Another Gift for a Putin Buddy

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.



Lifting the Steele Curtain

The Fusion GPS dossier was one of the dirtiest political tricks in U.S. history.

In British court documents Mr. Steele has acknowledged he briefed U.S. reporters about the dossier in September 2016. Those briefed included journalists from the New York Times , the Washington Post, Yahoo News and others. Mr. Steele, by his own admission (in an interview with Mother Jones), also gave his dossier in July 2016 to the FBI

.. allegations that in early July 2016 Carter Page, sometimes described as a foreign-policy adviser to Candidate Trump, held a “secret” meeting with two high-ranking Russians connected to President Vladimir Putin. It even claimed these Russians offered to give Mr. Page a 19% share in Russia’s state oil company in return for a future President Trump lifting U.S. sanctions.

.. If the Washington Post’s reporting is correct, it was in the summer of 2016 that Jim Comey’s FBI obtained a wiretap warrant on Mr. Page from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. If it was the dossier that provoked that warrant, then the wrongs here are grave.

Why Trump Can’t Let Go of His Bogus Wiretapping Claim

A psychology lesson from Daniel Kahneman and Richard Nixon.

But Nixon and Trump share a common personality characteristic: a hatred of losing.

.. This dominant emotion—fear and loathing of losing—has been studied

.. people facing losses act irrationally because all humans hate to lose much more than they like to win—by a factor of almost three times. It is a deep, ingrained aversion.

.. the stronger the feeling about the loss, the more irrational the behavior. Think of Bill Clinton in his affair with Monica Lewinski

.. He chose to argue in a deposition about the meaning of the verb “is,” much like Trump’s press secretary argues about the meaning of “wiretapping.”

.. Howard Hunt, wanted to plead guilty to avoid a trial (his wife had died mysteriously in a plane crash in December)

.. Nixon was looking for a way to close down any congressional investigation so he could get on with his aggressive plan to reorganize the executive branch.

.. Judge Sirica was threatening to send the defendants back before the grand jury, give them immunity and insist on their testimony. But even here, Haldeman assured Nixon, the men would take contempt rather than testify

.. “you don’t really have to have hard evidence, Bob; you’re not going to take this to court. All you have to do is put it out and the press will write the goddamn story.”

.. Nixon then speculated as to why Johnson would have bugged his plane. One reason, he submitted, was Vietnam—Nixon knew that Johnson suspected him of interfering with the peace negotiations in Paris in October 1968 through back channels (a new book by John Farrell, Richard Nixon, The Life, provides corroborating proof from recently unearthed Haldeman notes that Nixon did in fact direct his campaign to “monkey wrench” the talks). This was a very dark charge that Nixon knew could destroy his presidency.

.. that gives us a little way to get back to Johnson on that basis that, you know, we’ve got to get this [Watergate investigation] turned off, because it is going to bounce back to the other story [the plane bugging], and we can’t hold them.”

.. Was Trump’s March 4 tweetstorm simply the impetuous act of man who reacted to the latest news he read, fake or not, or was Trump acting like Nixon in a deliberate way to distract attention from the growing concern about ties between his campaign and the election-tampering Russians?

The Trump White House is totally changing its tune on wiretapping and hoping you don’t notice

Trump tweeted Saturday that he had “just found out” that then-President Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. That means conclusive evidence existed and had been presented to Trump about the wiretapping. There’s no other interpretation for the language in that tweet.

What Spicer is saying now is that Trump thinks the right thing to do is to have Congress investigate to find out whether wiretapping occurred.

But Trump already stated definitively that it had! Why does Congress need to investigate something the president of the United States already has evidence of?

 .. In short: The White House is now pushing for investigations in search of the very evidence that Trump claimed he already possessed.