Flynn’s lawyers have terminated their agreement to share information with Trump’s lawyers

The New York Times reports: Lawyers for Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, notified the president’s legal team in recent days that they could no longer discuss the special counsel’s investigation, according to four people involved in the case, an indication that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with prosecutors or negotiating such a deal.

Mr. Flynn’s lawyers had been sharing information with Mr. Trump’s lawyers about the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining whether anyone around Mr. Trump was involved in Russian efforts to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

That agreement has been terminated, the four people said. Defense lawyers frequently share information during investigations, but they must stop when doing so would pose a conflict of interest. It is unethical for lawyers to work together when one client is cooperating with prosecutors and another is still under investigation.

The notification alone does not prove that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with Mr. Mueller. Some lawyers withdraw from information-sharing arrangements as soon as they begin negotiating with prosecutors. And such negotiations sometimes fall apart.

Still, the notification led Mr. Trump’s lawyers to believe that Mr. Flynn — who, along with his son, is seen as having significant criminal exposure — has, at the least, begun discussions with Mr. Mueller about cooperating. [Continue reading…]

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Manafort flight records show deeper Kremlin ties than previously known

McClatchy reports: Political guru Paul Manafort took at least 18 trips to Moscow and was in frequent contact with Vladimir Putin’s allies for nearly a decade as a consultant in Russia and Ukraine for oligarchs and pro-Kremlin parties.

Even after the February 2014 fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, who won office with the help of a Manafort-engineered image makeover, the American consultant flew to Kiev another 19 times over the next 20 months while working for the smaller, pro-Russian Opposition Bloc party. Manafort went so far as to suggest the party take an anti-NATO stance, an Oppo Bloc architect has said. A key ally of that party leader, oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, was identified by an earlier Ukrainian president as a former Russian intelligence agent, “100 percent.”

It was this background that Manafort brought to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which he joined in early 2016 and soon led. His web of connections to Russia-loyal potentates is now a focus of federal investigators.

Manafort’s flight records in and out of Ukraine, which McClatchy obtained from a government source in Kiev, and interviews with more than a dozen people familiar with his activities, including current and former government officials, suggest the links between Trump’s former campaign manager and Russia sympathizers run deeper than previously thought.

What’s now known leads some Russia experts to suspect that the Kremlin’s emissaries at times turned Manafort into an asset acting on Russia’s behalf. “You can make a case that all along he …was either working principally for Moscow, or he was trying to play both sides against each other just to maximize his profits,” said Daniel Fried, a former assistant secretary of state who communicated with Manafort during Yanukovych’s reign in President George W. Bush’s second term. [Continue reading…]

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Mike Flynn business partner Bijan Kian now subject of Mueller probe

NBC News reports: A former business associate of Michael Flynn has become a subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation for his role in the failure of Flynn’s former lobbying firm to disclose its work on behalf of foreign governments, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

Federal investigators are zeroing in on Bijan Kian, an Iranian-American who was a partner at the now-dissolved Flynn Intel Group, and have questioned multiple witnesses in recent weeks about his lobbying work on behalf of Turkey. The grand jury convened for the investigation will soon have a chance to question some of those witnesses, the sources say.

Mueller recently indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates simultaneously. Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty. Both Flynn’s and Manafort’s lobbying firms have come under investigation for failing to disclose lobbying work on behalf of foreign governments. [Continue reading…]

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Kushner wonders whether Mueller’s probe will ‘get the president?’

Gabriel Sherman writes: As [Jared] Kushner’s Russia troubles mount—last Friday the Senate disclosed that he had not turned over e-mails about WikiLeaks, a claim his attorney, Abbe Lowell, denied—insiders are again speculating, as my colleague Emily Jane Fox reported last month, about how long Kushner and Ivanka Trump will remain in Washington. Despite Kushner’s efforts to project confidence about Robert Mueller’s probe, he expressed worry after the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates about how far the investigation could go. “Do you think they’ll get the president?” Kushner asked a friend, according to a person briefed on the conversation.

According to two Republicans who have spoken with Trump, the president has also been frustrated with Kushner’s political advice, including his encouragement to back losing Alabama G.O.P. candidate Luther Strange and to fire F.B.I. Director James Comey, which Kushner denies. (For what it’s worth, Kushner’s choice of Strange prevented Trump from the embarrassment of inadvertently supporting Roy Moore.) Trump, according to three people who’ve spoken to him, has advocated for Jared and Ivanka to return to New York in part because they are being damaged by negative press. “He keeps pressuring them to go,” one source close to Kushner told me. But as bad as the Russia investigation may be, it’s not clear a New York homecoming would be much better for Kushner, given that his family’s debt-ridden office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue could be headed for bankruptcy. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller probes Jared Kushner’s contacts with foreign leaders

The Wall Street Journal reports: Robert Mueller’s investigators are asking questions about Jared Kushner’s interactions with foreign leaders during the presidential transition, including his involvement in a dispute at the United Nations in December, in a sign of the expansive nature of the special counsel’s probe of Russia’s alleged meddling in the election, according to people familiar with the matter.

The investigators have asked witnesses questions about the involvement of Mr. Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, in a controversy over a U.N. resolution passed Dec. 23, before Mr. Trump took office, that condemned Israel’s construction of settlements in disputed territories, these people said.

Israeli officials had asked the incoming Trump administration to intervene to help block it. Mr. Trump posted a Facebook message the day before the U.N. vote—after he had been elected but before he had assumed office—saying the resolution put the Israelis in a difficult position and should be vetoed.

Mr. Trump also held a phone conversation with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, whose government had written a draft of the resolution. Egypt proceeded to call for the vote to be delayed, but the resolution passed the following day, with then-President Barack Obama’s administration declining to block it.

Israeli officials said at the time that they began reaching out to senior leaders in Mr. Trump’s transition team. Among those involved were Mr. Kushner and political strategist Stephen Bannon, according to people briefed on the exchanges.

The White House referred questions to Mr. Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, and to a White House lawyer.

The motivation for the Mueller team’s questions about the U.N. is unclear. [Continue reading…]

It seems likely that the focus here is not the legality of these diplomatic exchanges but instead a pattern of deception — Kushner’s apparent habit of withholding information and providing false or deceptive answers while being questioned under oath.

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17 women have accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct. It’s time to revisit those stories

Elisabeth Ponsot and Sarah Slobin write: After a fifth woman accused Roy Moore of sexual misbehavior or assault, US senate majority leader and fellow Republican Mitch McConnell urged the Alabama senate nominee to withdraw, saying, “I believe the women.”

His visible and vocal stance regarding Moore sharply contrasts with how supporters of Donald Trump have responded to at least 17 women who have accused him of various degrees of sexual harassment, voyeurism, and assault. Their claims against the US president span three decades. During his campaign, Trump vociferously denied each accusation, adding in one instance that the woman in question “would not have been my first choice.”

Republican leaders spoke out against Trump in October 2016, when an Access Hollywood tape emerged in which Trump can be heard bragging that he could “grab [women] by the pussy.” But they did not defend the women who came forward with assault allegations against Trump, nor did they suggest their claims were credible.

As the calendar ticked forward to the presidential vote, GOP figures who had briefly distanced themselves from Trump got behind him again. His accusers’ stories faded to the background. The media moved on to other things. Trump was elected.

Now that he has sided with Moore’s accusers, McConnell was asked on Nov. 15 if he believes the women who similarly accused Trump. He would not answer. “Look, we’re talking about the situation in Alabama,” he told reporters. “And I’d be happy to address that if there are any further questions.” [Continue reading…]

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Top Russian official tried to broker ‘backdoor’ meeting between Trump and Putin

The New York Times reports: A senior Russian official who claimed to be acting at the behest of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia tried in May 2016 to arrange a meeting between Mr. Putin and Donald J. Trump, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The news of this reached the Trump campaign in a very circuitous way. An advocate for Christian causes emailed campaign aides saying that Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank who has been linked both to Russia’s security services and organized crime, had proposed a meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump. The subject line of the email, turned over to Senate investigators, read, “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” according to one person who has seen the message.

The proposal made its way to the senior levels of the Trump campaign before Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a top campaign aide, sent a message to top campaign officials rejecting it, according to two people who have seen Mr. Kushner’s message.

Though the meeting never happened, Mr. Torshin’s request is the latest example of how the Russian government intensified its effort to contact and influence the Trump campaign last year as Mr. Trump was closing in on the Republican presidential nomination. It came just weeks after a self-described intermediary for the Russian government told a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, that the Russians had “dirt” on Mr. Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, in the form of “thousands of emails.”

Soon after Mr. Torshin’s outreach fizzled, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, arranged a meeting at Trump Tower after being told that a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin would bring damaging information about Mrs. Clinton to the meeting. [Continue reading…]

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Hope Hicks may hold the keys to Mueller’s Russia puzzle

Politico reports: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is preparing to interview the woman who’s seen it all: Hope Hicks.

She’s been part of Donald Trump’s inner circle for years, first at Trump Tower and then as an omnipresent gatekeeper and fixer who could get emails or other communications directly to the boss during the 2016 campaign.

As a senior White House adviser and now as communications director, she’s been in the room for moments critical to Mueller’s probe, which has grown to include the president’s response to the Russia investigation itself.

Hicks’ history with Trump makes her one of the more useful witnesses for Mueller as he looks for insights into the president’s habits and moods. She also is one of the few people well positioned to recount the president’s reactions at various moments as the Russia scandal has sidetracked his presidency — including the Mueller appointment itself.

Mueller’s decision to request an interview with Hicks — who hasn’t been named in any criminal wrongdoing — also indicates he’s reached a critical point in the overall investigation, according to former prosecutors and veterans of past White House investigations. Typically, conversations with such senior-level aides are saved for near the end of a probe. [Continue reading…]

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How Jared Kushner’s newspaper became a favorite outlet for WikiLeaks election hacks

Foreign Policy reports: In the fall of 2014, Julian Assange, the embattled head of WikiLeaks, was meeting with a steady stream of supportive journalists in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had taken refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges. Among those seeking an audience with Assange was a freelancer working for the New York Observer, the newspaper owned and published by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and key advisor, Jared Kushner.

Ken Kurson, the newspaper’s editor in chief — along with a freelance writer he’d hired — helped arrange a “no-holds-barred” interview with Assange that October.

“My editor Ken Kurson (kkurson@observer.com) and I are very interested in an interview with Julian Assange. This would be a cover story.… We will be in London the first week of October,” wrote Jacques Hyzagi, a freelance reporter for the Observer, to a press consultant who arranged interviews for WikiLeaks.

Kurson, when contacted by Foreign Policy, said he did not attend that meeting and has never communicated with Assange; he insists that the profile was Hyzagi’s idea. “We ran an interview pitched to us by a freelancer,” he wrote in an email.

“I have never communicated in any way with Julian Assange and this sort of fact-free, evidenceless charge is analogous to pizzagate and other totally ludicrous conspiracies,” he added.

Hyzagi did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Yet a series of exchanges between Hyzagi and the WikiLeaks representative indicated that a meeting involving Kurson and Assange was in the works; at one point Leonardo DiCaprio was invited to tag along, according to emails obtained by FP. (DiCaprio did not end up attending.)

After that, the plan was to travel to Moscow to meet with Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor. Snowden’s team declined a request for an interview from Hyzagi, according to Ben Wizner, Snowden’s attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s sexual assault accusers demand justice in the #MeToo era: ‘We were forgotten’

People magazine reports: The recent accusations of sexual misconduct against a long list of powerful men in Hollywood and other industries have been widely believed — and led to resignations, loss of careers and other fallout.

Meanwhile, some of the women who accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment or assault during the presidential campaign wonder when the president might finally pay a price for what he allegedly did to them.

“Things just seem to fall off of Trump, I’m extremely disappointed,” says Jessica Leeds, 75, who alleges Trump tried to kiss her, fondle her breasts and put his hand up her skirt while on a flight to New York in the early 1980s. [Continue reading…]

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Does cooperating witness have info on Flynn tie to Turkey?

NBC News reports: A gold trader who is close to Turkish President Recep Erdogan is now cooperating with federal prosecutors in a money-laundering case, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter, and legal experts say prosecutors may be seeking information about any ties between the Turkish government and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

Reza Zarrab, a dual Turkish-Iranian national, faces charges in federal court in Manhattan for skirting sanctions on Iran by allegedly moving hundreds of millions of dollars for the Iranian government and Iranian firms via offshore entities and bank accounts.

But Zarrab is now out of jail and speaking to prosecutors — a move President Erdogan had been desperately hoping to avoid. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller issued subpoena for Russia-related documents from Trump campaign officials

The Wall Street Journal reports: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in mid-October issued a subpoena to President Donald Trump’s campaign requesting Russia-related documents from more than a dozen top officials, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena, which requested documents and emails from the listed campaign officials that reference a set of Russia-related keywords, marked Mr. Mueller’s first official order for information from the campaign, according to the person. The subpoena didn’t compel any officials to testify before Mr. Mueller’s grand jury, the person said.

The subpoena caught the campaign by surprise, the person said. The campaign had previously been voluntarily complying with the special counsel’s requests for information, and had been sharing with Mr. Mueller’s team the documents it provided to congressional committees as part of their probes of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.

The Trump campaign is providing documents in response to the subpoena on an “ongoing” basis, the person said. [Continue reading…]

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Kushner got emails about WikiLeaks, Russia in 2016, lawmakers say

Politico reports: Jared Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” and forwarded them to another campaign official, according to a letter to his attorney from the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Kushner failed to turn over the relevant documents when they asked for them last month.

“We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the Committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete,” the pair wrote in a letter dated Thursday to Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell.

Lowell said in a statement that he and Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, had been responsive to the requests.

“We provided the Judiciary Committee with all relevant documents that had to do with Mr. Kushner’s calls, contacts or meetings with Russians during the campaign and transition, which was the request,” Lowell said, adding that he and Kushner had also told the committee they would be open to additional requests for information.

In a section of the letter titled “Missing documents,” Grassley and Feinstein said Kushner had handed over some materials but omitted communications that mentioned some of the people connected to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“If, as you suggest, Mr. Kushner was unaware of, for example, any attempts at Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, then presumably there would be few communications concerning many of the persons identified,” the lawmakers wrote.

Grassley and Feinstein also alluded to documents they received from other witnesses on which Kushner was copied. [Continue reading…]

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Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election was a performance mostly for the benefit of non-American publics

Earlier this month, Ivan Krastev wrote: if we want to figure out why the Russians did what they did, we need to leave the terrain of spy games and move to the realm of foreign policy.

Here, we can start with a simple observation: While Russia’s meddling was a shock in the West, in Russia it was neither surprising nor scandalous. In my recent discussions with Russian foreign policy experts, they have made clear that if Moscow wants to be a world power, on an equal footing with Washington, it should be able and willing to match the United States. Russian leaders believe that Washington interferes in their domestic politics and that the United States intends to orchestrate a regime change in Moscow. So if they take that as given, the Kremlin should be able to similarly meddle and to show the world that it has the capabilities and will to do so. Reciprocal action is, after all, how you gain the respect of your enemies and the loyalty of your allies.

The common sense in Moscow foreign policy circles today is that Russia can regain its great power status only by confronting the United States, not by cooperating with it. [Continue reading…]

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How Trump walked into Putin’s web

Luke Harding writes: Moscow, summer 1991. Mikhail Gorbachev is in power. Official relations with the west have softened, but the KGB still assumes all western embassy workers are spooks. The KGB agents assigned to them are easy to spot. They have a method. Sometimes they pursue targets on foot, sometimes in cars. The officers charged with keeping tabs on western diplomats are never subtle.

One of their specialities is breaking into Moscow apartments. The owners are always away, of course. The KGB leave a series of clues – stolen shoes, women’s tights knotted together, cigarette butts stomped out and left demonstratively on the floor. Or a surprise turd in the toilet, waiting in grim ambush. The message, crudely put, is this: we are the masters here! We can do what the fuck we please!

Back then, the KGB kept watch on all foreigners, especially American and British ones. The UK mission in Moscow was under close observation. The British embassy was a magnificent mansion built in the 1890s by a rich sugar merchant, on the south bank of the Moskva river. It looked directly across to the Kremlin. The view was dreamy: a grand palace, golden church domes and medieval spires topped with revolutionary red stars.

One of those the KGB routinely surveilled was a 27-year-old diplomat, newly married to his wife, Laura, on his first foreign posting, and working as a second secretary in the chancery division. In this case, their suspicions were right.

The “diplomat” was a British intelligence officer. His workplace was a grand affair: chandeliers, mahogany-panelled reception rooms, gilt-framed portraits of the Queen and other royals hanging from the walls. His desk was in the embassy library, surrounded by ancient books. The young officer’s true employer was an invisible entity back in London – SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6.

His name was Christopher Steele. Years later, he would be commissioned to undertake an astonishing secret investigation. It was an explosive assignment: to uncover the Kremlin’s innermost secrets with relation to Donald Trump. Steele’s findings, and the resulting dossier, would shake the American intelligence community and cause a political earthquake not seen since the dark days of Richard Nixon and Watergate. [Continue reading…]

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We knew Julian Assange hated Clinton. We didn’t know he was secretly advising Trump

Robert Mackey reports: The revelation that WikiLeaks secretly offered help to Donald Trump’s campaign, in a series of private Twitter messages sent to the candidate’s son Donald Trump Jr., gave ammunition to the group’s many detractors and also sparked anger from some longtime supporters of the organization and its founder, Julian Assange.

One of the most high-profile dissenters was journalist Barrett Brown, whose crowdsourced investigations of hacked corporate documents later posted on WikiLeaks led to a prison sentence.

Brown had a visceral reaction to the news, first reported by The Atlantic, that WikiLeaks had been advising the Trump campaign. In a series of tweets and Facebook videos, Brown accused Assange of having compromised “the movement” to expose corporate and government wrongdoing by acting as a covert political operative.

Brown explained that he had defended WikiLeaks for releasing emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, “because it was an appropriate thing for a transparency org to do.” But, he added, “working with an authoritarian would-be leader to deceive the public is indefensible and disgusting.” [Continue reading…]

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Secret finding: 60 Russian payments ‘to finance election campaign of 2016’

BuzzFeed reports: On Aug. 3 of last year, just as the US presidential election was entering its final, heated phase, the Russian foreign ministry sent nearly $30,000 to its embassy in Washington. The wire transfer, which came from a Kremlin-backed Russian bank, landed in one of the embassy’s Citibank accounts and contained a remarkable memo line: “to finance election campaign of 2016.”

That wire transfer is one of more than 60 now being scrutinized by the FBI and other federal agencies investigating Russian involvement in the US election. The transactions, which moved through Citibank accounts and totaled more than $380,000, each came from the Russian foreign ministry and most contained a memo line referencing the financing of the 2016 election.

The money wound up at Russian embassies in almost 60 countries from Afghanistan to Nigeria between Aug. 3 and Sept. 20, 2016. It is not clear how the funds were used. At least one transaction that came into the US originated with VTB Bank, a financial institution that is majority-owned by the Kremlin. [Continue reading…]

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Sessions again changes his account of what he knew about Trump campaign’s dealings with Russians

The Washington Post reports: Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday again revised his account of what he knew about the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russians, acknowledging for the first time that he recalled a meeting where a foreign policy adviser mentioned having contacts who could possibly broker a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions said he now remembered adviser George Papadopoulos saying in March 2016 that he knew people who might be able to help arrange a Trump-Putin meeting.

When Sessions was asked last month whether he thought surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians, he said, “I did not, and I’m not aware of anyone else that did, and I don’t believe it happened.”

But at Tuesday’s hearing, Sessions said his memory had been refreshed.

“I do now recall the March 2016 meeting at the Trump hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting,” Sessions told lawmakers. “After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government, for that matter.” [Continue reading…]

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