Vladimir Putin

Russia's top spy chiefs meet with US officials days before sanctions (were supposed to be) enforced

Sanctions? We're not worried about any stinking sanctions:

Russia's U.S. ambassador said Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, was in the United States to discuss counterterrorism with his American counterparts. Naryshkin was accompanied at the meeting in Washington by Alexander Bortnikov, who directs the top KGB successor agency known as the Federal Security Service.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the timing of the meeting is suspicious because it came just days before the Trump administration decided not to issue new sanctions against Russian politicians and oligarchs over Russian interference in the election. He released a letter early Thursday demanding that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats disclose details of the meeting by Feb. 9. Schumer said sanctions against Naryshkin impose severe financial penalties and prohibit his entry into the U.S. without a waiver.

Allowing these two (supposedly) sanctioned Russian spies into the country, not to mention meeting with them, is a message on its own. But what was discussed/conveyed at this meeting is of critical importance, as Schumer said. Keep in mind, even if Trump wasn't immediately informed of the proceedings (I'm sure he was), he gets a daily intelligence briefing after he finishes his cranky Twitter ablutions and crawls out of bed. We'll let Vladimir Putin fill in the missing information in his own words:

Sessions refuses to answer on Trump interference in Russia probe

sessionsfrown.jpg

When the Attorney General of the United States can't be trusted:

"I asked the attorney general whether he was ever instructed by the president to take any action that he believed would hinder the Russia investigation and he declined to answer the question," Rep. Adam Schiff told reporters after the closed-door meeting concluded.

"If the president did not instruct him to take any action that he believed would hinder the Russia investigation, he should say so. If the president did instruct him to hinder the investigation in any way, in my view, that would be a potentially criminal act and certainly not covered by any privilege," the California lawmaker continued.

If you want to know why Jeff Sessions hasn't been fired yet, well there you go. Trump knows removing him won't make his position any safer, and it may actually make it worse, since Sessions would have nothing left to lose by coming clean. But the specter of the highest law enforcement official in the country choosing silence over honesty is about as ugly as it gets. And so is the reluctance of Congressional Republicans to report that silence to the American people:

Paul Manafort and Rick Gates taken into custody

Hopefully this is just the tip of the Trumpberg:

The charges against Mr. Manafort, President Trump's former Campaign Chairman, were not immediately clear but represent a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over the president's first year in office. Also charged was Manafort's former business associate Rick Gates, who was also told to surrender on Monday, the person said.

Mr. Gates is a longtime protege and junior partner of Mr. Manafort. His name appears on documents linked to companies Mr. Manafort's firm set up in Cyprus, to receive payments from politicians and business people in Eastern Europe, records reviewed by the New York Times show. Mr Manafort has been under investigation for violation of federal tax law, money laundering and whether he appropriately disclosed his foreign lobbying.

This is good news, but if Mueller really wants to get into money laundering, he needs to take a look at condos and apartments Trump has been selling to Russian crime-lords. That's a big, stinking mess, and one that should have already gotten Trump put behind bars. *Edited to add* Here's a link to the indictment, and it's a doozy.

Putting the pieces together in the #Russiagate puzzle

Exposing the clear intent to circumvent national security watchdogs:

Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.

Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.

Bolding mine, because this isn't a fricking business partnership, it's the most powerful man in the world intentionally deceiving his own country's security officials. He doesn't get to decide which laws to follow and which ones to ignore, those national security rules and procedures were developed over decades, and many of them are in place due to Russian efforts to subvert our Republic. Trump couldn't pull a more inappropriate stunt if he tried.

Nunes cancels Monday open hearing on Trump/Russia

The cover-up is not going very well:

Nunes explained that the hearing would be postponed, so as to allow FBI director James Comey and NSA director Mike Rogers to address the committee in closed session. Schiff believes Nunes’s true motive is to spare the president a bad news cycle. And he isn’t afraid to say so.

“I think that there must have been a very strong pushback from the White House about the nature of Monday’s hearing,” Schiff said. “It’s hard for me to come to any other conclusion about why an agreed-upon hearing would be suddenly canceled.”

This is turning into a big, hot mess for the Trump administration. I've seen a few reports from dubious news sites that Nunes has a great deal (if not all) of his personal finances tied up in Russian ventures, but I'll wait for that to pan out in the mainstream news media before linking. There are also rumors that Michael Flynn has decided to snitch in order to save his skin, but Congressional interest in his previous behavior is not a rumor:

Excellent primer on Russian hacking and Trump/Putin involvement

I have to give McClatchy two blue stars for this intel brief:

The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry.

Steele’s reports also alleged that Russian consulates in New York, Washington and Miami were used to deliver “tens of thousands of dollars” to Kremlin-hired operatives using fictitious names as if they were legitimate Russian-American pensioners. That “ruse” was designed to give Russia “plausible deniability,” Steele’s reports suggested. However, Russia does not operate a consulate in Miami.

The quality of Steele's intelligence-gathering efforts should be suspect, to a certain degree. When you're paid (originally by a Republican, and later by a Democrat) to find damaging information, you will find damaging information, even if it doesn't exist or is created by somebody else for you to find. But Steele isn't an amateur. He worked for 6 long enough to spot bullshit a mile away. So, there are probably some kernels of truth in his report, but verifying them will be difficult, at best. What we should be concerned about (as of tomorrow, or Monday, if Dingus does take the weekend off) is the likelihood the incoming President will quash any ongoing investigations being pursued by Executive Branch agencies. Which covers all six agencies in this working group. And it's a good bet Putin wants them to stop ASAP:

Subscribe to RSS - Vladimir Putin