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Friday, June 16, 2017

Have a big bowl-full of Cray-Cray!

I was tempted to begin this post with the words "The shit has hit the fan." But we say that every day, don't we? Our national life has become a ceaseless hurricane of shit hitting a Great Wall of fans. Today, however, some particularly weird shit hit the fans. 

The UK: Before we get to that weirdness, let me offer these words from regular reader b on the situation in Britain, where a concatenation of events makes a Corbyn government possible.
Listen - the British government is now exceptionally weak and unpopular. I don't just mean it's incompetent and many have a low opinion of it. A mood is rising in London in connection with the terrible fire in North Kensington, which everyone knows resulted from many years of housing policy and the deliberate degradation of people's living conditions. This mood may bring down the Tory government within days.

A petition is urging Jeremy Corbyn to table a motion of no confidence in the government "and its housing policy that caused the Grenfell Tower fire". Please can people help circulate it.

It could happen that when Parliament officially reopens next Wednesday there are 100,000 people on the street outside, expressing "no confidence" in the government.

That has not happened before in living memory. Everyone who isn't a total shit wants Jeremy Corbyn to take over as prime minister. And it's possible, seriously possible, that we will get what we want very soon.

In your fucking ugly face, Donald Trump!
Speaking of whom...

Donnie vs. Roddie. When I went to sleep this morning (yes, I'm on a bizarre schedule), the big news was the Mystery Message which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued -- a message which had Trump's tiny fingerprints all over it. Rosenstein seemed to be carrying water on Trump's behalf. This worrisome spectacle had many wondering about the fate of the Mueller investigation, since Rosenstein has the power to fire Mueller.

Ten hours later, everything had changed. We had entered a new sector of Crazyland.

In one of the strangest tweets which this strange man he has ever spewed, Trump has declared war on Rosenstein.
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
This reads as though Trump is blaming Rosenstein for the Comey firing, even though Trump admitted to Lester Holt that he had decided to do so beforehand and that he used Rosenstein's anti-Comey argument as a kind of cover.

(That interview was the equivalent of Jack Nicholson's "You can't handle the truth" outburst in A Few Good Men -- except Holt had not placed Trump under any discernible pressure.)

Yesterday, Trump attacked Mueller. Now, he is attacking the guy who chose Mueller. It's all very unnerving. Once again, I'm predicting that Trump will fire Robert Mueller. When faced with a choice between doing the Crazy Thing and doing the Non-Crazy Thing, Trump will always choose the former.

Incidentally, the president's tweet has confirmed that he is, in fact, under investigation.
“He’s furious at Rosenstein, but the list of his people who enrage him is ever-growing,” a longtime Trump confidant, who recently spoke to the president, told The Daily Beast. “He has no qualms about throwing [Rosenstein] under a bus.”

That single tweet threatens to upend the administration’s legal and public-relations strategies surrounding an FBI probe into alleged Russian election-meddling that has expanded in recent months to include an obstruction investigation and a probe of the finances of Trump aides and associates.

A frustrated senior Trump administration official quipped in response to the tweet, “Has anyone read him his Miranda rights?” The implication being that Trump would do well to remain silent on the issue of his own criminal investigation.
I suspect that the "longtime Trump confidant" is Roger Stone, who has recently broadcast his own desires to see Mueller and Rosenstein fired. Amusingly, on the day Rosenstein issued his argument against Comey, Stone agree with Rosenstein's basic premise -- that is, he agreed that Comey had treated Hillary very unfairly.
What Comey did to Hillary was disgraceful. I'm glad Trump fired him over it.
Later, Stone wrote that Comey was a Clinton co-conspirator. Well, which is it? Was Comey horrid to Hillary or was he in cahoots with her? I'm tempted to say "Get your story straight, Roger." But this is Stone we're talking about: His "story" changes daily, depending on the situation and on the necessities of propaganda. The dimwitted Alex Jonesians who follow his guff never notice the contradictions.

It gets crazier. Congressman Ted Lieu (a lawyer) argues that Trump's barrage of Freaky Tweets is erasing his ability to claim Executive Privilege.
I agree with you @realDonaldTrump. Please don't stop tweeting about the witch hunt. Thank you for waiving executive privilege w/ your tweets
Most commentators have failed to notice that Trump's tweet confuses the roles played by Mueller and Rosenstein. The Orange Oaf said that he is being investigated by Rod Rosenstein, even though Rosenstein is not the Special Counsel. In other words, we're playing Crazy Chess here: Each piece gains new powers and a new position with every move.

Rod Rosenstein is now talking about recusing himself. Why? I'm not sure. This course of action seems to be based on the fact that he was insulted in a tweet issued by the object of Mueller's investigation. The lesson: If ever you are under investigation, all you need to do is issue a tweet in which you complain about the guy who hired the investigator, and that will make all of your tormentors go away. Because that's how the justice system works these days -- if your name is Trump.

Getting rid of Rosenstein would put matters into the hands of Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, whose political inclinations are perhaps best illustrated by the donations she made to Ted Cruz. Her initials will resonate with those who appreciate the many Watergate parallels: Rachel Brand would be the distaff version of Robert Bork.

Bannon battery?
Claude Taylor says that Steve Bannon physically assaulted White House staffers and is now being investigated for obstruction of justice. Yes, yes, I know: Taylor is not the most credible of sources. I won't believe this particular claim until I hear it from people I consider more trustworthy. But...c'mon. Be honest. Can't you just see Bannon losing his temper in this fashion?

I'm reminded of the story of the Massacre of the Innocents: There's no historical evidence that Herod actually did such a thing, but the report does fit what we know of the man's character.

Satergate. David Cay Johnston issued a fascinating tweet...
Journalists: Open hearing on unsealing files that may show Trump Russian ties, Mon, 13:00, Federal Courthouse Brooklyn, Judge Pamela K. Chen
These files concern Felix Sater, the Russian crook with strong Trump ties. This angle may explain why so many Trumpers have lawyered up -- hell, even Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer, has hired a lawyer.

Some of you may appreciate a refresher course.

In this story (which drew from this bombshell investigation) we looked at Trump's links to the Bayrock Group, an organization run by shadowy Russian-Americans and eastern Europeans. Another Bayrocker is Tarik Arif, who has been credibly linked to underaged prostitutes, which have been used to obtain kompromat on various politicians and businessmen.

I've decided to republish some words which originally appeared in a February 20, 2017 Cannonfire post:

* * *

Sater, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and the Putin government have been hammering out a Ukraine peace plan, which Sater gave to General Flynn just before his resignation. Why is this shocking? Because -- as indicated above -- Sater is a shady, sleazy character, and Trump has been trying to pretend that he has no real links to the guy.

Having spent some time studying the matter, the biggest red flags about Donald Trump's ties to Russia and businessmen around Vladimir Putin have always been tied to the Trump SoHo building project in Lower Manhattan, from the first decade of this century. I base my knowledge of this on this rather cursory but still quite good April 2016 article from the Times and my own limited snooping around the Outer Boroughs Russian and Ukrainian emigre press. (I summarized the most salient details of the earlier Times article in Item #3 of this post.) This was a key project, perhaps the key project in the post-bankruptcy era in which Trump appeared heavily reliant on Russian funds to finance his projects. Sater was at the center of that project. The details only came to light after the project got bogged down in a complicated series of lawsuits.

After the lawyers got involved, Trump said he barely knew who Sater was. But there is voluminous evidence that Sater, a Russian emigrant, was key to channeling Russian capital to Trump for years. Sater is also a multiple felon and at least a one-time FBI informant. Bayrock Capital, where he worked was located in Trump Tower and he himself worked as a special advisor to Trump. Again, read the Times article to get a flavor of his ties to Trump, the Trump SoHo project and Russia. For my money there's no better place to start to understand the Trump/Russia issue.

On its own, Trump's relationship with Sater might be written off (albeit not terribly plausibly) as simply a sleazy relationship Trump entered into to get access to capital he needed to finance his projects. Whatever shadowy ties Sater might have and whatever his criminal background, Trump has long since washed his hands of him. (Again, we're talking about most generous reads here.)

But now we learn that Sater is still very much in the Trump orbit and acting as a go-between linking Trump and a pro-Putin Ukrainian parliamentarian pitching 'peace plans' for settling the dispute between Russia and Ukraine.
Just how shady is Sater? This Miami Herald piece form 2012 is a must-read:
Now with the collapse of the posh Trump resort, lawyers are fighting to expose the background of the 46-year-old man who they allege stole millions from investors while he was given sweeping protections by prosecutors.

Sater is accused in a civil racketeering case of helping to hide millions from the failed Fort Lauderdale project — while paying $1.5 million to a former Mafia associate for his role in the deal.
Sater has dodged the legal repercussions of his acts by functioning as an informant for both the FBI and CIA.
* * *

Let's return to this piece.

Whatever Felix Sater has been up to recently, the key point is that by 2002, at the latest,19 Tevfik Arif decided to hire him as Bayrock’s COO and managing director. This was despite the fact that by then Felix had already compiled an astonishing track record as a professional criminal, with multiple felony pleas and convictions, extensive connections to organized crime, and—the ultimate prize—a virtual “get out of jail free card,” based on an informant relationship with the FBI and the CIA that is vaguely reminiscent of Whitey Bulger.
By then [2000] young Felix Sater was already well on his way to a career as a prototypical Russian-American mobster. In 1991 he stabbed a commodity trader in the face with a margarita glass stem in a Manhattan bar, severing a nerve. He was convicted of a felony and sent to prison. As Trump tells it, Sater simply “got into a barroom fight, which a lot of people do.” The sentence for this felony conviction could not have been very long, because, by 1993, 27-year-old Felix was already a trader in a brand new Brooklyn-based commodity firm called “White Rock Partners,” an innovative joint venture among four New York crime families and the Russian mob aimed at bringing state-of-the art financial fraud to Wall Street.

Five years later, in 1998, Felix Sater pled guilty to stock racketeering, as one of 19 U.S.-and Russian mob-connected traders who participated in a $40 million “pump and dump” securities fraud scheme. Facing twenty years in Federal prison, Sater and Gennady Klotsman, a fellow Russian-American who’d been with him on the night of the Manhattan bar fight, turned “snitch” and helped the Department of Justice prosecute their co-conspirators.22 Reportedly, so did Salvatore Lauria, another “trader” involved in the scheme. According to the Jody Kriss lawsuit, Lauria later joined Bayrock as an off-the-books paid “consultant.” Initially their cooperation, which lasted from 1998 until at least late 2001, was kept secret, until it was inadvertently revealed in a March 2000 press release by U.S. Attorney Lynch.

Unfortunately for Sater, about the same time the NYPD also reportedly discovered that he had been running a money-laundering scheme and illicit gun sales out of a Manhattan storage locker. He and Klotsman fled to Russia. However, according to the New York Times, which cited Klotsman and Lauria, soon after the events of September 11, 2001, the ever-creative Sater succeeded in brokering information about the black market for Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the CIA and the FBI. According to Klotsman, this strategy “bought Felix his freedom,” allowing him to return to Brooklyn. It is still not clear precisely what information Sater actually provided, but in 2015 U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch publicly commended him for sharing information that she described as “crucial to national security.”
Remember, the Orbis dossier said that election shennanigans were being covertly funded by Russia via a network of Russian emigres in New York. Sater and Arif are Russian emigres.

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