Rachel Maddow reports on an avalanche of legal news including details in the Paul Manafort case exposed by a lawyer’s poor redactions, an intriguing new indictment, and another development in the mystery Mueller case.
I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations... The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations... To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous... But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making... Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives:
- free minds,
- free markets and
- free people.At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright... In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.
There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture:
- effective deregulation,
- historic tax reform, a
- more robust military and more.
But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is
- petty and
From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.
.. Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.
“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.
The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.
The result is a two-track presidency.
Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.
Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.
.. On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.
.. This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.
Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.
.. The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.
.. Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.
.. We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.
.. There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.
Department officials reversed the decision this week, after concluding that an American aluminum manufacturer had meant to object, but made a mistake in its paperwork.
.. Rusal is an unlikely company to win an exemption. Mr. Deripaska, its major shareholder, was blacklisted by the United States in April as part of an effort to punish members of Mr. Putin’s inner circle for interference in the 2016 election and other Russian aggressions. Mr. Deripaska and six other wealthy Russians were hit with sanctions that restricted their ability to travel to the United States or do business with any company in the West. As part of that effort, Rusal and other entities were also constrained from engaging in transactions with Western companies.
Mr. Deripaska was once close with Paul Manafort
.. Rusal’s first 19 requests were denied by Commerce Department officials. In late July, its 20th request was granted. To date, Commerce Department officials say they have never approved a request that another company objected to properly.
Democrats in Congress who noticed the exclusion were prepared to protest what they called suspicious timing, given that the exemption coincided with Mr. Trump’s summit meeting with Mr. Putin in Finland.
.. This week, the department reversed course on the exclusion, after The New York Times inquired about whether Century Aluminum had, in fact, filed an objection, given its pattern of objecting to nearly every other Rusal application. Department officials determined that Century had meant to file an objection to Rusal’s request, but had erred in submitting the paperwork. The department effectively fixed Century’s error, then ruled that the objection was valid — and that Rusal’s exclusion was void.
In light of Century’s “clear intent to file the required objection form, not completed due to its clerical error,” the department said in a statement, officials have now “considered the objection on its merits and determined it supports a denial.”
.. “The Trump administration granted this tariff exclusion, certifying no national security concerns, to a sanctioned subsidiary owned by a sanctioned Russian aluminum company, a mere three days after Trump’s surrender in Helsinki to President Putin,”
.. This is not about the failure of one of those American companies to object, but about continuing, very objectionable favoritism toward Putin.”
This week, the Trump administration further eased its pressure on Rusal, Russia’s largest aluminum company, less than four months after sanctions on it and its notorious leader were imposed. Even as the White House seems willing to inflict pain on American farmers and consumers with its trade wars, Russian aluminum workers are apparently worthy of special protection.
.. Rusal is controlled by Oleg Deripaska, a member of Mr. Putin’s inner circle. As the Treasury Department acknowledges, he has been investigated for
- money laundering and accused of
- threatening the lives of business rivals,
- illegally wiretapping a government official and
- taking part in extortion and racketeering.
.. There are also allegations, made public by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, that Mr. Deripaska
- bribed a government official,
- ordered the murder of a businessman and
- had links to a Russian organized crime group. During the 2016 presidential campaign,
- Paul Manafort, then Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, tried to offer Mr. Deripaska private briefings about the campaign.
.. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he is considering lifting the sanctions altogether because they are punishing the “hardworking people of Rusal.” But Mr. Mnuchin has it backward. If he was truly concerned about Rusal’s 61,000 employees, he would not relent until the company fully washed its hands of Mr. Deripaska and the corrupt regime the aluminum giant serves.
.. Behind Mr. Deripaska’s estimated fortune of as much as $5.3 billion, there stands a great crime. During the “aluminum wars” of the 1990s, when that economic sector was consolidating in the chaotic privatization that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, the young metals trader was suspected of ties to gangsters as he seized control of huge Siberian smelters. According to testimony by a gang member in Stuttgart, Germany, part of Mr. Deripaska’s value to the group were his links to Russia’s security services. While his rivals were killed off or fled Russia, Mr. Deripaska somehow emerged as the director general of Rusal, a company that reported revenues last year of nearly $10 billion. But suspicions that the oligarch has had links to organized crime have denied him a visa to enter the United States.
.. they must do its bidding, which in Mr. Deripaska’s case meant spending more than $1 billion, through his holding company, on new infrastructure for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia
Mr. Deripaska has embraced his role, stating that he does not separate himself from the Russian state.
.. Manafort tried to pitch him a plan for an influence campaign to “greatly benefit the Putin government.”
.. “Rusal’s own website says that it supplied military material to the Russian military that was potentially used in Syria.”
.. Mr. Deripaska’s holding company, hired a $108,500-a-month lobbyist to continue to negotiate with the Treasury Department. The firm he chose, Mercury Public Affairs, is the firm Mr. Manafort paid $1.1 million to lobby members of Congress on behalf of Ukraine and its then-president, Viktor Yanukovych
.. Led by David Vitter, a former Republican senator from Louisiana, Mercury has sought to enlist support from ambassadors of France, Germany and Australia, among others.
.. emanding more time to reduce the oligarch’s ownership stake in En+ from 70 percent to below 50 percent. In a July 24 filing with the Justice Department, Mercury outlined a host of calamities that might be unleashed if sanctions aren’t eased
- The global aluminum market might suffer significant disruptions with “severe collateral damage to United States interests, allies”;
- En+ might have to entertain a potential acquisition by “Chinese and/or other potentially hostile interests”; or
- Mr. Deripaska might just hang on to his majority stake.
.. The specter of a fellow traveler with gangsters dictating terms to the United States government is yet another sign of the Trump administration’s inexplicable capitulation to Russia.
.. July 16 summit in Helsinki, at which President Trump and President Putin met privately for more than two hours.
We don’t know what they discussed, but given the stakes on both sides, there’s a good chance that the discussion touched on the subject of the sanctions the United States has imposed on Russia’s biggest aluminum company.
Cohen, who is now in a dispute with his attorneys about some of his legal bills, plans to seek new representation soon, the people said. He wants to find a New York lawyer more familiar with the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, they said.
.. In Washington, Mueller has been examining Cohen’s role in at least two episodes involving Russian interests, as The Post has previously reported.
One area of interest to the special counsel is negotiations Cohen undertook during the 2016 campaign to help the Trump Organization build a tower in Moscow, according to people familiar with the probe. Cohen brought Trump a letter of intent in October 2015 from a Russian developer to build a Moscow project. Later, he sent an email to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chief spokesman seeking help to advance the stalled project. He has said he did not recall receiving a response.
.. Another area that Mueller’s team has explored is a proposal to end tensions in Ukraine, viewed by some as a plan that would benefit Russia
.. The meeting was organized by Felix Sater, a Trump business partner who had also worked to broker the deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the presidential campaign.
The back-channel proposal offered a pathway for resolving the Ukrainian dispute that could have eventually led to the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Russia, a top goal of Putin.
.. Cohen told the news outlet that he took it to Washington and left it in Flynn’s office days before Flynn was fired.
.. But in interviews last year with The Post, Cohen called that account “fake news” and denied that he gave the proposal to Flynn or that he had ever said he had done so. Instead, Cohen told The Post he threw away the unopened envelope in a trash can at his New York apartment.
“I never looked at it,” Cohen said. “I never turned it over to anyone.”
.. Cohen also told The Post that Artemenko indicated to him that his peace initiative for Ukraine came with Russian support. “He said Russia was on board — the Russian government,”
.. Artemenko said he met repeatedly with U.S. officials, including members of Congress, to promote the proposal in Washington. The meetings, he said, he were set up by Curt Weldon, a Republican former congressman from Pennsylvania.
.. He said the nuclear power plan would have been a blow to Russia because it would have provided independent power to neighboring states that had been dependent on Russian energy sources. “Since this was an anti-Russia energy development proposal, it was no surprise to me that U.S. officials would support this project,” Sater said.
The sources did not say whether Cohen took a commercial flight or private jet to Europe, and gave no explanation as to why no record of such a trip has surfaced.
.. Cohen has publicly acknowledged making three trips to Europe that year – to Italy in July, England in early October and a third after Trump’s November election.
.. One of the sources said congressional investigators have “a high level of interest” in Cohen’s European travel, with their doubts fueled by what they deem to be weak documentation Cohen has provided about his whereabouts around the time the Prague meeting was supposed to have occurred.
.. Cohen has said he was only in New York and briefly in Los Angeles during August, when the meeting may have occurred, though the sources said it also could have been held in early September.
.. The dossier alleges that Cohen, two Russians and several Eastern European hackers met at the Prague office of a Russian government-backed social and cultural organization, Rossotrudnichestvo.
.. Further, it alleges that Cohen, Kosachev and other attendees discussed “how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers in Europe who had worked under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign.”
.. Citing information from an unnamed “Kremlin insider,” Steele’s dossier says the Prague meeting agenda also included discussion “in cryptic language for security reasons,” of ways to “sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connection could be fully established or proven.” Romanians were among the hackers present, it says, and the discussion touched on using Bulgaria as a location where they could “lie low.”
.. When Trump took office, Cohen became Trump’s personal attorney.
He also formed a law firm, Michael D. Cohen & Associates, which in April forged a strategic alliance with the powerful Washington lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs. With headlines blaring about Cohen’s role in providing hush money to Daniels, the two firms disclosed this week they had parted company.
.. Soon after Trump took office, Cohen became embroiled in controversy when The New York Times reported he was involved in promoting a secret “peace plan” for Ukraine and Russia that was the brainchild of a little-known Ukrainian legislator, Andrii Artemenko. The plan would have ended U.S. sanctions against Moscow and allowed Russia, if it pulled back militants invading Ukraine, to keep control of Crimea under a 50- to 100-year lease, if voters approved.
.. “While not a member of Putin’s innermost circle, (Kosachev) is one of the most influential Russian voices on foreign affairs,” said Michael Carpenter, a former senior Pentagon official. “When Kosachev speaks, everyone knows he’s speaking for the Kremlin.”
.. Another flap stemmed from a secretive maneuver at the Republican National Convention in July. Party officials weakened language in the 2016 Republican platform calling for a boost in U.S. military aid to support Ukraine’s fight with Russian-backed separatists who invaded Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
.. One source with close ties to the campaign said Cohen “wanted a bigger and more formal role [in the campaign], but there were a lot of long knives out for him within the campaign and the larger GOP infrastructure in part because he was a Democrat and treated people horribly.”
.. A millionaire with his own New York real estate holdings, Cohen has long had family and business ties to Ukraine. His wife is Ukrainian, and he has had ties to Ukrainian ethanol company. He also once ran a thriving taxi business.
Most important is the claim that he maintained a “covert relationship with Russia,” and that in August 2016 Cohen made a secret visit to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, where he reportedly met with senior Kremlin officials. According to the dossier, whose allegations are so far unproven, the Prague meeting was facilitated by Konstantin Kosachev, who heads the Russian Duma’s foreign-relations committee and who may have attended the meeting in person.
Most explosively, the dossier alleges that Cohen’s meeting in Prague in that late summer of 2016 included “secret discussions with Kremlin representatives and associated operators/hackers,” and that “the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.”
.. Sourced to a “Kremlin adviser,” the dossier report said that the meeting was originally planned for Moscow but was “shifted to what was considered an operationally ‘soft’ EU country when it was judged too compromising for him to travel to the Russian capital.” And it adds that Cohen’s wife “is of Russian descent and her father [is] a leading property developer in Moscow.” (Michael Cohen’s wife, Laura, is a Ukrainian of Russian descent, according to the dossier; his brother, Bryan, is also married to a Ukrainian; and, like Manafort, the Cohen family has business ties to Ukraine.)
.. So far, the report that Cohen met with Russians in Prague is unverified. Cohen has vigorously denied it, and he’s shown his passport, which lacks a Czech entry stamp, to reporters. However, according to a report by McClatchy, citing “two [unnamed] sources familiar with the matter,” Mueller “has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign.” The McClatchy report, by Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, two veteran investigative journalists, didn’t say whether Cohen met with Kosachev, but it did say that Mueller’s investigators unearthed the fact that Cohen traveled to Prague via Germany, meaning that his passport would not have needed a stamp from the Czech Republic.
.. Third, Cohen was involved in the still mostly unexplained “Ukraine peace plan” that reportedly ended up on the desk of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in February 2017 just before Flynn was forced to resign over his own contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. The plan, organized outside regular diplomatic channels, was concocted by a Ukrainian politician, Andrii Artemenko, reportedly at the behest of top aides to President Putin. The plan, which would have resulted in eliminating or easing Western sanctions on Russia over its annexation of the Ukrainian province of Crimea, was cooked up in conjunction with Cohen and Sater. According to the New York Times report, Sater delivered the written plan to Cohen “in a sealed envelope,” and Cohen placed it in Flynn’s office.
.. Fourth, as The Wall Street Journal revealed in a stunning exposé, Cohen was the attorney who arranged a $1.6 million payoff to quiet a scandal involving an affair between Elliott Broidy, a top Republican Party fundraising official, and a Playboy Playmate. But Broidy has a part to play in the Russia scandal, too: Along with an operative named George Nader, who was picked up by federal agents at an airport and who’s now cooperating with Mueller’s office, Broidy was a principal in a scheme to boost US support for the United Arab Emirates over Qatar, in a tangled dispute among Arab nations of the Persian Gulf. Nader is an adviser to the UAE, and as the Times recently reported, Nader maintains business ties to Russia, including working on arms deals.
.. Meanwhile, the Times reported, Broidy “owns a private security company with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with the United Arab Emirates, and he extolled to Mr. Trump a paramilitary force that his company was developing for the country.” And it was Nader who arranged the secret meeting between Erik Prince, top UAE officials, and a Russian wheeler-dealer named Kirill Dmitriev, a meeting that Mueller is now investigating because it was apparently aimed at setting up some sort of back-channel links between Moscow and the incoming administration in Washington.