Last Week In One Sentence: A Russian-born American businessman who gave Trump's campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars emailed a Kremlin official in July 2016 offering to brief him on the campaign; Rod Rosenstein was briefly rumored to be fired/to have resigned, but retains his job for now; Rob Goldstone, key to setting up the Trump Tower meeting, said Mueller's team asked him many questions about the relationship between Trump and the Agalarovs; Randy Credico said Roger Stone offered to help pay his legal fees because "he wanted me to be quiet" and "go along with his narrative"; one of the two men suspected of poisoning Sergei Skripal has been identified as a Russian intelligence officer awarded a prestigious medal by Putin; Rand Paul introduced an amendment that would lift sanctions on Russian lawmakers; and a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit against Trump for doing business with foreign governments will be allowed to proceed.
Trump's Russian donor. Simon Kukes, a Russian-born American businessman who gave Trump's campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars, emailed a Kremlin official in July 2016 offering to brief him on the campaign. In the email, Kukes "boasting of his connections to the Trump campaign" and requested a face to face meeting.
- "To me this reads like an email exchange between a source and a handler, or a source and headquarters," said Lindsay Moran, a former CIA officer, to whom NBC News showed the emails.
Rosenstein fired? On Monday morning, Axios reported Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein verbally resigned to John Kelly. Other journalists obtained statements from sources contradicting Rosenstein's resignation, causing chaos as news agencies and the public tried to determine what was going on. Ultimately, the White House reported Rosenstein's job was safe until Thursday, when he would attend a meeting with Trump (see below).
- Vanity Fair reported Trump decided to fire Rosenstein in order to distract from the Kavanaugh stories that had been dominating the news. A source said, "the strategy was to try and do something really big."
- There's been speculation that Trump's new Communications Director, former Fox News exec Bill Shine, has been building up support for the firing of Rosenstein. The highly criticized NYT story about Rosenstein suggesting McCabe secretly record Trump and try to invoke the 25th amendment could have been concocted by Trump allies, perhaps at the direction of Bill Shine. When viewed in this way, any stories about Rosenstein should be vetted more thoroughly than normal, as there might be an agenda behind them.
Rosenstein meeting. The promised Thursday meet between Trump and Rosenstein was postponed after the Senate scheduled Dr. Ford's and Kavanaugh's hearing for the same day. Sarah Sanders told reporters they will meet this week, but Sunday said it could be delayed even later.
- At a news conference Wednesday, Trump said his "preference would be to keep [Rosenstein]" and he would "certainly prefer not" firing him.
- Maggie Haberman tweeted that Trump "wasn't psyched about this meeting," as he's been known to avoid face-to-face confrontation.
Seychelles. The Daily Beast has reviewed a memo written by Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of a sanctioned Russian sovereign wealth fund, after his January 11, 2017 meeting with Erik Prince in the Seychelles. What did he note talking about with Prince? "Joint U.S.-Russian raids to kill top terrorists. Teamwork between an American government agency and a sanctioned Russian fund. Moscow pouring money into the Midwest." The Daily Beast states the memo summarized only "portions of his Seychelles conversation."
- "Number five, that there's a task force where the Russians are going to participate in figuring out what the policy should be on numbers one through four, that's really not normal," she told The Daily Beast. "They call it shuttle diplomacy for a reason: There's a back and forth on it. But you're not letting them inside your decision-making loop."
- "This just feels to me like one more of the half-dozen examples of Russians sticking their tentacles out to see what kind of relationships they might build, what kind of influence they might have."
Goldstone. Rob Goldstone, a publicist for the Agalarovs and the person who contacted Don Jr. to set up the Trump Tower meeting, was interviewed by Mueller's team for about eight hours earlier this year. He also testified before the grand jury. Now, his book is being released and he is talking to news outlets - the following are some key points he has mentioned.
- Goldstone told the WSJ Mueller's team asked many questions about the relationship between Trump and the Agalarovs, particularly about how the relationship began and about Trump's 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. The Agalarovs sponsored the pageant. Goldstone said investigators asked about the Agalarovs' relationship with Kremlin and Russian government officials.
- "They wanted to know about the idea of a Trump Tower—how did that come about," Mr. Goldstone said. He said they were also interested in any time that Mr. Trump didn't spend with the group, which Mr. Goldstone said was a "small period of maybe four hours."
- Goldstone claimed that the email he wrote to Trump Jr. stating the Russians wanted to give Trump dirt on Clinton at what would become the Trump Tower meeting was essentially B.S. - he described the email as "full of attention-grabbing hyperbole."
- NPR offers more detail, reporting that Goldstone made up the detail in his email that the "crown prosecutor of Russia" offered to give Trump dirt on Clinton through Agalarov. He now states he was referring to the Russian lawyer from the meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Since the meeting, journalists have discovered Veselnitskaya and the real crown prosecutor of Russia were coordinating at the time, but Goldstone says he did not know that.
- The Guardian: He [Goldstone] recalls Trump telling wealthy Russians he admired Putin and considered him stronger than Barack Obama. "If you're the Russians – and from what I saw being there they're an extremely xenophobic, patriotic nation – and you've got this person who is going, 'You're great and your president's strong', it's a love fest. I think he likes Russia because Russia liked him."
Note: Nunes. Whenever I talk about the Agalarovs, who are an Azerbaijan-Russian family, I have to mention Nunes' recent trip to Azerbaijan to meet with Emin Agalarov's father-in-law, the President of Azerbaijan. Nunes went to Azerbaijan at the beginning of August, ostensibly to discuss issues relating to terrorism, energy, and a local border conflict. Emin Agalarov is responsible for getting Goldstone to set up the Trump Tower meeting.
Firing Flynn. In his latest New York Review of Books installment, independent journalist Murray Waas reported Mike Pence, Reince Priebus, and Don McGahn strongly recommended Trump fire Michael Flynn in a conversation on February 10, 2017. However, Trump still refused to do so. In order to force Trump to fire Flynn, two senior officials leaked the DOJ's warnings about Flynn's lies to the press.
- "…the president's men…worried that he was protecting Flynn because he knew in advance of Flynn's back-channel diplomacy with Russia, or had even authorized it, giving Flynn significant leverage over Trump, even the power to blackmail him, to keep his job."
- The piece is long and very detailed. I encourage everyone to skim it, as there are too many insights to summarize here.
Stone's witness tampering? Randy Credico, an associate of Roger Stone, told Mother Jones Stone offered to help pay his legal fees because "he wanted me to be quiet. He wanted me to go along with his narrative. He didn't want me talking to the press and saying what I was saying."
- Stone had told Congress and journalists that he had only learned about the stolen documents Wikileaks released in 2016 through Credico, who acted as an intermediary. However, Credico denied being the go-between. "He knew that I was upset," Credico said, and offered to help pay his legal fees and help him find work to keep him from contradicting Stone's narrative.
Stone's email. ABC obtained an email sent by Roger Stone to political commentator Jerome Corsi on July 31, 2016, directing Corsi to contact Ted Malloch and tell him to "see Assange." This was only nine days after Wikileaks released the first batch of hacked DNC documents, proving Stone was trying to make contact with Assange at a critical point in the 2016 election.
- Also in the email, Stone suggested "that Malloch find a British woman who had leveled accusations against former President Bill Clinton," and find Sen. Bernie Sanders' brother "who called Bill a Rapist [sic]" and "turn him for Trump."
- Roger stone claims the message "proves I had no advance knowledge of contents of WikiLeaks' DNC material, and like every politico and journalist in America, I wanted to know what the content matter was."
- Both Corsi and Malloch have been interviewed by Mueller's team. Two weeks ago, Corsi testified before the grand jury.
More Russia Connections
**Fancy bear. **Russia's intelligence agency has deployed a new malware that cannot be removed by the usual methods, such as replacing the hard drive. The malware, developed by the same group of hackers behind hacking the DNC, maintains access to high-value targets so the hackers can return repeatedly.
- "The advanced malware shows the Kremlin's continued investment" in hacking operations. "There's been no deterrence to Russian hacking," said former FBI counterterrorism agent Clint Watts.
Skripal attackers. One of the two men suspected of poisoning Sergei Skripal has been identified as a Russian intelligence officer - Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga. In 2014, Putin awarded him a prestigious medal naming him a "Hero of the Russian Federation."
- When questioned about the identification, a Kremlin spokesman simply said, "many people look alike."
- Additionally, British officials have identified a third Russian military officer involved in Skripal's poisoning. The suspected Russian agent went to Salisbury before the other two to plan the attack and surveil Skripal.
Defending Trump. Russian-state TV stepped into the battle between Stormy Daniels and Trump, defending the size and shape of Trump's genitals against allegations Daniels made in her book. She described his penis as "smaller than average" but "not freakishly small." A pro-Kremlin pundit pointed out Daniels was used to med with "unnaturally grotesque dimensions" and said, "let's support Trump, purely as men."
Vote hacking. The organizers of the Def Con hacking conference, which took place in August, have released a 50-page report of their findings related to electronic voting infrastructure. The number and severity of the flaws they found is "staggering."
- The M65 electronic ballot scanner, currently used in 23 states, has a design flaw that makes it vulnerable to remote hacking. The AccuVote TSx, used in 18 states, has a card reader that can easily be disconnected to "disrupt the election" process.
- Despite these flaws, Congress has done nothing to force states to secure our election infrastructure.
- Personal note: Voter registration systems are the most ignored, and perhaps most important, part of our electoral infrastructure. I say most important because it is easier to access an entire district or state's voter information remotely than it is to access individual voting machines spread across polling locations. Also, changes made to voter databases are more likely to go unnoticed.
Rand's amendment. Senator Rand Paul introduced an amendment on Wednesday that would lift sanctions on Russian lawmakers; his was the only 'yes' vote on the entire Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
- Paul's amendment comes after his trip to Moscow where he met with Russian officials and former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. Since returning, Paul has made many pro-Russian statements and gestures, including "openly questioning the purpose of the NATO alliance during a foreign relations committee hearing." His trip to Russia was paid for by the libertarian think tank The Cato Institute.
Janz burglarized. The campaign office of Andrew Janz, the Democratic nominee challenging Devin Nunes in CA-22, was broken into and burglarized last weekend. The windows of his campaign office and a neighboring Chiropractic office were smashed Sunday night. While nothing was stolen from the chiropractic office, Janz's staff reported a cell phone used as an office line was taken.
- Police are still investigating the incident, but Janz's campaign manager stated the campaign noticed an increase in the number of online threats and negative comments directed at them in the preceding days. In August, someone tweeted a shooting threat at a Janz campaign event.
More Rosenstein. The House GOP leaders are setting up a meeting with Rosenstein to question him about the NYT report that he suggested secretly recording Trump. Rep. Mark Meadows, leader of the Freedom Caucus, threatened to subpoena Rosenstein if he refused to answer their questions.
- AP: Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said in his own tweet that House Republicans "cannot be left alone in a room with DAG Rosenstein" and that he would demand that House Speaker Paul Ryan grant Democrats access to that meeting.
Emoluments suit. On Friday, a federal judge ruled a lawsuit brought against Trump by 200 congressional Democrats will be allowed to proceed. The lawsuit alleges that Trump has violated the Constitution by doing business with foreign governments while in office, based on the Emoluments Clause.
- WaPo: "The Clause requires the President to ask Congress before accepting a prohibited foreign emolument," Sullivan wrote. If the allegations made by Democrats are true, he wrote, then "the President is accepting prohibited foreign emoluments without asking and without receiving a favorable reply from Congress."
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