Friday, July 27, 2018

The Crime. II

I think I posted this video by Emin Agalarov before—it's not thrilling musically but OK, and the imagery just keeps getting more extraordinarily interesting.

A few days back I started building up this case that it was possible to know pretty much precisely what crime Donald J.Trump has been covering up with his evasions, lies, and pressure on investigators and witnesses since, at least, those first interviews with personnel like James Comey during the transition in December 2016 (in addition to all the money-laundering and self-dealing he's been doing all along with his Russian mobster pals). It was a pretty restricted thing, I was about to say, a single phone call of three or four minutes with his son Donald Junior on 6 June 2016, sandwiched between two calls between Junior and the Russian pop singer–oligarch Emin Agalarov (what's officially known isn't quite that—what's known is that Junior spoke to somebody with a blocked number between the Russian calls and the president's number happens to be blocked, and Junior says he can't remember whose blocked number he might have been calling, probably not ordering pizza, but he remembers vividly that it wasn't his father).

But I never got around to writing this, and then last night something happened to advance the story beyond what I was expecting: it was announced by persons unknown, apparently not by the president's former lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen, that Cohen was prepared to say something in court about what I'm pretty sure is this very phone call:
Josh adds,
A little backstory on this. Cohen has been suggesting that he knows this and is willing to testify to that effect. CNN is apparently the first to get this solid enough to report. I would say it has always pretty clear this was the case. But it being obvious and there being a witness are very different things. This has very big implications.

So yeah. We are now working with some formal evidence that Trump gave his advance approval to Junior's 9 June meeting with Natalya Veselnitskaya and the rest of the large gang, in which Junior hoped, as Emin's email put it, to obtain "some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.... obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump..." Which Trump has long categorically denied (though I think he has said in typical Trump fashion that he would have agreed if he'd known about it because anybody would) and which would clearly be a criminal act (conspiracy to accept campaign assistance from a foreign government), though I've heard it said a prosecution would have to prove he knew it was a crime, and it's possible he didn't (he certainly knows it now).

But he gave it away when he dictated that idiotic statement from Air Force One for Junior in which Junior was going to claim that the meeting turned out to be unexpectedly about nothing but orphans (the orphans who'd lost their chance of a happy home in America after Obama signed the Magnitsky Act leaving Putin with no choice but to cancel the orphan program).

I think, as I've been saying since last October, there's a good bit more to it than that, anyhow: that something happened at that meeting considerably beyond what Junior and Veselnitskaya and the others have admitted to, which is that nothing came of it at all, the information Veselnitskaya was offering didn't look to be of any value to the Trump campaign, and they all adjourned after 20 minutes.

I continue to think, to the contrary, that a lot came of it. The Veselnitskaya performance (making an impenetrably muddled case that money contributed by the US firm Ziff Brothers Investments to the Clinton campaign was tainted by the Ziffs' association with Bill Browder's Hermitage Capital and its alleged failure to pay taxes to the Russian government) was the cover for a real meeting in which the main participants were Paul Manafort and Irakly "Ike" Kaveladze, an American associate of the Agalarovs (whose Crocus Group was a partner in the projected Trump Tower Moscow adjacent to their Crocus City development on the banks of the Moskva River, which Cohen and Sater had still been working on at least as recently as January.)

Two important things would have happened in this meeting, after Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin (the only honest person in the crowd, from whom I learned that Veselnitskaya's magic plastic folder contained not only her crazy brief about the Ziff brothers but also printouts from the stolen DNC emails detailing confidential information on big-dollar contributions to the party, which in my conjecture Kaveladze wanted Manafort to see as proof that the Russians had something truly huge to offer) left the meeting (Junior and Kushner were still there, something I didn't get in October when I was imagining Junior might be almost innocent).

One is that the Russian side clarified what kind of help it was prepared to offer to the campaign—in particular the thousands of emails stolen from by the GRU from the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee, which could provide evidence of some kind of misbehavior on Clinton's part (as well as internal voter data that could be used by Trump's cyberpartners in Cambridge in their voter targeting work).

That the emails were discussed at the meeting seems pretty clear, if only because Big Donald, who showed he n was all excited about the prospect of "dirt" on Hillary after his phone call with Junior, but vague, clearly not knowing what kind of dirt it was expected to be, when he promised his "major speech" on the evil Hillary in video from 7 June,
And the day of the meeting tweeting out a teaser where emails were mentioned, though it wasn't the right ones (Donald's never been able to separate in his mind the secretary of state emails from Hillary's private server in 2012 from the candidate emails of 2015-16):

But Manafort had a good idea which emails they were—in the same family as the ones George Papadopoulos had said the campaign might be able to get hold of if they worked with the Russians who were courting him in London. And a very precise idea after the 9 June meeting if my reconstruction is correct. (The DNC and Podesta emails themselves did seem to be a bust at first, until WikiLeaks figured out how to work them, but they were very effective in August to October.)

And then the other big thing that happened at the meeting was the Russian explanation of what it would demand in return—in particular that if Trump were to become president he would work to put an end to the economic sanctions that had been imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea, and those that followed the prison murder of Bill Browder's Russian lawyer Sergey Magnitsky (the cause nearest to Veselnitskaya's heart). Veselnitskaya played a part in that, before she left.

But in an an interview with Bloomberg that Veselnitskaya disavowed in her statement to SJC, she said that Don Jr suggested he would reconsider the sanctions “if we came to power.”
“Looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it,’’ Trump Jr. said of the 2012 law, she recalled. “I understand our side may have messed up, but it’ll take a long time to get to the bottom of it,” he added, according to her.
And which Trump and Flynn started demonstrating, rather before they'd come to power, with their eager work to lift whatever sanctions they could (here's a terrific rundown from Sam Thielman at TPM).

In any case, the two strains, as I've been saying—the offer of the purloined emails as a sample of the kind of assistance the Russians would be prepared to give, and request for eliminating sanctions as the primary example of what they were going to demand in return—both hidden in Big Donald's draft for Little Donald's official account of the meeting and Little Donald's own version too (though Little Donald restored the Magnitsky Act to the narrative) would be going beyond accepting an illegal campaign contribution to bribery, on the largest possible scale. It's a big crime.

And Junior, of course, lied in congressional testimony to hide it:

Donald Trump, Jr., testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, 7 September 2017. 
You can find a lot more detail from Marcy at Emptywheel, who knows much much more than I do (and is something like on the same page) but is too good a lawyer to try telling the story when she doesn't know everything, starting with this piece on Kaveladze's 9 June behavior. I don't know what comes next, but I'm kind of with BooMan when he says "Trump has almost cashed his check."

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