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Forensic News Roundup: Republicans under suspicion of receiving Kremlin-linked info

August 4, 2020 7:34 am Adrienne Cobb

Foreign interference

Intelligence officials confirmed in recent days that foreign actors are actively seeking to compromise the private communications of “U.S. political campaigns, candidates and other political targets” while working to compromise the nation’s election infrastructure. Foreign entities are also aggressively spreading disinformation intended to sow voter confusion heading into the fall.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer admonished the country’s top counterintelligence official during a classified election security briefing Friday, accusing him of keeping Americans in the dark about the details of Russia’s continued interference in the 2020 campaign.

Evanina ultimately acknowledged that Russia is again trying to boost President Donald Trump’s reelection and denigrate his opponent, the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, sources who attended the briefing said. But that didn’t satisfy Democrats, who urged him to say as much publicly — and to be specific…

“What I’m concerned about is that the American people should be better informed,” Pelosi said. “Leader Schumer and I wrote to them and said, ‘tell the truth to the American people,’ and for some reason they are withholding it,” she added. “That’s what I’m concerned about.”

The conflict over intelligence stems from reports that Republicans have accepted propaganda and opposition research from pro-Russian sources… Democrats have identified Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) as the recipients of suspect intel.

Johnson, as chair of the Senate Homeland Security Cmte., has allegedly used information from at least two pro-Russia Ukrainians in his investigation into the Bidens and Burisma. The FBI warned that one of the sources, Andrii Telizhenko, “was a conduit for Russian disinformation about the Bidens.” The second source, Oleksandr Onyshchenko told The Washington Post he had shared tapes and transcripts with Johnson’s committee and Trump ally Rudy Giuliani. Onyshchenko is a former lawmaker in the now-defunct pro-Russia Party of Regions.

Nunes, Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Cmte., allegedly received information about Biden from Andrii Derkach, a Kremlin-linked Ukrainian lawmaker who has worked to foment allegations of corruption by Biden and his son Hunter. Democrats first learned that a Derkach sent Nunes anti-Biden materials when they were inadvertently sent the DHL shipping receipt. Democrats reported it to the FBI on Jan. 27. Nunes declined to tell them if he got it or what he did with it.

  • Derkach was schooled at a KGB academy in Moscow and is remembered for voting for a Kremlin-like set of anti-protest laws during Ukrraine’s 2014 political revolution. He told Politico two weeks ago that he sent the anti-Biden packets to then-White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and notified Johnson (R), Grassley (R), Graham (R), Peters (D), and Wyden (D) about the content of the materials. However, Graham, Grassley, Peters, and Wyden indicated they never received materials from Derkach.
  • Further reading: Ukrainian Operatives Are Gearing Up Again To Take On The Bidens. They Say They Have Giuliani And Republicans On Their Side.

Meanwhile, Trump’s own campaign refused to directly answer whether they are receiving or will accept foreign assistance. Jason Miller, a senior adviser on President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, called it a “silly question.” A Biden spokesman said “absolutely not” when asked if the campaign had received any materials from foreign actors.

“Can you flatly state that the Trump campaign and the administration will not accept foreign assistance this time?” host Chris Wallace pressed Miller in an interview on“Fox News Sunday.”

“Chris, I said that’s an absolutely silly question. We’re going to go and win this election fair and square,” Miller said (video).

Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, subpoenaed the State Department demanding copies of documents that Secretary Pompeo has already provided to Senate Republicans investigating Joe Biden.

“After trying to stonewall virtually every oversight effort by the Foreign Affairs Committee in the last two years, Mr. Pompeo is more than happy to help Senate Republicans advance their conspiracy theories about the Bidens,” Engel said in a statement. “I want to see the full record of what the department has sent to the Senate and I want the American people to see it too.”

  • Reminder: Sen. Wyden (D) has been requesting these documents from the State Dept. for months with no success. “To further ignore my requests is at best baseless, and at worst a partisan political act,” Sen. Wyden wrote to Pompeo last month.

An analysis by Just Security found that the State Dept. has likely broken at least two laws by providing assistance only to Republicans, meant to influence the election: It is “highly likely that one or more employees at the State Department has violated federal appropriations law barring the prohibition or prevention of a federal officer communicating with Congress.”

The president’s directive that his administration respond only to requests from Republicans is among the clearest evidence of this abuse of power. At the State Department, this policy has manifested in the agency moving mountains to cooperate with a Senate investigation aimed at damaging Trump’s political opponent while ignoring inquiries from congressional Democrats that could tarnish the president’s own political prospects.

Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Cmte. tomorrow morning. Chairman Lindsey Graham is investigating the origins of the Russia probe and the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Yates was privy to discussions about Michael Flynn and Carter Page.


Barr and Durham

Attorney General Bill Barr testified before the House Judiciary Committee last week, defending the federal response to nationwide protests and insisting that he intervened in the criminal cases of President Trump’s allies Roger J. Stone Jr. and Michael T. Flynn to uphold the rule of law, not to do Mr. Trump’s bidding.

During the hearing, Barr said he will not wait until after November’s election to release Durham’s findings, despite long-standing Justice Department policy not to announce politically sensitive new cases before an election (video). Former Pentagon Special Counsel Ryan Goodman warns that “there’s every reason to suspect Barr will soon try again to mislead” about the Russia investigation, using Durham’s report, “in an effort to skew the 2020 elections.”

…we’re confident in this: Barr will likely distort those conclusions in a way favorable to President Trump’s political ambitions. That goal seems to have driven Barr’s public anticipation of “developments” from Durham “before the end of the summer” — that is, in time to influence the November election.

Background: Last year, Barr appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to examine the FBI’s 2016 investigation into President Trump’s campaign.

Reports indicate that Durham’s investigative portfolio has repeatedly expanded and now also extends to leaks viewed as harmful to the start-up of the Trump administration, to the unmasking of Michael Flynn, to activities in Ukraine that almost certainly include alleged activities of Hunter Biden, and, more broadly, to the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC)’s assessment that Russia affirmatively sought to help Trump win the presidency in 2016.

Further reading: Here Are the 4 Most Misleading Statements From Bill Barr’s Contentious House Testimony.


Trump’s grift

Manhattan D.A. Vance suggested in court filings that Trump is under investigation for possible bank and insurance fraud. Vance argues that his subpoena has a wide legal basis due to “public reports of possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization.”

A New York Times investigation two years ago found a trail of phony records used in what the newspaper described as clear fraud. Trump has reportedly collected phony hurricane damages. ProPublica has uncovered massive discrepancies between the figures Trump has given to lenders and the government, portraying himself as rich to the banks and poor to the government, thus defrauding either one or both.

The president released his annual financial disclosure report last week, revealing the Trump Organization made at least $446.3 million in 2019 (up more than 2 percent from $434.9 million, in 2018). The president reported assets worth at least $1.35 billion, down narrowly from 2018 and 2017. Note that the disclosure document is not vetted or audited.

  • Trump takes in a nearly $78,000 pension from the Screen Actors Guild, claims to earn between $100,000 and $1 million from his book “The Art of the Deal,” and continues to pull in earnings from the reality show “The Apprentice.”
  • In a footnote, the filings indicates that the Office of Government Ethics requested a listing denoting Rudy Giuliani’s services as a lawyer for Trump during the impeachment proceedings. “Although we did not believe and do not believe that any pro bono publico counsel is reportable as a ‘gift,’ at the request of OGE, we note that as has been widely reported in the media, Rudy Giuliani provided such pro bono publico counsel in 2018 and 2019,” the footnote reads. “In any event, Mr. Giuliani is not able to estimate the value of that pro bono publico counsel; therefore, the value is unascertainable.”

According to their disclosure forms, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner earned between $36.2 and $157 million as they served in the White House last year – a minimum combined income that was at least $7 million higher than in 2018. They reported between $203.8 million and $782.8 million in assets in 2019, compared with 2018, when they reported between $181 million and $755 million.

  • Kushner raked in as much as $3 million from projects benefiting from Trump administration initiatives in 2019, plus up to $1 million more in rent money from firms which later received COVID-related small business loans from the government.

A legal complaint filed Tuesday with the FEC alleges that the Trump campaign and fundraising committee violated the law by laundering nearly $170 million in campaign spending through firms headed by Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and other firms created by Trump campaign lawyers.

The campaign reported millions in payments–American Made and Parscale Strategy—which disbursed the funds to the campaign’s ultimate vendors. Ultimately, this hid millions in payments to companies engaged in significant work for the campaign, as well as payments to Trump family members or associates like Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle… This secrecy could also disguise other campaign finance violations, but we don’t know, because the campaign isn’t disclosing these routed payments. (CLC)

Deutsche Bank is investigating a real estate transaction involving Jared Kushner… In June 2013, Trump’s longtime personal banker banker, Rosemary Vrablic, and two of her Deutsche Bank colleagues purchased a Park Avenue apartment for about $1.5 million from a company part-owned by Kushner.

  • Further reading: Vrablic played a critical role in helping Trump obtain large loans when he should not have been approved for one.
  • Further reading: As Trump campaigns on law and order, his campaign rallies have racked up nearly $2 million in unpaid police bills.

Congress

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is investigating reports that the U.S. ambassador to Brazil asked for foreign assistance in the election. According to a prominent Brazilian newspaper, Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman pressured members of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration to lower ethanol tariffs in order to support President Donald Trump’s reelection efforts.

The House Foreign Affairs Cmte. subpoenaed four senior aides to Secretary of State Pompeo, accusing them of resisting interviews in an investigation of Trump’s firing of State Dept. IG Steve Linick. “The Administration continues to cover up the real reasons for Mr. Linick’s firing by stonewalling the Committees’ investigation and refusing to engage in good faith,” top Democrats said in a statement.

The House Oversight Cmte. has asked Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, appointed by Trump in May, to testify on Sept. 17 on changes made to the USPS. “While these changes in a normal year would be drastic, in a presidential election year when many states are relying heavily on absentee mail-in ballots, increases in mail delivery timing would impair the ability of ballots to be received and counted in a timely manner—an unacceptable outcome for a free and fair election,” the Members wrote.

  • RELATED: Trump just told us how mail delays could help him corrupt the election. Trump suggested only the votes that can be tallied on Election Day should count. But with massive mail delays, it is likely many ballots mailed on time will not arrive until after Election Day. Trump is looking to declare himself winner on Election Day, no matter how many mail ballots remain uncounted. He will say they are fraudulent. And if they tip the result against him, he will say that outcome is rigged, something he has already said publicly is inevitable.

Hidden money in relief bill: In addition to including $1.75 billion for a new FBI building in the Republican coronavirus relief bill, the White House wants $377 million to remodel the West Wing. Senate Republicans also hid $8 billion for the Pentagon in the bill, to make up for the billions Trump diverted for his border wall.

  • Further reading: The Gulf Between Republicans and Democrats on Coronavirus Aid, in 9 Charts
  • Further reading: The $600 unemployment bonuses did not lead to people working less, Yale study shows

Immigration

The Trump administration announced that it will continue to defy a federal court order compelling the full restoration of DACA. U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm’s order required DHS to let DACA beneficiaries renew their status for two years and to accept new applicants. However, DHS maintained that it would reject new DACA applicants and not accept DACA renewals.

Immigration Nation, the docuseries about ICE that the Trump administration threatened legal action to block, is now available on Netflix. Some of the contentious scenes include ICE officers lying to immigrants to gain access to their homes and mocking them after taking them into custody. One shows an officer illegally picking the lock to an apartment building during a raid.

The Trump administration’s choice for immigrant families in detention: Separate or stay together as a family in indefinite detention and risk contracting Covid-19. But in presenting this choice, the administration is ignoring a third option: releasing the families together, which it has the discretion to do at any time.

The Trump administration is dramatically increasing fees for dozens of immigration and work applications, including raising the cost of online naturalization applications from $640 to $1,160 and charging a $50 fee for asylum seekers.

The Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision along partisan lines, that Trump may move forward with his plans to build a border wall,” despite the fact that federal courts have ruled there’s no legal authority for it. The Sierra Club argued that if the temporary stay was allowed to remain in effect during a protracted court battle it would hand the Trump administration “a complete victory despite having lost in every court.”

Also:

  • An undocumented immigrant who worked for President Trump’s private company — and then spoke publicly about Trump’s longtime reliance on undocumented workers — is facing deportation proceedings
  • A Judge Blocked Trump’s “Public Charge” Policy On Immigrants During The Pandemic
  • The U.N. refugee agency is now stepping in to address a humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border, installing housing units for refugees and asylum seekers in Mexico.

There’s more…

The Census Bureau is ending all counting efforts for the 2020 census on Sept. 30, a month shorter than previously announced. With roughly 4 out of 10 households nationwide yet to be counted and already delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the bureau now has less than two months left to try to reach people of color, immigrants, renters, rural residents, and other members of historically undercounted groups.

The Trump administration announced that it would allow the sale of advanced armed drones to other nations and bypass an international weapons export control agreement that the United States helped forge more than three decades ago.

Several Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are eager to buy drones capable of carrying large payloads. Both those countries have waged a devastating air war in Yemen that has led to thousands of civilian deaths.

Trump is rolling back an Obama-era rule intended to combat historic racial discrimination in housing. By promising not to enforce the Fair Housing Act provision, Trump is sending a message to White people they can go ahead and do whatever they feel is necessary to keep Black people and Latinos from moving into their neighborhoods.

A small federal agency focused on preventing industrial disasters is on life support. Trump wants it gone. The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is without enough voting members, and its investigations are stuck in limbo.

The Trump administration is moving to restrict what land and water areas can be declared as “habitat” for imperiled plants and animals, furthering limiting the Endangered Species Act.



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