Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s conservative blogger teases her post, “Too many coincidences to be coincidences.” The big Russia questions loom even larger.
Charles Blow, the New York Times liberal columnist writes, Dwindling Odds of Coincidence: “The journalistic caution in me keeps having to write that these could all be coincidences, but the journalistic instinct has learned long ago that coincidence is the albino alligator of political reality: It exists, but is exceedingly rare.”
Right and left agree, there are simply “too many coincidences to be coincidences.” And those coincidences keep multiplying.
Over the weekend the Times reported that former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn Failed to Disclose Income From Russia-Linked Entities:
Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser who was forced out of the job in February, failed to list payments from Russia-linked entities on the first of two financial disclosure forms released Saturday by the Trump administration.
The first form, which he signed in February, does not directly mention a paid speech he gave in Moscow, as well as other payments from companies linked to Russia. The second, an amended version, lists the names of the companies that made the payments under a section for any nongovernment compensation that exceeds $5,000 “in a year.” That list appears to include all of the work that Mr. Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, has done since leaving the military in 2014, without providing compensation figures for any of it.
No reason was given for the discrepancy between the two forms.
The Russia-linked payments were detailed in a letter released in March by congressional investigators, and included a $45,000 speaking fee from RT, formerly known as Russia Today, a Kremlin-backed news network, for a speech in 2015 in Moscow. During the same trip, Mr. Flynn attended the network’s lavish anniversary dinner and was photographed sitting at the elbow of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
Mr. Flynn has faced fierce criticism for the Moscow speech and for his lobbying efforts for Turkey. But the work paid well, and the disclosure forms showed income of nearly $1.5 million, a sizable amount for a man who left the military less than three years ago.
* * *
He shuttered the Flynn Intel Group at the end of 2016, and then was forced out of the White House in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of phone calls he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States in December.
The payments for lobbying work that Mr. Flynn did for the Turkish government — and did not disclose until March — were handled through the Flynn Intel Group, and are not listed separately on the disclosure forms. Mr. Flynn did not work directly for the Turkish government; the firm that hired him, Inovo, is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with links to leaders in Ankara and asked him to work on an issue important to the government.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial Blackwater security group and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, met with a Russian close to the Kremlin as an envoy of Trump in a meeting brokered by the United Arab Emirates. Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel:
The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.
The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.
Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.
Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.
U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump. The FBI declined to comment.
The Seychelles encounter, which one official said spanned two days, adds to an expanding web of connections between Russia and Americans with ties to Trump — contacts that the White House has been reluctant to acknowledge or explain until they have been exposed by news organizations.
* * *
When the Seychelles meeting took place, official contacts between members of the incoming Trump administration and the Russian government were under intense scrutiny, both from federal investigators and the press.
Less than a week before the Seychelles meeting, U.S. intelligence agencies released a report accusing Russia of intervening clandestinely during the 2016 election to help Trump win the White House.
* * *
Prince is best known as the founder of Blackwater, a security firm that became a symbol of U.S. abuses in Iraq after a series of incidents, including one in 2007 in which the company’s guards were accused — and later criminally convicted — of killing civilians in a crowded Iraqi square. Prince sold the firm, which was subsequently re-branded, but has continued building a private paramilitary empire with contracts across the Middle East and Asia. He now heads a Hong Kong-based company known as the Frontier Services Group.
* * *
Current and former U.S. officials said that while Prince refrained from playing a direct role in the Trump transition, his name surfaced so frequently in internal discussions that he seemed to function as an outside adviser whose opinions were valued on a range of issues, including plans for overhauling the U.S. intelligence community.
He appears to have particularly close ties to Bannon, appearing multiple times on the Breitbart satellite radio program and website that Bannon ran before joining the Trump campaign.
* * *
Prince and his family were major GOP donors in 2016. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that the family gave more than $10 million to GOP candidates and super PACs, including about $2.7 million from his sister, DeVos, and her husband.
Prince’s father, Edgar Prince, built his fortune through an auto-parts company. Betsy married Richard DeVos Jr., heir to the Amway fortune.
Buzzfeed reported on Monday that former Trump campaign national security adviser Carter Page was recruited by Russian spies as an “unwitting asset” in 2013. The Russian spies joked about what a “useful idiot” he was. A Former Trump Adviser Met With A Russian Spy:
A former campaign adviser for Donald Trump, Carter Page, met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013.
Page met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant.
A court filing by the US government contains a transcript of a recorded conversation in which Podobnyy speaks with one of the other men busted in the spy ring, Igor Sporyshev, about trying to recruit someone identified as “Male-1.” BuzzFeed News has confirmed that “Male-1” is Page.
The revelation of Page’s connection to Russian intelligence — which occurred more than three years before his association with Trump — is the most clearly documented contact to date between Russian intelligence and someone in Trump’s orbit. It comes as federal investigators probe whether Trump’s campaign-era associates — including Page — had any inappropriate contact with Russian officials or intelligence operatives during the course of the election. Page has volunteered to help Senate investigators in their inquiry.
It remains unclear how connected Page was to the Trump campaign. He rose to prominence seemingly out of nowhere last summer, touted by then-candidate Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers. Page was quickly cut from the Trump team following reports that federal investigators were probing his ties to Russian officials.
* * *
A US intelligence official said investigators intend to question Page eventually, but that he was not considered a high priority. “There’s so many people that are more relevant,” the official said.
The court filing includes a colorful transcript of Podobnyy speaking with Sporyshev about trying to recruit Page.
“[Male-1] wrote that he is sorry, he went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back. I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am…He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project, he could rise up,” Podobnyy said. “I also promised him a lot…this is intelligence method to cheat, how else to work with foreigners? You promise a favor for a favor. You get the documents from him and tell him to go fuck himself.”
Page confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Monday that he is “Male-1” in the court filing, and said he had been in contact with Podobnyy, who was working at the time at Moscow’s UN office in New York City under diplomatic cover, although he was really an SVR agent. Pressed on details of his contact with Podobnyy, Page said their interactions did not include anything sensitive.
According to the complaint, Page met Podobnyy in January 2013 at an energy conference in New York. It says that from January to June of that year, Page met with, emailed with and “provided documents to [Podobnyy] about the energy business.”
After federal investigators were looking into the ring, focusing on Podobnyy, Sporyshev, as well as a third man, Evgeny Buryakov, Page was interviewed by FBI counterintelligence agent Gregory Monaghan and another unnamed FBI agent in June 2013, the filing reads.
Podobnyy and Sporyshev were charged in absentia — working under official cover positions, they were afforded diplomatic immunity and were whisked out of the country. Buryakov, who worked under unofficial cover as an employee of state-controlled Vnesheconombank in Manhattan, pled guilty to a charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and was due to have been released from a federal prison in Elkton, Ohio on Saturday, and returned to Moscow.
* * *
A dossier compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, used to brief then-President Obama, then-President-elect Trump and Gang of Eight congressional leaders in January, cited a Kremlin official as saying that the Kremlin had sought to a relationship with certain figures in the US, including Page, and had indirectly funded some of their visits to Russia. Page denied playing a role in the Kremlin’s attempt to undermine the US election in conversations with BuzzFeed News.
“I didn’t do anything wrong…. including meeting with any of those people I’m falsely accused of in that Dodgy Dossier,” Page told BuzzFeed News in a message last month.
The state-controlled Vnesheconombank in Manhattan for which these Russian spies worked under unofficial cover as employees of the bank is the same bank that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner held a meeting with that he conveniently “forgot” to mention. Bank that Kushner met with paid Russian intelligence agent’s legal tab:
As federal prosecutors in New York prepared their case against a man accused of covertly working for Russian intelligence two years ago, they began raising questions about an unidentified “third party” paying the defendant’s legal bills.
The defendant’s benefactor turned out to be VneshEconomBank, the same financial institution at the center of a recent controversy over its chairman’s meeting with Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his top White House advisers.
[W]hat made the matter more complicated was that Buryakov was charged with illegally gathering intelligence on behalf of the Russian government and the Russian government owned the bank that provided his cover.
* * *
The White House said Kushner attended the meeting as a Trump adviser, not as a private developer. But VEB, in a statement provided to CNN confirming the meeting, characterized Kushner as the head of Kushner Companies, not as a representative or Trump.
The meeting will be scrutinized by congressional investigators in the ongoing probe of potential links between Trump associates and the Russian government.
Maybe by the Senate Intelligence Committee. I have serious doubts about the compromised House Intelligence Committee.