BREAKING Reports: Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Ordered to Surrender to Feds

The New York Times just broke the story:

Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates were told to surrender to federal authorities Monday morning, the first charges in a special counsel investigation, according to a person involved in the case.

Neither Gates nor Manafort could be reached for comment. Therefore CNN is now safe from the axe–the indictments appear to be on the level. Or the leakers are now expanding to include the NYT’s Matt Apuzo.

My bet is that it’s real.

Russia Purchased Black Lives Matter Facebook Ad

Evidence is mounting of Russian involvement in the 2016 election, but the evidence does not always fit the preconceived notion that Putin’s government acted to help Donald Trump’s campaign defeat Hillary Clinton. A new revelation that a Facebook ad purchased by the Russians promoted Black Lives Matter casts doubt on the usual narrative.

CNN reports the Russians bought “at least one” Facebook ad that promoted the Black Lives Matter movement. The ad appeared in late 2015 or early 2016 to audiences in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. Ferguson and Baltimore were the subject of race riots in August 2014 and April 2015 respectively.

The ad was purchased by what CNN refers to as “accounts linked to the Russian government-affiliated troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.” US military intelligence has described the group as “a state-funded organization that blogs and tweets on behalf of the Kremlin.”

Facebook previously revealed that about 25 percent of the 3,000 ads traced back to the Internet Research Agency were geographically targeted. The Black Lives Matter ad targeted to Ferguson and Baltimore Facebook users is the first specific example of such targeting. CNN’s sources said the wording of the ad was such that it could be interpreted as both supporting and warning against the Black Lives Matter movement. The ad itself has not been released by Facebook.

Information on the Facebook ads purchased by the Russians seems to indicate that, at least early in the election cycle, the focus was on promoting division and anger rather than promoting a specific candidate. The Russians also bought ads with topics such as gun rights, immigration and the validity of western democracy.

“This is consistent with the overall goal of creating discord inside the body politic here in the United States, and really across the West,” Steve Hall, a former CIA officer and current CNN National Security Analyst, said. “It shows they the level of sophistication of their targeting. They are able to sow discord in a very granular nature, target certain communities and link them up with certain issues.”

Last December, the FBI and the CIA publicly agreed that intelligence showed that Russian cyber operations during the election were aimed at supporting the Trump campaign. In July 2017, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told NBC News that there was no disagreement among US intelligence agencies that the Russians “are trying to undermine Western democracy,” but stopped short of stating that the interference was targeted to benefit Trump.

In the months since the election, many on the right have pooh-poohed the idea that Russia interfered in the election at all, attributing the claim of interference to sour grapes by Clinton campaign. That may change as more information about Russian interference comes out, such as the recent revelation by Homeland Security that 21 state election agencies were targeted by Russian hackers and that the Russian goal was to stir the pot by promoting hostility on both sides of the political spectrum.

The biggest question about Russian meddling is what to do about it. As CIA Director Mike Pompeo told NBC News, “This threat is real. The U.S. government, including the Central Intelligence Agency, has to figure out a way to fight back against it and defeat it. And we’re intent upon doing that.”

What Does The Surveillance of Paul Manafort Mean?

The big story these days is the breaking news that Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was under FBI surveillance. This has brought forth a flurry of claims that Trump was right about his charges of wiretapping, that the FBI only tracked Manafort to find out what Trump was doing and that Manafort was only guilty of talking to Russian diplomats.

The real story is that this news isn’t breaking news at all. The story broke during the campaign that there was an active FISA warrant for surveillance of members of the Trump campaign staff. A November 2016 article by Heat Street (which has since been acquired by MarketWatch) reported that a broad FISA warrant request in June 2016 included Donald Trump as a target. This request was denied, but a subsequent, more narrow request was granted in October.

This was confirmed by the BBC in a January 2017 article which described how the warrant was issued to investigate two Russian banks. The investigation stemmed from intelligence passed to the US by an unnamed Baltic nation in April 2016. The intelligence allegedly included a recorded conversation “about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.” The BBC article mentioned, but did not name, “three of Mr. Trump’s associates were the subject of the inquiry.”

One of the three was Michael Flynn. Flynn was Trump’s first national security advisor. Flynn was fired early in the Trump Administration after it was revealed through leaked surveillance information that he had lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn’s contacts with the Russians were apparently uncovered as an incidental target as the intelligence community monitored Russian diplomats. Flynn is still under investigation by both the Pentagon and Mueller’s task force.

In April 2017, the New York Times named a second target of the investigation. The report stated explicitly that Carter Page had been the target of a FISA warrant after he left the Trump campaign. “The Justice Department considered direct surveillance of anyone tied to a political campaign as a line it did not want to cross,” the report said, citing an unnamed official.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was the third target of the investigation. Manafort had long had ties to the Putin government. He had worked as a consultant for the pro-Russian political party that controlled the Ukraine until it was toppled by a revolution in 2014. Manafort’s name was listed in the so-called “Black Ledger” that detailed secret payments by the Ukrainian ruling party. The ledger, which was discovered after the revolution, showed that Manafort received at least $1.2 million from the pro-Putin ruler of Ukraine per AP reports. Manafort was fired by Trump in August 2016 after the story of the Ukrainian payments broke.

The new story by CNN detailing Manafort’s surveillance says that Manafort was the subject of two FISA warrants. The first, centered on his work in the Ukraine, began in 2014 and “was discontinued at some point last year [2016] for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources.”

The dates for the second warrant are not known but it apparently began after “FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves.” The warrant reportedly continued until early 2017. The dates suggest that Manafort was not monitored while he was an official part of the Trump campaign, although they do cover a period when he had discussions with President Trump. “It’s unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance,” CNN notes.

Another report by the New York Times says that federal agents raided Manafort’s home in July 2017. Again, this was after his official role as a member of Donald Trump’s campaign staff was long over.

So was Donald Trump right when he claimed that Obama was “tapping” his phones? So far there is still no evidence of this. Surveillance of Trump’s associates is not the same as surveillance of Trump himself. This is especially true if the surveillance did not occur during the period when Trump’s associates were working on his campaign. This would also indicate that the surveillance was not to find out what the Trump campaign was up to.

Further, the surveillance of Paul Manafort was not the result of business-as-usual contacts with Russian diplomats. A FISA warrant was issued for Manafort because he was communicating with Russian agents. A FISA warrant is not proof of guilt, but it does require probable cause. The denial of the June 2016 warrant request is proof that warrants are not issued on a frivolous basis.

The investigation into Paul Manafort and the Russian interference in the 2016 campaign is not yet complete. In the weeks and months to come, we may learn exactly why Manafort was talking to the Russians and what was said. At this point, there is no smoking gun, but there are indications, such as the decision to threaten Manafort with indictment, that Special Counsel Mueller is building a strong case. Part of that case may be on incriminating evidence that resulted from surveillance under the FISA warrant.

The Impending Trump-Mueller Train Wreck





There is the sense of an impending train wreck between President Trump and independent counsel Robert Mueller. You know it’s coming, you know it’s going to be ugly, but you just can’t look away.

After rumors swirled a few weeks ago that President Trump was considering firing Mueller, things quieted down. Over the last week, the tension once again seems to be mounting with Trump’s criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and the news that Mueller’s investigation is expanding to examine Trump’s business dealings with Russians going back as far as 2008.

In response, the Trump Administration seems to be once again considering the possibility of firing the special counsel, a move that many Republicans argue would be destructive to the already-embattled Trump Administration.

“Congress must make it very clear: Bye-bye Mueller, bye-bye Trump. Otherwise bye-bye Congress 2018. Americans are fed up!” tweeted Richard Painter, President George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) agreed. “It would be a mistake to fire Bob Mueller,” Rubio said in The Hill.

The New York Times reported that Team Trump is investigating the investigators with an eye toward building a case for firing Mueller or simply discrediting his probe. President Trump told the Times that he was aware that some of Mueller’s investigators had conflicts of interest and that he would make this information available “at some point.” Members of Mueller’s team have come under criticism already for their contributions to Democrats.

There are also reports that the Trump Administration is exploring the use of pardons to stymie the Mueller investigation. The Washington Post reported that the president had asked legal advisors about his presidential power to pardon aides and family members who might be snared by Mueller’s net. The president even asked whether he could pardon himself.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’” said one unnamed advisor, who said that the president’s questions were merely expressing curiosity about the extent of his constitutional powers.

President Trump has been fiercely protective of his privacy as it relates to his business dealings and personal finances. During the campaign, after initially promising to release his tax returns, he became the first president in decades to keep his tax records private.

The Trump Administration has resisted the Russia investigation every step of the way, with Trump denying for months that Russia had even attempted to affect the election. The stonewalling has contributed to continual drip of revelations about contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians. Although it isn’t clear if any laws were broken, the cover-up and lack of cooperation and openness from the Trump Administration makes it seem as if the president has something to hide.

The Administration’s efforts to keep its connections with Russia concealed and Mueller’s directive to bring them into the open set the stage for a confrontation between the two. If Trump is set on preserving his privacy and protecting members of his staff from possible prosecution, then sooner or later he will have to take action against Mueller. The resulting kerfuffle is likely to make the firing of James Comey seem tame by comparison.

 

Ouch: Trump Says He Regrets Hiring Attorney General Jeff Sessions

The relationship between Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions may be awkward for a while after the president aired his grievances for the world to hear.

“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump lamented in an interview with the New York Times – he is not at all pleased with his attorney general.

What is Trump livid about exactly?

The president feels Attorney General Jeff Sessions should have never recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. Sessions’ self-removal from the probe has led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel – expanding the investigation and further incensing Trump.

The rift could result in a huge blow to Sessions’ career. A former US attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, the tea party conservative was the first senator to endorse Trump during the 2016 election- to the chagrin of many of his Republican colleagues. The two went on to have a great relationship on the campaign trail. After Trump’s election victory, a prestigious White House appointment for Sessions was expected.

That relationship soured after mounting allegations of Russia-Trump collusion.

Sessions had testified during his Senate confirmation hearing that he had no contact with Russian officials (as a representative of the Trump team) during the 2016 campaign. Not long after, several news outlets reported that Sessions, had in fact, met with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak and he failed to disclose this during his confirmation hearing. Despite the fact that Sessions had met with Kislyak as a member of the US Senate – not as a representative of the Trump campaign – liberal critics continued to cry foul. Sessions subsequently made the decision to remove himself from the investigation entirely.

What happens now?

It’s hard to imagine Sessions wanting to continue his work leading the Justice Department under such circumstances. Who wants to work for a boss that publicly announces regret in hiring you?  The attorney general had already offered his resignation to Trump earlier this summer when he initially recused himself. Trump had declined his offer.

Sources close to Axios claim that Sessions does really love his job despite the drama. The nation’s top prosecutor is reportedly elated at going after sanctuary cities, locking up bad guys and supporting law enforcement. The two men are in lockstep as far as policy is concerned.

It’s hard to guess how things will turn out. Predictions on Sessions’ possible departure are mixed.

Should Sessions quit, the acting head of the Justice Department would become Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Collusion, Fusion, McCain and ???

Russia this. Russia that. Collusion ad nauseam. Treason. Impeachment. Obstruction. Blame it all on Hillary and the Democratic Party Right?

Wrong.

Perhaps the most amazing part of this entire imbroglio is the total lack of attention paid to the genesis of the Fusion GPS Steele Dossier. That lack of attention can be directly traced to senior Republican leadership who seem quite content to sit back and watch the President on the hot seat day in and day out.

Important facts are being revealed due to two defamation libel lawsuits, one here in the U.S. and one in the U.K.: (McClatchy)

Now, two lawsuits — one in the United States and a second in the U.K. — are being brought by lawyers for Aleksej Gubarev, a Cyprus-based Internet entrepreneur whom Steele’s Russian sources accused of cyber spying against the Democratic Party leadership. The British court documents are legal responses in the British suit and do not reflect the entire docket. The British suit is related to a similar lawsuit in the United States, against online news site BuzzFeed.

While not a party to the lawsuit. the plaintiff is seeking to depose Sen. John McCain R-AZ about his role in the creation and dissemination of the Steele Dossier. Although McCain’s involvement has been known for some time, it has received along zero attention. But perhaps, his involvement provides clues to its origination.

The fact of the matter is Fusion GPS was first engaged by a Republican Presidential candidate during the early days of the primary race. This candidate’s campaign funded Fusion GPS to do opposition research on Candidate Trump. Basically, they wanted dirt on Mr. Trump, and used a firm affiliated with the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton to further that effort. It was only after this candidate decamped the primary race, that the Hillary campaign became involved and furthered the Fusion GPS Steele Dossier efforts. (McClatchy)

The British court document also confirmed that Washington research firm Fusion GPS, co-founded by former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson, had been hired to conduct opposition research by one of Trump’s GOP primary opponents. Later, Democrats paid for the same research on Trump’s past and alleged Russian ties. (Emphasis added)

The Washington Times adds more on the Democratic contributions (Wash Times)

Since the dossier was circulated widely among Democrats, Mr. Page said, he believes the Clinton team possessed it and relied on it based on what some of Mrs. Clinton’s surrogates said publicly.“After the report by Yahoo News, the Clinton campaign put out an equally false press release just minutes after the article was released that afternoon,” said Mr. Page, who has tracked what he believes is a series of inaccurate stories and accusations against him.

Which Republican Presidential candidate started this hot mess? A clue might lie in how early on Sen. McCain became involved: (McCatchy)

According to a new court document in the British lawsuit, counsel for defendants Steele and Orbis repeatedly point to McCain, R-Ariz., a vocal Trump critic, and a former State Department official as two in a handful of people known to have had copies of the full document before it circulated among journalists and was published by BuzzFeed. The court document obtained by McClatchy confirms that Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Moscow and a Russia adviser to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, discussed the 35-page dossier with McCain.

To date, there has been no investigation who that person is. But as Aesop said, “You are known by the company you keep.”

Ask yourself this: Which of the Republican presidential candidates was known to be closely aligned with Sen. McCain’s NeoCon foreign policy views? Which sitting Senator Republican presidential candidate also voted in lockstep on immigration with Sen. McCain. Which current Republican Senator 2016 presidential candidate virtually echoed all of Sen. McCain’s vitriolic distain for candidate Trump?

If you answered ‘Who is a certain “southern bachelor” for $500 Alex’, you very well might be correct. The clues certainly appear to point in that direction. Sen. Lindsey Graham R-SC seems to have his lips permanently parked on Mr. McCain’s posterior, and both RINOs take every opportunity to trash Russia and the President; all the while positing their outdated neocon nonsense.

Without a doubt, the liberal media deserves blame in this affair. Ditto for the Obama administration and Ms. Clinton. But honesty requires, no honesty demands we admit Republicans opened this particular Pandora’s box and have worked it like a rented mule and profited from it.

It would be refreshing to see the conservative Trump haters go after the senior Republican leadership for allowing this genie to get out of the bottle instead of laying it all at the front door of the White House. But I wouldn’t lay odds on that happening.

Russian “Party” Ambassador to Return to Russia, Replaced By “Bull-Terrier”

Russia’s current ambassador to the United States, Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak, is set to return to Russia soon, with a going away party scheduled July 11th.  He is expected to be replaced by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Anatoly Ivanovich Antonov.  Antonov was named as Kislyak’s replacement in February and was approved for the post by Russia’s Duma (literally, “House;” i.e. the legislature) in May.  While Kislyak is known for his parties, Antonov has been called a “bull-terrier.”

Both men are interesting.

Kislyak is 66 years old, holds a degree in physics, and is an ethnic Ukrainian born in Moscow.  He is a career diplomat and has served as ambassador to the U.S. since 2008, having previously held the post of Russian Deputy Foreign Minister (like Antonov).  He is known for being socially active and throwing parties, attempting to push Russia’s interests through personal relationships.  He had been considered for a counter-terrorism post at the United Nations, but is being recalled to Russia instead.  This may because he has emerged as a central figure in the intrigue surrounding the rumored Russian interference in the U.S. election.  Thus, while many U.S. politicians have met with him (which would be expected as he is the ambassador to the U.S.) most have either denied meeting him or have “forgotten.”  Therefore, it would be difficult for Kislyak to continue to serve in the U.S., since people are now reluctant to meet with him due to the on-going FBI investigation of Russia’s involvement in the U.S. election.

Antonov is 62 years old, holds a degree in international relations, and was born in Siberia.  He is a career diplomat, but also holds the rank of Army general.  He is under sanctions by the European Union due to Russia’s role in the Ukrainian conflict and has been called a “bull-terrier” due to his hardline stance towards the West (he has accused NATO of confronting Russia in Ukraine).

Thus, the ambassadorship will shift from a partying ambassador who seeks to wield influence behind the scenes, but who no one wants to be seen with in public, to a hardline general who seeks to confront the West.  Trump, for his part, has planned to send former Utah governor John Huntsman as ambassador to Russia, replacing the incumbent John Tefft, who has served in that position since 2014.

 

Russians Hacked 39 States During Election

Newly released details of Russian cyberattacks indicate that the Russian hacking during the election was far more widespread than previously indicated. Sources within the investigation reported that Russian cyberattacks hit at least 39 states. The hackers accessed software used by poll workers and at least one state’s voter database. The extent of the attacks raises concerns about the integrity of future elections since Russia has also been implicated in hacking other elections including the recent French presidential voting.

 

The recent revelations were made to Bloomberg Politics by three people with direct knowledge of the US investigation. The details released to Bloomberg come on the heels of the report leaked by Reality Winner, a contract employee of the NSA. The classified NSA report revealed that Russian hackers traced to the GRU, Russian military intelligence, had targeted US companies that provide software for voting machines.

 

The Bloomberg report states that the hackers tried to alter or delete voter registration data in Illinois in addition to the “spear phishing” attacks that compromised the emails at the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. Russian hackers were trying to take over the computers of 122 election officials shortly before the election.

 

The sources report that Illinois was considered “Patient Zero” for the investigation. The state gave federal investigators almost full access to its election computer systems. Unauthorized access to systems at the state board of elections was detected as early as July 2016 and as many as 90,000 voter records in the state database were compromised with personal information on voters such as names, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, birth dates and gender.

 

The sophistication and sheer number of the attacks prompted the Obama Administration to complain directly to the Kremlin via the hotline between Washington and Moscow. In October, the US reportedly used a back channel to provide evidence of Russian complicity to the Kremlin and threatened that continued hacking could lead to an expanded conflict. The hacking continued up to the election.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any involvement by the Russian government in the cyberattacks. Earlier this month, Putin suggested that the hacking might have been carried out by “patriotic hackers” not connected to the Russian government.

 

During the election, the federal government did not have jurisdiction over state election systems. Some states cooperated with federal counterintelligence operations, but others did not. Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama, proposed in August 2016 that election systems be considered a critical national infrastructure, which would give the federal government more latitude in protecting state systems from cyberattacks. Ultimately, partisan disagreements meant that the designation was not made until January 2017.

 

There were hints of the Russian hacking revealed prior to the election, but Bloomberg reports that the Obama Administration kept the full scope of the attacks from the public. The government feared that the full truth would undermine public confidence in the election.

 

The claims of Russian hacking have become a source of amusement for many conservatives, but the recent revelations show the frightening extent of Russian interference in a core function of American democracy. So far there is no evidence that Russians were able to manipulate votes or voter rolls, but it was not for lack of trying.

 

And it probably isn’t over. Former FBI Director James Comey warned the Senate Intelligence Committee in his testimony, “They’re coming after America. They will be back.”