The Russian-Trump Laundromat

Video excerpt of Brian Williams’ interview with Craig Unger, from his article in the New Republic, “Trump’s Russian Laundromat,” published 13 July 2017.

Unger’s research revealed Russian oligarchs and mafia clamoring to buy Trump properties in New York and Florida with many under FBI investigation for illegal gambling rings, prostitution and money laundering.

The “tower full of oligarchs,” as Bloomberg called it, became a model for Trump’s projects going forward. All he needed to do, it seemed, was slap the Trump name on a big building, and high-dollar customers from Russia and the former Soviet republics were guaranteed to come rushing in. Dolly Lenz, a New York real estate broker, told USA Today that she sold some 65 units in Trump World Tower to Russians.

The impetus to buy anything with the Trump name on it dates back three decades, says Unger. Dirty cash from Russian crime syndicates along with the largesse of Russian real estate developers brought Trump out of financial ruin to host The Apprentice, gain traction as a business success and launch his presidential bid.

Whether Trump knew it or not, Russian mobsters and corrupt oligarchs used his properties not only to launder vast sums of money from extortion, drugs, gambling, and racketeering, but even as a base of operations for their criminal activities. In the process, they propped up Trump’s business and enabled him to reinvent his image. Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.


Russian Oil Comes To Florida – Part 1

The Itera/Areti Building in Jacksonville’s Deerwood office park. In 2017, Itera was bought out by the Russian state’s largest oil-producing entity, Rosneft.

In 1991, a married couple from Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia immigrated to the United States. They left their home on the banks of the Volga River to settle at another river city, Jacksonville, FL.

A few years after arriving, the wife Raisa Frenkel, was the named officer of a corporation, along with Jacksonville resident Theodorus Kavalieros. That business is the Itera International Energy Corporation, a rapidly expanding enterprise that many locals long-viewed as mysterious. During its 20-something year existence, Itera has produced a number of spin-off businesses. Today, it operates from a massive, Gothic style building in the upscale commercial district of Deerwood. Continue reading “Russian Oil Comes To Florida – Part 1”

Low Ranking State Rep Meets High Ranking Russian Official Over DPRK

On the morning of 4 April, North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. As news broke of this provocative incident, it was easy to miss a single tweet from the innards of the U.S. State Department. After all, world media was focused on the cryptic response from the Secretary of State.

“North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea,” Tillerson said. “We have no further comment.”

Yet, as Tillerson was issuing his “No comment” response, an uncelebrated foreign policy expert was en route to Moscow to talk with “Russian officials” about North Korea. Continue reading “Low Ranking State Rep Meets High Ranking Russian Official Over DPRK”

The Terrifying Possibilities of the Presidential Pardon Power

Five days after Donald J. Trump won the electoral college vote, an attorney made a prediction.

Robert Kelner recorded that forecast. He now represents Lt. General Michael Flynn, the retired Army general, former Defense Intelligence Agency director under Obama and recently fired head of the National Security Agency under Trump.

Three months after Kelner made his projection, Flynn was outed for secret talks with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, exposed in his botched cover-up of those chats, and placed under investigation by the Army for possibly violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. The general was accused of lying to VP Pence, accepting cash from the Russian government, violating protocol by negotiating with an adversary during Obama’s administration, and endangering national security as a blackmail risk.

But let’s return to that Kelner tweet and the many questions surfacing after-the-fact.

In the history of presidential pardons, there are few that fit a “novel and unusual” profile. The one that stands out is Ford’s pardon of Nixon in 1974 following the Watergate scandal. Nixon resigned before he was impeached and was not charged with a crime. Nonetheless, Ford took the extraordinary step of issuing a “full, free and absolute pardon… for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in…”

The situation today is similar but not the same. To duplicate Ford’s pardon, it would be Pence (not Trump) issuing the order. Thus, Kesler’s prediction would be off the mark in this instance.

What is possible is frightening. Trump could pardon attorney Kelser’s client even if Flynn is not charged with or convicted of an offense. This would equate to Ford’s forgiveness of Nixon. For that matter, Trump could issue all-encompassing pardons for anyone embroiled in the Russiagate scandal – with qualifications.

The pardon privilege granted to the president is sanctioned in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution:

The President…shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

The president can only forgive federal offenses, including violations of civil and criminal laws. The second qualifier is that impeachment cases are excluded from the privilege.

Therefore, if Trump followed Ford’s precedent, he conceivably would have the power to forgive federal violations against Flynn, Paul Manafort and Carter Page. He could pardon VP Pence, Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Rep. Devin Nunes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell  – literally anyone caught up in the ongoing investigations of Russian collusion – even before they are charged with a crime. The two exceptions: these individuals cannot be impeached and Trump cannot issue pardons if he is impeached.

This scenario is indeed “novel and unusual”. The possibility exists that Trump and friends could wreak unimaginable damage to this country, knowing they have a get-out-of-jail-free card and a GOP-controlled House that shows no compunction to bring about the impeachment process.

The ramifications are terrifying.

The Internet. Our Election. And A Reminder: Stay Calm and Vote.

The concern over possible internet interference on Election Day is not a hoax. Major service providers (AT&T, Comcast, Time-Warner, Cox, T-Mobile, Direct TV, Verizon) along with online news sources (CNN), social media (Facebook, Twitter), entertainment (Netflix, Hulu), gaming and email communication providers have all suffered outages in the past several days. Continue reading “The Internet. Our Election. And A Reminder: Stay Calm and Vote.”

“Good night. Tomorrow will be worse.”

Credit Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Sometimes, there’s just too much to encapsulate.

Let’s start with Friday 28 October when FBI Director James Comey gave us all a big nothing bite of a paragraph with the magic words “Hillary Clinton” and “email.” That was enough to rock the cool heads and send the hot ones into a frenzy.

Over the weekend, Comey’s nothingburger announcement morphed into a Halloween monster burger called The Comey and it is oozing with criminality.

The Democratic Coalition Against Trump was the first to level a charge. (I may be wrong but I don’t have the resources for infinite research.) It filed a complaint against the FBI Director with the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility for “interfering in the Presidential election.”

Comey’s megaphone, Jason Chaffetz, Republican House member from Utah, was likewise hit with an ethics complaint from the Coalition. That complaint was reinforced yesterday (31 October) when Richard Painter, the former Bush White House counsel, joined forces in a statement damning to both Comey and Chaffetz.

James Comey used his power as head of the FBI to attempt to influence a Presidential election. This is drastic violation of the Hatch Act that extends beyond party lines. When Comey was pressured by members of the United States House of Representatives to send a letter detailing the (sic) his investigation into Secretary Clinton’s emails, he should have known that the contents would be made public. The Members who released this letter placed partisan politics above the integrity of the FBI. We hope that investigations into Comey’s actions begin swiftly and are resolved with the same expediency.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Comey accusing him of a double standard in his Friday release. Reid warned the FBI chief that he may have violated the Hatch Act and demanded Comey immediately balance the brouhaha by telling the world about the agency’s investigation into Donald Trump and players in the Russian Federation.

That letter in itself is enough to leave many aghast. Lots of black-and-white and very little grey.

Reid’s charges included a sentence that has long been simmering in Democratic circles. The FBI, wrote the long-time Senator, has “explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.”

Now is a good time to pause and remind readers of a forecast from Rick Wilson.

I wrote about this yesterday in a post called “Oppo Bombs: When and What But Not If.”   Wilson was tweeting about it too. He also said:

How might Wilson, who is in divorce proceedings from the GOP while courting independence (Evan McMullin), be in-the-know? Maybe because McMullin is ex-CIA, and as most people know, you’re never ex-CIA (just ask John Shindler).

So here we are, the first of November, and the story bombs are firing out of pens, pointing at a cast that includes Donald J. Trump, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, a Russian bankster and oligarch, and a fellow by the name of Vlad. But to be complete, let’s not overlook Tad Devine, Bernie’s senior advisor, former Manafort partner and the force behind the deposed Putin puppet in Ukraine. Because it all began a long time ago when the comic book club “inadvertently” stole the guts out of the DNC’s computer cache. Remember that?

Back to the present.

Last night, Mother Jones gave David Corn the go ahead to roll out his undocumented article that purportedly nails Trump for the tramp that many people call him. However, Corn claims The Donald is answering to Pimp Putin.

Corn, who has built a reputation for cutting edge journalism, cites “a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence” for his material. The magazine stands behind Corn by stating that it has viewed material from this anonymous source – material that was forwarded to Comey’s FBI.

Here’s the bombshell:

The first memo, based on the former intelligence officer’s conversations with Russian sources, noted, “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.” It maintained that Trump “and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” It claimed that Russian intelligence had “compromised” Trump during his visits to Moscow and could “blackmail him.” It also reported that Russian intelligence had compiled a dossier on Hillary Clinton based on “bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls.”

Hot damn. If this has any connection to reality, we know Trump is indeed Putin’s puppet. But. No named sources. And a screaming headline worthy of The National Enquirer: “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump.”

There are just too many premature conclusions, potential ramifications, and other qualifiers to fit into this blog post. However, if the Corn report is connected to fact then the Franklin Foer article in Slate certainly moves this scenario closer to reality.

Foer’s piece, “Was A Trump Server Communicating With Russia?” was also released on 31 October. Significantly, it does use named sources as well as a cyber expert who goes by the handle “Tea Leaves”. It charts an investigation into a single server in the Trump Tower that appeared to be communicating with a Russian billionaire who also runs Alfa Bank, that country’s largest private banking institution.

Foer’s sources investigated this connection for months, examining the DNS activity logs of the Trump server. Their conclusion was inconclusive. However the investigators suggested a “digital hotline” between the Trump and the bank servers. It concluded that this hotline was a secretive channel.

…the logs suggested that Trump and Alfa had configured something like a digital hotline connecting the two entities, shutting out the rest of the world, and designed to obscure its own existence.

Meanwhile, the Halloween horror story simmered down with a report from the New York Times. Once again, no named sources. Info comes from anonymous “FBI officials” who said “Nyet!” to the Russia-Trump connection.

At face value, the Times story downplays the allegations made by Corn and Foer. And yet, there are nuances. Its report gives a blow-by-blow of every possible way in which such foreign influence could be executed. Some people might read it in the same light as Yale’s “non-endorsement” of Hillary Clinton.

For example, “FBI officials” claim the computer logs showing pings between Alfa Bank and the Trump organization server are probably just “spam.”

Computer logs obtained by The New York Times show that two servers at Alfa Bank sent more than 2,700 “look-up” messages — a first step for one system’s computers to talk to another — to a Trump-connected server beginning in the spring. But the F.B.I. ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.

Nothing to worry about, folks. It’s just the largest Russian bank under Putin’s thumb spamming Donald Trump’s organization.

Perhaps these two former Facebook execs are hyping things as well.

Trick or Treat? Should voters take this gossip seriously or is it another nothingburger? Will Early Voting decide this election or will the ballots of 8 November be free of digital trickery from Russian “spam”?

Our POTUS says: Ride it out. Everything’s OK. Politics as usual.

There’s still a week to go. Will the October Surprise be dwarfed by a November to Remember?

So many questions.

|Qualifier: I stole the headline of this post from Julia Ioffe’s Twitter feed. It seems perfect.|