You’re shocked, I’m sure. America’s liar-in-chief Donald Trump: “I did not make recordings of Comey,” after teasing the possibility he did for weeks. What a drama queen. So Trump’s good with a charge of witness intimidation then. Good to know.
There’s also more evidence for the obstruction of justice charge. Intel chiefs tell investigators Trump suggested they refute collusion with Russians:
Two of the nation’s top intelligence officials told Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and Senate investigators, in separate meetings last week, that President Donald Trump suggested they say publicly there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians, according to multiple sources.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers described their interactions with the President about the Russia investigation as odd and uncomfortable, but said they did not believe the President gave them orders to interfere, according to multiple sources familiar with their accounts.
Their “beliefs” or “feelings” are irrelevant. They confirmed the attempt to obstruct was made.
Coats and Rogers also met individually last week with the Senate intelligence committee in two closed briefings that were described to CNN by Democratic and Republican congressional sources. One source said that Trump wanted them to say publicly what then-FBI Director James Comey had told the President privately: that he was not under investigation for collusion. However, sources said that neither Coats nor Rogers raised concerns that Trump was pushing them to do something they did not want to do. They did not act on the President’s alleged suggestion.
Rogers’ interaction with the President is also documented in a memo written by his deputy at the NSA, Richard Ledgett.
Failing to act on the president’s order insulates them from becoming co-conspirators to obstuction of justice. It does not exonerate the president, however.
Investigators are closing in on the “follow the money” leg of the investigations as well. ABC News reports, Trump administration to turn over federal banking records to Senate investigators:
Senate investigators will receive a trove of banking records from the Treasury Department that lawmakers believe could help shed light on any business dealings involving campaign aides and other advisers to President Trump, Sen. Ron Wyden told ABC News on Tuesday.
“The stack of press reports gets higher every day regarding financial connections between Trump associates and Russia and Trump’s own business dealings with Russian interests,” said Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who sits on the Senate Intelligence committee. “This morning, Treasury briefed me on documents that are being transmitted to the Senate. I believe these documents will be sufficient to start following the money.”
The Treasury provided the trove of documents after a weekslong standoff, during which Wyden placed a hold on Trump’s nomination of New York attorney Sigal Mandelker to head the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN. The Senate advanced her nomination on Tuesday shortly after a deal was reached.
“I have stated repeatedly that we have to follow the money if we are going to get to the bottom of how Russia has attacked our democracy,” Wyden said in May. “That means thoroughly review any information that relates to financial connections between Russia and President Trump and his associates, whether direct or laundered through hidden or illicit transactions. The office which Mandelker has been nominated to head is responsible for much of this information.”
A spokesman for FinCen declined to comment, citing a policy “to never confirm or deny or comment on any investigations.”
FinCEN, the Treasury agency responsible for tracking the illegal movement of money, maintains a database of millions of transactions that have been flagged by banks as unusual or problematic, known as suspicious activity reports, or SARs. Law enforcement agencies around the country have access to the information, but so far, congressional investigators have not had access.
“SARs have proven to be useful to criminal investigators in understanding financial relationships, identifying or confirming links between various parties, identifying patterns of illicit conduct and establishing new leads to be explored,” said Daniel Glaser, who served as treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence in the Obama administration.
The agency also tracks suspicious, all-cash real estate transactions in certain cities, including Miami and Palm Beach. Developers have built more than half a dozen Trump-branded luxury condominium towers in South Florida that have proved popular with Russian and Eastern European buyers.
FinCEN records could shed light on those doing business with Trump or his associates.
On this score, Timothy O’Brien at Bloomberg News follows up on Bayrock Group, which I’ve previously posted about. Trump, Russia and a Shadowy Business Partnership:
[T]he Justice Department inquiry led by Mueller now has added flavors. The Post noted that the investigation also includes “suspicious financial activity” involving “Russian operatives.” The New York Times was more specific in its account, saying that Mueller is looking at whether Trump associates laundered financial payoffs from Russian officials by channeling them through offshore accounts.
Trump has repeatedly labeled Comey’s and Mueller’s investigations “witch hunts,” and his lawyers have said that the last decade of his tax returns (which the president has declined to release) would show that he had no income or loans from Russian sources. In May, Trump told NBC that he has no property or investments in Russia. “I am not involved in Russia,” he said.
But that doesn’t address national security and other problems that might arise for the president if Russia is involved in Trump, either through potentially compromising U.S. business relationships or through funds that flowed into his wallet years ago. In that context, a troubling history of Trump’s dealings with Russians exists outside of Russia: in a dormant real-estate development firm, the Bayrock Group, which once operated just two floors beneath the president’s own office in Trump Tower.
Bayrock partnered with the future president and his two eldest children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, on a series of real-estate deals between 2002 and about 2011, the most prominent being the troubled Trump Soho hotel and condominium in Manhattan.
During the years that Bayrock and Trump did deals together, the company was also a bridge between murky European funding and a number of projects in the U.S. to which the president once lent his name in exchange for handsome fees. Icelandic banks that dealt with Bayrock, for example, were easy marks for money launderers and foreign influence, according to interviews with government investigators, legislators, and others in Reykjavik, Brussels, Paris and London. Trump testified under oath in a 2007 deposition that Bayrock brought Russian investors to his Trump Tower office to discuss deals in Moscow, and said he was pondering investing there.
“It’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t be investing in Russia,” Trump said in that deposition. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.”
One of Bayrock’s principals was a career criminal named Felix Sater who had ties to Russian and American organized crime groups. Before linking up with the company and with Trump, he had worked as a mob informant for the U.S. government, fled to Moscow to avoid criminal charges while boasting of his KGB and Kremlin contacts there, and had gone to prison for slashing apart another man’s face with a broken cocktail glass.
In a series of interviews and a lawsuit, a former Bayrock insider, Jody Kriss, claims that he eventually departed from the firm because he became convinced that Bayrock was actually a front for money laundering.
Kriss has sued Bayrock, alleging that in addition to laundering money, the Bayrock team also skimmed cash from the operation, dodged taxes and cheated him out of millions of dollars. Sater and others at Bayrock would not comment for this column; in court documents they have contested Kriss’s charges and describe him, essentially, as a disgruntled employee trying to shake them down.
But Kriss’s assertion that Bayrock was a criminal operation during the years it partnered with Trump has been deemed plausible enough to earn him a court victory: In December, a federal judge in New York said Kriss’s lawsuit against Bayrock, which he first filed nine years ago, could proceed as a racketeering [RICO] case.
Trump has said over the years that he barely knows Sater. In fact, Sater — who former Bayrock employees say met frequently with Trump in the Trump Organization’s New York headquarters, once shepherded the president’s children around Moscow and carried a Trump Organization business card — apparently has remained firmly in the orbit of the president and his closest advisers.
Sater made the front page of the New York Times in February for his role in a failed effort — along with Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen — to lobby former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on a Ukrainian peace proposal.
It’s unclear whether Sater and Bayrock are part of Mueller’s investigation. But Mueller has populated his investigative team with veteran prosecutors expert in white-collar fraud and Russian-organized-crime probes. One of them, Andrew Weissmann, once led an FBI team that examined financial fraud leading to the demise of Enron. Before that, Weissmann was a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn and part of a team that prosecuted Sater and mob associates for investment scams in the late 1990s.
However the Mueller probe unfolds, a tour of Trump’s partnership with Bayrock exposes a number of uncomfortable truths about the president’s business history, his judgment, and the possible vulnerabilities that his past as a freewheeling dealmaker — and his involvement with figures like Sater — have visited upon his present as the nation’s chief executive.
Timothy O’Brien goes into much greater details in his report.
On another “follow the money” leg of the investigation is former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. At height of Russia tensions, Trump campaign chairman Manafort met with business associate from Ukraine:
In August, as tension mounted over Russia’s role in the U.S. presidential race, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, sat down to dinner with a business associate from Ukraine who once served in the Russian army.
Konstantin Kilimnik, who learned English at a military school that some experts consider a training ground for Russian spies, had helped run the Ukraine office for Manafort’s international political consulting practice for 10 years.
At the Grand Havana Room, one of New York City’s most exclusive cigar bars [located inside the Kushner Tower, 666 Fifth Avenue], the longtime acquaintances “talked about bills unpaid by our clients, about [the] overall situation in Ukraine . . . and about the current news,” including the presidential campaign, according to a statement provided by Kilimnik, offering his most detailed account of his interactions with the former Trump adviser.
Kilimnik, who provided a written statement to The Washington Post through Manafort’s attorney, said the previously unreported dinner was one of two meetings he had with Manafort on visits to the United States during Manafort’s five months working for Trump. The first encounter was in early May 2016, about two weeks before the Trump adviser was elevated to campaign chairman.
The August dinner came about two weeks before Manafort resigned under pressure amid reports that he had received improper payments for his political work in Ukraine, allegations that he has denied.
Kilimnik is of interest to investigators on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is examining possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia, said a person familiar with the inquiry.
Kilimnik’s name also appeared this spring in a previously undisclosed subpoena sought by federal prosecutors looking for information “concerning contracts for work . . . communication or other records of correspondence” related to about two dozen people and businesses that appeared to be connected to Manafort or his wife, including some who worked with Manafort in Kiev.
The subpoena was issued by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, where, until recently, Manafort’s business was headquartered. The subpoena did not specify whether it was related to the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election or a separate inquiry into Manafort’s business activities. Investigators in the Eastern District of Virginia have been assisting with the Russia investigation.
* * *
Federal investigators have shown an interest in Manafort on several fronts beyond his work on behalf of Trump.
Subpoenas in New York have sought information about Manafort’s real estate loans, according to NBC News. Justice Department officials also are exploring whether Manafort should have more fully disclosed his work for foreign political parties, as required by federal law.
Former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III has been appointed special counsel to oversee the Russia inquiry, and people familiar with his work said his office has now taken over investigations of Manafort’s conduct unrelated directly to the Russia probe.
Finally, there is the man at the center of this investigation, Michael Flynn. The New York Times reported Despite Concerns About Blackmail, Flynn Heard C.I.A. Secrets:
At the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — agencies responsible for keeping American secrets safe from foreign spies — career officials agreed that Mr. Flynn represented an urgent problem.
* * *
Concerns across the government about Mr. Flynn were so great after Mr. Trump took office that six days after the inauguration, on Jan. 26, the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, warned the White House that Mr. Flynn had been “compromised.”
* * *
Yet nearly every day for three weeks, the new C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, sat in the Oval Office and briefed President Trump on the nation’s most sensitive intelligence — with Mr. Flynn listening. Mr. Pompeo has not said whether C.I.A. officials left him in the dark about their views of Mr. Flynn, but one administration official said Mr. Pompeo did not share any concerns about Mr. Flynn with the president.
The episode highlights a remarkable aspect of Mr. Flynn’s tumultuous, 25-day tenure in the White House: He sat atop a national security apparatus that churned ahead despite its own conclusion that he was at risk of being compromised by a hostile foreign power.
The concerns about Mr. Flynn’s vulnerabilities, born from misleading statements he made to White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, are at the heart of a legal and political storm that has engulfed the Trump administration. Many of Mr. Trump’s political problems, including the appointment of a special counsel and the controversy over the firing of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, can ultimately be traced to Mr. Flynn’s stormy tenure.
Time and again, the Trump administration looked the other way in the face of warning signs about Mr. Flynn. Mr. Trump entrusted him with the nation’s secrets despite knowing that he faced a Justice Department investigation over his undisclosed foreign lobbying. Even a personal warning from President Barack Obama did not dissuade him.
Mr. Pompeo sidestepped questions from senators last month about his handling of the information about Mr. Flynn, declining to say whether he knew about his own agency’s concerns. “I can’t answer yes or no,” he said. “I regret that I’m unable to do so.” His words frustrated Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“Either Director Pompeo had no idea what people in the C.I.A. reportedly knew about Michael Flynn, or he knew about the Justice Department’s concerns and continued to discuss America’s secrets with a man vulnerable to blackmail,” Mr. Wyden said in a statement. “I believe Director Pompeo owes the public an explanation.”
After Mr. Pompeo’s Senate testimony, The New York Times asked officials at several agencies whether Mr. Pompeo had raised concerns about Mr. Flynn to the president and, if so, whether the president had ignored him. One administration official responded on the condition of anonymity that Mr. Pompeo, whether he knew of the concerns or not, had not told the president about them.
A C.I.A. spokesman declined to discuss any interactions between the president and Mr. Pompeo.
You may have read that the Senate approved a sanctions bill to punish Russia for meddling in our election on a vote of 97-2. The passage ran afoul of a constitutional requirement that legislation involving revenue start in the House, known in bureaucratese as a “blue slip.”
So, you guessed it, White House Tries to Get G.O.P. to Water Down Russia Sanctions Bill:
The White House is quietly lobbying House Republicans to weaken a bill overwhelmingly passed by the Senate last week that would slap tough new sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 election and allow Congress to block any future move by President Trump to lift any penalties against Moscow.
The effort is designed to head off an awkward and politically damaging veto fight between the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress on Russia at a time when Mr. Trump is laboring under the shadow of multiple investigations about his campaign’s potential collusion with Moscow.
House Republicans, normally hawkish on Russia, face a choice between demonstrating a hard line against Moscow in the face of its misconduct and sparing their own president a potentially embarrassing confrontation.
* * *
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday that the administration was not ready to take an official position on the bill, including whether the president would veto it if it reached his desk.
A veto? After everything that has happened, Trump is still kissing up to Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin. What the hell is going on here?