Monday, July 23, 2018

The Crime. I

I'll get to the crime (the crime Donald Trump is most anxious to conceal) presently, in an update on what I've been maintaining, since last October or so, but I'm going to take my time. Don't @ me, as the Twitter kids say.

So there's this thing floating around tweeted by Aleksandr Torshin, Russian gun enthusiast and oligarch and mentor to our newly indicted lady spy and graduate student Mariya (her preferred spelling, "Mariia", looks like a typo and I refuse to use it) Butina, from February 2016, looking almost like an announcement on Twitter that the secret cabal of Russian gun enthusiasts have finished recruiting their US presidential candidate:

Which I have to say does not seem exactly right to me. I mean, that is, if you are running this incredibly audacious conspiracy from within Russian criminal-governmental circles to take over the US elections and install your own candidate, don't you have some more secure method of communication? Twitter FFS?

What's not being noted adequately among the tweeps is what kind of tweet this is, a link to a Russian newspaper article, from the very popular Putinist, reporting on the Republican debate of 13 February, where JEB! sternly proclaimed that the United States and Russia could never be allies and Trump said they could:

In turn, Trump said that "Jeb is completely and absolutely wrong." The billionaire stressed that he stands for cooperation with Russia. He also noted that the US "must understand with whom we are fighting, for whom we are fighting and what we are doing." "In Syria, we spend billions and billions of dollars to support people we do not know who they are," Trump said.
(Google Translate is looking just spectacular with Russian, I'd like to say, much better than it generally does with what you'd think would be better supported languages like Spanish or French, though perhaps Torshin and Lenta just have really crude styles.)

Torshin is passing his tweeps the article, which literally says Trump is disposed to cooperate (and that he seems certain to win the GOP nomination), adding that this chick in America agrees—ready to "cooperate" not with their secret plans but "with Russia" if he ended up winning.

So it doesn't, I think, indicate the status of any ongoing conspiracies in February 2016, but it does usefully illustrate the way people who might possibly be managing such a conspiracy would have been thinking around that time, and perhaps more importantly with the timing in which it could have developed between just after the Trump campaign got started, July 2015, when Butina got the billionaire's attention long enough to ask him a question—
“I am visiting from Russia,” Butina said into the mic.
“Ahhhhh, Putin!” Trump interjected, prompting laughter from the audience as he added a mocking riff about the current president: “Good friend of Obama, Putin. He likes Obama a lot. Go ahead.”
“My question will be about foreign politics,” Butina continued. “If you will be elected as president, what will be your foreign politics especially in the relationships with my country? And do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging of both economy [sic]? Or you have any other ideas?”
After going off on Obama and digressing into trade policy, Trump responded: “I know Putin, and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin… I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK? And I mean, where we have the strength. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think we would get along very, very well.” (Mother Jones)
—to the spring of 2016, when Papadopoulos, Page, and Flynn, and Manafort all found their mysterious ways into the organization.

These early quotes sound to me less like somebody who has been appointed as a Manchurian candidate than somebody who's applying for the job—which could be because it's a tone he'd adopted a few years earlier when he wasn't thinking about the presidency but acquiring a Moscow hotel-and-condo property. It was a peculiar courtship ("Will he be my new best friend?" wonders Trump out loud; Putin stands him up on their first date, at the Miss Universe festivities in November 2013, but sends him a "beautiful, beautiful present" sometime before 6 March 2014, and we never learn what it is—the thriller writer manqué in me wants it to be a DVD of an exotic sex act performed in a Moscow hotel room, of course, but that's way too pat for a good thriller).

If folks in the upper regions of Russian intelligence were shopping around for a US presidential candidate to back, that second week of February was when their choice was made for them: the one other candidate Putin could learn to love, the isolationist Rand Paul, who often sounded like a Putinian whatabout artist himself, and who might have been preferable to Trump because of his apparent mental competence, had just dropped out after a catastrophic fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, and Trump was what was left, and it seemed clear he was going to get the nomination. I don't imagine the Russians would have trusted Trump's talk about how fond of Putin he was, but they must have liked the fact that he was willing to say it to the American public, and while his deep unreliability and stupidity must have frightened them, they had unbelievable tools for pressuring him to do what they wanted, the so-called kompromat, in the documentation of his almost 30 years of dodgy business deals in Russia, gangster connections, bank fraud, money laundering, other people's money and his own. Not to mention you-know what. It seemed impossible he should win, obviously, but he was already winning in the GOP, and Americans are so crazy, and if he did win by some miracle and it turned out they'd muffed the chance for Russia to literally own the US president they'd never be able to forgive themselves.

I've given up on the idea that Russians sought out Manafort to offer his services to Trump in this period; it seems more likely from recent reports that Manafort was trying to attract the Russian's attention, since we know that's what he did, in April, two weeks after Trump hired him, asking his Ukraine fixer Konstantin Kilimnik to sound out their old Russian liege lord and now Manafort's angry creditor Oleg V. Deripaska as to whether he could monetize his position with Trump toward paying off his $16-million debt ("How do we use to get whole?").

Perhaps Kilimnik, languishing in Kiyiv after the revolution messed up his business, came up with the idea that Manafort should go to work for Trump, in one of their constant email exchanges, as he watched the official Russian enthusiasm for Trump building up in newspapers like Lenta. Just like old times! Except instead of putting a Russia-friendly president in office in Kiyiv, they'd be doing it in Washington! And some nice Russians would surely be happy to compensate them.

Meanwhile on 3 March Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama came on the Trump team as National Security Adviser, with his list of distinguished policy advisers nobody had ever heard of, including George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, Ph.D., and I'd like to know where he got their names from, but I'm not sure I ever will (it would be brilliant if it was Sessions's congressional staffer Stephen Miller, who has the very faint Russian connection of his association as a Duke University student with Nazi Richard Spencer, who knows a good deal about the work of Putin's favorite philosopher, Aleksandr Dugin, but that's really a stretch).

Russians were quick to get hold of George Papadopoulos, who was living in London at the time; they may have learned about his appointment, from the newspapers, before he did, and he soon was getting visits from the Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud, who wanted to discuss possibilities for arranging a Trump-Putin meeting (around 14 March), and the possibility that the Russian government had recently come into "thousands of emails" containing "dirt" on Hillary Clinton (26 April). There is also some suspicion, justified or otherwise, that Russians may have started contacting Paul Manafort as well in April or so: at least, and I don't think this has been noticed a lot, the FBI search warrant for Manafort's Alexandria condo, 25 July 2017, mentions that the feds should be looking for

Error for the tycoon Aras Agalarov and his pop singer son Emin, who arranged the 9 June meeting, with the help of Emin's British publicist Rob Goldstone.

Which I'm going to say is somewhat important. In Donald Jr.'s account of the Trump Tower meeting, all the back-and-forth communications were between him and Goldstone, and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort only came along because he invited them on the spur of the moment. If in fact Manafort was having his own independent set of communications with the Agalarovs, it puts a different complexion on the matter.

As you'll remember, this meeting was called in a remarkable email chain starting 3 June between Goldstone and Junior that began as folllows:

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. 
The Crown prosecutor [that was a British error for "procurator general"] of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump - helped along by Aras and Emin.

To which Junior notably replied, in part,
Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?
(If Junior made that follow-up call with Emin, we don't know about it.)

The upshot was a meeting scheduled for 9 June, 4 PM, at the campaign offices in Trump Tower, with a "Russian government attorney" who turned out to be Natalya Veselnitskaya, and Manafort and Jared Kushner joining in.

When the story of this meeting started leaking to the public 13 months later, after the New York Times obtained copies of the Goldstone-Junior emails, Junior published the emails himself on Twitter and issued a statement 8 July 2017:
It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.
To which President Trump appended,
"My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency."
The following day, however, Junior issued an alternative version:
After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting. I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office.
And after that, the story of the meeting began to evolve further, through additional leaks and a Senate investigation, acquiring an increasingly large cast of characters till you were reminded of the stowaway cabin scene in A Night at the Opera, and it became clear that the elder Trump had dictated Junior's first version aboard Air Force One, with help from Hope Hicks putting it into standard English, as he was flying back from the Hamburg meeting of the G-20, and his first meetings with Vladimir Putin (one of which was the strange dinner table colloquium where the two men spoke for an hour with no American translator present, just the Russian one):
But in a confidential, hand-delivered memo to the special counsel, Mr. Trump’s lawyers acknowledged that, yes, Mr. Trump had dictated the statement, which attempted to deflect questions about a meeting with a Kremlin-tied lawyer at Trump Tower. Prosecutors are asking whether the statement was part of an effort by the president to obstruct a federal investigation.
That's the reason I keep coming back to that meeting. That attempt to seize the narrative, after the Goldstone-Junior email exchange had already come out, is the strongest evidence we have that Trump is aware he's participating in a crime—more specific than the howls of "Witch hunt!" or the pressure on Department of Justice and FBI officials and congressional committees to halt their investigations, more conscious and decisive and in-command than we ever see Trump acting. It's practically the only time we've ever seen him doing any work as president, the only time we see him taking control out of anything other than impulse, the only time we see him really knowing what he wants done. I think it's the crucial moment in Trump's conspiracy, and the facts around it that have been obscured or hidden—like the possibility of Manafort's active engagement with the Agalarovs in setting it up—are the clues to what the crime exactly was.

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