consistency” becomes much more explainable.

And if we emphasize this financial angle a bit more, it also makes a lot of sense that he would not want to release his tax returns. Because that would expose just how deeply embedded he is with Russian money.

While not discussed here, this also presents an explanation for Donald Trump’s attempts to obstruct the investigation. It is also possible that this financial leverage gave Putin reason to want to see Trump elected, but there has yet to be demonstrated any evidence of collusion between Putin and Trump with regards to altering the election results, or that Russia’s action during the election, including alleged actions on social media, were of any major significance.

While this fact might not be pleasing to Clinton-partisans eager for an excuse for Clinton’s loss (or in some cases pundits who seek an explanation for why they were wrong in their predictions), Democrats should be satisfied if a case of money laundering and obstruction of justice can be built against Donald Trump–which appears very likely to be the case. Steve Bannon’s statement that “This is all about money laundering” in Wollf’s book is just the latest evidence of this–and likely one of many reasons that Donald Trump is trying to halt publication of the book.

New Book Provides Further Information On Donald Trump And Casts Further Doubt On Democratic Conspiracy Theories About 2016 Election

 

Information from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, provides further insight into Trump and cast further doubt on the conspiracy theories being spread by Democrats that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election due to a conspiracy involving Donald Trump and Russia. An excerpt appearing in New York Magazine shows, as many suspected while he was running, that Donald Trump neither thought he could win nor wanted to win the 2016 presidential election:

Most presidential candidates spend their entire careers, if not their lives from adolescence, preparing for the role. They rise up the ladder of elected offices, perfect a public face, and prepare themselves to win and to govern. The Trump calculation, quite a conscious one, was different. The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit. Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” ­Flynn assured them.

Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.

Shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Night, when the unexpected trend — Trump might actually win — seemed confirmed, Don Jr. told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears—and not of joy.

It looks even worse for Hillary Clinton to have lost to a candidate who didn’t even want to win. Part of Clinton’s problem is that she wanted too much to be president, and for the wrong reasons, using her political career for personal financial gain, not even caring about how this looked–as Matt Taibbi discussed in this excerpt from his book on the election.

In theory, having a president who did not want to be president might sound like a good thing in contrast to the corruption of Bill and Hillary Clinton, but in this case Donald Trump was not the right answer. Like the Clintons, Trump’s motives were based upon personal greed. Unlike the Clintons, Trump lacked even rudimentary understanding of the position, and has showed no desire to learn. One consequence was yesterday’s tweet in which, rather than try to diffuse hostilities with North Korea as any rational political leader would, he bragged about the size of his nuclear button.

There is already considerable reason to doubt the conspiracy theory started by Hillary Clinton that collusion between Donald Trump and Russia were responsible for her loss. Such a conspiracy between Trump and Putin appears even less likely if Trump was not interested in being president. Wolff’s book also revealed that Putin had no interest in meeting Trump when he came to Russia, quoting Steve Bannon as saying that,”Putin couldn’t give a shit about him.” That hardly makes Trump and Putin sound like the co-conspirators which the Democrats make them out to be.

More significant information came from Steve Bannon’s interview on the Trump Tower meeting, in which Russians teased Donald, Jr with claims of information on Clinton, but actually had nothing to deliver. While not of any significance in terms of altering the election result, it does show the lack of principles of Donald, Jr, with Bannon calling this “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

I have noted that, while there is no evidence available that Donald Trump knew of the meeting, it is hard to believe he did not know about it. Bannon’s comments on the meeting further confirm this suspicion.

I have also been writing since the start of this scandal that the real crimes appear to involve financial crimes such as money laundering, followed by Trump’s cover-up of contacts with Russia, as opposed to anything related to altering the election result. Bannon further confirmed that this scandal is really about money laundering:

Bannon, speaking to author Michael Wolff, warned that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”

This view that the investigation will focus on money laundering is consistent with the first indictment from Robert Mueller.

There was another interesting admission from Bannon:

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.

Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.”

So we see that Steve Bannon realizes that Breitbart is not a “legitimate publication.”

Other revelations from the book include that Ivanka wanted to ultimately become the first woman president instead of Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump responded to the quotes from Steve Bannon by saying that  Bannon has “lost his mind.”

(more…)

Russia Tries To Play Hillary Clinton’s Game, Complaining Of Foreign Interference In Their Election

Russia is taking a lesson from Hillary Clinton in whining and irrational complaints, now complaining of foreign intervention.

Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination in a system which was essentially as rigged as picking nominees in the proverbial smoke-filled room–or almost as rigged as a typical Russian election. When she thought that she was going to win, Hillary Clinton said that Donald Trump “threatens democracy” by not accepting the election results. When she subsequently lost as a consequence of her own faults, Clinton decided within twenty-four hours of losing to place the blame on others, and later became even more aggressive in questioning the legitimacy of the election.

Clinton participated in a sham nomination battle in which the rules were rigged to deliver her the nomination and refused to accept the legitimacy of the general election after losing. Putin didn’t even bother with super delegates or debate restrictions–and he is not going to risk making losing a possibility. He simply prohibited opposition leader Alexey Navalny from running against him when he runs for reelection. Navalny was barred from running due to an embezzlement charge which the European Court of Human Rights determined in October to be”arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”

As I noted back in a 2007 post, this is not the first time in which the Russian government has acted to prevent opposition forces from competing in elections.

The State Department protested:

…a State Department representative expressed concern over the Russian government’s “ongoing crackdown against independent voices, from journalists to civil society activists and opposition politicians.”

“These actions indicate the Russian government has failed to protect space in Russia for the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the statement said. “More broadly, we urge the government of Russia to hold genuine elections that are transparent, fair, and free and that guarantee the free expression of the will of the people, consistent with its international human rights obligations.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded on Facebook by accusing the US of “direct interference in our electoral process and internal affairs.”

In our era of constant world-wide interaction on social media we will always see “interference” in foreign elections if any comments by one government is considered to be interference. What matters is that there is no reason that the United States State Department cannot comment on the undemocratic nature of the Russian election. This “interference” is no more likely to alter the results of the Russian election than Russian activity on social media affected the results of the US election.

Besides, Democrats in the United States have been helping Putin quite a bit. Russian opponents of Putin have complained that the false portrayal of Putin as such an powerful puppet master that he can alter foreign elections enhances his reputation and political strength.

The Nation Debunks Russiagate Conspiracy “Fantasyland” And Irresponsible Media Coverage

As was the case in the run up to the Iraq war when a small number of us were disputing the claims used to justify war, there also continues to be articles disputing the Russiagate conspiracy theory that Donald Trump and Russia successfully colluded to alter the 2016 election result. This is most often spread by establishment Democrats who cannot face the fact that Hillary Clinton was such a terrible choice for the nomination that she could not beat someone as awful as Donald Trump. While Robert Mueller’s investigation is uncovering evidence of financial crimes, and obstruction of justice, no evidence has been presented to support the claims of Russia altering the election results which has not been quickly retracted or debunked. Yesterday I quoted from an article by Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University. Another article on this subject by Aaron Maté in The Nation is less extensive but has the benefit of being more likely to be read by Democrats who are being duped this conspiracy theory.

There have been so many debunked claims regarding Russiagate that no single article can deal with them all. Maté concentrated on the numerous reports which have been circulated by the mainstream media, only to be quickly shown to be false–a subject I previously discussed here. He also touched on the false claims of Russian hackers hacking the voting systems of 21 states and the claim that there was a consensus from all the intelligence agencies that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee. This later claim continues to be repeated by many Clinton apologists despite having been retracted by The New York Times last June. It is also worth noting that, while no evidence has been presented so far showing that Russia hacked the DNC, if future evidence should happen to show this, it would be a negative regarding Russia but would still not support Clinton’s argument that Russia is responsible for her loss. The hacked email which was released by Wikileaks provided factual information regarding unethical behavior by Clinton and the DNC, and Clinton would still be responsible for any votes lost because of this.

There are at least five reasons why the Russiagate conspiracy theory is so dangerous. It allows the Democratic establishment to deny responsibility for their mistakes, making reform less likely. It promotes McCarthyism and promotion of restrictions on freedom of expression in the United States. It unnecessarily increases conflict with a nuclear power (playing into the hands of Clinton’s neocon allies who desire to attempt regime change in Russia). It strengthens Putin by showing him to be a far greater master strategist than he is, to the frustration of anti-Putin forces in Russia. Maté began his article with a fifth reason. Concentrating on such false charges distracts from forming a true resistance to the many terrible things Donald Trump has been doing.

After this introduction, Maté more directly addressed the unsupported claims regarding the 2016 election:

The basis for the “virtually uncontested truths” of the year’s “biggest story” remains the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s January 2017 report, which accused Russia of hacking Democratic e-mails and using social media to influence the 2016 election. Yet the report openly acknowledges that its conclusions are “not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.” Nearly one year later, we have yet to see a shred of proof.

What we have in its stead is a stream of Russiagate stories that make bombastic entrances only to quietly slink away. The pattern persists thanks to a media and political culture that embraces credulity and shuns accountability.

Virtually every major outlet reported claims in September that Russian-government-backed hackers targeted the voting systems of 21 states. But last month Christopher Krebs, a senior cyber-security official at the Department of Homeland Security, quietly informed Congress that no such hacking had occurred. “The majority of the activity was simple scanning,” Krebs told a House panel. “Scanning is a regular activity across the Web. I would not characterize that as an attack.… If that context was not provided, I apologize.” He added: “When we talk about that scanning, it was not also necessarily an election system that was scanned.”

Krebs’s contrition did not ring out among the media that had fervently reported the scanning as a hacking attack, and continue to do so as part of Russiagate’s “virtually uncontested truths.” The falsity of the “21 states” claim went largely unreported, outside C-SPAN and the marginal Russian website that took notice.

Meanwhile, accountability has been resisted even when the mistakes are seismically embarrassing. The most recent case was CNN’s erroneous report that the Trump campaign was offered access to Wikileaks’ trove of stolen Democratic Party e-mails before their public release. In a story line worthy of Better Call Saul, it turned out that CNN got the date wrong—someone had in fact e-mailed the Trump campaign a link to the Wikileaks e-mails, only after they were already all over the Internet. As Glenn Greenwald noted, the mistake was egregious not just for the story’s ultimate uselessness, but also for the fact CNN and other outlets all reported they had confirmed it with multiple sources. Yet none of the networks have explained how their “multiple sources” all “confirmed” the same incorrect date.

Maté discussed CNN’s error in greater detail. He next discussed the claims that Russia affected the Brexit vote. As was the case with Russia’s actions on Facebook and Twitter in the United States, he showed that the claims regarding Brexit were highly exaggerated, and then discussed Russia Today and the investigation of Jill Stein:

Just weeks ago, The New York Times warned that reports of Russian-linked social-media activity around the Brexit vote “could raise questions about the legitimacy of the referendum” itself. “I have a very simple message for Russia,” declared British Prime Minister Theresa May on November 13. “We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.”

We now have a full accounting of what Russia was doing: According to Twitter, the Kremlin-backed network Russia Today spent just over $1,000 to promote its Brexit coverage to UK-based viewers. Facebook reported a grand total of 97 cents spent on three ads, “all centered on immigration and aimed at American users,” reaching no more than 200 of them over four days. Whatever Russia was doing, May’s confidence that they would not succeed was doubtless well-founded.

The unquestioning faith in evidence-free or overblown claims coincides with the targeting of those who dare challenge them. The forced registration of RT America as a “foreign agent” was followed by the revoking of the outlet’s congressional press pass, with the usual silence from press-freedom groups and media outlets, even progressive ones. Without explanation, The Huffington Post removed an article by veteran reporter Joe Lauria that methodically challenged Russiagate’s precepts. On Tuesday, Green Party candidate Jill Stein confirmed that she is complying with a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation looking into, in the words of panel chair Senator Richard Burr, “collusion with the Russians.”

Despite multiple interviews explaining the nature of a 2015 trip to Moscow, Stein remains the target of a smear campaign, cheered on by liberal groups, painting her as a Kremlin stooge. “Here’s hoping this lying sack of piety-spewing shit goes to jail with the rest of the bastards Mueller is investigating,” commented liberal sex-advice columnist Dan Savage. Zac Petkanas, a Democratic Party senior adviser and Clinton campaign staffer, was so enthused by the Senate probe that he repeated the phrase “Jill Stein is a Russian agent” to his Twitter followers eight times.

Stein calls the investigation part of a “resurgence of McCarthyism, to suppress opposition voices, to suppress independent politics.” But for its proponents to recognize that would mean acknowledging that it derives from the same kind of behavior that is recognized in Trump. “Any genuine interest in objective reality left the building a while ago, replaced by a self-sustaining fantasyland,” the New York Times editors write of Trump’s right-wing defenders. The tragedy of Russiagate is that its enthusiasts have constructed a “self-sustaining fantasyland” of their own. A fantasyland is no place from which to confront Trump’s reality.

Historian Analyzes The Many Problems With The Russiagate Narrative And Democratic Support For Interventionism

Many partisan Democrats have believed Clinton’s claims that she lost as a consequence of Russian interference in the election, as opposed to her own mistakes, despite the lack of evidence for such claims. Many of those viewing the matter more seriously have expressed skepticism, seeing the current hysteria as reminiscent of claims of WMD in Iraq. Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, has an essay on this at the London Review of Books. He looked at subjects including the lack of evidence that Russia was responsible for the DNC hack, along with how this narrative distracts from the evidence of corruption in the DNC which was revealed in their email. He noted, as I also provided examples of recently, that many of the claims in the media have been quickly shown to be incorrect. He also discussed how the Democratic Party’s fixation on Russiagate has led to them ignoring other issues, including the need to take a stand against the military interventionism advocated by Clinton. While I would recommend reading his full article, here are some excerpts:

American politics have rarely presented a more disheartening spectacle. The repellent and dangerous antics of Donald Trump are troubling enough, but so is the Democratic Party leadership’s failure to take in the significance of the 2016 election campaign. Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton, combined with Trump’s triumph, revealed the breadth of popular anger at politics as usual – the blend of neoliberal domestic policy and interventionist foreign policy that constitutes consensus in Washington…

A story that had circulated during the campaign without much effect resurfaced: it involved the charge that Russian operatives had hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, revealing embarrassing emails that damaged Clinton’s chances. With stunning speed, a new centrist-liberal orthodoxy came into being, enveloping the major media and the bipartisan Washington establishment. This secular religion has attracted hordes of converts in the first year of the Trump presidency. In its capacity to exclude dissent, it is like no other formation of mass opinion in my adult life, though it recalls a few dim childhood memories of anti-communist hysteria during the early 1950s.

The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. The story became gospel with breathtaking suddenness and completeness. Doubters are perceived as heretics and as apologists for Trump and Putin, the evil twins and co-conspirators behind this attack on American democracy. Responsibility for the absence of debate lies in large part with the major media outlets. Their uncritical embrace and endless repetition of the Russian hack story have made it seem a fait accompli in the public mind. It is hard to estimate popular belief in this new orthodoxy, but it does not seem to be merely a creed of Washington insiders. If you question the received narrative in casual conversations, you run the risk of provoking blank stares or overt hostility – even from old friends. This has all been baffling and troubling to me; there have been moments when pop-culture fantasies (body snatchers, Kool-Aid) have come to mind.

Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free ‘assessment’ produced last January by a small number of ‘hand-picked’ analysts – as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them – from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only ‘moderate’ confidence. The label Intelligence Community Assessment creates a misleading impression of unanimity, given that only three of the 16 US intelligence agencies contributed to the report. And indeed the assessment itself contained this crucial admission: ‘Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.’ Yet the assessment has passed into the media imagination as if it were unassailable fact, allowing journalists to assume what has yet to be proved. In doing so they serve as mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies, or at least for those ‘hand-picked’ analysts.

It is not the first time the intelligence agencies have played this role. When I hear the Intelligence Community Assessment cited as a reliable source, I always recall the part played by the New York Times in legitimating CIA reports of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s putative weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the long history of disinformation (a.k.a. ‘fake news’) as a tactic for advancing one administration or another’s political agenda. Once again, the established press is legitimating pronouncements made by the Church Fathers of the national security state. Clapper is among the most vigorous of these. He perjured himself before Congress in 2013, when he denied that the NSA had ‘wittingly’ spied on Americans – a lie for which he has never been held to account. In May 2017, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the Russians were highly likely to have colluded with Trump’s campaign because they are ‘almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’. The current orthodoxy exempts the Church Fathers from standards imposed on ordinary people, and condemns Russians – above all Putin – as uniquely, ‘almost genetically’ diabolical…

Meanwhile, there has been a blizzard of ancillary accusations, including much broader and vaguer charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. It remains possible that Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who has been appointed to investigate these allegations, may turn up some compelling evidence of contacts between Trump’s people and various Russians. It would be surprising if an experienced prosecutor empowered to cast a dragnet came up empty-handed, and the arrests have already begun. But what is striking about them is that the charges have nothing to do with Russian interference in the election. There has been much talk about the possibility that the accused may provide damaging evidence against Trump in exchange for lighter sentences, but this is merely speculation. Paul Manafort, at one point Trump’s campaign manager, has pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to register his public relations firm as a foreign agent for the Ukrainian government and concealing his millions of dollars in fees. But all this occurred before the 2016 campaign. George Papadopolous, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his bungling efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump’s people and the Russian government – an opportunity the Trump campaign declined. Mueller’s most recent arrestee, Michael Flynn, the unhinged Islamophobe who was briefly Trump’s national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December – weeks after the election. This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.

So far, after months of ‘bombshells’ that turn out to be duds, there is still no actual evidence for the claim that the Kremlin ordered interference in the American election. Meanwhile serious doubts have surfaced about the technical basis for the hacking claims. Independent observers have argued it is more likely that the emails were leaked from inside, not hacked from outside. On this front, the most persuasive case was made by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, former employees of the US intelligence agencies who distinguished themselves in 2003 by debunking Colin Powell’s claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, hours after Powell had presented his pseudo-evidence at the UN. (There are members of VIPS who dissent from the VIPS report’s conclusions, but their arguments are in turn contested by the authors of the report.) The VIPS findings received no attention in major media outlets, except Fox News – which from the centre-left perspective is worse than no attention at all. Mainstream media have dismissed the VIPS report as a conspiracy theory (apparently the Russian hacking story does not count as one). The crucial issue here and elsewhere is the exclusion from public discussion of any critical perspectives on the orthodox narrative, even the perspectives of people with professional credentials and a solid track record.

Both the DNC hacking story and the one involving the emails of John Podesta, a Clinton campaign operative, involve a shadowy bunch of putatively Russian hackers called Fancy Bear – also known among the technically inclined as APT28. The name Fancy Bear was introduced by Dimitri Alperovitch, the chief technology officer of Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate the theft of their emails. Alperovitch is also a fellow at the Atlantic Council, an anti-Russian Washington think tank. In its report Crowdstrike puts forward close to zero evidence for its claim that those responsible were Russian, let alone for its assertion that they were affiliated with Russian military intelligence. And yet, from this point on, the assumption that this was a Russian cyber operation was unquestioned. When the FBI arrived on the scene, the Bureau either did not request or was refused access to the DNC servers; instead it depended entirely on the Crowdstrike analysis. Crowdstrike, meanwhile, was being forced to retract another claim, that the Russians had successfully hacked the guidance systems of the Ukrainian artillery. The Ukrainian military and the British International Institute for Strategic Studies both contradicted this claim, and Crowdstrike backed down. But its DNC analysis was allowed to stand and even become the basis for the January Intelligence Community Assessment…

Sceptical voices, such as those of the VIPS, have been drowned out by a din of disinformation. Flagrantly false stories, like the Washington Post report that the Russians had hacked into the Vermont electrical grid, are published, then retracted 24 hours later. Sometimes – like the stories about Russian interference in the French and German elections – they are not retracted even after they have been discredited. These stories have been thoroughly debunked by French and German intelligence services but continue to hover, poisoning the atmosphere, confusing debate. The claim that the Russians hacked local and state voting systems in the US was refuted by California and Wisconsin election officials, but their comments generated a mere whisper compared with the uproar created by the original story. The rush to publish without sufficient attention to accuracy has become the new normal in journalism. Retraction or correction is almost beside the point: the false accusation has done its work.

The most immediate consequence is that, by finding foreign demons who can be blamed for Trump’s ascendancy, the Democratic leadership have shifted the blame for their defeat away from their own policies without questioning any of their core assumptions. Amid the general recoil from Trump, they can even style themselves dissenters – ‘#the resistance’ was the label Clintonites appropriated within a few days of the election. Mainstream Democrats have begun to use the word ‘progressive’ to apply to a platform that amounts to little more than preserving Obamacare, gesturing towards greater income equality and protecting minorities. This agenda is timid. It has nothing to say about challenging the influence of concentrated capital on policy, reducing the inflated defence budget or withdrawing from overextended foreign commitments; yet without those initiatives, even the mildest egalitarian policies face insuperable obstacles. More genuine insurgencies are in the making, which confront corporate power and connect domestic with foreign policy, but they face an uphill battle against the entrenched money and power of the Democratic leadership – the likes of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons and the DNC. Russiagate offers Democratic elites a way to promote party unity against Trump-Putin, while the DNC purges Sanders’s supporters.

For the DNC, the great value of the Russian hack story is that it focuses attention away from what was actually in their emails. The documents revealed a deeply corrupt organisation, whose pose of impartiality was a sham. Even the reliably pro-Clinton Washington Post has admitted that ‘many of the most damaging emails suggest the committee was actively trying to undermine Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.’ Further evidence of collusion between the Clinton machine and the DNC surfaced recently in a memoir by Donna Brazile, who became interim chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in the wake of the email revelations. Brazile describes discovering an agreement dated 26 August 2015, which specified (she writes)

that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics and mailings.

Before the primaries had even begun, the supposedly neutral DNC – which had been close to insolvency – had been bought by the Clinton campaign…

Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner of Boston University analysed election results in three key states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – and found that ‘even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.’ Clinton’s record of uncritical commitment to military intervention allowed Trump to have it both ways, playing to jingoist resentment while posing as an opponent of protracted and pointless war. Kriner and Shen conclude that Democrats may want to ‘re-examine their foreign policy posture if they hope to erase Trump’s electoral gains among constituencies exhausted and alienated by 15 years of war’. If the insurgent movements within the Democratic Party begin to formulate an intelligent foreign policy critique, a re-examination may finally occur. And the world may come into sharper focus as a place where American power, like American virtue, is limited. For this Democrat, that is an outcome devoutly to be wished. It’s a long shot, but there is something happening out there.

Establishment Democrats Again Trying To Smear Jill Stein

I have my doubts as to whether the request for material from former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein by the Senate Intelligence Committee will amount to anything, but establishment Democrats cannot contain their glee. Here is the response from one former Clinton aide who was just one of many Clinton supporters to demonstrate their McCarthyism with chants claiming their unproven (and unlikely) assertion that Jill Stein is a Russian agent:

Others responded by pointing out how weak the logic is that being placed at the table as Putin at an event makes one a Russian agent:

Pictures with the tweet show both Hillary and Bill Clinton sitting with Putin.

When it is a political opponent, Clinton supporters typically consider any form of an investigation being evidence of guilt. However, when it comes to Clinton, they conveniently forget the recent investigations which showed that Clinton was guilty of highly unethical behavior.  The State Department Inspector General’s report showed that Hillary Clinton violated rules designed to promote transparency as Secretary of State by exclusively using a private server and failing to turn this email over for archiving as required by law until forced to after she left office. The FBI report revealed that Clinton repeatedly lied to the public and press on multiple points regarding the email scandal, and that that Clinton and her colleagues were  “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

Clinton supporters have been trying to smear Stein since the election under the mistaken belief that if Stein wasn’t running they would have picked up her votes. In reality, few who voted for Stein would have voted for a corrupt war monger like Clinton. Even if, which I think is unlikely, it turns out that Stein was a Russian agent, and this was revealed during the campaign, I might have voted differently, but still would not have voted for Clinton.

A spokesperson for Stein provided the following statement:

Responding to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence request for documents pertaining to interference in the 2016 election, former Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein said she is cooperating by sharing all communications relevant to the committee’s mission. “We take seriously the issue of potential interference in our elections, as demonstrated by our continuing efforts to investigate the integrity of the 2016 election and examine our voting machines that are widely known to be vulnerable, but which still have not been examined for evidence of interference. To restore trust in our elections and democracy itself, we must safeguard our elections from all potential sources of interference, whether by foreign state actors or domestic political partisans, criminal networks, lone wolves, or private corporations – including those who control voting software.

Our campaign has observed the highest standards of transparency and integrity in our interactions with foreign nationals as well as Americans. Our communications with Russian individuals regarding an invitation to speak on international relations at the RT 10th anniversary media conference will confirm what we stated publicly at that time and since: that we did not accept any payment or even reimbursement for the trip, and that we made the trip with the goal of reaching an international audience and Russian officials with a message of Middle East peace, diplomacy, and cooperation against the urgent threat of climate change, consistent with long-standing Green principles and policies.

We strongly support legitimate inquiry into any illegal activity in our elections – including quid pro quo deals, money laundering, corruption and violation of campaign finance laws. At the same time, we caution against the politicization, sensationalism and collapse of journalistic standards that has plagued media coverage of the investigation. In the current climate of attacks on our civil liberties, with the emergence of censorship in social media and the press, criminalization of protest, militarization of police and massive expansion of the surveillance state, we must guard against the potential for these investigations to be used to intimidate and silence principled opposition to the political establishment.

Stein said that she would release a more comprehensive statement about the investigation in the near future.

Jill Stein was also interviewed by The Intercept:

Stein clearly resents the Senate’s attention vis-à-vis  electoral interference and foreign meddling: “This smacks of the dangerous underbelly of these investigations. The extent to which they exercise overreach, politicizing, and sensationalism is a danger to democracy, especially in the current climate of all-out war on our First Amendment rights. This is not a time to be attacking the rights of political speech and political association.”

…It’s safe to assume the Intelligence Committee is interested in anything pertaining to Stein’s now-infamous attendance of an RT gala in Moscow, at which she was seated and photographed with Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Stein told The Intercept that as she has routinely appeared on RT and expects to hand over communications related to booking those TV segments and other “administrative” messages between her campaign and the Russian network, as well as “logistical” messages about the Moscow event. Stein also noted that before her Moscow visit, she had “requested to speak with either Putin or [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov, or someone in the Russian government, to be able to discuss our policies, because I was there to advance our agenda for peace and climate action and diplomacy and nuclear weapon abolition.”

Stein says this request was not granted. Stein also maintains that she declined to let RT pay for any portion of her trip to Moscow and further denies requesting or receiving any other assistance, monetary or otherwise, from RT, the Russian government, WikiLeaks, or the Trump campaign, adding that any dialogue or cooperation with Trump “would have been quite contrary to our values.”

When asked why she had attended the gala and sought an audience with Putin, she told The Intercept that “we sought contact with every powerful world leader we had access to,” and that the Russian government was of particular interest because of its involvement in the Syrian civil war. “We don’t have any reason to suspect that there was any backdoor communication,” Stein said. “We were very much focused on the substantive issues of the elections, and we avoid like the plague manipulations and machinations in order to make things happen behind the scenes.”

 Stein also described the dinner, along with how minimal her contact was, in this interview with Jeremy Scahill.

PolitiFact Awards Trump Lie of The Year Award Regarding Russia But Unfortunately Ignores Lies Which Promote Anti-Russia Hysteria

PolitiFact has awarded Donald Trump the lie of the year for calling interference in the Russian election a “made-up story.” They are correct that Trump has been lying in saying Russia is a “made-up story.” What they miss is that Clinton and many Democrats have also been lying in going far beyond the evidence to use this to excuse Clinton’s loss and to spread anti-Russia hysteria. Their summary of the issue does make many good points, but also leaves out important additional information to place this in context. As a result, while there is no question that Russia attempted to interfere, and they do note that the interference was unlikely to have changed the result of the election, readers of their article do not get the full picture.

There is no question that Russia interfered in the election. Both Russia and the United States have intervened in foreign elections for decades, so it was absurd for Trump to deny any interference. According to a paper on election meddling reviewed by Slate:

Using declassified documents, statements by officials, and journalistic accounts, Levin has found evidence of interference by either the United States or the Soviet Union/Russia in 117 elections around the world between 1946 and 2000, or 11.3 percent of the 937 competitive national-level elections held during this period. Eighty-one of those interventions were by the U.S. while 36 were by the USSR/Russia. They happened in every region of the world, though most commonly in Europe and Latin America. The two powers tended to focus on different countries, though Italy was a favorite of both, receiving eight interventions by the U.S. and four by the Soviets.

What PolitiFact gets wrong is in their interpretation of the information released in the Congressional testimony, leading to them exaggerating the importance of Russia’s interference in 2016 compared to previous years.  PolitiFact notes that, “Facebook estimated that 126 million people were served Russia-influenced content during the two-year period before the election.” This number means far less when put in perspective, with this representing a minuscule portion of Facebook traffic despite sounding like a large number.

When looking at a number like 126 million it is also important to note that Russian-purchased Facebook ads accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. While PolitiFact is correct that, “Some ads were overtly anti-Clinton,” it leaves out the fact that many of the ads were not anti-Clinton, and many had nothing to do with the election. Many seemed more designed to receive hits than to affect the election result.  Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election. The biggest success attributed to Russia on Facebook has been to get 5000 to 10,000 people to turn out for a rally–a rally protesting against Donald Trump after the election. The impact on Twitter was not any more significant. The largest of the alleged Russian troll pages had 25,045 followers at its peak, and the others had far fewer.

Similarly there has been a tremendous amount of false or misleading news reports, which were later retracted regarding Russia, which could have influenced readers of PolitFact to rank this lie from Trump as more important than it actually was. It is notable that this was chosen as lie of the year based upon the votes of readers, not any objective measure.

It is significant that Russia did have reason to oppose Clinton in the election. They noted, but played down, how Clinton has also meddled in the Russian election in opposing Putin. With Clinton having a long history of belligerency towards Russia, and with her aligned with neocons who have promoted regime change in Russia, Putin had additional reason to take a side. A recent story in The Atlantic notes:

Putin had always been suspicious of democracy promotion, but two moments convinced him that America was coming for him under its guise. The first was the 2011 nato intervention in Libya, which led, ultimately, to the ousting and gruesome lynching of the Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi. Afterward, many people who interacted with Putin noticed how deeply Qaddafi’s death troubled him. He is said to have watched the video of the killing over and over. “The way Qaddafi died made a profound impact on him,” says Jake Sullivan, a former senior State Department official who met repeatedly with senior Russian officials around that time. Another former senior Obama-administration official describes Putin as “obsessed” with Qaddafi’s death. (The official concedes, “I think we did overreach” in Libya.)

Of course the regime change in Libya was orchestrated by Hillary Clinton, based upon lies. Many of our current problems stem from the irresponsible actions of neocons like Clinton and Bush. Besides affecting US relations with Russia, Clinton’s actions in Libya are directly responsible for the problems we now face in North Korea.

Clinton and many Democrats have been spreading their own lies about Russia to shift the blame for Clinton losing an election against an opponent as terrible as Donald Trump. As was revealed in Shattered, Hillary Clinton devised a strategy of blaming others, including Russia, for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The claim that Russia affected the election result was largely based upon the Steele Dossier. Clinton and the DNC had covered up their role in paying for this report for months, casting doubt on its reliability.

While Trump has been lying about Russia, the more important aspects of this story involve financial crimes such as money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Trump has certainly lied in denying that Russia has meddled in our election, but the Democrats have also been lying about the situation, which can lead to catastrophic consequences when applied to a nuclear power, along with encouraging McCarthyism at home by many Democrats.

Cleaning Up The Democratic Party Requires Removing More Than Franken and Conyers

Several female Democratic Senators have called on Al Franken to step down today. This comes shortly after John Conyers resigned from the House under pressure. Removing those who have engaged in sexual harassment makes sense. However, sexual harassment should not be the only sin which goes punished. After we clear out the perpetrators of sexual harassment I hope that this cleansing of the Democratic Party can continue:

Let’s get rid of those have been willing to put up with the graft and corruption of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Plus there should be a special circle of Hell for anyone who uses the “but her emails” line. To excuse Hillary Clinton over the email scandal means that you 1) support her total refusal to abide by rules put in place by Barack Obama to increase government transparency, 2) are willing to ignore repeated lies from her regarding the matter for months, ultimately being a major reason she lost the presidential election to Donald Trump, and 3) you don’t care that she destroyed potential evidence of her influence peddling at the State Department.

Let’s get rid of Democrats who have embraced neoconservative interventionism, including those who excuse Clinton’s views and policies on Iraq, Libya, and Syria, along with those backing the new Cold War type hysteria regarding Russia.

Let’s get rid of Democrats who are now engaging in McCarthyism, accusing those who question their unfounded claims about Russia of being pro-Putin. (Never mind that they are the ones who are really acting to undermine the liberal opposition to Putin in Russia).

Let’s get rid of Democrats who support a totally undemocratic nomination system for the presidency. This includes those who want to preserve measures in place since McGovern’s loss including superdelegates and front-loading of southern states. Even more so, get rid of those who backed the increased actions to rig the nomination in 2016 including restrictions on debates, changing of fund raising rules to help Clinton, voting restrictions, giving Clinton unprecedented control over the party during the primary campaign, changing how the results in Iowa were announced to help Clinton, and Harry Reid’s games in Nevada to help Clinton. Plus get rid of those backing a purge of the left in the DNC and making lobbyists superdelegates.

Russian Opponents Of Putin See Dangers In Unproven Claims Regarding 2016 Election

The attacks on American democracy from the Clinton camp are also being seen as a threat from liberal opponents of Putin in Russia. As I have written repeatedly since the start of investigations regarding Trump and Russia, there is probably a very significant story regarding money laundering and possibly other illegal business dealings between Trump and Russians. There is strong evidence of attempts at a cover-up on the part of Trump and others in his administration. While there has  been some meddling in the election, just as Russians have meddled in our elections for decades, and the United States has meddled in the elections in other countries, there has been no evidence of the claims made by Clinton supporters and partisan Democrats that the Russians had any significant impact on the 2016 election results. An article in The New York Times indicates that opponents of Putin in Russia also object to the false claims being spread of the Russians altering the election results.

From an article entitled Why Putin’s Foes Deplore U.S. Fixation on Election Meddling:

For months, President Vladimir V. Putin has predictably denied accusations of Russian interference in last year’s American election, denouncing them as fake news fueled by Russophobic hysteria.

More surprising, some of Mr. Putin’s biggest foes in Russia, notably pro-Western liberals who look to the United States as an exemplar of democratic values and journalistic excellence, are now joining a chorus of protest over America’s fixation with Moscow’s meddling in its political affairs.

“Enough already!” Leonid M. Volkov, chief of staff for the anti-corruption campaigner and opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, wrote in a recent anguished post on Facebook. “What is happening with ‘the investigation into Russian interference,’ is not just a disgrace but a collective eclipse of the mind.”

What most disturbs Mr. Putin’s critics about what they see as America’s Russia fever is that it reinforces a narrative put forth tirelessly by the state-controlled Russian news media. On television, in newspapers and on websites, Mr. Putin is portrayed as an ever-victorious master strategist who has led Russia — an economic, military and demographic weakling compared with the United States — from triumph to triumph on the world stage.

Mr. Volkov and others say they have no doubt that Russia did interfere, at least on the margins, in last year’s presidential election campaign. But they complain that the United States consistently inflates Mr. Putin’s impact and portrays his government as far more unified and effective than it really is, cementing his legacy and making him harder to challenge at home.

Ultimately, they say, Americans are using Russia as a scapegoat to explain the deep political discord in the United States. That has left many westward-leaning Russians, who have long looked to America for their ideals, in bitter disappointment that the United States seems to be mimicking some of their own country’s least appealing traits.

The hunt for a hidden Russian hand behind President Trump’s election victory has caused particular disquiet among liberal-minded Russian journalists.

“The image of Putin’s Russia constructed by Western and, above all, American media outlets over the past 18 months shocks even the most anti-Putin reader in Russia,” Oleg V. Kashin, a journalist critical of the Kremlin, wrote last week in Republic, a Russian news site. He complained that the American media has consistently misconstrued the way Russia works, presenting marginal opportunists and self-interested businessmen with no real link to the Kremlin as state-controlled agents working on orders from Mr. Putin.

For Ivan I. Kurilla, a professor of history and an America specialist at the European University at St. Petersburg, a bastion of liberal thinking, Russia’s prominent and almost entirely negative role on America’s political stage since the November election reprises a phenomenon first seen in the late 1800s.

Americans use Russia each time they feel their own identity in crisis,” said Mr. Kurilla, the author of a new book on the history of Russian-American relations, “Frenemies.”

Unlike China and India, which are far more distant culturally and geographically from the United States, he added, Russia is a country on to which alarm over America’s own internal problems can be easily projected.

“American liberals are so upset about Trump that they cannot believe he is a real product of American life,” Mr. Kurilla said. “They try to portray him as something created by Russia. This whole thing is about America, not Russia.”

…Both Mr. Volkov and Mr. Kurilla worry that American intelligence agencies have made it too easy for the Kremlin to deny its interference in the American elections — and, at the same time, also take credit for it — by keeping concrete evidence secret, which has only allowed sometimes wild conspiracy theories to take flight.

“This helps the Kremlin a lot. It promotes Putin’s image as a geopolitical mastermind, the smartest and strongest man in the world,” Mr. Volkov said. “It hurts us a lot that no evidence has been released. And it helps Russian propaganda because the Kremlin can say it is all just a conspiracy against Russia.”

The state-run Russian news media, while echoing the official Kremlin line that Russia has not interfered in any way, often takes barely disguised delight in American accusations that Mr. Putin masterminded a stealthy campaign to undermine the United States.

Michael Idov, a Russian-American screenwriter, author and former magazine editor, said the idea that Mr. Putin, through hacking, fake news and other tools, could outfox and disorient the world’s most powerful democratic nation makes the Russian president look invincible. But this image of a “globally victorious Putin is hard to accept when you can’t even find decent cheese in Moscow” because of Western sanctions and Russian countersanctions, Mr. Idov said…

A few independent Russian media outlets have investigated the Russian meddling story, including RBC, a newspaper that recently produced an in-depth report on how a so-called troll factory of paid online agitators based in St. Petersburg had tried to incite street protests in the United States through postings on the internet by a phony group claiming to represent disenfranchised black Americans.

But reporting in the independent Russian news media has often focused on how little real impact such disruptive efforts have had, leaving readers with the impression that the main victims are not so much American voters but Russian taxpayers, whose money has gone to support an array of well-funded but largely ineffective operations.

“The difference between suspicion and evidence has become blurred when it comes to the American election. This makes myself and others very disappointed,” said Maria Lipman, a veteran Russian journalist.

The highly exaggerated claims about the impact of Russia on the 2016 election is partially motivated by denial of Trump’s victory as Ivan I. Kurilla stated, but is also fueled by Hillary Clinton’s attempts to divert the blame for her loss. As was revealed by in Shattered, Hillary Clinton devised a strategy of blaming others, including Russia, for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The claim that Russia affected the election result was largely based upon the Steele Dossier. We recently learned that Clinton and the DNC had covered up their role in paying for this report for months, casting doubt on its reliability. More recently we learned that Christopher Steele is saying he believes the report is 70% to 90% accurate. In other words, he admits that thirty percent could be inaccurate.

Similarly, other claims that Russia altered the election result have fallen apart when viewed objectively. For example, we learned during the recent Congressional testimony that Russian-purchased Facebook ads accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton.  We have seen sensational media reports of attempted Russian hacks, only to see Homeland Security later retract the claims (with far less publicity).

(more…)

First Indictments Involve Money Laundering But Plea Bargain By Papadopoulos Could Be More Important

The indictments expected all weekend turned out to the least interesting outcome considering that Manafort’s indictment had been expected for quite a while. The indictments of Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates are based upon financial crimes as I predicted. This action fails to help the cases made by partisans on either side. This is unrelated to the charges that Trump colluded with Russia to affect the election results as Hillary Clinton and Democratic partisans claim. It also contradicts pro-Trump partisans who have called Mueller’s investigation a witch hunt. It is also rather embarrassing to Donald Trump that, as Lawfare put it:

The president of the United States had as his campaign chairman a man who had allegedly served for years as an unregistered foreign agent for a puppet government of Vladimir Putin, a man who was allegedly laundering remarkable sums of money even while running the now-president’s campaign, a man who allegedly lied about all of this to the FBI and the Justice Department.

The more important development today might turn out to be that George Papadopoulos is entering into a plea bargain, which probably would have only been offered if he has information on people higher up in the campaign. This is the second incident we know about in which people in the Trump campaign spoke to Russians about getting information on Hillary Clinton. From The Washington Post:

Papadopoulos has agreed to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. Specifically, he falsely claimed that they had occurred before he joined the campaign in March 2016. He had communication with a professor who had contacts in the Russian government; this professor told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” The professor introduced him to a Russian national who was supposedly Vladimir Putin’s niece (it turned out she wasn’t), and to someone who supposedly had connections in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Based on those conversations, Papadopoulos pressed the campaign to set up meetings with the Russians, a suggestion that never came to fruition.

As with the meeting attended by Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner, there was an interest in obtaining information from Russia but no evidence than they were provided any information which helped the Trump campaign or altered the election result. While it is widely assumed that Donald Trump was probably aware of the meeting attended by his son and son-in-law, there is no evidence of this. Perhaps Papadopoulos has information regarding which people in the campaign were encouraging such meetings with Russia, and whether this includes Donald Trump.

The Clinton campaign has said it is beyond the pale to be working with foreigners, but we also know of at least two occasions when Clinton also worked with foreigners to affect the election results, including the recent revelations about the Clinton campaign and the DNC funding the Trump Russia dossier despite their earlier denials. The optics of the Trump campaign working with Russia to obtain information may appear worse than the Clinton campaign working with other foreigners, but any legal issues arising from this are likely be the same.

This is the the first action from Robert Muller. It remains to be seen if further indictments regarding money laundering get closer to Donald Trump and his family. It also remains to be seen whether Mueller has uncovered any direct evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, or of other actions allegedly performed by Russia to affect the election result.

In related news, Politco reports that Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, is stepping down from the Podesta Group following reports that he is under investigation by Robert Mueller. From Politico’s report:

The investigation into Podesta and his firm grew out of investigators’ examination of Manafort’s finances. Manafort organized a PR campaign on behalf of a nonprofit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Podesta Group was one of several firms that were paid to do work on the PR campaign to promote Ukraine in the U.S.

Podesta Group filed paperwork with the Justice Department in April stating that it had done work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine that also benefited the same Ukrainian political party that Manafort once advised. Podesta Group said at the time it believed its client was a European think tank untethered to a political party.

The Hill reports that the Maryland Attorney General is investigating Jared Kushner “over alleged questionable debt collection practices and poor maintenance at several of its properties in that state.”