Originally Published: 7/15/2017
Russian Connection: According to the NY Times, Donald Trump Jr. admitted that he, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a lawyer with ties to the Kremlin in June 2016 at Trump Tower. Rinat Akhmetshin (see below) said on Friday that he was also at the meeting “with several others.” (Washington Post) Junior had received an email from Rob Goldstone, “a British music publicist and former tabloid journalist.” (Guardian) Goldstone wrote that the prosecutor general of Russia, Yuri Yakovlevich Chaika, had met with Trump family acquaintance Aras Agalarov and “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” (Washington Post) Goldstone’s message “indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information.” [Emphasis added.] Junior acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Hillary. (NY Times) The June 3, 2016 email “is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” [Emphasis added.] Junior replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” (NY Times) Junior “eagerly agreed” to meet with the woman Goldstone told him was a Russian government lawyer. (Reuters) The Washington Post has the emails if you’re interested in reading them. Another Washington Post piece sets forth the timeline for the events from 2013. Here’s a synopsis of the people involved. If you want all the dots connected, listen to Keith Olbermann.
Emin Agalarov: The Miss Universe Pageant held in Moscow in 2013 “brought the Trump family into partnership with Emin Agalarov, “a pop star in Russia, and his father, Aras - a duo that develops major real estate projects in Russia and appears friendly with the Kremlin.” Emin Agalarov's publicist is Rob Goldstone. (See above.) (NY Times) Aras Agalarov is also well known to Christopher Steele, the British spy who compiled the dossier on Trump. (TWW, Russian Connection, 4/1/17) Steele reported that one of his sources was “a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow.” (The Intercept)
Natalia Veselnitskaya: Who is the lawyer with whom Junior met? The NY Times said she’s a “fearsome Moscow insider.” The week before she met with Junior she attended various functions on the East Coast about Russian sanctions, culminating in sitting front row at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S. sanctions against Russia. Is there any question that she was interested in our sanctions against Russia? “The story of how she ended up in the meeting can be traced to her role as an attorney representing a Russian-owned company, Prevezon Holdings.” (See below) (Washington Post) Look at the chart provided by the Washington Post that sets out the connections. When the emails first came out, Junior said that his meeting with Veselnitskaya was primarily about adoptions. (NY Times) The issue of adoptions and sanctions “are so inextricably linked as to be practically synonymous.” The connection is the Magnitsky Act. (See below) If you’re interested in the connection, see this piece at the NY Times. As we know, the Trump team’s meetings with Russian operatives have purportedly been about sanctions. (TWW, Russian Property, 6/3/17; The Investigation, 5/13/17; Russian Connection, 3/4/17; Exxon and Russia, 2/25/17; Michael Flynn, 2/18/17; Russia, 2/11/17; Russia, 2/4/17)
Rinat Akhmetshin: According to Business Insider, Akhmetshin is a Russian-born lobbyist “accused of having ties to Soviet military intelligence who has been working to overturn the Magnitsky Act since at least last year.” He has been working with Veselnitskaya. NBC described Akhmetshin as a Russian-born U.S. citizen who holds dual citizenship and is “a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials have having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence.” Originally Veselnitskaya said there was another person attending the meeting but declined to give a name. Now we know it was Akhmetshin. Mediaite wrote: “Though Akhmetshin contends he is no longer a Kremlin agent, [William] Browder notes that in ‘the world of Russian intelligence, there is no such thing as a “former intelligence officer.”’” According to a letter from Senator Chuck Grassley (R, IA) to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Akhmetshin specializes in “subversive political influence operations often involving disinformation and propaganda” and Radio Free Europe described him as a “Russian ‘gun-for-hire’ [who] lurks in the shadows of Washington’s lobbying world.”
Magnitsky Act: The sanctions on Russia were due to the death of a Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who worked for a U.S.-born businessman, William Browder. Browder ran a company call Hermitage Capital Management which was once “one of the largest foreign investors in Russia.” But Browder became critical of Putin’s corruption and urged reforms. “He was banned from entering Russia in 2005 on the grounds that he was a threat to national security.” 2 years later Browder’s company offices were raided, “documents were seized and Hermitage companies were illegally taken over. Subsequently, those who arranged the takeover applied for a tax refund of $230 million, which was granted.” Browder hired Magnitsky to investigate and Magnitsky determined that fraud had occurred and testified against Russian officials in the matter. Back in Russia, Magnitsky was arrested by those he testified against and was found dead in jail a year later. Browder launched an effort to impose U.S. economic sanctions against Russia and Congress approved it in 2012 legislation called the Magnitsky Act. “Russian officials, in turn, accused Browder of colluding with the CIA and fabricating key pieces of his story. The passage of the act infuriated Putin, leading the Russian leader to retaliate by halting American adoption of Russian children. (Washington Post)
Prevezon: “As accusations flew and the Magnitsky Act took effect,” Prevezon was accused by U.S. officials of buying real estate with laundered funds from some of the proceeds of the $230 million tax refund. Prevezon, owned by a Russian, Denis Katsyv, fought the charges in federal court in New York. In addition to hiring American lawyers, Katsyv brought on Veselnitskaya to help with the case. (Washington Post) Last May Prevezon settled the suit by paying $5.9 million. It was a surprise settlement. The case was meant to go to trial but Acting Manhattan U.S. attorney Joon H. Kim unexpectedly settled the case. (Reuters) Joon Kim is the attorney who replaced Preet Bharara after Bharara was unexpectedly fired. (TWW, Preet Bharara, 5/20/17)
White House Response: Junior’s defense is that he was doing opposition research. But ethics lawyers say this sort of encounter - “a campaign’s core officials meeting with a foreigner to talk about dirt dug up by a foreign government” - is highly unusual. Could the meeting be against the law? Possibly. Campaign law states it is illegal to solicit or accept any contributions from foreign nationals or foreign governments. So it depends on whether the information promised is considered a “thing of value.” (Washington Post) Wanna know what Stephen Colbert thinks about it? Sure you do. It’s a hoot.
Philippines: Donald and Ivanka both have companies and both have employed a law firm “managed by a Philippine government official.” According to the Guardian, “By hiring a firm run by a high-ranking member of the Philippine government, Trump opens himself to accusations of wittingly or unwittingly paying a foreign official to secure the interests of his private business.”
Jeff Sessions: A federal judge on June 12th ordered that Attorney General Sessions disclose the part of his security clearance form detailing his Russia contacts. On July 13th, a day late, Sessions submitted a mostly blank page of paper. (NPR)
Qatar: Just before the crisis started (TWW, Qatar, 6/10/17), Jared Kushner’s real estate company “had unsuccessfully sought a critical half-billion-dollar investment from one of the richest and most influential men in the tiny nation.” (The Intercept) Since he didn’t get the loan, could this have had anything to do with the blockade?
Trump Hotels: The State Department spent more than $15,000 to book 19 rooms at the new Trump hotel in Vancouver “when members of President Trump’s family headlined the grand opening of the tower in late February.” (Washington Post) I can’t add anything to this.
Confirmations: Trump is calling the slow confirmations of his nominees “unprecedented,” saying the Democrats are blocking them. Marc Short, White House legislative affairs director, accused Dems of “conducting the slowest confirmation process in American history.” However, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D, NY) released a statement listing almost 30 of Trump’s nominations “that arrived on Capitol Hill without the proper paperwork.” He countered that “no administration in recent memory has been slower in sending nominations to the Senate.” He added that many lacked ethics and other necessary documents. (Roll Call)
Randal Quarles: Trump has named Quarles, a former Treasury Department official, to serve as the Federal Reserve’s watchdog of Wall Street, “and to play a leading role in the administration’s plans to reduce financial regulation.” (NY Times)
Ken Blackwell: Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state who was embroiled in investigations of election rigging in 2004 (Mother Jones), has been appointed to the Voting Integrity Commission. (LA Times)
Japan: It has concluded negotiations with the European Union (EU) for a trade deal. According to Fortune: “Their message is simple: As the United States denounces free trade and walks away from the negotiating table, the rest of the world is not standing still.”
Syria: The U.S., Russia, and Jordan have reached a cease-fire agreement for “a limited area” of southwestern Syria. The cease-fire is supposed to begin on Sunday. (NY Times)
Alaska: An Italian multinational oil and gas company “has received permission to move ahead with drilling plans in federal waters off Alaska which environmental campaigners say will endanger polar bears, bowhead whales, and other marine mammals.” (Guardian)
Colorado: Election officials in Boulder have received a rush of requests from people seeking to cancel their voter registration or to become “confidential” voters. But the rush isn’t limited to Boulder. It’s going on all over the state. (Colorado Independent) Secretary of State Wayne Williams welcomed the Voting Integrity Commission’s request for voter data. (TWW, What the States Are Saying, 7/8/17) Guess the people aren’t happy.
Illinois: Chicago is imposing a new requirement to graduate from high school. Starting in 2020, in order to graduate from a public high school students must show “that they’ve secured a job or received a letter of acceptance to college, a trade apprenticeship, a gap-year program, or the military.” (Washington Post)
Louisiana: Lawyers have filed suit against Black Lives Matter on behalf of a surviving victim of a 2016 “ambush” of police officers in Baton Rouge. “Arguing that founding BLM organizers . . . ‘not only incited the violence against police in retaliation for the death of black men shot by police, but also did nothing to dissuade the ongoing violence and injury to police.’” (Think Progress)
Ohio: Richard K. Jones, sheriff of Butler County, will not allow his deputies to carry Narcan, a nasal spray that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses. Law enforcement officers, fire fighters, paramedics, and even librarians around the country are keeping Narcan on hand to save lives. But Jones won’t hear of it. “We don’t do the shots for bee stings, we don’t inject diabetic people with insulin. When does it stop.” (Washington Post)
Oregon: According to Mother Jones, a handful of states are pushing back against the siege against reproductive rights with legislation protecting access to reproductive heath services. Oregon, “already one of the least restrictive states when it comes to abortion access,” just passed “one of the most progressive pieces of reproductive health legislation in the country.”
Travel Ban: U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, apparently overruling himself (TWW, Travel Ban, 7/8/17), ruled that Trump’s travel ban cannot include grandparents and other close relatives. He also ruled that “refugees with ties to a resettlement agency that was committed to receiving them had a relationship that made them eligible to enter the country.” (NY Times) Trump immediately appealed to the Supreme Court. (Reuters)
Net Neutrality: “Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, and hundreds of smaller tech companies coordinated a huge online protest on Wednesday against the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to scrap net neutrality rules, which guarantee that broadband service providers treat all Internet traffic equally.” (NY Times) The FCC has published its proposal to undo the 2015 net neutrality rules. It is now accepting public comments. We did it before (TWW, Net Neutrality, 2/28/15) and we can do it again. Here’s what to do. (1) Go to the FCC’s page for filings related to the Restoring Internet Freedom proposal. (2) In the Proceedings box, add 17-108 to associate your comment with the right proposal. (3) Enter your name and address and your comment. NOTE: This information will be publicly posted on the FCC’s website once it’s submitted and cannot be edited.
Profitization of War: Trump has recruited Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, and Stephen Feinberg, who owns DynCorp International, the 2 largest military contracting firms, for advice on Afghanistan. They were the ones who decided we needed additional troops there. (TWW, Afghanistan, 6/17/17) [NOTE: Prince is also the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.] Apparently Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “declined to include the outside strategies” in his review of Afghanistan policy. The NY Times reported that there is a “divide” between Trump’s generals and his political staff over Afghanistan.
Voting: Andrew Kossack, the designated officer of Trump’s Voting Integrity Commission (TWW, Voting, 7/1/17), has sent an email to state elections officers telling them to “hold on submitting any data” to the commission.” (Reuters) This is due to the court proceedings. (TWW, Going to Court, 7/8/17)
FEC: The Federal Elections Commission approved “guidance” to allow campaign contributions to pay for certain types of security. Members of Congress can use up to $15,000 in campaign funds for “nonstructural” security systems, like installation and monitoring costs for cameras, sensors, and “removable security devices” at their homes.” (Roll Call)
Buy American: The Pentagon is “taking initial steps” to more closely enforce the Buy American laws that have been on the books since the 1930s. They require that manufacturers rely on U.S. materials when making guns, equipment, uniforms, and food for the military. (Washington Post) I hope they can do it but it’ll be difficult to find what they need here in the U.S.
BCRA: Senate Republicans have rolled out another version of its Better Care Reconciliation Act to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It’s supposed to include tweaks to satisfy both Republican moderates and extreme righties. But, surprise! It’s essentially the same as the prior Senate version (TWW, Senate Bill, 7/1/17) with the additional provision dubbed extra “choice” that makes it even worse. It still guts Medicaid by $700 billion and hits older Americans hard. There’s a tax credit plan that is less than generous, provides $70 billion to insurance companies, and allows states to opt out of the ACA’s essential benefits rule. It will cause out-of-pocket costs to skyrocket, defunds Planned Parenthood, and adds “choice,” which would quarantine sick people into high risk pools and further strip away coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Oh, and it will still strip millions of people of health care. (NY Times) Let me, once again, refer you to the Trumpcare Tool Kit.
EPA: Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director, in just 4 months, has moved to “undo, delay, or otherwise block” more than 30 environmental rules, “a regulatory rollback larger in scope than any other over so short a time” in the agency’s history. And he’s doing all this without input from the 15,000 career employees at his agency. He has “outsourced crucial work to a network of lawyers, lobbyists, and other allies, especially Republican state attorneys general.” (NY Times)
Larsen C: A chunk of floating ice broke off a major Antarctic ice shelf, “producing one of the largest icebergs ever recorded.” It’s “the size of Delaware.” This has been expected for a while. (TWW, Larsen Ice Shelf, 1/21/17) According to Project Midas, the event “fundamentally changes the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula.” Adrian Luckman, lead researcher for Project Midas, said: “This is a big change. Maps will need to be redrawn.” (NY Times) The Larsen B ice shelf is expected to break apart completely around 2020. (TWW, Larsen B, 5/16/15)
6th Extinction: Scientists analyzing both common and rare species have found that “billions of regional or local populations have been lost.” They blame human overpopulation and overconsumption and warn that “it threatens the survival of human civilization with just a short window of time in which to act.” They refer to it as the “biological annihilation” of wildlife and it means that the 6th Extinction (TWW, 6th Extinction, 10/29/16) is under way. (Guardian)
Carbon Emissions: The Carbon Majors Report shows that just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Of course, they are all oil, coal, and gas producers.
Global Warming: Scientists are finding that the effects of global warming in the Arctic are even more complex and far-reaching than anyone thought. “New research suggests that warm spells at the top of the world can, surprisingly, cause unusually cold weather in parts of North America - and that could be hurting plants, damaging agriculture, and even affecting the amount of carbon dioxide that goes into our atmosphere. Plus, it further reinforces a controversial but persistent theory suggesting that the fast-warming of the Arctic could be causing weather extremes in the heavily populated mid-latitudes as well.” (Washington Post)
Carl’s Jr.: A Los Angeles city attorney ordered Carl’s Jr. to pay $1.45 million in restitution and penalties “after an investigation found the fast-food chain failed to pay 37 workers the city’s minimum wage of $10.50 an hour.” The CEO of Carl’s Jr.‘s parent company, CKE Restaurants, is Andrew Puzder, Trump’s former pick to head up the Labor Department. (TWW, Andrew Puzder, 2/18/17) Puzder has been a harsh critic of the minimum wage. (TWW, Trump Appointments, 12/10/16) Puzder removed himself from the confirmation process. This is probably why. (LA Times)
New Banking Rules: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has adopted a rule that will “pry open the courtroom doors for millions of Americans.” It prohibits financial firms from forcing consumers into arbitration. This means consumers will also be able to file class action suits. (NY Times)