Forensic News Roundup: Unverified Russian intel spread by Fox News

October 15, 2020 6:32 am By

Fox News: Russian laundromat

The Trump administration has been using conservative outlets like Fox News to launder unverified Russian intelligence intended to denigrate Democratic officials and candidates. In the latest instance last week, DNI John Ratcliffe declassified handwritten notes from 2016 by then-CIA Director John Brennan stating that he had briefed President Obama on Russian activities, including a reference to Hillary Clinton’s campaign attempting to “vilify Donald Trump.” Fox News was the first to publish the notes.

Brennan accused Ratcliffe of selectively declassifying documents in order to “advance the political interests” of Trump ahead of the election:

“These were my notes from the 2016 period when I briefed President Obama and the rest of the national security council team about what the Russians were up to and I was giving examples of the type of access that the US intelligence community had to Russian information and what the Russians were talking about and alleging,” he added.

Ratcliffe has approved the release of even more information meant to assist Trump, including “a large binder full of documents” he gave to the Justice Department. “At my direction, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has provided almost 1,000 pages of materials to the Department of Justice in response to Mr. Durham’s document request,” Ratcliffe confirmed.

There is nothing illegal about the actions allegedly taken by the Clinton campaign, as detailed in the released documents. As Lawfare explains, the declassified memo originated from the CIA’s Counterintelligence Mission Center:

Importantly, it is not a crimes report. Rather, as the name suggests, the purpose of a CIOL is to pass operational leads to the FBI for counterintelligence purposes. In this case, the CIA had information indicating that a hostile foreign intelligence service may have spied on a U.S. presidential campaign. Even if the intelligence was questionable, it still presented a significant counterintelligence risk—which is why, as Ratcliffe’s letter says, it was reported to the FBI…

Meanwhile, Trump tweeted that he has authorized the release of every document related to the “Russian Hoax” and the “Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. Tweet. He then added:

All Russia Hoax Scandal information was Declassified by me long ago. Unfortunately for our Country, people have acted very slowly, especially since it is perhaps the biggest political crime in the history of our Country. Act!!!

  • In an interview on Fox News a couple of days later, Trump expressed displeasure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had not yet released the emails deleted from Clinton’s private server: “She said she had 33,000 e-mails…They’re in the State Department, but Mike Pompeo has been unable to get them out, which is very sad actually. I’m — I’m not happy about him for that, that reason. He was unable to get — I don’t know why. You’re running the State Department and you get them out.” (clip)
  • The very next day, Pompeo appeared on Fox News to assert: “We’ve got the emails, we’re getting them out.” Asked if they would be released before the election, he said, “I certainly think there’ll be more to see before the election.” (clip)

Buzzfeed News took Trump’s tweets to a judge to gain the release of the entire unredacted Mueller report before Election Day. US District Judge Reggie Walton directed the Justice Department to “confer with the White House” and report back to the court the “official position regarding the declassification and release to the public of information related to the Russia investigation.”


Durham probe

For the second straight week, the media is reporting the Durham investigation will not produce a report prior to the election. Last week, AG Bill Barr reportedly told top Republicans that they should not expect any further indictments or a comprehensive report before Nov. 3.

Trump publicly attacked Barr for what he sees as the slow progress of the Durham probe. “I think it’s a terrible thing. And I’ll say it to [Barr’s] face…See, this is what I mean with the Republicans. They don’t play the tough game,” Trump told Rush Limbaugh on Friday.

  • Earlier in the week, Trump sent an all-caps tweet calling for the arrests of his political rivals: “DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS, THE BIGGEST OF ALL POLITICAL SCANDALS (IN HISTORY)!!! BIDEN, OBAMA AND CROOKED HILLARY LED THIS TREASONOUS PLOT!!! BIDEN SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED TO RUN – GOT CAUGHT!!!” Trump tweeted.

Court cases

A three-judge Appellate Court panel ruled that Manhattan D.A. Vance can enforce a subpoena seeking President Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns. The panel was made up of two Clinton-appointees and an Obama-appointee. Trump’s attorneys are expected to appeal to the Supreme Court.

They concluded that the president did not show that Mr. Vance had been driven by politics. “None of the president’s allegations, taken together or separately, are sufficient to raise a plausible inference that the subpoena was issued out of malice or an intent to harass,” they wrote.

Prominent Trump and GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy was charged with conspiring to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Prosecutors say Broidy accepted $6 million from a foreign client to lobby administration officials to end a federal investigation related to the looting of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, known as 1MDB. The court filing also accuses Mr. Broidy of seeking the extradition of a Chinese citizen from the United States.

  • Note that Barr received a waiver to participate in the investigation of 1MDB despite his former law firm’s involvement in the case. Steve Bannon was arrested earlier this year on a yacht belonging to one of the individuals tied up in the case, as well.

Trump appeals order to continue Census count to the Supreme Court. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court order allowing the 2020 count to continue through October. The administration has asked SCOTUS to put an immediate hold on the injunction while it appeals.

The Supreme Court punted a decision on access to abortion, keeping open the option of revisiting the case at a later date. The Trump administration asked the high court to require women seeking the drugs for medication abortions to visit a doctor’s office or clinic. The order was unsigned but Justices Alito and Thomas declared their approval of the administration’s request in a separate filing.

“While COVID-19 has provided the ground for restrictions on First Amendment rights, the District Court saw the pandemic as a ground for expanding the abortion right recognized in Roe v. Wade,” wrote Alito and Thomas.

Other court cases to note:

  • Lawyers for E. Jean Carroll asked a judge to block the DOJ from intervening to represent Trump in her defamation lawsuit against the president. Her lawyers say the law in question, the Federal Tort Claims Act, does not apply to Trump — or to any other president. They also said that Trump, in any case, was not acting in his official role when he denied Carroll’s claims. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Oct. 21.
  • The DOJ admitted to “inadvertently” producing altered versions of notes from former FBI officials McCabe and Strzok that were turned over to Michael Flynn’s defense team and filed to the court as potentially exculpatory evidence. As Marcy Wheeler explains, this explanation doesn’t match all the evidence.
  • Court-appointed adviser John Gleeson, a retired judge, urged District Judge Emmet Sullivan to take the president’s comments about the case into account when making a decision about whether or not to grant the Flynn-DOJ joint effort to permanently end the prosecution. Gleeson notes that Trump’s tweets provide evidence of political pressure to drop the case against Flynn: Trump successfully pressured the DOJ to “create a new set of rules that only apply to Michael Flynn and will never apply to anyone else.”
  • A federal judge in California has ordered that Twitter reveal the identity of an anonymous user who allegedly fabricated an FBI document to spread a conspiracy theory about the killing of Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer who died in 2016.

Administration

Voice of America: Five suspended officials at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) are suing the agency, its new CEO and several of his most senior aides, alleging they are breaking the law — routinely — in pursuing a pro-Trump agenda for the Voice of America news service.

David Kligerman, who has been suspended from his position as general counsel of the agency by Pack, told NPR that the case was necessary to get the courts to enforce the firewall. (He is not a party to the case, though he is cited in it as a whistleblower harmed by Pack’s actions.) Kligerman and the five plaintiffs jointly filed a whistleblower complaint late last month, alleging Pack sought to oust them under a pretext of “security concerns” because they challenged his intrusion into journalistic decision-making.

  • Reminder: CEO Michael Pack, an ally of Steve Bannon, started his tenure by firing the heads of four organizations under USAGM. He then refused to renew the U.S. visas of more than 70 foreign journalists who work for VOA, vaguely accusing some of them of being spies. Pack tried to fire the board of the Open Technology Fund, an organization that supports Internet freedom initiatives, but a court blocked the terminations. Nevertheless, Pack succeeded in cutting off a large portion of its funding, forcing the non-profit to suspend over 80% of its projects. Finally, Pack ordered two political operatives he installed as his aides to investigate Steve Herman, the VOA White House bureau chief who reported on Pence’s disregard for masks, for anti-Trump bias.

Bureau of Land Management: William Perry Pendley, head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is refusing to leave his position after a judge ruled he is illegally serving as chief. “I have the support of the president,” he told the Wyoming Powell Tribune. “I have the support of the secretary of the interior and my job is to get out and get things done to accomplish what the president wants to do.”

CIA appointment: Bert Mizusawa, a retired major general who served as an advisor to Trump’s 2016 campaign, was quietly installed in a senior advisory role at the CIA earlier this year. The move is spurring discussion among some former agency officials, who say the arrangement is highly unusual.

“An outsider with no internal sponsorship?” said one of the former officials. “That never happens.”

…Trump allies outside the administration have signaled frustration with Haspel in recent weeks, accusing the CIA chief of blocking the declassification of documents relevant to the investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia that they view as exculpatory.

Trump has appointed Justin Peterson to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, sparking conflict of interest allegations. Peterson previously represented hedge fund bondholders pushing the board to pay them billions of dollars. Rep. Nydia Valazquez (D-NY): “As a member of the Board, Peterson would have a critical say in how to restructure the Island’s debt, but his coziness with bondholders is a serious red flag and a clear conflict of interest.”

A hate group employee is now leading diversity & inclusion efforts in the Department of Education. Weeks ago, Sarah Parshall Perry was defending J.K. Rowling on the Family Research Council podcasts. Now, Betsy Devos has bought Perry aboard to oversee inclusivity within the DOE.


Trump money

NYT revealed that Trump “engineered a sudden windfall” in 2016, moving over $21 million from a Vegas hotel Trump owns with billionaire Phil Ruffin, through other Trump companies, to his campaign.

“If Trump took out a bank loan in the LLC’s name for the purpose of financing his election, then the Trump campaign violated its legal reporting requirements by failing to disclose the loan, and failing to disclose that Trump’s Vegas property was used as collateral.”

The Times also reported that the LLC in question–Trump Las Vegas Sales and Marketing–claimed a deduction on the payment made to Trump in 2016. If the $30 million loan was, in fact, used to finance the president’s then-money-starved campaign, the potential criminality would be amplified.

In an apparent quid pro quo, Ruffin asked Trump for a favor after his inauguration: revive the high speed train project to bring gamblers from California to the Vegas strip. The Obama administration considered but turned down a $5.5 billion loan for the train. This past March, the Trump administration approved the project.

Among the train’s chief beneficiaries will be Mr. Ruffin and the other grandees of gambling who became a vital font of political money for Mr. Trump when he needed it most. And, of course, Donald Trump himself.

Another NYT report showed that Trump “reinvented” the swamp after he took office, setting up an extensive quid pro quo network with private businesses and special interests. Over 200 companies, special-interest groups, and foreign governments patronized Trump’s properties while reaping benefits from him and his administration.

Just 60 customers with interests at stake before the administration brought the Trump Organization nearly $12 million during the first two years of Mr. Trump’s presidency, The Times found. Almost all saw their interests advanced, in some fashion, by the president or his government.

…During Mr. Trump’s campaign and the months leading up to his inauguration, the in-house magazine at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida announced nearly 100 new members, a number of whom had significant business interests in Washington. The tax records show that in 2016 alone, the club’s initiation fees delivered close to $6 million in revenue.

…More than 70 advocacy groups, businesses and foreign governments threw events at the properties that had previously been held elsewhere, or created new events that drove dollars into Mr. Trump’s business.

Donors also paid for the privilege of giving money to his campaign and super PAC. Mr. Trump attended 34 fund-raisers held at his hotels and resorts, events that brought them another $3 million in revenue. Sometimes, he lined up his donors to ask what they needed from the government.

Trump claimed a $21 million tax break for leaving the woodland surrounding his New York mansion undeveloped, a figure inflated by what appears to be a fraudulent appraisal. The value of the 212-acre estate was based on the premise that Trump could build and sell 24 manions on the land. However, building anything on that property was impossible, due largely to objections by neighbors. Trump was paid by the government not to build mansions that he never could have built, in other words.

In addition to the conservation easement tax break, Trump in 2014 also classified Seven Springs as an investment property, rather than a personal residence, and wrote off $2.2 million in property taxes as a business expense, the New York Times recently reported.

Trump’s family members have described the home as a family retreat in the past, and the Trump Organization’s website still characterizes Seven Springs that way. “Today, Seven Springs is used as a retreat for the Trump family,” the website says.

Trump’s adult children have brough at least $238,000 of taxpayer money into the Trump Organization by traveling to their family properties with Secret Service. “The president’s company billed the U.S. government hundreds, or thousands, of dollars for rooms agents used on each trip, as the agency sometimes booked multiple rooms or a multiroom rental cottage on the property,” WaPo reports.

The records also show about $29,000 in federal payments to Trump properties that related to travel by Donald Trump Jr. Trump Jr. stayed repeatedly at the Trump hotel in Washington — just blocks from his father’s residence at the White House…

In the records obtained by The Post, travel by Ivanka Trump and her family accounted for more than $42,000 in federal payments to Trump properties. Much of that total came this spring, after Ivanka Trump had urged other Americans not to travel.

US taxpayers picked up the tab for billionaire US ambassador’s stay at Donald Trump’s Scottish resort. The billionaire US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, ran up a bill to US taxpayers totalling more than £1,000 in a single day while staying at Donald Trump’s flagship Scottish hotel and golf resort.

American Oversight, a non-partisan, non-profit ethics watchdog: “That Donald Trump uses his office and American tax dollars to prop up his failing businesses is widely known and shameful. That the US ambassador to the UK would use taxpayer money to play golf is simply embarrassing.”


Immigration

Border wall: The Ninth Circuit on Friday ruled that President Donald Trump’s allocation of military funds for construction of his border wall was illegal. In a 2-1 ruling, the three-judge panel lifted a stay on a lower court order, thus putting an immediate stop to all border wall construction. The one dissenting judge was Daniel Collins, a Trump appointee.

Family separation 1.0: Former AG Jeff Sessions and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein led the push to prosecute all undocumented immigrants even if it meant separating children from their parents.

[Rosenstein told] the five prosecutors that it did not matter how young the children were. He said that government lawyers should not have refused to prosecute two cases simply because the children were barely more than infants.

Family separation 2.0: Customs and Border Protection touted agents’ “rescue” of a Honduran woman who just gave birth. What border officials didn’t mention was that, hours after their purported rescue, they separated the Honduran immigrant from her newborn and detained her pending possible removal.

  • “They told her she was going to be sent back to Mexico without her baby,” said Amy Maldonado, who is legally representing the mother.

Detention: Inside the US Marshals’ Secretive, Deadly Detention Empire: Due in large part to Trump’s aggressive immigration policies, the Marshals population is approaching historic highs. About two-thirds of all prosecutions between October 2018 and April 2019 were related to immigration crimes.

Deportation: ICE officials have started to implement a policy that allows officers to arrest and rapidly deport undocumented immigrants who have been in the US for less than two years – all without a hearing in front of a judge.


Further reading

Eric Trump has canceled a Michigan based campaign event scheduled to take place Tuesday at Huron Valley Guns in New Hudson after one of its former employees was linked to the domestic terror plot against the state’s governor.

The Justice Department has suspended all diversity and inclusion training in every division, including for immigration judges that regularly hear cases of persecution based on religion, LGBT status, and gender.

Wisconsin Judge Upholds Statewide Mask Mandate

Michigan High Court Strikes Down Governor’s Covid Emergency Orders

A U.S. government watchdog agency is faulting the Trump administration’s handling of a COVID-19 relief effort that awarded energy companies breaks on payments for oil and gas extracted from public lands in Western states in more than 500 cases2

The California Secretary of State and Department of Justice have sent a cease and desist order to the California Republican Party to remove unofficial ballot drop boxes placed in at least three counties.

In a ruling issued late Monday night, a federal appeals court upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that limited counties to one mail-in ballot drop-off location. All three judges on the 5th Circuit panel were appointed by Trump.



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