A Whole Lotta News, Some of Which Will Hopefully Matter Someday

There was just a whole lot of breaking news late yesterday around sundry corruption, collusion, and general trash in the Trump administration. Following is a recap of the major stories, some of which will hopefully matter at some point, as Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigation enters its second year. Happy anniversary.

Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker: Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen's Financial Records.
Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael Cohen, [Donald] Trump's personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration. In the days since, there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, and the Treasury Department's inspector general has launched a probe to find the source. That source, a law-enforcement official, is speaking publicly for the first time, to The New Yorker, to explain the motivation: The official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen's financial activity in a government database. The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents.

The payments to Cohen that have emerged in the past week come primarily from a single document, a "suspicious-activity report" filed by First Republic Bank, where Cohen's shell company, Essential Consultants, L.L.C., maintained an account. The document detailed sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Cohen by the pharmaceutical company Novartis, the telecommunications giant A.T. & T., and an investment firm with ties to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The report also refers to two previous suspicious-activity reports, or sars, that the bank had filed, which documented even larger flows of questionable money into Cohen's account. Those two reports detail more than three million dollars in additional transactions — triple the amount in the report released last week. Which individuals or corporations were involved remains a mystery. But, according to the official who leaked the report, these sars were absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or fincen. The official, who has spent a career in law enforcement, told me, "I have never seen something pulled off the system. ...That system is a safeguard for the bank. It's a stockpile of information. When something's not there that should be, I immediately became concerned." The official added, "That's why I came forward."

Seven former government officials and other experts familiar with the Treasury Department's fincen database expressed varying levels of concern about the missing reports. Some speculated that fincen may have restricted access to the reports due to the sensitivity of their content, which they said would be nearly unprecedented. One called the possibility "explosive." A record-retention policy on fincen's Web site notes that false documents or those "deemed highly sensitive" and "requiring strict limitations on access" may be transferred out of its master file. Nevertheless, a former prosecutor who spent years working with the fincen database said that she knew of no mechanism for restricting access to sars. She speculated that fincen may have taken the extraordinary step of restricting access "because of the highly sensitive nature of a potential investigation. It may be that someone reached out to fincento ask to limit disclosure of certain sars related to an investigation, whether it was the special counsel or the Southern District of New York." (The special counsel, Robert Mueller, is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. The Southern District is investigating Cohen, and the F.B.I. raided his office and hotel room last month.)

Whatever the explanation for the missing reports, the appearance that some, but not all, had been removed or restricted troubled the official who released the report last week. "Why just those two missing?" the official, who feared that the contents of those two reports might be permanently withheld, said. "That's what alarms me the most."
There is much more at the link. Clearly, there is the possibility that someone acting on orders from Donald Trump removed the reports, which would certainly constitute an attempt to obstruct justice.

Hunter Walker and Brett Arnold at Yahoo News: Michael Cohen's Efforts to Build a Trump Tower in Moscow Went on Longer Than He Has Previously Acknowledged. "Prosecutors and congressional investigators have obtained text messages and emails showing that [Donald] Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was working on a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow far later than Cohen has previously acknowledged. The communications show that as late as May 2016, around the time Trump was clinching the Republican nomination, Cohen was considering a trip to Russia to meet about the project with high-level government officials, business leaders, and bankers. ...In a statement to Congress, Cohen claimed he gave up on the project in late January 2016, when he determined the 'proposal was not feasible for a variety of business reasons and should not be pursued further.' However, Yahoo News has learned that text messages and emails that Sater provided to the government seem to contradict Cohen's version of events."

Karen DeYoung, Josh Dawsey, and Rosalind S. Helderman at the Washington Post: Trump's Personal Attorney Solicited $1 Million from Government of Qatar. "Michael Cohen, [Donald] Trump's personal attorney, solicited a payment of at least $1 million from the government of Qatar in late 2016, in exchange for access to and advice about the then-incoming administration, according to the recipient of the offer and several others with knowledge of the episode. The offer, which Qatar declined, came on the margins of a Dec. 12 meeting that year at Trump Tower between the Persian Gulf state's foreign minister and Michael Flynn, who became Trump's first national security adviser. Stephen K. Bannon, who became White House chief strategist, also attended."

Shawn Boburg and Aaron C. Davis at the Washington Post: FBI Agents Said to Be Probing Michael Cohen's Deal with Korean Firm. "A California man who says he served as a translator last year for Michael Cohen and a South Korean aerospace firm that paid Cohen's company $150,000 said Tuesday that FBI agents recently interviewed him. Mark Ko said in an email to The Washington Post that he spoke with the FBI about the arrangement 'a few weeks ago.' Ko declined to provide details about investigators' inquiries and said he was unsure whether the agents were part of the probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Ko's statement is the first indication that federal authorities are examining Cohen's contract with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) — one of several companies with substantial business before the U.S. government that hired Cohen, [Donald] Trump's personal attorney and longtime legal fixer, after the 2016 election."

Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, and Nicholas Fandos at the New York Times: Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Secret Origins of the Trump Investigation. "Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark. ...[A] small group of F.B.I. officials knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane. ...Those decisions [regarding the investigation of Hillary Clinton's email server] stand in contrast to the F.B.I.'s handling of Crossfire Hurricane. Not only did agents in that case fall back to their typical policy of silence, but interviews with a dozen current and former government officials and a review of documents show that the F.B.I. was even more circumspect in that case than has been previously known."

Dana Bash at CNN: Giuliani: Mueller's Team Told Trump's Lawyers They Can't Indict a President.

In totally unsurprising news, that was bullshit.

Mark Hosenball at Reuters: Mueller Issues Grand Jury Subpoenas to Trump Adviser's Social Media Consultant. "The subpoenas were delivered late last week to lawyers representing Jason Sullivan, a social media and Twitter specialist [longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone] hired to work for an independent political action committee he set up to support Trump, Knut Johnson, a lawyer for Sullivan, told Reuters on Tuesday. The subpoenas suggest that Mueller, who is probing Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, is focusing in part on Stone and whether he might have had advance knowledge of material allegedly hacked by Russian intelligence and sent to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who published it."

Olivia Solon at the Guardian: Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower Says Bannon Wanted to Suppress Voters. "Former White House senior strategist Steve Bannon and billionaire Robert Mercer sought Cambridge Analytica's political ad targeting technology as part of an 'arsenal of weapons to fight a culture war,' according to whistleblower Christopher Wylie. ...During his testimony to the Senate judiciary committee, Wylie also confirmed that he believed one of the goals of Steve Bannon while he was vice-president of Cambridge Analytica was voter suppression. 'One of the things that provoked me to leave was discussions about 'voter disengagement' and the idea of targeting African Americans,' he said, noting he had seen documents referencing this."

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW): CREW Files Criminal Complaint over Trump Financial Disclosures. "Following the release of [Donald] Trump's 2018 public financial disclosures, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today filed a criminal complaint against the president, calling for an investigation into whether he knowingly and willfully failed to report Michael Cohen's payment to Stormy Daniels as a liability on his 2017 public financial disclosures. After much reporting and multiple complaints from CREW, [Donald] Trump disclosed the liability to Cohen on his just-released 2018 disclosures, as he was legally required to do, which raises the question of whether he knowingly kept the loan secret, in violation of federal law, before it was public knowledge."

Note: All of these items are things which Mike Pence is willing to abet in his quest for power.

* * *

So much corruption; so much unethical and possible illegal behavior. This is one day's worth of news about the Trump administration and associated figures.

Not even one day, as all of this was late-breaking news yesterday.

And it's not all the news about the Trump administration, either. There's plenty more going on, like Donald Trump calling undocumented immigrants "animals."

It's just a relentless onslaught of terrible fucking news. I have no idea how the average person, who hasn't immersed themselves in politics and history and law and foreign policy for their entire adult lives and who doesn't have hours and hours to understand the details of each of these stories every day, has any hope of following and understanding and piecing together everything that is happening.

All of it is overwhelming.

And of course Donald Trump knows that better than anyone. If everything you do is corruption and chaos, you'll leave people scrambling to figure out what your last three or thirteen or thirty-seven scams were while you're already onto the next dozen, each one bigger (more harmful) and better (worse) than the ones before.

That, among many reasons, is why I keep saying the time to resist Donald Trump was before the election. It's exponentially more difficult to stop a conman after you give him virtually limitless power.


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