Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Czer, Jun 30, 2017.
Senator Dumped Up to $1.6 Million of Stock After Reassuring Public About Coronavirus Preparedness
Intelligence Chair Richard Burr’s selloff came around the time he was receiving daily briefings on the health threat.
Soon after he offered public assurances that the government was ready to battle the coronavirus, the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, sold off a significant percentage of his stocks, unloading between $582,029 and $1.56 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 29 separate transactions.
As the head of the intelligence committee, Burr, a North Carolina Republican, has access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security. His committee was receiving daily coronavirus briefings around this time, according to a Reuters story.
A week after Burr’s sales, the stock market began a sharp decline and has lost about 30% since.
On Thursday, Burr came under fire after NPR obtained a secret recording from Feb. 27, in which the lawmaker gave a VIP group at an exclusive social club a much more dire preview of the economic impact of the coronavirus than what he had told the public.
“Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak,” his spokesperson said. “As the situation continues to evolve daily, he has been deeply concerned by the steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy.”
Burr is not a particularly wealthy member of the Senate: Roll Call estimated his net worth at $1.7 million in 2018, indicating that the February sales significantly shaped his financial fortunes and spared him from some of the pain that many Americans are now facing.
He was one of the authors of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which shapes the nation’s response to public health threats like the coronavirus. Burr’s office did not respond to requests for comment about what sort of briefing materials, if any, on the coronavirus threat Burr may have seen as chair of the intelligence committee before his selling spree.
According to the NPR report, Burr told attendees of the luncheon held at the Capitol Hill Club: “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history ... It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
He warned that companies might have to curtail their employees’ travel, that schools could close and that the military might be mobilized to compensate for overwhelmed hospitals.
The luncheon was organized by the Tar Heel Circle, a club for businesses and organizations in North Carolina that are charged up to $10,000 for membership and are promised “interaction with top leaders and staff from Congress, the administration, and the private sector.”
Burr’s public comments had been considerably less dire. In a Feb. 7 op-ed that he co-authored with another senator, he assured the public that “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.” He wrote, “No matter the outbreak or threat, Congress and the federal government have been vigilant in identifying gaps in its readiness efforts and improving its response capabilities.”
Members of Congress are required by law to disclose their securities transactions.
Burr was one of just three senators who in 2012 opposed the bill that explicitly barred lawmakers and their staff from using nonpublic information for trades and required regular disclosure of those trades. In opposing the bill, Burr argued at the time that insider trading laws already applied to members of Congress. President Barack Obama signed the bill, known as the STOCK Act, that year.
Stock transactions of lawmakers are reported in ranges. Burr’s Feb. 13 selling spree was his largest stock selling day of at least the past 14 months, according to a ProPublica review of Senate records. Unlike his typical disclosure reports, which are a mix of sales and purchases, all of the transactions were sales.
His biggest sales included companies that are among the most vulnerable to an economic slowdown. He dumped up to $150,000 worth of shares of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, a chain based in the United States that has lost two-thirds of its value. And he sold up to $100,000 of shares of Extended Stay America, an economy hospitality chain. Shares of that company are now worth less than half of what they did at the time Burr sold.
The assets come from accounts that are held by Burr, belong to his spouse or are jointly held.
“This Is How America Work”: Mind-Boggling New Allegations About a Donor to Trump’s Inauguration
Federal prosecutors say Imaad Zuberi’s case reveals “corrupt foreign interference with our elections.”
Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles this week described a dizzying array of secret foreign lobbying by a major donor to both political parties—a new twist in a case that could reveal whether there were foreign efforts to funnel money to President Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee.
The donor, Imaad Zuberi, is a longtime Democratic backer who began lavishing funds on Republicans after Trump’s surprise 2016 electoral victory. His largesse included a $900,000 contribution to Trump’s inaugural committee. Zuberi agreed in October to plead guilty to tax evasion, to filing phony foreign agent registration materials, and to making almost $1 million in illegal campaign contributions, much of it secretly put up by foreign entities and people hoping to influence US politics. In their initial filings, prosecutors identified by name only one country, Sri Lanka, for which Zuberi had illegally lobbied. But in a new filing Tuesday that argues for Zuberi to receive significant prison time, prosecutors detailed his secret work for Turkey, Libyan officials, a businessman from Bahrain, and Dmitry Firtash—a Ukrainian oligarch who was deeply involved in Trump’s Ukraine scandal.
Prosecutors say Zuberi’s activities show that the widespread public concern about foreign influence in US elections is warranted. “The Zuberi case explicitly verifies through evidentiary proof pervasive, corrupt foreign interference with our elections and policy-making processes,” prosecutors write, using italics for emphasis.
From 2011 to 2017, Zuberi lavished more than $3 million in campaign contributions on lawmakers in both parties. He supported the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.); and Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-Fla.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), and others. In 2015, he made donations backing Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), then the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a panel from which Zuberi sought various favors. (Engel now chairs the committee; Royce has retired from Congress.) Prosecutors say much of the money Zuberi used for donations came from foreign sources from whom he had solicited these funds—along with millions of dollars in fees—while promising to influence lawmakers on their behalf. There is no evidence members of Congress knew that Zuberi was using foreign funds to make donations.
A big unanswered question in the Zuberi case is the where the $900,000 he gave to Trump’s inaugural came from. Federal prosecutors are investigating that and, reportedly, other suspected foreign efforts to win influence by donating to the inaugural committee. In January, Zuberi was charged in New York with obstructing justice by deleting pertinent emails, including correspondence with an unnamed foreign national. A charging document says that person “transferred approximately $5.8 million to the account that Zuberi used to fund [his inaugural] donation at and around the time the donation was made.” Zuberi is expected to plead guilty to that charge, which was added this month to the case against him in California. It is likely that as part of his plea deal, he will reveal to prosecutors details of the inaugural gift.
Around the time of his donation to the inaugural committee, Zuberi was working to help officials from Qatar develop ties with the new Trump administration. Court filings in his case do not mention Qatar, though they do describe his earlier, frenetic efforts to assist other foreign entities.
Prosecutors revealed Tuesday that Zuberi had received $1 million in 2015 from Firtash for acting as an unregistered lobbyist for the Ukrainian gas mogul. Zuberi worked to line up US congressional support for a privately funded “Ukraine development fund” that Firtash’s company could exploit in the wake of the ouster of the pro-Russian former government in the country. Prosecutors say that Zuberi secured for Firtash’s representatives a dinner meeting about the fund with five US senators and a House member during a security conference in Munich in February 2015. Firtash also wanted help fighting bribery charges filed against him in 2013 by federal prosecutors in Chicago. The oligarch is in a protracted court fight to avoid extradition to the US from Austria. According to Tuesday’s filing, Zuberi helped Firtash lobby Congress by claiming that the legal case against him was politically motivated.
Last year, Firtash hired two lawyers with close ties to Trump, Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, for a similar task. Firtash told the New York Times last year he hired the duo, a husband-and-wife team with deep ties to Washington conservatives, to directly press Attorney General William Barr to reconsider the bribery case. Toensing and diGenova met with Barr last August, though it is not clear if he agreed to take any steps to help Firtash. (A Justice Department spokesperson told the Washington Post last year that the case against Firtash “has the support of the department leadership.”) Joseph Bondy, a lawyer for Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, has claimed that Toensing and diGenova offered to press Firtash’s case with Barr if Firtash helped them find dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden in Ukraine—allegedly as part of the scheme that resulted in Trump’s impeachment.
Zuberi’s work for Firtash wasn’t the only instance in which Zuberi seems to have used his status as a generous campaign donor in an attempt influence members of Congress. For example, he managed to get lawmakers to pressure the government of Bahrain in 2013 and 2014 to help a client he had there. “Zuberi concocted a scheme to fool members of Congress into believing that he had invested millions of dollars in a Bahraini development project and that he had been unfairly harassed by the Bahraini government in such a way that Congress should intervene,” prosecutors say. Zuberi, according to court filings, gave $225,000 to 11 lawmakers and to the national campaign committees of both parties as part of this effort. Of that, $78,000 was illegally contributed in the names of straw donors, prosecutors charge. Zuberi then convinced those 11 lawmakers—as well as a senator to whom he had previously given $26,000 in donations—to write letters urging Bahrain to stop interfering with a US investor doing business there. Zuberi in reality had not invested in the project but wanted to help advance his client’s project, according to the prosecutors.
In 2015, Zuberi helped Turkey lobby against a House resolution “urging respect for freedom of expression in Turkey” and condemning Turkish media repression, prosecutors say. Zuberi told a Turkish official that his pressure had caused the measure to be set aside in the House. “[Two Members of Congress] told me this will be delayed by a week 99% because they control the Foreign Affairs Committee. You…push me so hard I pushed…harder than I have ever pushed them for anything,” he wrote on June 1, 2015. “Both asked me why I am pushing this hard for Turkey.” The lawmakers aren’t named in the filing.
The Turkish official, in response, said: “You can rest assured that this will be the first step towards a mutually beneficial relationship.”
In 2015 and 2016, Zuberi allegedly concocted a scheme to try to help members of Libya’s divided government, along with an unnamed citizen of the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, obtain billions of dollars in Libyan assets frozen by the US and other countries. Prosecutors say Zuberi routed “$3 to $5 million in foreign money into US lobbying campaigns, illegal campaign donations, and donations to quasi-political entities, and exert[ed] his influence with the highest elected officials of the United States.” In return, he sought a commission from the Libyans via payments to an offshore corporation. Prosecutors say that between March and October 2015, Zuberi “orchestrated a series of contributions totaling $232,300 that appear linked to the Libya lobbying effort.” This included donations to Clinton’s campaign and to congressional campaign committees in both parties. Of that, $120,250 came from foreign sources, prosecutors say.
Zuberi later had a financial dispute with his Libyan clients. “Maybe you and [Person A] don’t know how things work in America [and] this is why you guys keep asking me to do something which I can’t do without everyone contributing,” Zuberi said in a May 10, 2015, message.
“This is how America work,” he wrote the next day. “How Washington work.”
GOP Senator Withheld Information from Public About Coronavirus While Profiting Off Pandemic
March 19th, 2020
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) had several key pieces of information about the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) weeks ago and withheld that information from the general public—but at the same time, he and his wife sold off upwards of $1.5 million in stocks that were negatively impacted by the market downturn due to the pandemic and resulting panic.
According to a federal financial disclosure form filed by Burr on behalf of himself and Brooke Burr, the couple sold off at least $581,000 worth—and up to $1.5 million worth—of stocks in major corporations that were hit particularly hard by the latest market plunge.
Those massive sell-offs occurred on February 13–just one week after writing a rosy assessment of the U.S. government’s response to the fast-spreading virus and disease in an op-ed published by Fox News and co-authored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).
Alexander and Burr gushed:
Thankfully, the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus, in large part due to the work of the Senate Health Committee, Congress, and the Trump Administration.
“The work of Congress and the administration has allowed U.S. public health officials to move swiftly and decisively in the last few weeks,” the two GOP senators continued.
Burr and his wife, however, quickly got to work liquidating their assets in several soon-to-be severely underwater hotel chains as well as multiple pharmaceuticals, alcohol and global data/technology stocks.
Per Karl Evers-Hillstrom’s OpenSecrets report:
Between the Burrs’ two accounts, they sold up to $150,000 worth of stock in Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, which lost almost two-thirds of its market value since Feb. 13. They sold up to $150,000 in Extended Stay America, another hotel company that lost half its value over the last month. Burr also sold between $15,001 and $50,000 of stock in Park Hotels & Resorts, which saw its stock price drop from nearly $24 to under $5…
Congressional financial disclosures display investment amounts in wide ranges. In total, the Burrs sold seven positions worth between $50,001 and $100,000, including shares of major companies AbbVie, Centurylink and Constellation Brands.
Law&Crime previously reported on Burr providing key Coronavirus information to his wealthy donors at a Washington, D.C. lunch several weeks ago—which also did not accord with the Tarheel GOPer’s more optimistic public statements.
Burr later called NPR’s initial report on his luncheon speech a “tabloid-style hit piece.”
Here’s what the senator said, at length, on Twitter:
In a tabloid-style hit piece today, NPR knowingly and irresponsibly misrepresented a speech I gave last month about the coronavirus threat.
Let me set the record straight.
This lunch was hosted on Feb. 27 by the North Carolina State Society. It was publicly advertised and widely attended.
NPR knew, but did not report, that attendees also included many non-members, bipartisan congressional staff, and representatives from the governor’s office.
Every state has a state society. They aren’t “secretive” or “high-dollar donor” organizations. They’re great civic institutions that bring people in D.C. together for events, receptions, and lunches.
And they’re open to anyone who wants to get involved.
Like most members of Congress, I address our state society every year.
That a good thing. That’s what we should be doing.
Meeting constituents and talking to them about the work we’re doing in D.C. is an important part of our job, especially in times of uncertainty.
Unfortunately, NPR’s journalistic malpractice has raised concerns that Americans weren’t warned about the significant steps we may have to take to stop the coronavirus threat.
That’s not true. From Feb. 25
In a press conference on Feb. 26, the President and public health officials urged schools, hospitals, businesses, and families to begin making plans for potential closures, social distancing, and telework:
The message I shared with my constituents is the one public health officials urged all of us to heed as coronavirus spread increased:
COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving situation. To know if we’ve been successful in stemming it, we have to keep an accurate accounting of our nation’s response.
Purposefully misleading listeners for the sake of a “narrative,” like NPR has done, makes us less safe.
During his Feb. 27 luncheon remarks, Burr said this about COVID-19: “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history. It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
This was the same day President Donald Trump said, “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle. It will disappear.”
“t could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens,” Trump said.
But the late Thursday disclosures that Burr has been profiting off of the pandemic while privy to such information are yet more fuel to an already raging fire of controversy and outrage.
The legal situation here is in dispute.
“Unless they traded on inside information, which would be securities fraud, at best they’re guilty of hypocrisy,” white collar criminal defense attorney and computer law expert Tor Ekeland told Law&Crime via email.
National security and federal employment attorney Bradley P. Moss had a somewhat different perspective.
“Senator Burr has some explaining to do, as these facts, on their face, are rather damning and clearly could implicate insider trading laws,” he said via email when asked about potential legal issues. “If there are legitimate explanations, the Senator would be well served by making those public immediately.”
A Burr aide also addressed the story about the stock sell-off, curiously saying that the sale occurring before the market collapse meant there was nothing untoward about it.
“Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak,“ the aide told Politico in a statement. “As the situation continues to evolve daily, he has been deeply concerned by the steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy. He supported Congress’ immediate efforts to provide $7.8 billion for response efforts and this week’s bipartisan bill to provide relief for American business and small families.”
Illegal, hypocritical or not—the prevailing opinion is that this shouldn’t be legal.
Former White House ethics counsel Walter Shaub noted that Burr previously voted against a bill which would have made it easier to prosecute members of Congress for insider trading.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler Dumped Millions in Stock After Coronavirus Briefing
The Georgia Republican is the second Senator who has gotten rid of their holdings right as the stock market went bad.
Mar. 19, 2020
The Senate’s newest member sold off seven figures worth of stock holdings in the days and weeks after a private, all-Senators meeting on the novel coronavirus that subsequently hammered U.S. equities.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) reported the first sale of stock jointly owned by her and her husband on January 24, the very day that her committee, the Senate Health Committee, hosted a private, all-Senators briefing from administration officials, including the CDC Director and Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institutes of Health of the United States, on the coronavirus.
“Appreciate today’s briefing from the President’s top health officials on the novel coronavirus outbreak,” she tweeted about the briefing at the time.
That first transaction was a sale of stock in the company Resideo Technologies worth between $50,001 and $100,000. The company’s stock price has fallen by more than half since then,and the Dow Jones Industrial Average overall has shed approximately 10,000 points, dropping about a third of its value.
It was the first of twenty-nine stock transactions that Loeffler and her husband made through mid-February, all but two of which were sales. One of Loeffler’s two purchases was stock worth between $100,000 and $250,000 in Citrix, a technology company that offers teleworking software and which has seen a small bump in its stock price since Loeffler bought in as a result of coronavirus-induced market turmoil.
Loeffler’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the transactions and whether they were prompted or informed by information shared at that late January briefing. It’s illegal for members of Congress to trade on non-public information gleaned through their official duties.
Loeffler is the second known Senator to sell off large stock holdings between that January 24 briefing and the dramatic drop in stock market indices over the last week. The Center for Responsive Politics reported on Thursday that Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, sold between $500,000 and $1.5 million in stock in February, shortly before markets tanked—and before Burr privately warned of the havoc that coronavirus was poised to wreak.
Loeffler assumed office on Jan. 6 after having been appointed to the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson. Between then and January 23 she did not report a single stock transaction from accounts owned by her individually or by her and her husband jointly.
Between January 24 and February 14, by contrast, Loeffler reported selling stock jointly owned with her husband worth between $1,275,000 and $3,100,000, according to transaction reports filed with Senate ethics officials. On February 14, she also purchased the Citrix stock and another $100,000 to $250,000 in technology company Oracle, which has seen its share price decline by more than 18 percent since then.
The fifteen stocks that Loeffler reported selling have lost more than a third of their value, on average, since she reported offloading them. She initially reported many of the transactions as sales of stock owned by her husband. Last week she amended the filing to note that most of them were jointly owned.
The full scope of Loeffler’s portfolio and its particular holdings is not yet known. Senators are required to regularly disclose that information, but in January she requested an extension from Senate ethics officials. A full accounting of her finances will not be public until May.
When Loeffler assumed office she immediately became the wealthiest member of Congress. The Atlanta businesswoman, whose husband is the chairman and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, is worth an estimated $500 million.
From the beginning of her tenure, she has faced scrutiny over potential conflicts of interest. Her position on a Senate subcommittee that oversees futures markets “gives Kelly Loeffler a direct position in overseeing her and her husband’s financial enterprises,” Craig Holman, lobbyist for the ethics group Public Citizen, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution in February. “I find it utterly irresponsible the Senate would choose to put Loeffler on that committee, given her conflicts of interest.”
Unlike other Senators, Loeffler’s finances are directly tied to her electoral fate. She has pledged to spend $20 million on her bid to hold on to her seat when she faces voters for the first time this November.
Barr Is Dismantling Charges Filed by Mueller
March 19, 2020
Another curious filing by the Department of Justice should not be lost amid news about COVID-19. In yet another reversal in a case initiated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, DOJ filed a motion this week to dismiss charges against two Russian businesses.
The Justice Department has already filed revised memoranda seeking more lenient sentences for associates of President Donald Trump. And now, it has filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering, companies run by a man known as “Putin’s chef.”
In 2018, Mueller indicted the two businesses along with 13 Russian individuals and the Internet Research Agency, alleging conspiracy to defraud the United States by engaging in a disinformation campaign to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. The Concord entities are controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin was one of the Russian individuals who were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for election interference.
DOJ has already filed revised memos reducing its sentencing recommendations for Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his discussions with the Russian ambassador. It has done the same for Roger Stone, who was convicted at trial for obstructing a congressional investigation into Russian interference. In the Stone case, the revised sentencing memo came only after Trump tweeted that the government’s initial sentencing recommendation was “horrible,” “very unfair” and a “miscarriage of justice.” Timothy Shea, the former aide to Attorney General William Barr who replaced the D.C. U.S. Attorney in January, overruled the sentencing recommendation of career prosecutors, who then withdrew from the case. One prosecutor resigned from DOJ altogether.
In the election disinformation case, Concord Management was the only defendant to enter an appearance in court. The others remain in Russia, comfortably beyond the extradition power of the United States. Now, the U.S. government is seeking to dismiss the charges against Concord Management and the related entity, Concord Catering, leaving in place the indictment against the other defendants.
The recent filing states that the charges against the two Concord entities must be dismissed for two reasons. One is the conduct of Concord Management, which has waged an aggressive defense in court. “Concord has demonstrated its intent to reap the benefits of the Court’s jurisdiction while positioning itself to evade any real obligations or responsibility,” the government wrote in its brief. But prosecutors must always anticipate a vigorous defense when making charging decisions. This alone seems like an insufficient reason to dismiss an indictment that has been returned by a grand jury.
The other reason provided in the motion to dismiss is concern that prosecution will compromise national security information. The motion refers to “a change in the balance of the government’s proof due to a classification determination,” and includes a classified addendum that is not available to the public. While protecting national security is a valid concern, asserting it at this stage of the prosecution seems suspect to anyone who has prosecuted a national security case before.
It is likely that Mueller’s team filed the charges without expecting any of the defendants to ever appear in court, an approach known as “Name and Shame,” intended more to expose wrongdoing than to hold defendants accountable through trial and conviction. But federal prosecutors may not file charges unless they believe that they have sufficient evidence to obtain and sustain a conviction in open court, even if that day will most likely never come. That decision requires a process known as a “prudential search,” in which prosecutors query intelligence agencies for any material that must be produced to the defense in discovery or might become public at trial. The material is reviewed and vetted, and decisions are made at the highest levels of the U.S. Intelligence Community as to whether the prosecution outweighs any disclosures of intelligence information that will result from the prosecution.
As a former federal prosecutor, I have been forced to decline charges because of legitimate concerns that prosecution would expose national security sources and methods. Sources are people who share information with the government, and whose identities are kept secret to ensure their ability to continue to collect intelligence and to protect their safety. Methods are the techniques for collection of information, such as surveillance technologies or strategies that are unknown to our adversaries, and which must be protected to allow their continued utility. In some instances, the cost of disclosing these sources or methods is just too great to justify the criminal prosecution of a wrongdoer. Although I might have been unhappy when forced to forgo criminal charges, I never doubted the good faith of the intelligence officials who made the decision.
But the decision about these equities is always made at the front end, before a case is indicted, so that a defendant is not needlessly saddled with the burden of defending himself in court and so that the government does not have to turn tail and dismiss charges as the case proceeds. This methodical and sensitive process is one that prosecutors take very seriously.
In this case, it is possible that the intelligence equities have changed since Mueller filed the charges in 2018. Ordinarily, the Justice Department would receive the benefit of the doubt that it would dismiss charges only if it were truly unable to prosecute a case without damaging more important intelligence equities. But Barr has lost that benefit. Throughout his handling of the Mueller investigation, Barr undermined his own credibility through his conduct. A federal judge has accused Barr of publicly spinning the Mueller Report in a way that was “distorted” and “misleading.” Barr has referred to the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign as “spying,” a loaded term that is not routinely used at DOJ.
In May, Trump gave Barr unprecedented authority over all U.S. intelligence agencies to make all decisions relating to classified information as part of his review of the Mueller investigation. Now that he is directing the dismissal of charges, his decisions can only be met with suspicion. Is he protecting Trump from the disclosure of facts that will cause Americans to question the legitimacy of his election as president, which Trump adviser Hope Hicks told Mueller’s investigators was Trump’s “Achilles heel”?
As a federal prosecutor, I was always mindful that the credibility I enjoyed was earned not so much by me, but through the work of the DOJ lawyers across the country who came before me. I understood that I shared the responsibility to protect the DOJ’s reputation for truthfulness. As U.S. Attorney, I told every prosecutor I hired that no case was worth compromising the Department’s integrity. By damaging his own credibility, Barr is inviting speculation that he is quietly dismantling the work of Mueller.
Barr has famously said that he is not concerned about his reputation because “everyone dies.” He is entitled to hold nihilistic views about himself, but he has a higher duty to the department he leads.
Bashing Probe of US War Crimes, Pompeo Threatens Family of ICC Staff With Consequences
"If there remained any doubt that the Trump administration's hostility towards the court is fundamentally punitive and callous in nature, these doubts have now been dispelled."
March 18, 2020
Amnesty International on Wednesday rebuked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over new comments bashing the International Criminal Court and threatening court staff—and their family members—investigating alleged war crimes committed by United States forces in Afghanistan.
"Threats against family members of ICC staff who are seeking justice is a new low, even for this administration," said Daniel Balson, Amnesty International USA's advocacy director.
Balson's comments came a day a press briefing in which Pompeo told reporters the ICC is "a so-called court which is revealing itself to be a nakedly political body."
In a decision applauded by human rights advocates, the ICC announced earlier this month that the probe—which includes alleged crimes committed at CIA black sites in Poland, Lithuania, and Romania—could proceed after the court's Pre-Trial Chamber previously stopped its advancement. The prospect of that probe bristled the Trump administration, which carried out what had previously appeared to be a successful bullying attempt to quash the investigation.
With the investigation now having a green light, Pompeo renewed his vocal disdain for the court, calling it "an embarrassment."
"As I said the last time I stood before you, we oppose any effort by the ICC to exercise jurisdiction over U.S. personnel," Pompeo told reporters. "We will not tolerate its inappropriate and unjust attempts to investigate or prosecute Americans."
Pompeo suggested retaliatory actions would be in store.
"It has recently come to my attention that the chef de cabinet to the prosecutor, Sam Shoamanesh, and the head of jurisdiction, complementarity, and cooperation division, Phakiso Mochochoko, are helping drive ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's effort to use this court to investigate Americans," the secretary of state said. "I'm examining this information now and considering what the United States' next steps ought to be with respect to these individuals and all those who are putting Americans at risk."
"We want to identify those responsible for this partisan investigation and their family members who may want to travel to the United States or engage in activity that's inconsistent with making sure we protect Americans," he continued.
Amnesty's Balson, in his statement, said the Trump administration was making clear it had no interest in working towards justice.
"Instead of pursuing the torturers, the U.S. is condemning the investigators, and even their families," said Balson.
And that sends a dangerous message.
"To refer to the International Criminal Court, a body which for years has worked on addressing the most heinous of crimes, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, as 'an embarrassment' is the real embarrassment," said Balson.
"Lack of political will to investigate crimes and prosecute those responsible has impeded the ICC's vital work and Secretary Pompeo's remarks have only exacerbated this," he added. "Perpetrators the world over now have a clear message from the United States: they too may demand impunity when their nationals are accused of the gravest of crimes."
The fact that Pompeo is now hovering the possibility of retaliation for the investigation over family of ICC staff "is an ominous move," said Balson.
"If there remained any doubt that the Trump administration's hostility towards the court is fundamentally punitive and callous in nature," he added, "these doubts have now been dispelled."
Justice Department defends ’emergency powers’ request during coronavirus outbreak
March 23, 2020
The Justice Department on Sunday defended its request to Congress for certain “emergency powers” amid the coronavirus pandemic after lawmakers and legal advocates said that some of the proposals infringed on civil rights.
Last week, the Justice Department submitted a list of requests to lawmakers that would alter the timelines that legal cases unfold on as courts have slowed down and closed across the country, according to documents obtained by CNN.
The proposals, which included clarifying language around federal judges’ ability to delay or prolong criminal and civil cases, drew swift criticism from progressives and civil libertarians, who claimed that the asks were an attempted power grab by the Trump administration.
“We have to keep an eye out for these kind of authoritarian and, frankly, for these — this expansion of — and — rather, and suspension of rule of law. It does not matter how urgent times are. We have to make sure that we retain our civil rights,” Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday.
In a series of tweets late Sunday, DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec pushed back, saying that the proposals were made to “promote consistency” and would empower judges, not the executive branch.
“The goal of these provisions (is) to ensure that the justice system continues to operate equitably and effectively, and to harmonize what is already being done on an ad hoc basis by courts around the country,” Kupec wrote. “Bottom line: The proposed legislative text confers powers upon judges. It does not confer new powers upon the executive branch.”
Judges across the country have already used public interest exemptions within federal law to discount time lost because of court closures against “speedy trial” locks meant to ensure defendants’ right to a quick trial. New York’s federal courts made similar moves after 9/11, when the downtown federal courthouse was closed in the wake of the terror attack.
Under the new DOJ proposals, which Kupec said were made at the request of Congress, judges will also be able to suspend statutes of limitations that define how long after an alleged crime charges can be brought in certain cases. The changes outlined by DOJ would lapse once the declared national emergency ends or if a chief judge within a federal district deems them no longer necessary.
In other requests, the Justice Department asked Congress to change federal laws to deny asylum or visas to people who test positive for the coronavirus. DOJ also asked for Congress to allow video teleconferencing to be used in place of early court appearances in criminal cases and for priority virus testing for federal agents and trainees at Virginia’s Quantico base, which houses the FBI’s training academy.
Supreme Court Allows States To Virtually Eliminate The Insanity Defense
March 23, 2020
The U.S. Supreme court ruled Monday that states are free to abandon the insanity defense for accused criminals who contend they did not know right from wrong. The decision upholds a Kansas law that essentially allows consideration of mental status only at the sentencing phase of a trial.
Kansas is one of just five states that have, for all practical purposes, eliminated the insanity defense. The state essentially allows consideration of mental status only at the sentencing phase of a trial. But with Monday's 6-to-3 ruling, the court has explicitly opened the door for other states to follow suit.
The decision came in the case of James Kahler, convicted and sentenced to death for the killing of his wife, two daughters, and his wife's grandmother.
Liberal justice Elena Kagan wrote the opinion for herself and the court's five conservative justices. She said that because the defendant may introduce evidence seeking to show that he lacked the requisite intent to commit the crime, the state does have an insanity defense even if it's not the one that Kahler wanted or that exists in most states and in the federal system.
"Uncertainties about the human mind loom large," Kagan wrote. "Even as some puzzles get resolved, others emerge. And those perennial gaps in knowledge intersect with differing opinions about how far, and in what ways, mental illness should excuse criminal conduct." It is the states, she added, that traditionally must weigh and balance these values.
In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer accused the majority of throwing out centuries of Anglo-American legal tradition, principles that are "so fundamental" that to violate them is unconstitutional.
"Few doctrines are as deeply rooted in our common-law heritage as the insanity defense," he wrote. "A defendant who, due to mental illness, lacks sufficient mental capacity to be held morally responsible for his actions cannot be found guilty of a crime. This principle remained embedded in the law even as social mores shifted and medical understandings of mental illness evolved."
The justices did not announce Monday's decision in the insanity case from the bench, as they usually do. Instead the decision, plus three others, were posted online because of the coronavirus, at the time the justices usually take the bench. Following custom, they were announced in order of seniority of the opinion author.
US, UAE troops hold major exercise amid virus, Iran tensions
U.S. Marines and Emirati forces have held a major military exercise that saw forces seize a sprawling model Mideast city
March 23, 2020
AL-HAMRA MILITARY BASE, United Arab Emirates -- U.S. Marines and Emirati forces held a major military exercise Monday that saw forces seize a sprawling model Mideast city, a drill conducted amid tensions with Iran and despite the new coronavirus pandemic.
Troops raced over the dunes of the Al-Hamra Military Base to take the model city, complete with multi-story buildings, an airport control tower, an oil refinery and a central mosque. Controlled explosions rang out as Emirati troops rappelled from hovering helicopters and Marines searched narrow streets on the Persian Gulf for “enemy” forces.
The biennial exercise, called Native Fury, shows the close ties between American forces and the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula home to Abu Dhabi, the capital, and Dubai, its financial heart.
It also comes after the U.S. killed Iran's most prominent general in a drone strike in January, and Tehran retaliated with a ballistic missile attack on American forces in Iraq. While acknowledging the tensions, U.S. officials dismissed the idea of Tehran viewing such an exercise with suspicion, only some 300 kilometers (185 miles) from its shores.
“Provocative? I don't know," said Brig. Gen. Thomas Savage of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, the ranking U.S. commander at the event. “We're about stability in the region. So if they view it as provocative, well, that's up to them. This is just a normal training exercise for us.”
The exercise saw 4,000 U.S. troops from the Army, Marines and Navy position armored vehicles and other equipment from Kuwait and the island of Diego Garcia in al-Hamra using a portable pier system. The barren desert, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) southwest of Abu Dhabi, is home to the UAE's vast oil reserves as well as its new Barakah nuclear power plant.
The combined U.S. forces and the Emirati troops then stormed the imaginary city of al-Hamra, whose blocks of stand-alone houses, hotels and apartment complexes include an unfinished gas station with a sign for the fast-food chicken restaurant Popeyes on it.
While the gunplay included mostly blanks, the practice remains deadly serious for the UAE, which has spent billions on its military — including the Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters that circled overhead, the armored carriers that splashed into the city's canals and the facility itself.
The UAE deployed forces into Afghanistan after the 2001 U.S. invasion targeting al-Qaida following the 9/11 attacks. Its day-to-day ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has sought to project Emirati military power in the Mideast and into East Africa as well. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis famously proclaimed the Emirates “little Sparta” for its posture.
That military push has included taking part in the long-running Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has seen sexual abuse at a UAE-controlled prison and the Emirates paying off members of al-Qaida's local branch there. The UAE since has pulled its troops out of Yemen, calling for a political settlement to end a conflict between the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there and its Saudi-backed, internationally recognized government.
Emirati military officials at the base in al-Hamra on Monday declined to speak to Associated Press journalists. U.S. Ambassador John Rakolta Jr., on hand for the event, praised the UAE.
“Partnerships are based on many aspects, many fundamentals, and this happens just one of them," he said when asked about Yemen. “Trust is a huge, huge factor. Transparency, common values all work into a partnership.”
Rakolta also described the exercise as “defensive in nature” when asked about Iran.
“I don't believe that they're intended to demonstrate a provocative act to the Iranians to say we're coming,” he said. "Rather, we're protecting ourselves and we want to sit down at the conference table and negotiate a lasting peace settlement.”
There was no immediate reaction in Iranian state media to the exercise. Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Also a concern is the ongoing outbreak of the new coronavirus. Rakolta said no U.S. diplomat in the UAE had contracted the virus. Savage said those U.S. forces involved had had little contact with the outside world after shipping out for the event and none had tested positive since. However, he said the military remained vigilant in terms of sanitation while living at the desert base.
"This has been an incredible training opportunity for us to go through this and practice how we would do something if, God forbid, we are forced to go fight in this region again,” Savage said.
this is weird and the first time i've read it
the FBI was working with Oleg Deripaska for help with an FBI agent who was on a CIA mission in Iran, Robert Levinson, who had been captured
Andrew McGabe is the one who 'courted' Deripaska to help
Mueller may have a conflict — and it leads directly to a Russian oligarch
Special counsel Robert Mueller has withstood relentless political attacks, many distorting his record of distinguished government service.
But there’s one episode even Mueller’s former law enforcement comrades — and independent ethicists — acknowledge raises legitimate legal issues and a possible conflict of interest in his overseeing the Russia election probe.
In 2009, when Mueller ran the FBI, the bureau asked Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to spend millions of his own dollars funding an FBI-supervised operation to rescue a retired FBI agent, Robert Levinson, captured in Iran while working for the CIA in 2007.
Yes, that’s the same Deripaska who has surfaced in Mueller’s current investigation and who was recently sanctioned by the Trump administration.
The Levinson mission is confirmed by more than a dozen participants inside and outside the FBI, including Deripaska, his lawyer, the Levinson family and a retired agent who supervised the case. Mueller was kept apprised of the operation, officials told me.
Some aspects of Deripaska’s help were chronicled in a 2016 book by reporter Barry Meier, but sources provide extensive new information about his role.
They said FBI agents courted Deripaska in 2009 in a series of secret hotel meetings in Paris; Vienna; Budapest, Hungary, and Washington. Agents persuaded the aluminum industry magnate to underwrite the mission. The Russian billionaire insisted the operation neither involve nor harm his homeland.
“We knew he was paying for his team helping us, and that probably ran into the millions,” a U.S. official involved in the operation confirmed.
One agent who helped court Deripaska was Andrew McCabe, the recently fired FBI deputy director who played a seminal role starting the Trump-Russia case, multiple sources confirmed.
Deripaska’s lawyer said the Russian ultimately spent $25 million assembling a private search and rescue team that worked with Iranian contacts under the FBI’s watchful eye. Photos and videos indicating Levinson was alive were uncovered.
Then in fall 2010, the operation secured an offer to free Levinson. The deal was scuttled, however, when the State Department become uncomfortable with Iran’s terms, according to Deripaska’s lawyer and the Levinson family.
FBI officials confirmed State hampered their efforts.
“We tried to turn over every stone we could to rescue Bob, but every time we started to get close, the State Department seemed to always get in the way,” said Robyn Gritz, the retired agent who supervised the Levinson case in 2009, when Deripaska first cooperated, but who left for another position in 2010 before the Iranian offer arrived. “I kept Director Mueller and Deputy Director [John] Pistole informed of the various efforts and operations, and they offered to intervene with State, if necessary.”
FBI officials ended the operation in 2011, concerned that Deripaska’s Iranian contacts couldn’t deliver with all the U.S. infighting. Levinson was never found; his whereabouts remain a mystery, 11 years after he disappeared.
“Deripaska’s efforts came very close to success,” said David McGee, a former federal prosecutor who represents Levinson’s family. “We were told at one point that the terms of Levinson’s release had been agreed to by Iran and the U.S. and included a statement by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointing a finger away from Iran. At the last minute, Secretary Clinton decided not to make the agreed-on statement.”
The State Department declined comment, and a spokesman for Clinton did not offer comment. Mueller’s spokesman, Peter Carr, declined to answer questions. As did McCabe.
The FBI had three reasons for choosing Deripaska for a mission worthy of a spy novel. First, his aluminum empire had business in Iran. Second, the FBI wanted a foreigner to fund the operation because spending money in Iran might violate U.S. sanctions and other laws. Third, agents knew Deripaska had been banished since 2006 from the United States by State over reports he had ties to organized crime and other nefarious activities. He denies the allegations, and nothing was ever proven in court.
The FBI rewarded Deripaska for his help. In fall 2009, according to U.S. entry records, Deripaska visited Washington on a rare law enforcement parole visa. And since 2011, he has been granted entry at least eight times on a diplomatic passport, even though he doesn’t work for the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Former FBI officials confirm they arranged the access.
Deripaska said in a statement through Adam Waldman, his American lawyer, that FBI agents told him State’s reasons for blocking his U.S. visa were “merely a pretext.”
“The FBI said they had undertaken a careful background check, and if there was any validity to the State Department smears, they would not have reached out to me for assistance,” the Russian said.
Then, over the past two years, evidence emerged tying him to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the first defendant charged by Mueller’s Russia probe with money laundering and illegal lobbying.
Deripaska once hired Manafort as a political adviser and invested money with him in a business venture that went bad. Deripaska sued Manafort, alleging he stole money.
Mueller’s indictment of Manafort makes no mention of Deripaska, even though prosecutors have evidence that Manafort contemplated inviting his old Russian client for a 2016 Trump campaign briefing. Deripaska said he never got the invite and investigators have found no evidence it occurred. There’s no public evidence Deripaska had anything to do with election meddling.
Deripaska also appears to be one of the first Russians the FBI asked for help when it began investigating the now-infamous Fusion GPS “Steele Dossier.” Waldman, his American lawyer until the sanctions hit, gave me a detailed account, some of which U.S. officials confirm separately.
Two months before Trump was elected president, Deripaska was in New York as part of Russia’s United Nations delegation when three FBI agents awakened him in his home; at least one agent had worked with Deripaska on the aborted effort to rescue Levinson. During an hour-long visit, the agents posited a theory that Trump’s campaign was secretly colluding with Russia to hijack the U.S. election.
“Deripaska laughed but realized, despite the joviality, that they were serious,” the lawyer said. “So he told them in his informed opinion the idea they were proposing was false. ‘You are trying to create something out of nothing,’ he told them.” The agents left though the FBI sought more information in 2017 from the Russian, sources tell me. Waldman declined to say if Deripaska has been in contact with the FBI since Sept, 2016.
So why care about some banished Russian oligarch’s account now?
First, as the FBI prepared to get authority to surveil figures on Trump’s campaign team, did it disclose to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that one of its past Russian sources waived them off the notion of Trump-Russia collusion?
Second, the U.S. government in April imposed sanctions on Deripaska, one of several prominent Russians targeted to punish Vladimir Putin — using the same sort of allegations that State used from 2006 to 2009. Yet, between those two episodes, Deripaska seemed good enough for the FBI to ask him to fund that multimillion-dollar rescue mission. And to seek his help on a sensitive political investigation. And to allow him into the country eight times.
I was alerted to Deripaska’s past FBI relationship by U.S. officials who wondered whether the Russian’s conspicuous absence from Mueller’s indictments might be related to his FBI work.
They aren’t the only ones.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told me he believes Mueller has a conflict of interest because his FBI previously accepted financial help from a Russian that is, at the very least, a witness in the current probe.
“The real question becomes whether it was proper to leave [Deripaska] out of the Manafort indictment, and whether that omission was to avoid the kind of transparency that is really required by the law,” Dershowitz said.
Melanie Sloan, a former Clinton Justice Department lawyer and longtime ethics watchdog, told me a “far more significant issue” is whether the earlier FBI operation was even legal: “It’s possible the bureau’s arrangement with Mr. Deripaska violated the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits the government from accepting voluntary services.”
George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley agreed: “If the operation with Deripaska contravened federal law, this figure could be viewed as a potential embarrassment for Mueller. The question is whether he could implicate Mueller in an impropriety.”
Now that sources have unmasked the Deripaska story, time will tell whether the courts, Justice, Congress or a defendant formally questions if Mueller is conflicted.
In the meantime, the episode highlights an oft-forgotten truism: The cat-and-mouse maneuvers between Moscow and Washington are often portrayed in black-and-white terms. But the truth is, the relationship is enveloped in many shades of gray.
So Robert 'Bob' Levinson is linked to tracking Trump
'Oligarchs Are Running the White House': Trump Called Wall Street, Hedge Fund Titans Just Before 'Back to Work' Remarks
"Trump and Pence are talking to private equity titans and hedge fund moguls instead of figuring out how to help healthcare workers get masks or workers to get wages or borrowers get debt relief."
March 25, 2020
President Donald Trump hosted a private conference call Tuesday morning with several billionaire Wall Street and hedge fund titans just hours before the president said he hopes to "have the country opened up" and "get people back to work" by Easter—even as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.
Among the most prominent executives on the call—which was joined by Vice President Mike Pence—were Ken Griffin, billionaire CEO of Citadel; Stephen Schwarzman, billionaire CEO of the Blackstone Group; and Paul Tudor Jones, billionaire co-founder of Just Capital. The firms represented on the Tuesday morning call collectively manage hundreds of billions of dollars in assets.
The conversation came as Senate lawmakers and White House negotiators, led by Treasury Secretary and former Goldman Sachs executive Steve Mnuchin, were in the middle of talks over a $2 trillion economic stimulus package that includes $500 billion in taxpayer bailout funds for large corporations—and, though not widely reported, trillions more in a lending program backed by the Federal Reserve.
"Trump and Pence are talking to private equity titans and hedge fund moguls instead of figuring out how to help healthcare workers get masks or workers to get wages or borrowers get debt relief," tweeted progressive organizer and writer Alexis Goldstein.
CNBC reported that the private conversation was "focused on how America's top money managers are viewing markets and the U.S. economy" and "what more the Federal Reserve could do to support industries that are feeling outsized pressure as a result of the virus."
Shortly following his call with the investment moguls, Trump told Fox News' Bill Hemmer that he would "love to have [the U.S. economy] opened by Easter," which is April 12.
"We can socially distance ourselves and go to work, and you'll have to work a little bit harder," Trump said. "You can clean your hands five times more than you used to. You don't have to shake hands anymore with people."
As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, Trump is considering loosening federal social distancing guidelines as early as next week despite health experts warnings that doing so could hasten the spread of COVID-19.
"Now is the time to tighten restrictions on contacts that could transmit the virus, not loosen them," Marc Lipsitch, director of Harvard's Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, told the Washington Post Monday. "If we let up now, we can be virtually certain that healthcare will be overwhelmed in many if not all parts of the country. This is the view of every well-informed infectious epidemiologist I know of."
Canada's Trudeau balks at potential troop deployment on U.S. border
MARCH 26, 2020
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada wants its long border with the United States to remain free of a U.S. military presence, even as cases of coronavirus grow rapidly in both nations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.
The Canadian leader’s comments were in response to reports the Trump administration was considering the temporary deployment of troops near the frontier to prevent irregular border crossings, according to a senior government source.
“Canada and the United States have the longest unmilitarised borders in the world and it is very much in both of our interests for it to remain that way,” Trudeau said.
“We have been in discussions with the United States on this,” he told a news conference, without giving details.
Canada has already closed the border to non-essential travel from the United States as part of a bid to combat coronavirus. The state of New York, which shares a border with Canada, has been an epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.
Trudeau said Ottawa was in constant touch with U.S. authorities and would adjust border security measures if needed.
Trump’s New Spy Chief Used to Work for a Foreign Politician the U.S. Accused of Corruption
Richard Grenell did not disclose payments for advocacy work on behalf of a Moldovan politician whom the U.S. later accused of corruption. His own office’s policy says that could leave him vulnerable to blackmail.
Feb. 21 2020
Richard Grenell, whom President Donald Trump appointed as acting director of national intelligence. (Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump’s new acting intelligence director, Richard Grenell, used to do consulting work on behalf of an Eastern European oligarch who is now a fugitive and was recently barred from entering the U.S. under anti-corruption sanctions imposed last month by the State Department.
In 2016, Grenell wrote several articles defending the oligarch, a Moldovan politician named Vladimir Plahotniuc, but did not disclose that he was being paid, according to records and interviews. Grenell also did not register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which generally requires people to disclose work in the U.S. on behalf of foreign politicians.
FARA is the same law that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates were convicted of violating. (Manafort went to trial. Gates pleaded guilty.)
It’s not clear whether the articles were directly part of Grenell’s paid consulting work for Plahotniuc. Unpaid work could still require disclosures under FARA if it was directed by or primarily benefited a foreign politician, according to Matthew Sanderson, a lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale who advises people on complying with FARA. FARA contains several exemptions, such as for lawyers and businesses, Sanderson said, but none appear to apply to Grenell’s op-eds about Plahotniuc.
“There is real reason to believe that Mr. Grenell should have registered here,” Sanderson said after ProPublica described the circumstances to him. “This is exactly the type of circumstances I’d expect the Department of Justice to investigate further.”
Craig Engle, an attorney with the law firm Arent Fox, said he was responding to ProPublica’s questions on Grenell’s behalf. Engle declined to say what Grenell’s paid consulting work involved but said he did not have to register under FARA “because he was not working at the direction of a foreign power.”
“Ric was not paid to write these stories, in fact he has written hundreds of stories on his own time to express his own views,” Engle said. “But to be clear: he was not working for any individual, he was working for himself and was advocating the ideal of a pro-western political party that was emerging.”
Undisclosed work for a foreign politician would ordinarily pose a problem for anyone applying for a security clearance or a job in a U.S. intelligence agency because it could make the person susceptible to foreign influence or blackmail, according to the official policy from the office that Trump tapped Grenell to lead.
The policy specifies that among the “conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying” are:
“Failure to report or fully disclose, when required, association with a foreign person, group, government or country.”
“Substantial business, financial, or property interests in a foreign country … that could subject the individual to a heightened risk of foreign influence or exploitation or personal conflict of interest.”
“Acting to serve the interest of a foreign person, group, organization or government in any way that conflicts with U.S. national security interests.”
“That’s really easy, he should not have a clearance,” said Kel McClanahan, a Washington-area lawyer specializing in security clearances. “If he were one of my clients and just a normal [federal employee], he would almost assuredly not have a clearance.”
McClanahan said it’s unclear how Grenell could have already gotten a clearance as an ambassador. The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether the Trump administration has overruled career officials in granting security clearances to political appointees.
As Trump’s pick for acting director of national intelligence, Grenell will have access to the country’s most sensitive secrets. Grenell isn’t subject to Senate confirmation because Trump appointed him on a temporary basis.
The White House, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Grenell, who is also continuing in his current posts as ambassador to Germany and special envoy for negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, has gained Trump’s favor with his unwavering loyalty and combative tweets. (In one instance, he attacked ProPublica in response to reporting that Vice President Mike Pence’s office had intervened in foreign aid decisions.) He raised hackles in Berlin by injecting himself into the country’s domestic politics, a departure from usual diplomatic protocol.
Grenell does not have prior experience in intelligence. He was the U.S. spokesman at the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration.
In between his turns in government, Grenell had a public affairs consulting firm called Capitol Media Partners. One of the firm’s clients, according to the financial disclosure that Grenell filed when he became an ambassador, was Arthur J. Finkelstein, the late Republican political consultant whose international clients included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary. Grenell’s financial disclosure indicates that he received more than $5,000 from Finkelstein’s firm but does not specify how much.
According to a person familiar with the relationship, Grenell worked for Finkelstein as a media consultant for clients in Eastern Europe. That person and another individual said the client in Moldova was Plahotniuc, the country’s richest man and then a top official in its ruling political party.
In August 2016, Grenell published op-eds in the right-leaning Washington Examiner and Washington Times defending Plahotniuc and attacking his enemies as serving Russian interests. Plahotniuc and his allies at the time were fending off suspicions of their involvement in a $1 billion bank fraud in Moldova. “Blaming the ruling party and its leadership has its political benefits for Russia,” Grenell wrote in the Examiner article. “Plahotniuc has been around Moldovan politics, business and civic life for decades and has turned out to be an easy target.”
This narrative aligned with Plahotniuc’s efforts to present himself as pro-Western in Washington and European capitals, according to lobbying disclosure records. “Certainly there was an effort by him to engage U.S. officials at the time, that despite all this corruption he was the guy most likely to keep Russia at bay and therefore you should accept him,” said Jonathan Katz, who oversaw U.S. aid programs for Moldova at the time. “It didn’t match anything he was doing internally in the country,” Katz said, because Plahotniuc didn’t advance U.S. interests such as promoting democratic institutions and the rule of law.
Grenell was also quoted in an October 2016 article in the Houston Chronicle criticizing a resolution proposed by Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, that accused Plahotniuc and his allies of corruption. “He’s trying to attack the only pro-European group in Moldova,” Grenell told the Chronicle.
“The reality is he’s pro-himself and nothing more,” Valeriu Pașa, who leads a prominent civil society group in Moldova called WatchDog.MD, said of Plahotniuc. “He was playing both sides for 15 years at least.”
Plahotniuc lost power in 2019 and fled Moldova. His current whereabouts are unknown. Last month, the State Department endorsed the corruption allegations against him, banning him and his family from entering the U.S.
“In his official capacity, Plahotniuc was involved in corrupt acts that undermined the rule of law and severely compromised the independence of democratic institutions in Moldova,” the State Department said in its announcement. “Today’s action sends a strong signal the United States does not tolerate corruption and stands with the people of Moldova in their fight against it.”
Poke The Bear
November 03, 2017
Something was wrong.
At first, it was just instinct. During the Republican primaries, things weren’t adding up for us with Donald Trump.
It wasn’t Donald’s “-isms.” It wasn’t his nature, or his voters, or our own politics. It was what we knew about him from journalists like Wayne Barrett. It was what we knew about Donald’s history, that NO ONE in the current media was properly covering. Why?
Something was wrong. WHAT was it?
And then came Paul Manafort. He entered the scene as a campaign manager. We knew what that meant. We knew who Manafort was, and where he came from. That was the moment we began to dig.
What we found is a simple truth. And now, we’re bringing that truth to you.
We’re bringing it in such a way that you can scrutinize it. Bang on it all you want. Bring us your refutations to the evidence that we’re presenting herein. We’ve been doing that to ourselves over all these months.
DIG ALL YOU WANT. If you are intellectually honest, we are confident that you will come to the same conclusion. Because, no matter what rabbit hole we ventured down (and there are endless rabbit holes), this singular truth always surfaced. Glaringly.
It is there for all to see. Here it is…
There is a man who controls our President.
And his name is not Vladimir Putin.
THE MASTER HUNTERS
Before we reveal the name, we need to tell you of the hunters who came before.
This story – the big truth behind #TrumpRussia - is one that goes back decades. While everyone in the media chased the “scoop of the moment,” we dug into the past. There, we found two men, who gave their lives to hunt the criminal force behind our President.
These hunters were patriots. They were professional law enforcement and intelligence officers at the top of their game. They committed themselves to revealing the name that we’re about to disclose, and they gave their lives as a result.
We begin with the American: former DEA and FBI agent, Bob Levinson. While at the FBI, Levinson pursued the world’s most wanted criminals to keep America safe. He hunted the mob.
It is the most dangerous work in all of law enforcement.
The people Levinson chased are murderers, sex traffickers, drug lords and arms dealers - including those who trade in nuclear material. At their most tepid, these criminals lure the vulnerable into their scams to rob them blind. At their most craven, they flood our communities with drugs and ravage families for profit. At their most evil, they fund the networks that inspire terrorist attacks on innocent civilians. If you hunt them, they will kill you. They will kill your family.
Bob Levinson knew the stakes, and yet he went after the most dangerous criminal of them all. Because Levinson is a patriot. He is the definition of that word. He is a hero.
He is also a master hunter.
In 1999, Tom Mangold interviewed Bob Levinson for the BBC. They discussed Levinson’s biggest target: a man leading a conglomerate of international criminals who were coming to America’s shores.
From his home in Broward County, Florida, Levinson gave this warning, “Criminals are coming in who are wealthier and more vicious than any of the criminals that you, or anybody on the continent, have ever seen. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the most dangerous people on earth.”
STOP. Read his quote again. Take it in. This is a career FBI agent who was at the top of his field in hunting the world’s most dangerous men. TAKE IN HIS WORDS.
The Mangold interview happened after Levinson had left the FBI’s organized crime unit to work in the private sector. But, as Levinson told Mangold, there was a case he could not quit. He had a job that was unfinished. The master hunter had a target.
On November 17, 1998, something extraordinary happened in Moscow. A high-ranking member of the organized crime unit at the FSB (Russia’s FBI) held a press conference. His name was Alexander Litvinenko, and he told the world that Russia’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies had been taken over by organized crime. He called Russia, “A Mafia State.”
One year later, Vladimir Putin became President of Russia. But during Litvinenko’s final months at the FSB organized crime unit, Putin was his boss.
On July 5, 1998, Putin was appointed by President Yeltsin as Director of the FSB. He had found his way to the position of top law enforcement officer in all of Russia on weak qualifications – and after serving a stint as Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg. We detail this history and its importance later in this document, but state here for you to know now: 1) St. Petersburg’s Mayor was a politician owned and controlled by the Russian mob; 2) Putin was hand-picked by this same mob to ascend to power, because he is their puppet.
Or, at least, that is how he began.
The FSB is the very agency that Litvinenko warned the world about at that press conference four months after Putin’s appointment as its director. This is the agency that Litvinenko said was being run by the mob. Watch:
Our research indicates that this is the very same mob that Bob Levinson warned us was sending criminals to our shores. And like all mobs, there is always a Don. A boss. A head of "The Family.”
On December 31, 1999, when Vladimir Putin was first elected, this Don controlled the President of Russia. Litvinenko committed his life thereafter to bringing him down.
Both Bob Levinson and Alexander Litvinenko hunted the most brilliant, dangerous, powerful, criminal mastermind the world has ever seen.
This is not hyperbole.
This is SEMION MOGILEVICH.
THE “BILLION DOLLAR DON”
The 1999 Mangold interview with Bob Levinson is a remarkable thing. Not only because it captured Levinson’s life pursuit, in his own words. But because Mangold somehow got an interview with the devil himself.
The Man and His Brand
Semion Mogilevich goes by many names, and we will use some of them interchangeably throughout our reporting. Mogilevich, the "Boss of Bosses," is also known in Russia and to international intelligence agencies as Don Semyon, “The Brainy Don.”
To introduce Mogilevich, Tom Mangold gave this summary. Pay attention to the date. Pay attention to the underlined phrase.
“In May 1995, the FBI together with Russian, German, and Italian offices, produced [a] devastating report on organized crime, naming Mogilevich as leader of an organization with some 250 members. Mogilevich’s main activities are listed as arms dealing, trading nuclear material, prostitution, drug dealing, oil deals, and money laundering.”
1995. That’s the date.
In 1995, Bob Levinson was still with the FBI. Alexander Litvinenko was at the FSB in Moscow. Both men hunted one organized crime syndicate above all others. We believe that this report must have passed through both of their hands. We know, through many reports on their individual histories, that both of our hunters were on Mogilevich’s trail. They were the experts on Don Semyon.
But what was happening in Russia in 1995? How could this one criminal have risen in such stature, as to have control over substances such as oil and nuclear material?
There are countless resources on the subject. Mountains of books, articles, and documentary reporting. But we’ll give you the short answer.
The Soviet Union collapsed. In the vacuum of leadership – of policy – of governmental order, a few hungry souls made a mad grab for state resources. They were the original seven oligarchs, called “The Magnificient Seven.” And they were all bankers.
One of these first seven bankers, Mikhail Fridman – the founder of ALFABANK, is Semion Mogilevich’s partner. With the “Brainy Don” inside an economic engine, the operational infrastructure for a global crime syndicate had its funding. “Alfa” (sometimes spelled “Alpha”) became the brand under which an empire was born.
With a bank behind him, all that was left to do for Semion was take out the “hunters.” He began locally – in Russia. Semion launched his attack on Russian intelligence and law enforcement, using his leverage over politicians to compromise any and all checks and balances against his own mob.
Here is a link to a supporting article, which provides an analysis on how Putin was used to help execute Semion’s strategy for turning Russia into a Mafiya State. It provides a brief historical narrative on the early moves of Semion’s mob after the fall of the Soviet Empire, and provides further resource links for you to read and explore: CLICK HERE
So that you understand, here, what we are revealing to you about Putin and Semion, we have obtained video of Semion Mogilevich at Vladmir Putin’s campaign headquarters in 2000 – watching his man ascend to the Presidency. This is five years after a global intelligence report on Semion’s mafia empire.
You will see Don Semyon looking back to the camera at 1:15.
Once the Russian intelligence community had been taken over – once the Russian hunters were jailed, exiled, or assassinated - the guardrails were gone for Don Semyon.
Mogilevich already had a criminal enterprise – an infrastructure that reached beyond borders - with ports, ships, goods... All “The Brainy Don” needed to do was GROW.
The Intelligence Report on Semion’s operations that Tom Mangold references in his interview was from 1995. 22 years ago.
“The report says your organization operates in central Europe - including Prague, Vienna, Russia, the United States, Ukraine, Israel, and the United Kingdom.”
That quote tells us just how established, globally, Don Semyon was in 1995. How many men – how big of a global enterprise – has Mogilevich been able to build in the 22 years since?
Let’s begin with the core organization. Semion has two main brands. The first is “Alfa” (sometimes “Alpha”). You will find that name in the Steele Dossier. Under Semion’s umbrella, are a plethora of businesses. In addition to the criminal industry sectors listed by the 1999 intelligence report, subsequent reporting has attributed more profit centers to Semion, including human trafficking.
Here is a chart that gives the basics on Semion’s Alfa business sectors, his partners, and his “employees.” He owns it all.
Let us state, again, that Semion is the brain inside what became an EXTRA-NATIONAL CRIME SYNDICATE. He connected resources, goods, and people of the former Soviet Empire to service a criminal underworld and produce billions in profits. This global mob has evolved since the fall of the Soviet Union. Semion’s lieutenants have risen in power and stature within his mob – as have the Heads of State of former Soviet block nations. We cannot assert for certain that Semion’s power is as absolute as it once was. But make no mistake, this MOB is his creation. He connected all the dots. He is the founder, and he is still the man to hunt.
We’ve put the key individuals to Semion’s organization on the chart. These are the names that will be exploding in the press, as Mueller’s investigation continues to unfold. In addition, we’d like to draw your attention to some names that will be explored in depth by us in the future. HERE is a summary document, with source links.
For the purpose of this story – the story of the hunters who came before, we’d like to highlight one detail of Semion’s decades-long empire: SEMION TRADES IN NUCLEAR MATERIAL AND ARMS WITH IRAN (you can easily research this yourself, or find it in several sources of our bibliography under Semion himself).
Semion has long known the Iranians. He knew past regimes and present. He’s dealt with them all. He’s a key individual in the black-market trade of nuclear material. This aspect of Semion’s criminal enterprise is one thing (of many) the Iran Deal sought to eliminate. Keep that in mind.
If you’re mind reeling from the scope of this – questioning how one boss could build something so grand, ask yourself: How is this different from any organized crime “family?”
The business is the same. The model is the same. It’s just a bigger territory. Mogilevich got it, because he is the right kind of gangster – who was at the right place, in the right time in history. He is the same, old mob boss we’ve always known.
And Bob Levinson had his number.
ALL THE DEVIL’S MEN
“Follow the trail of dead Russians.”
Clint Watts, Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing testimony, March 30, 2017
Levinson knew exactly how the devil grew his empire, because he knows how mob empires work. Mogilevich needed others – men who were already in place in new territories – men who could work for him. Levinson knew Mogilevich needed professionals – businessmen – fronts to help him grow.
Levinson knew that those men would be the trail.
It’s important to note that Bob Levinson was hunting Mogilevich from the very beginning of the Russian Mafiya’s infiltration of America. He witnessed the Russian take-over of America’s mafia crime families, the “Five Families,” (La Cosa Nostra) by members of Semion’s mob.
Bob had come to know the operations, individuals, and bosses of the Five Families during his time working for the FBI’s organized crime unit in New York City. He knew the businessmen and politicians the mob worked with and compromised. And he knew, as we do now, that the Russians were not only the most dangerous criminals he had ever encountered, they were also the smartest.
How do you take over a new territory in a new land? You infiltrate an existing mob. You take over their operations with your brutality and your wealth. Why re-invent the wheel, or build one from scratch, when you can steal what’s already there? That’s how smart criminals work. This is Russian Mafia 101.
For Bob, the hunt for Semion began in the early ‘90s, when the mobster Vyacheslov Ivankov set him off on Semion’s trail. Ivankov was Semion’s lieutenant, sent to America to set up operations. If you recognize his name, it’s because Ivankov is the mobster who landed in a condo in Trump Tower, hid out regularly at Trump Taj Mahal, and was eventually caught by the FBI’s organized crime unit.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
Rather than give you the details in writing, we’ll let you read all about it in Bob Levinson’s own words. Bob was the key law enforcement witness at Ivankov’s trial. Here is his testimony:
By the time he testified, Bob had moved from the NYC field office to Florida. It’s an interesting move, considering it follows the Diaspora of Semion’s mob on our shores.
Bob eventually left the FBI and set up a private consulting firm. We are uncertain whether or not this departure was a law enforcement tactic to take the heat off Bob personally, while he maintained his work with the FBI – and later with the CIA. But, we do know for certain that he never stopped hunting Mogilevich. It was the case Bob Levinson could not quit: “I’d like to finish the job.”
Hunting Mogilevich’s crime syndicate is also THE case that puts the history of Donald Trump’s business “partnerships” into context. It explains why the #TrumpRussia investigation – from the FBI to the congressional committees - has shifted from counter-intelligence to CRIMINAL. It is the “WHAT” and the “WHY” that set us off on this journey.
It also answers what lurks beneath Trump’s flailing tweets, firing of Comey, and strategic undermining of the integrity of our independent press. It is the answer that sits at the core of the Special Prosecutor’s evidence, especially if Mueller indeed has his hands on Trump’s bank records and tax returns.
While with the FBI in New York, Bob Levinson knew all about the Five Family’s and Trump Enterprises lawyer and fixer, Roy Cohn. Bob knew all about Donald Trump. He knew all about Fred Trump.
Pictured: Fred Trump with Consigliere and associate of Semion Mogilevich, Brad Zackson - pictured left of Fred. (Credit: Dynamic Worldwide Group)
That was Bob’s job. To know the businessmen and lawyers who profited, represented, and sheltered the American mobsters that he hunted.
From Russia… With Love
Levinson also knew every link between the American mob and the Russians who rolled over them and took their empire. Because, you see, Levinson knew this…
If you want to catch the devil, uncover the men who help him grow his criminal enterprise.
For Levinson - as an FBI agent, this set him after not only the former Soviets that Semion brought to our shores, but after the Americans whom Semion entangled and controlled as well. Because, Levinson knew Semion’s TACTICS:
As a kingpin, you can hire thugs – the muscle who manage your operation at the street level. But thugs can’t wash your money. They can’t get you into new territories. They don’t have access to the pillars of industry and government that keep your money flowing. For this, you need professionals. You need people in power. You need people with resources. They are both your conduits and your fronts. They let you reap the rewards of your criminal network, while you stay safely hidden in the shadows.
Some of these professionals – businessmen and politicians - can be bought. But that’s not good enough for a boss like Mogilevich. Because these people are already successful, and he’s going to put them in harm’s way. He’s going to turn each of them into a serious criminal, who will, in turn, be hunted by men like Bob Levinson. Thugs can be bought. But professionals must be leveraged.
Remember what Bob Levinson said on Mogilevich tactics: “He’s a sophisticated racketeer, who uses a cover of ‘international businessman’ to basically convince people, ‘You’ve got nothing to hide by dealing with me…Just take a look at my bank account…’ ”
Bob was VERY AWARE of who Mogilevich was in business with – inside and out, because that is how you hunt a mob boss. He knew Mogilevich’s tactics. He knew how “The Brainy Don” identified his marks. Bob told us exactly how Mogilevich does it all.
The equation for finding the perfect mark is simple: 1) identify a businessman who has what you need – like a vehicle to wash your blood money, + 2) find their weak spot, and + 3) squeeze.
Don Semyon looked for those who can be easily leveraged. Looked for the vulnerable. Looked for the businessman in a desperate situation. And even if Don Semyon inherits a mark as an asset from an old boss he rolled over, he will still evaluate that mark thoroughly. He'll leverage the mark further to make him his own. Because, he’s the “Brainy Don.”
Perhaps, the mark is not quite desperate enough for the blood money that Semyon needs him to wash. This is money that funds terrorists - profits from the proliferation of nuclear material - the global rape trade. Don Semyon’s businesses are as dark as it gets.
For that reason, Mogilevich requires a lifetime of servitude and loyalty. For the unthinkable acts he requires of his marks – his “fronts” to undertake, Don Semyon needs real leverage. He must OWN you.
Therefore, if the mark is not desperate enough when Mogilevich has him in his sights, then he lures that mark into a bad deal– and makes it worse. Arranges for some Kompromat to seal the leverage forever. SQUEEZE.
To find that perfect mark in his new U.S. territory, all Semion Mogilevich had to do was follow the debt.
In the United States, there was one businessman at the top of Don Semyon’s list. One who was the easiest mark and could reap the greatest return. One who was sheltering Mogilevich's Men. One who was already in business with the American mafia, when "the" RUSSIAN MOB rolled over them all.
Mob tactics are mob tactics. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Italians, the Irish, or the Russians. You need businessmen because they are your “fronts.”
And thanks to Fred Trump, Roy Cohn, and the “Five Families” of American mafia, the United States already had a perfect front for Mogilevich to take. A man – a brand, that could wash the devil’s blood money clean.
Donald Trump and Roy Cohn
Donald J. Trump.
Our President’s mafia ties have been long documented. His Russian ties have been long documented. What we are saying to you is that they are one and the same. When Semion Mogilevich took over American mafia’s territory, he took Donald Trump with it.
With Donald Trump, our President, whether you are looking at the shady and corrupt business deals of his past, or the Russians all around his present, what you are really looking at is THE MOB.
Here is the chart that shows how Semion Mogilevich took over his second brand: TRUMP ENTERPRISES.
The below video is a timeline representation of our research into Donald Trump’s life as a money-laundering front for organized crime: from American mafia to Russian. Every item – every Donald Trump project or event that we’re presenting here as mob-connected is SOURCED.
You can pause it to read more closely. You can also go to the bibliography section on this site to see an interactive version of the timeline and explore our sources. They include legal documents, law enforcement reports, intelligence reports, financial statements, and great investigative journalism.
We've included some key trips to Russia (both Donald and his family), with the inference that these were not un-productive jaunts. Donald's ties to Semion are old and long-held.
Take it all in. This is our President. Watch...
From FSB to MI6
After his 1998 press conference – telling the world that Russia’s FSB had been taken over by the Mob, Alexander Litvinenko was jailed. His story from there is remarkable.
Litvinenko turned to the man whom he was once ordered to assassinate. Prior to his press conference, Litvinenko was ordered by his mobbed-up superiors to murder one of the original seven oligarchs – a banker named Boris Berezovsky, who was a competitor to Alfa Bank. Instead, Litvinenko warned Berezovsky to run. That assassination order was what prompted the press conference.
In between Litvinenko’s trials and prison movement, Berezovsky managed to get Litvinenko and his family (wife and son) out of Russia and into the United Kingdom.
Finding safe exile in London, Alexander Litvinenko continued working to hunt Mogilevich’s mob. In our opinion, the very best journalism on Litvinenko’s journey from the FSB to MI6 is done by Luke Harding. We highly recommend his book, “A Very Expensive Poison.”
In Harding’s book, we learn of Litvinenko’s work with MI6. He was instrumental in the arrests of key members of the Tambov Gang (SEMION'S PARTNERS), who were hiding out in Spain.
In late 2006, at the peak of his hunting, and perhaps due to a dossier he co-wrote that landed in the wrong hands, Litvinenko was assassinated. It was a gruesome murder that was meant to send a signal: he was poisoned with radioactive material, that was under the control of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Polonium.
Bob Levinson was an FBI agent tracking Russian black market ties, he ended up in Kish Iran on a unauthorized CIA mission where he was discovered.
But he was tracking Russian oligarch business.
So Semion Mogilevich is the supposed absolute head.
This guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semion_Mogilevich
Jan 29, 2018
In Part 5 of this series, I briefly discussed a Russian tech investor named Yuri Milner. Truthfully, Milner deserves considerably more attention, but I’ll save the full history for another time. Here’s what I think you need to know now.
Yuri Milner worked at Menatep Bank from 1995–1999 as both a General Director and the Deputy Chairman and Head of Investment Management there. While he certainly wasn’t the boss, Milner was, at least, upper management. Normally, the role might not merit much attention, but in this case, it’s worth discussing. Why? Because Menatep Bank was involved in a scheme by which the Russian mob’s boss of bosses, Semion Mogilevich laundered tens of billions of dollars through the Bank of New York.
According to a report from The Guardian at the time, “$500m of the assets of Menatep bank passed through Bank of New York accounts belonging to offshore companies connected to Russia’s mafia godfather, Semion Mogilevich.” While a bit of skepticism about the actual amount of cash is warranted here, not least because Russian intelligence is the source of this information, there’s no denying Menatep Bank’s involvement in the money laundering operation.
Milner was never implicated in the scheme, but the bank lost its license a few months after it was discovered. Various figures within the bank were accused of money laundering, but most escaped any charges. The architect of the scheme, Semion Mogilevich, evaded American authorities and made his way to Moscow, where he continues to live openly to this day.
What’s interesting about Milner’s connection with the natural gas giant Gazprom is the company’s close associations with pro-Kremlin Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash and Semion Mogilevich. According to a Reuters investigation, Dmitry Firtash “said he had needed and received permission from a man named Semion Mogilevich to establish various businesses” in Ukraine. His primary partner in the country was Gazprom.
irtash’s gas business, RosUkrEnergo, was responsible for handling gas deals between Russia and Ukraine. According to Foreign Policy, “the ownership of the Swiss-registered gas trading company RosUkrEnergo is also almost evenly divided between Firtash and Gazprom, indicating that the Ukrainian oligarch was a close partner of the Kremlin.”
Firtash has long denied close ties to Mogilevich, but both men have been directors at the same company in the past. They also shared the same attorney, a man named Zeev Gordon, who was involved in Firtash’s company Eural Trans Gas in another venture with Naftohaz and Gazprom.
Though Firtash may never admit it himself, he made billions in Ukraine because the mob — specifically Semion Mogilevich’s mob — allowed him to. This is not a bond simply or easily broken, nor has there ever been any real indication Firtash cared to break it.
The other bank linked to financing for Yuri Milner’s investment in tech companies was VTB Bank, which is majority owned by the Kremlin and under U.S. sanctions. However, perhaps even more importantly, VTB Bank was lined up as an investor in the much-discussed Trump Tower Moscow deal that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, attempted to strike during the 2016 campaign.
But who was it that setup the financing for the Trump Tower Moscow deal? It was Trump’s longtime business partner in the Bayrock Group, Felix Sater. Here’s why that matters.
Felix Sater’s mob connections run deep
Though not personally implicated in the Bank of New York and Bank Menatep money laundering case, Felix Sater was in New York around this time working for the mob. However, the New York Times first broke the story on Bank of New York’s involvement in money laundering operations for Semion Mogilevich in August of 1999.
By that point, Felix Sater was already a cooperating witness for the government, having pled guilty in 1998 “to one count of racketeering for his role in a $40 million stock fraud scheme involving the prominent Genovese and Bonanno crime families, according to court records.” However, Sater’s involvement with Mogilevich runs deep. Mikhail Sheferovsky, Felix Sater’s dad, was a longtime underboss within the Mogilevich Organization.
We recently received additional confirmation of Felix Sater’s ties to Mogilevich in the form of Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson. Here’s a copy of part of his testimony to Congress below.
The testimony (seen above) made it clear that President Donald Trump’s longtime business partner, Felix Sater, is closely tied to intelligence experts take issue with the Dossier, Fusion GPS and its explosive claims. I have my own reservations about plenty of Simpson’s testimony and the Dossier itself. We should be cautious and take nothing at face value. However, there are two things I’d like to point out.
1. This is not the first time Felix Sater has been linked to Semion Mogilevich. As I mentioned earlier, Sater’s dad was an underboss in Uzbekistan for the Mogilevich Organization. This is known.
2. The media LOVES to talk about the Dossier. They love to talk about the provokatsiya known as the “pee-pee” tapes. There was, of course, plenty of hype surrounding the unexpected release of Glenn Simpson’s testimony. Yet, still, has the MSM mentioned Semion Mogilevich’s direct connection to Donald Trump yet?
No. So, why the hell not?
While in most cases we can only speculate on the why, it’s worth reminding ourselves of just how many of these connections do exist. If you’re wondering what some of those are, I’m here to help. We recently learned the following about Felix Sater:
Former Trump adviser and business partner Felix Sater has been served with subpoenas in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) relating to a high-profile money laundering case. The two subpoenas were issued on October 27, 2017, and required Sater to produce documents and sit for a deposition.
The two plaintiffs in the Manhattan case are Kazakh government entities — BTA Bank and the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan. The defendants include three fugitive Kazakh officials who allegedly laundered hundreds of millions stolen from BTA through U.S. real estate deals. One of those deals included the 2013 purchase of three condos in the Trump Soho Hotel.
There are several money trails to follow with regards to Kazakhstan and dirty money, but here’s one that hasn’t gotten much attention. I mentioned Eural Trans Gas (ETG) earlier because the lawyer hired by Firtash to do work for ETG, Zeev Gordon, has also admitted to doing work for Mogilevich himself.
The same article from Foreign Policy goes on to discuss another man appointed as a director of ETG by Firtash, Andras Knopp. It was Knopp who went on to sign all the contracts between Naftohaz and Gazprom (yes, them again). One of the countries Knopp facilitated deals for was Kazakhstan. Unsurprisingly, Knopp was mentioned in a 2005 report out of the Austrian Federal Criminal Investigation Agency on the Mogilevich Organization.
This article breaks down the timeline of events surrounding the gas trade in Eastern Europe, but what you need to know is Eural Trans Gas (headed by Andras Knopp) was eventually done away with in favor of the new company, RosUkrEnergo. RosUkrEnergo is of course the same company I mentioned earlier which is 50% owned by Gazprom. The other 50% belongs, at least officially, to Dmitry Firtash and his partner Ivan Fursin.
In July of 2017, we learned more about Paul Manafort’s financial dealings when the New York Times reported Manafort owed, through a series of shell corporations, $9.9 million to the same Ivan Fursin who is business partners with Firtash in RosUkrEnergo. Subsequently, The Daily Beast reported that Ivan Fursin “is closely linked to one of Russia’s most notorious criminals: Semion Mogilevich.”
The same article goes on to say, “A December 2005 report from the Austrian Federal Criminal Investigation Agency said the FBI described Fursin and Firtash as senior members of the Semion Mogilevich Organization.” So, authorities in Austria believe Andras Knopp, Ivan Fursin and Dmitry Firtash all work at the behest of Semion Mogilevich.
Knowing this, it’s interesting to read additional reports of Paul Manafort’s ties to Ivan Fursin’s business partner, Dmitry Firtash, and a failed hotel deal they worked on together with Fred Trump’s (yes, Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s dad) money man, Brad Zackson. Perhaps there’s more there, right?
Manafort and Trump are closer than you might think.
In addition to being Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort lived in Trump Tower. Manafort’s longstanding business ties to Donald Trump are extensively covered in my piece here. It is fair to say for a decade, at a minimum, Paul Manafort was devoted to the interests of the Kremlin first and foremost.
Yet, still, we wait for the media to catch up to, potentially, one of the biggest stories ever told: Donald Trump, our president, is a longtime money-launderer who remains beholden to the Russian mob’s “boss of bosses” Semion Mogilevich.
Today, we learned of Trump’s refusal to enforce Russian sanctions passed by Congress. This decision can leave no doubt. Donald Trump’s loyalty lies with Moscow, not Washington D.C.
How can this be happening?
The media isn’t doing its job. Some in the MSM may be compromised by Russian hackers who have set out, specifically, to gather compromising material on their personal lives. In many cases, the poor reporting of the last few years probably does come down to the fact that the ClickBait media model values drama over substance. However horrible Donald Trump may be, he’s great for article clicks, isn’t he?
The issue we face right now is the MSM simply can’t, for whatever reason, get the job done here on their own. Democracy is at stake, and their reporting has been found wanting. Businessmen running business empires that include media outlets are, unsurprisingly, putting profits before our democratic institutions. It’s all about the money folks, and the mob certainly has a lot to go around.
Thus, when Paul Manafort "tried to publish a positive op-ed recently — with a Russian intelligence officer, no less — it was not all that surprising. The Russian intelligence officer, Konstantin Kilimnik, worked with Manafort in Ukraine for roughly a decade. They both worked for the pro-Kremlin Party of Regions out of Kyiv. The party maintained close ties to the oligarchs associated with Manafort, Dmitry Firtash and Oleg Deripaska, throughout the years Manafort worked for them.
Felix Sater and Ukraine
Though the media seems to frequently forget about Felix Sater, Donald Trump sure doesn’t. When Trump first took office, overtures were made to broker a “peace” between Russia and Ukraine in their ongoing war. Who did the Trump Team turn to for help? Felix Sater, of course, who came up with unsurprisingly pro-Kremlin terms for this deal.
However he achieves it, Felix Sater does often manage to have his way with the media. After all, his mafia ties and partnership with Trump were written about extensively in 2007 in the New York Times. Yet the Times remains noticeably silent about Sater, even today. We wondered how this could be happening, and we wrote about our results here, if you’re interested.
Regardless of what’s going on at the Times, we know a few more things about Sater. He’s paid for puff pieces about himself, and he has also been caught trying to pay for hit pieces to be written about his enemies. Felix knows the power the media holds, and he finds ways to wield this power to his benefit.
Some points to keep in mind about Sater
Sater was Trump’s business partner by 2003, at the very latest. Their joint business venture, Bayrock, was responsible for several real estate projects. This includes, Trump SoHo, Trump Fort Lauderdale, Trump International Hotel & Residence and several more failed ventures.
When Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump visited Moscow in 2006, who went with them? Felix Sater did, and Sater even says he arranged for Ivanka to sit on Vladimir Putin’s chair in his office in the Kremlin. Notably, Ivanka Trump does not deny Sater’s claim.
This point bears repeating too. When Donald Trump tried to reach an agreement to build Trump Tower Moscow during the presidential campaign, Felix Sater was the man Trump trusted to get the deal done.
When Donald Trump and his campaign had an invite-only election night party, who showed up? Felix Sater did, of course!
Felix Sater’s relationship with Semion Mogilevich never ended. How could it? They’re in the mob, and they’re both alive. Mogilevich was last spotted in Moscow attending a funeral in October of 2017. This isn’t a difficult concept, right? The mob is the mob. The rules don’t change.
If Felix Sater’s relationship with Donald Trump had ended, do you think Sater would’ve been at a private party on election night? Reading through all this information, it may sound unbelievable, but it’s all too real. What’s unbelievable is the media is still not talking about it! Felix himself has never been shy about his connections to the Kremlin and organized crime figures. The story is there, but there have to be journalists and outlets willing to tell it.
Keep saying his name
This story cannot be suppressed forever. It’s there for everyone to see, but it is going to take time to help the rest of the world understand. Keep talking about Felix Sater and Bayrock. Tell everyone you know about Semion Mogilevich. Keep saying his name, even if the media won’t do it themselves. Someone has to.
We can’t afford not to, because the Russian mob wants it all. They’ve had their hooks deep in Donald Trump for decades, but this doesn’t end with Donald. We can’t forget his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in all this. The Russians, as well the Chinese, certainly haven’t.
Jared has taken lots of meetings since Trump was elected, but maybe the most important was with the chairman of Vnesheconombank, otherwise known as VEB. In addition to being a close confidant of Vladimir Putin the chairman, Sergey Gorkov, also worked for Menatep Bank from 1994–97. Yes, the same Menatep Bank I discussed earlier.
Separate names with a comma.