March 5, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Tell-all Plea Deal of Netanyahu's Rasputin Shakes Israeli Politics : Nir Hefetz knows where the bodies are buried when it comes to the Netanyahus. The prime minister's Hail Mary pass may have to be thrown all the way from Washington (Chemi Shalev Mar 05, 2018, Ha'aretz)

Even for a country like Israel, in which breathless breaking news occurs on a daily basis, Monday morning was quite a shocker. After 48 hours of admiring Benjamin Netanyahu's brilliant ploy of floating snap elections and thus diverting headlines away from his criminal investigations, the earth suddenly shook under his feet, the sky fell in on his head and the noose around the prime minister's neck tightened dramatically.

The news flash that Nir Hefetz - Netanyahu's longtime confidant, journalist turned media adviser and all-round Rasputin-Haldeman-Stephen Miller kind of guy - has become a state witness sent tremors throughout the Israeli media, politics and judicial system. If his plea bargain bears fruit, many people believe it will be nothing less than an earthquake.

Holy metaphor blizzard!

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Former Trump Campaign Aide on Mueller Probe: The President 'May Have Done Something During the Election' (David Rutz, March 5, 2018, Daily Beacon)

"I'm not going to go to jail," Nunberg said when asked by Tur if he thought he would be held in contempt for publicly snubbing the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

"What you're doing is surprising to say the least, but you sat there in that room being questioned by Mueller's investigators," Tur said. "I want to hear directly from you. Do you think that they have something on the president?"

"I think they may," Nunberg said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Behold Vladimir V. Potemkin (ANTONY J. BLINKENMARCH 5, 2018, NY Times)

[H]aving put his finger in the dyke, Mr. Putin can't remove it or Mr. Assad will drown. So Russia is stuck in the middle of multiple conflicts it cannot control -- between the Assad regime and the rebels; between Turkey and the Kurds; between American-led coalition forces and the Islamic State; between Israel, Syria and Iran; between Sunni and Shiite. This Rubik's cube of conflicting interests makes partners on one front adversaries on another.

Far from abating, Syria's civil war is raging -- slowly but surely becoming more lethal to Russia's forces, more damaging to its reputation, and more of a drain on its resources. Moscow is fully complicit in Mr. Assad's murderous campaign against the primarily Sunni opposition, which has now reached new levels of depravity with the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Ghouta, a suburban area outside Damascus. Moscow's alliance with Mr. Assad and Iran in slaughtering Sunnis risks alienating Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Turkey. It also will inflame Russia's own Sunni Muslim population and their brethren in Central Asia and the Caucasus, lighting the fuse for more terrorism directed at Moscow. [...]

Worse, his intervention in Eastern Ukraine has precipitated many of the very developments Mr. Putin sought to prevent.

NATO is more energized than it has been in years -- not because of President Trump's browbeating, but in response to Mr. Putin's aggression. The alliance now has forces on regular rotational air, land and sea deployments along Russia's border, and its budget is increasing, in part with a sustained infusion of funds from the United States. The European Union has revived the idea of strengthening its own defense capacity, spurred on by Mr. Putin's threats and Mr. Trump's rhetorical retreat from America's commitment to Europe's defense. Europeans are getting more serious about energy security. They are multiplying new routes, connections and sources for fuel and renewable power. That's making it harder for Mr. Putin to use oil and gas as strategic levers. American-led sanctions, despite Mr. Trump's reluctance to impose them, have done real, sustained damage to Russia's economy.

As for keeping Russia's fist on Ukraine's future, Mr. Putin has managed to alienate the vast majority of its citizens for generations. Systemic corruption is now a bigger bar to Ukraine's European trajectory than is Moscow.

Mr. Putin embarks on foreign adventures in part to distract his people from Russia's putrefaction at home. Reform is stagnant. The single-cylinder economy can't break its addiction to energy. Corruption and kleptocracy are all-corrosive. The population is aging and declining. The opposition is repressed but resilient.

You got played.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Escort Says Audio Recordings Show Russian Meddling in U.S. Election (RICHARD C. PADDOCK, MARCH 5, 2018, NY Times)

Her assertion could be easy to disregard were it not for a 25-minute video investigation posted last month on YouTube by the Russian opposition figure Aleksei A. Navalny, which relies heavily on videos and photographs from Ms. Vashukevich.

She and nine people from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus were arrested late last month in Pattaya, a city about 70 miles south of Bangkok known for its adult entertainment scene. Most of those arrested, including Ms. Vashukevich, 21, who also goes by the name Nastya Rybka, are accused of working without a permit. Some are also accused of not having a valid Thai visa.

Ms. Vashukevich and Alexander Kirillov, the organizer of the sex seminar, spoke to three reporters while standing behind bars and a mesh screen during visiting hours at the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok. Immigration officials stopped the interviews midway and told the reporters to leave the facility.

Ms. Vashukevich, wearing a bright green T-shirt with the word "detainee" in Thai, is a long way from the days she spent sailing on a yacht with Mr. Deripaska and his friends, including Sergei E. Prikhodko, a deputy prime minister.

According to her version of events, she was working for a modeling agency when she and several other models were sent to spend time on Mr. Deripaska's yacht. She later posted photographs and videos on social media showing Mr. Deripaska and Mr. Prikhodko together on the yacht.

Financial records show that companies controlled by Mr. Manafort owed millions of dollars to Mr. Deripaska. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Manafort offered to give Mr. Deripaska private briefings on the campaign.

Mr. Navalny charged in his video that Mr. Deripaska's yacht trip was an attempt to bribe Mr. Prikhodko, and that Ms. Vashukevich was one of "several" prostitutes aboard the vessel. In the video, the tycoon and Mr. Prikhodko can be heard discussing Russian-American relations. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Trump's Lawyer Reportedly Had Trouble Getting Reimbursed for Porn Actress Payoff. Ain't That Always the Way? (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, MARCH 05, 2018, Slate)

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Mr. Cohen said he missed two deadlines [in October 2016] to make the $130,000 payment to Ms. Clifford because he couldn't reach Mr. Trump in the hectic final days of the presidential campaign, the person said. ... After Mr. Trump's victory, Mr. Cohen complained to friends that he had yet to be reimbursed for the payment to Ms. Clifford, the people said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 AM


Democrats may have already won the House (Mike Allen, 3/05/18, Axios)

Chris Krueger, managing director of Cowen & Co.'s Washington Research Group, said he sees four "glaring red flags for the House GOP majority":

The correlation between the president's approval number and first-term midterm losses by the president's party: In the six times that the president's job approval was under 50%, the average loss was more than 43 seats. The Democrats need 24 to flip the House.

CA + PA = half-way there: California is the citadel of the resistance, which has 14 House Republicans. Between retirements, losing state-and-local tax deductions in the tax bill, and Trump's California disapproval, the Golden State could lose half its GOP delegation. The new Pennsylvania redistricting map -- and similar anti-Trump trend lines -- could cost Rs as many as six seats.  These two states get you halfway to a Democratic House.

Suburban danger zones: 2018 could make the suburbs great again for the House Democrats. The Democratic victories in last year's Virginia and New Jersey governor's races could well be the canaries in the coal mine. Remember that there are 23 House Republican seats in districts Clinton won -- and most are suburban.

Hate and corruption make for a lousy platform.
Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


State Dept. Was Granted $120 Million to Fight Russian Meddling. It Has Spent $0. (GARDINER HARRIS, MARCH 4, 2018, NY Times)

As Russia's virtual war against the United States continues unabated with the midterm elections approaching, the State Department has yet to spend any of the $120 million it has been allocated since late 2016 to counter foreign efforts to meddle in elections or sow distrust in democracy.

As a result, not one of the 23 analysts working in the department's Global Engagement Center -- which has been tasked with countering Moscow's disinformation campaign -- speaks Russian, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


"Call it chaos': Trump adrift after week of White House anarchy (David Smith, 3 Mar 2018, The Guardian)

There has been disarray in the White House before but this time, observers said, the checks and balances that have provided a modicum of restraint appear to be crumbling, leaving Trump isolated, angry and ready to lash out. It is, they fear, not inconceivable that the world's most powerful country is now being guided by instinct, by impulse, by whim and by mood swing.

"This feels like it's turned a corner and not for the better for the White House," said Rich Galen, a Republican strategist, once press secretary to Vice-President Dan Quayle.

"As layers of this onion - the people who have seniority, who he listens to and who hopefully can talk him down - unpeel, there are fewer and fewer people to do that, which means he can operate on his gut, and he doesn't have the experience to do that."

Since Trump's inauguration in January last year, there has been an ever-decreasing inner circle of trusted advisers. Back then, it seemed that three competing centres of power in the West Wing might provide a balance of sorts. [...]

In addition, it was reported by the Washington Post that officials from four foreign countries discussed ways to manipulate Kushner via his business arrangements. The New York Times said two companies made loans worth more than half a billion dollars to Kushner's family property company after executives met him at the White House. The disclosures could leave him exposed in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged collusion with Russia.

Rick Tyler, a political analyst, said: "It's appalling that anyone would leverage their time in government to enrich themselves or do personal business and Jared Kushner appears to have been doing that consistently. He ought to leave immediately. They are nothing but grifters."

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 AM


Robert Mueller's Pace Measures Up With Best Prosecutors 'In Modern History' (Carrie Johnson, 3/05/18, NPR)

"Robert Mueller's pace in this investigation really is very similar to some of the best special prosecutors in modern history," said Ken Gormley, the president of Duquesne University and the author of two books on special prosecutors.

These investigations carry special burdens: to move forward quietly, with no leaks, and quickly, to prove guilt or innocence.

"The whole point of appointing an independent counsel in these kind of instances is to deal with the fact that there's a cloud over the highest levels of the executive branch and to restore public confidence, one way or the other," Gormley said.

For many people, the model prosecutor was Archibald Cox, who investigated Watergate for a little more than a year before he was fired.

"I'm not looking for a confrontation," Cox told reporters in 1973. "I've worried a good deal through my life about the problems of imposing too much strain upon our constitutional institutions and I'm certainly not out to get the president of the United States."

During his tenure, Cox developed evidence about obstruction of justice by President Richard Nixon. The prosecutor who replaced Cox built on that work, ultimately leading to Nixon's resignation.

Gormley said the current special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, is operating in that same mold.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 AM


Special counsel wants documents on Trump, numerous campaign associates (KATY TUR and ALEX JOHNSON, 3/05/18, NBC)

Once Hicks' resignation takes effect in the next few weeks, Cohen will be the only person listed in the subpoena who hasn't left the employment of Trump or of the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 AM


Settler leader to AIPAC: Your support for two-states has 'no basis in fact' (JACOB MAGID, 3/05/18, Times of Israel)

In a combative letter to the leadership of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sent in the midst of its policy conference in Washington, a top settler leader blasted Monday the positions of the US' most powerful Israel lobby as having "no basis in fact."

Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan took particular issue with AIPAC's support for the two-state solution, asserting that the group was inaccurately claiming it to be the end-game to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that it had support from both Washington and Jerusalem.