Last week in one sentence: The day after the midterm elections, Trump forced Jeff Sessions to resign, installing Sessions' former chief of staff Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general; two more people connected to Roger Stone have testified before Mueller's grand jury; Mueller obtained communication records between Russian diplomats and the British financier behind the Leave EU campaign; Trump Jr. has reportedly been telling friends in recent week that he expects to be indicted by Mueller; Trump and Putin held a working lunch in Paris; Trump's administration missed a deadline for a second round of sanctions against Russia for poisoning ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain; Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who represented Orange County, California for 15 terms, lost his re-election to Democrat Harley Rouda; and the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan has gathered evidence that Trump was involved in or briefed on nearly every step of the agreements to pay off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal for their silence.
New AG. The day after the midterm elections, Trump forced Jeff Sessions to resign, installing Sessions' former chief of staff Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. Whitaker had initially been interviewed last summer for a position on Trump's legal team "as a legal attach dog against the special counsel." Whitaker presented himself as a sympathetic ear to both Sessions and Rosenstein as well as the Trump camp.
Whitaker has spoken out against Mueller numerous times in the past, which is probably why Trump chose him for the position. In a op-ed for the Hill after Comey was fired, Whitaker called the move "the right decision," and argued against appointing an independent prosecutor. In July 2017, Whitaker said in a CNN interview that Sessions could be fired and a temporary attorney general appointed for the sole purpose of defunding Mueller's investigation. He next wrote an op-ed for CNN in which he said Mueller's probe was becoming a "witch hunt."
Even people within the DOJ are dismayed at Whitaker's selection. One trial attorney said, "he's a fucking fool…He's spent so much time trying to suck up to the president to get here. But this is a big job. It comes with many responsibilities. He just simply doesn't have the wherewithal."
Stone update. Two more people connected to Roger Stone have testified before Mueller's grand jury. The first, David Lugo, is a filmmaker who interviewed Stone for a movie. He testified on October 19th before the grand jury "about conversations about WikiLeaks he had with a onetime friend of Stone." Last week Lugo turned over "hundreds" of text messages, emails, and Facebook messages. The second associate, attorney Tyler Nixon, testified before the grand jury Friday.
Additionally, last week, conservative author Jerome Corsi was interviewed for three days and "appears to be emerging as a key witness, according to a person familiar with the sessions." Corsi may have served as an intermediary between Stone and Wikileaks.
The other person named as a potential intermediary, Randy Credico, gave testimony to the grand jury in September. The Washington Post: "Both Lugo and Nixon told The Post last month that Credico acknowledged in conversations being the source of material for Stone's statements and tweets about WikiLeaks…Lugo said Tuesday that his testimony before the grand jury was focused on Credico…Lugo said he told the grand jury that Credico tried to pressure him to be silent by threatening to "call me out as an extreme right winger and a disciple of Roger Stone."
Brexit. The New York Times revealed that Mueller has obtained records of communications between Russian diplomats and Arron Banks, the British financier behind the Leave.EU campaign and a client of Cambridge Analytica. Details are scant on what Mueller exactly Mueller is looking for or may have found.
Emails leaked earlier this year suggest Banks had a close relationship with Russia diplomats. While he was promoting Brexit, "his contacts at the Russian Embassy in London were opening the door to at least three potentially lucrative investment opportunities in Russian-owned gold or diamond mines."
Banks hired Cambridge Analytica to gather data and influence voters to vote for Brexit. Cambridge Analytica would seem to be the most obvious connection that Mueller is investigating. Britain's Information Commissioner's Office found this week that Banks' insurance company broke British law when it used customer data to aid the Brexit effort.
Jr. indicted? Donald Trump Jr. has reportedly been telling friends in recent week that he expects to be indicted by Mueller. New York magazine suggests Mueller could have evidence that Don Jr. committed perjury when he testified under oath that he never told Trump about the Trump Tower meeting to get dirt on Clinton. A former West Wing official told Vanity Fair, "I'm very worried about Don. Jr." Another source said Trump is "very upset" about the risks Don Jr. faces. "The president is very depressed."
Manafort's son-in-law. Jeffrey Yohai, Manafort's former son-in-law and ex-business partner, was arrested on suspicion of fraud last week for lying to lenders to secure millions of loans on false property appraisals. He committed these crimes while he was on bond awaiting sentencing on similar charges committed in 2015 and 2016.
- As part of his swindle, Yohai boasted about having "turned state's evidence" on Manafort, making several statements "that he had to go do 'D.C.' to meet with the Special Counsel's Office or 'downtown' to meet with 'the feds.'"
Trump in Paris. Trump and Putin held a working lunch in Paris yesterday, after French officials asked them to cut short plans to meet for a longer formal summit. It's notable that both Trump and Putin skipped the symbolic shoulder-to-shoulder walk to the Champs-Elysees all other leaders participated in. Also, last we heard, Trump said no meeting would take place. Then, as usual, the Kremlin informed the American people the two actual did meet and had "good" conversation. Other tidbits:
Putin arrived late to a speech by Macron, forcing other world leaders to wait for him. As he approached, Macron and Merkel steeled their demeanor, while Trump "flashed a goofy smile…Putin solemnly shook hands with them and then gave Trump a big thumbs up. Merkel looked on in astonishment." The clip is worth watching, especially to see Merkel's expression: Youtube.
At the speech, Macron warned against nationalism in what was seen by many as a rebuke of Trump's America First approach. NBC: "Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism," Macron said. "By saying, 'Our interests first, who cares about the others,' we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace and what is essential: its moral values." After Macron finished his remarks, Trump appeared to grimace while offering muted and delayed applause.
Oligarch arrested. Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire, was detained and charged in Monaco last week over allegations of bribery, corruption, and influence peddling. This is possibly relevant to the Trump-Russia probe because in 2008 Rybolovlev bought a Palm Beach mansion from Trump at $50 million more than Trump himself paid for it, doubling Trump's money. The reason for the purchase changed numerous times and eventually Rybolovlev demolished the building.
Backstory of the charges: Rybolovlev claims art dealer Yves Bouvier "overcharged him by as much as $1 billion for more than $2 billion of" art. He filed a criminal complaint against Bouvier, who was arrested in 2015. Over the following two years, text messages were revealed that showed Rybolovlev's lawyer exchanged "friendly text messages" before the arrest with Monaco's justice minister at the time. Some of these messages contained evidence the justice minister visited Rybolovlev's ski chalet just five days before Bouvier's arrest. Other messages discussed Bouvier's trip to Monaco during which he was arrested.
Rybolovlev is also connected to the Trump-Russia story by the strange "coincidences" that repeatedly resulted in his plane shadowing Trump's. In October 2016, Trump was in Las Vegas for a campaign rally; Rybolovlev's plane arrived in that city an hour after the campaign event started. In November, just 5 days before the 2016 election, Rybolovlev's plane landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, 90 minutes before Trump's plane arrived. In February 2017, Rybolovlev's plane landed at Miami International Airport while Trump was at Mar-a-Lago.
Missed sanctions. Trump's administration missed a deadline for a second round of sanctions against Russia for poisoning ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain. Retiring House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce complained, "It is unacceptable that the administration lacks a plan — or even a timeline — for action on the second round of mandatory sanctions required by U.S. law." The State Department countered that it interprets the law to set a deadline for beginning such consultations, not for imposing the sanctions.
Rosneft. Nine sources have come forward to report that a Russian state-owned bank, VTB, secretly funded a large portion of the sale of a 19.5% stake in Rosneft to Qatar's sovereign wealth fund (QIA). Instead of roughly $11 billion of foreign money coming into Russia, it was more like $5 billion because the VTB actually loaned QIA around $6 billion for the deal.
- You might remember this deal from Steele's dossier, which relayed information Steele collected that Trump had been offered the broker's fee of a major Rosneft sale if he could lift the Magnitsky sanctions.
Interference. On election day, Facebook announced it had blocked over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts "due to concerns that they were linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency." The accounts were identified following a tip from law enforcement agencies.
Propaganda. Russian news organizations are pushing stories about America being on the brink of civil war, arguing one is likely to break out due to the 2020 election. An article published November 4th stated that in the previous few days, "Russian media has published more than 30 articles" on the topic. The source for their claims is an opinion piece by conservative commentator Niall Ferguson.
- When asked about Russian media's use of his piece, Ferguson said he does not believe the US is about to devolve into civil war. In past writing, he argued that Trump should give "recognition" to Russia as a "great power", and should work with President Vladimir Putin by giving Russia a sphere of influence in Eurasia and the Middle East.
Trolling Florida. Russian and American trolls/bots have been promoting #stopthesteal, accusing Dems of stealing the Florida election. Stop the Steal was also the name of a PAC set up by Roger Stone to sow doubt in case Trump lost the GOP convention, and later, was repurposed to fight a potential loss to Clinton. Their funding was from questionable sources and engaged in voter suppression.
Putin's favorite congressman. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who represented Orange County, California for 15 terms, lost his re-election to Democrat Harley Rouda. The final tally was Rouda 52% and Rohrabacher 48%.
Manhattan probe. The WSJ reported Trump "was involved in or briefed on nearly every step of the agreements" to pay off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal for their silence. It continues, "the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan has gathered evidence" that Trump "directed deals in phone calls and meetings with his self-described fixer, Michael Cohen, and others."
- As Rachel Maddow described, Trump likely would have been indicted along with Cohen if he wasn't president.
Protecting Mueller. A senior Democratic policy adviser "familiar with Pelosi's thinking," told Politico that if Mueller's investigation is shut down, Democrats are planning to invite Mueller to testify on televised hearings.
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