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Friday, May 19, 2017

Nut job. Plus: Is Jared Kushner under investigation?

Earlier today, this blog predicted that today's first bombshell news story would hit before 2 p.m. It came around 3 p.m.; Cannonfire apologizes for the error. The day's second bombshell hit about an hour later, although it did not fully explode until just a few minutes after I started to write this piece.

Bombshell story #1: The NYT somehow learned the exact wording of what Trump said to his Russian guests in the Oval. No-one disputes the accuracy of this document.
President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”
First: The idea of a wacko like Trump calling Comey or anyone else a "nut job" is hilarious.

Second: We now have absolute confirmation that the sole purpose of the firing was to block the Russia probe. If the claim of collusion had no merit, then why would Trump seek to quash the probe? Why would he brag about what he did to the Russians themselves?

And why on earth would Trump make such a boast on the record? (Obviously, someone kept a record, or the exchange would not be in the NYT.)

Once again, Trump has screwed himself by blurting out what he should keep unspoken. He's the blurter-in-chief. Every new Trumpian blurt reminds me of the restaurant scene in Mad magazine's parody of The Godfather, in which Michael Corleone rises from the table and says: "Excuse me. I have to take a pistol."

I don't know whether Trump's blabbiness indicates a guilty conscience or an imperious disdain for the need to deceive. Obviously, he wants to spill.

Bombshell story #2: Just who is this "person of interest"?
The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.

The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.
Just minutes ago, the UK Independent identified this adviser as -- hold onto your hats! -- Jared Kushner, the Trump son-in-law who basically serves as the shadow president, due to The Donald's incompetence.
Yashar Ali, a contributor to New York magazine said on Twitter: “It’s Jared Kushner. Have confirmed this with four people. I’m not speculating.”
We've long known about Jared's Russian links. For example:
When Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, sought the top-secret security clearance that would give him access to some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets, he was required to disclose all encounters with foreign government officials over the last seven years.

But Mr. Kushner did not mention dozens of contacts with foreign leaders or officials in recent months. They include a December meeting with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, and one with the head of a Russian state-owned bank, Vnesheconombank, arranged at Mr. Kislyak’s behest.
Why would our "shadow president" secretly meet with the head of a Russian bank, and then lie about the event?

Sergey N. Gorkov, the bank president in question, was graduated from Russia's "spy school." His bank (often referred to as VEB) is widely thought to be have strong links to the FSB.

See this story, which quotes from an official DOJ release alleging that the bank provided cover for Russian spies in the United States. The investigation was headed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was so mysteriously fired by the Trump administration.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “An unregistered intelligence agent, under cover of being a legitimate banker, gathers intelligence on the streets of New York City, trading coded messages with Russian spies who send the clandestinely collected information back to Moscow. This sounds like a plotline for a Cold War-era movie, but in reality, Evgeny Buryakov pled guilty today to a federal crime for his role in just such a scheme.
Beginning in 2012, BURYAKOV worked in the United States as an agent of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, known as the “SVR.” BURYAKOV operated under “non-official cover,” meaning he entered and remained in the United States as a private citizen, posing as an employee in the Manhattan office of a Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, also known as “VEB.” SVR agents operating under such non-official cover – sometimes referred to as “NOCs” – typically are subject to less scrutiny by the host government, and, in many cases, are never identified as intelligence agents by the host government. As a result, a NOC is an extremely valuable intelligence asset for the SVR.
Can you imagine the uproar on Fox News if any Democrat had secretly met with Gorka? For more, see here...
A member of the SVR’s Directorate ER, the division tasked with gathering economic intelligence, Buryakov was paid $200,000 to pump his fellow Wall Streeters on information ultimately beneficial to Russia’s GDP, or at least harmful to the nation’s marketplace competitors. His biggest coup, evidently, was helping Rostek, the state-owned defense manufacturer, nearly come away with a handsome contract with Bombardier, the Canadian aerospace firm.
VEB has was sanctioned by both the U.S. Treasury Department and the European Union in 2014 for its role in underwriting the ongoing war in Ukraine, a penalty the bank has said would have “no effect” on its operations.
Now Gorkov finds himself in the national spotlight for having kibitzed with Kushner last year at undisclosed locations, either before or after Kushner also sat with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak — but hey, who hasn’t in Trumpland? All we know about these encounters were that they were perfectly innocent marriages of true minds between two captains of industry. VEB met "with a number of representatives of the largest banks and business establishments of the United States, including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies,” the bank told Reuters in a written statement.
Before Kushner was identified by The Independent, the WP's bombshell had me flashing on another possibility: Steve Bannon. Don't be surprised if Mueller decides to focus on Steverino.

Bannon played a leading role in Cambridge Analytica, the psychological warfare firm. Louise Mensch and others have claimed that Cambridge Analytica is funded in part by the Russians, although Time Magazine does not go so far. However:
Researchers at the University of Southern California, meanwhile, found that nearly 20% of political tweets in 2016 between Sept. 16 and Oct. 21 were generated by bots of unknown origin; investigators are trying to figure out how many were Russian.

As they dig into the viralizing of such stories, congressional investigations are probing not just Russia's role but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign. Sources familiar with the investigations say they are probing two Trump-linked organizations: Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics company hired by the campaign that is partly owned by deep-pocketed Trump backer Robert Mercer; and Breitbart News, the right-wing website formerly run by Trump's top political adviser Stephen Bannon.

The congressional investigators are looking at ties between those companies and right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts, a source familiar with the investigations tells TIME. "Nobody can prove it yet," the source says. In March, McClatchy newspapers reported that FBI counterintelligence investigators were probing whether far-right sites like Breitbart News and Infowars had coordinated with Russian botnets to blitz social media with anti-Clinton stories, mixing fact and fiction when Trump was doing poorly in the campaign.
Newsweek published a major piece on Bannon's "ideological ties to Russia" -- ties which have much to do with Alexander Dugin, Putin's mentor and philosopher-king of the new international fascism.
In early April, Bannon was booted off Trump’s National Security Council in a White House coup that was at least partly a scuffle over how to confront a resurgent Russia. Days later, after the Moscow-protected government in Syria killed civilians in a chemical attack, Bannon lost a heated debate with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, over whether to punish the regime in Damascus.
A former banker turned film producer and right-wing polemicist, Bannon has praised not only Russian President Vladimir Putin but also a brand of Russian mystical conservative nationalism known as Eurasianism, which is the closest the Kremlin has to a state ideology. Eurasianism proclaims that Russia’s destiny is to lead all Slavic and Turkic people in a grand empire to resist corrupt Western values. Its main proponent is Alexander Dugin, a Russian political scientist.
Despite their nationalism, Bannon and Dugin have something in common: They both believe global elites have conspired against ordinary people. Their enemies: secularism, multiculturalism, egalitarianism. In both Bannon’s and Dugin’s worldview, the true global ideological struggle is not between Russia and the United States but between culturally homogenous groups founded on Judeo-Christian values practicing humane capitalism on one side and, on the other, an international crony-capitalist network of bankers and big business.
Of course, the Trump/Putin version of capitalism is cronyism, purified and unapologetic. There is nothing humane about it. Dugin is a master of doubletalk: He pretends to decry fascism even as he creates neo-fascism; he claims to oppose "elites" even as he embraces the work of Julius Evola, the ultimate elitist.

Is that it? Any more bombshells...? Honestly, I would not be surprised if yet another blockbuster story has hit while I was engaged in the process of writing this piece. Folks, there's such a thing as too much fun.

Update: The bombshells keep a-comin! Chris Matthews just announced that Kushner is, in fact, the Trump official referenced by the above-mentioned WP report.

MSNBC also reports that Comey will testify in a public session.

CNN says that White House lawyers are gearing up for impeachment, which is still described as "a distant possibility."

And Germans think that Trump is a "laughingstock." That's not really a bombshell bit of news, but I thought I'd mention it anyways.

One last bombshell: 1001 ghosts led a protest march in front of the White House today, demanding the full restoration of their voting rights. "We're citizens too," said spectral media liaison Chester A. Arthur.

(Cannonfire has not yet verified this report.)
Speaking of laughingstocks to the Germans, I'm wondering if amid all the bombshells, Cannonfire caught the local news that Baltimore's odious tax sale process backfired and Germans bought the Ravens stadium over unpaid water bills? Of course, City hall was all aghast and moved quickly to cover for the wealthy deadbeats, as they always do, while elderly homeowners in crumbling neighborhoods lost their family homes, at times over water bills in dispute.
So what? By the time any denouements happen, the wretched damage will have been done. The Cabinet is wretched and tasked with implementing wretchedness, and with a free rein for the next several years. Meanwhile, to quote Marcy Wheeler, it will be "great TV". The overrated "rule of law" is backfiring: hearings, testimony, investigations, etc., will be the worst kind of inadvertent obstructions of justice one can imagine. Right, what rule of law? All the U.S. Attorneys were fired, now there are none. If this were my blog, I'd ask my readers to provide any good reasons for not hoping for a JCOS coup d'etat and installing a junta until the swamp is drained and its residue placed in sealed containers like radioactive waste.
Things have gotten so crazy. Is the Russia scandal real, or is it the noose in which the media and the deep state will hang? Why was Kushner meeting with the chief of a sanctioned Russian bank - Putin's personal piggy bank - on the advice of the Russian ambassador, an alleged spy master who was invited into the Oval Office on Putin's request? To whom Israel's (or Jordan's; there are conflicting reports) most sensitive secrets were spilt? What the eff is going on in this country? We don't know.

I was the one who wrote to you on June 15, 2016, telling you the hack would be bigger than Watergate. I said this:

"Joseph, on an unrelated topic. You saw that "Russian hackers" breached the DNC and took, among other things, Trump oppo research - all of it? I don't necessarily disbelieve they were Russian hackers. But my gut tells me they were acting on behalf of the Trump campaign.

Just research Trump's ties w the Russian mafia and also with an investment firm in Iceland that Putin and his circle have used as a piggy bank. (The firm funded the Trump SoHo, which was a project undertaken with the mafioso.) Look at Paul Manafort - Trump's chief strategist - and his dirty dealings in Russia. The Trump campaign has contacts over there, in the oligarchy and the underworld (not that there's much of a difference), and it has an open ally in Putin.

And Putin, as you may know, is funding the far right across Europe. For example, another of his piggy banks, an investment firm in Moscow, sent millions in loans to the National Front, in France, and to its Hitlerian founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Why wouldn't Putin help Trump, too?

The scale of the hacking is breathtaking - I believe I read that all email traffic was tapped. This is Watergate on a scale that Nixon couldn't have even conceived. And the surface story - Russian hackers hoover up all the DNC's data - doesn't make any sense. Why only target the Democrats? How does Russia benefit? You can't blackmail Trump with oppo research. You can't do much with it at all. It's useless. Unless you pass it to To the Trump campaign so it can anticipate every attack."
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