Search result for 'jared kushner'.


Is Jared Kushner the Real Weakest Link?

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Trump Maladministration

Michael Flynn is refusing to honor a Senate subpoena and is pleading the Fifth, a whole lot of news sources are saying. One suspects Flynn is guilty of something. One also suspects the “something” could implicate the Trump Administration.  Trump’s association with Flynn could bring him down, yet. Whatever he’s hiding from the Senate likely will come out eventually. (Do read this Politico piece on Robert Mueller; it will make you feel better.)

However, there’s someone else is the Trump Administration being looked at. There are credible reports that a senior White House adviser close to the so-called president has become a “person of interest” to the Justice Department. And there’s a lot of speculation that PoI is Jared Kushner.

Now WaPo and other sources are reporting that Kushner has kept 90 percent of his real estate holdings, which likely puts him at odds with ethics rules.

Kushner, 36, who is emerging as a singularly powerful figure in the Trump White House, is keeping nearly 90 percent of his vast real estate holdings even after resigning from the family business and pledging a clear divide between his private interests and public duties.

The value of his retained real estate interests is between $132 million and $407 million and could leave him in a position to financially benefit from his family’s business. …

… It is not clear from Kushner’s financial filings whether any of his holdings might intersect with his broad and evolving responsibilities in the White House. This week, Kushner has been close by the president during the administration’s first international trip, with stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Belgium and Italy.

Kushner rejected a request by The Washington Post to review his ethics agreement with the White House, which would lay out the topics that he has pledged to avoid because of concerns about conflicts of interest. White House officials have said that it is a long-standing policy for the agreements to remain confidential.

Let’s review some other recent Jared Kushner news —

March 27: Senate Committee to Question Jared Kushner Over Meetings With Russians.

March 28: Russian banker who met with Jared Kushner has ties to Putin

April 6: Kushner Omitted Meeting With Russians on Security Clearance Forms

Given the Kushner family history as a pack of opportunistic grifters, odds are very long that baby-faced Jared couldn’t pass an ethics whiff test in a Chanel No. 5 factory.

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Who’s the Turkey Now? Jared’s Wings Clipped

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Trump Maladministration

This should cheer you up. Gabriel Sherman writes for Vanity Fair:

When Donald Trump appointed John Kelly as chief of staff in July, the four-star Marine general arrived with a mandate to bring order to a freewheeling West Wing. Gone are the days of staffers waltzing into the Oval Office to lobby the president on policy or supply him with gossip. Trump still tweets, of course, but for the most part Kelly’s cleanup has been successful, according to interviews with a half dozen Trump advisers, current and former West Wing officials, and Republicans close to the administration. The aide who has ceded the most influence in the Kelly era, these people said, is Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.“Kelly has clipped his wings,” one high-level Republican in frequent contact with the White House told me.

It’s perhaps hard to remember now, but it wasn’t long ago when Trump handed Kushner a comically broad portfolio that included plans to reinvent government, reform the V.A., end the opioid epidemic, run point on China, and solve Middle East peace. But since his appointment, according to sources, Kelly has tried to shrink Kushner’s responsibilities to focus primarily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And even that brief appears to be creating tensions between Kushner and Kelly. According to two people close to the White House, Kelly was said to be displeased with the result of Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia last month because it took place just days before 32-year-old Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman arrested 11 Saudi royals, including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin TalalThe Washington Postreported that Kushner and M.B.S., as the prince is known, stayed up till nearly 4 a.m. “planning strategy,” which left Kelly to deal with the impression that the administration had advance knowledge of the purge and even helped orchestrate it, sources told me. (Asked about this, Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, in part: “Chief Kelly and Jared had a good laugh about this inquiry as nothing in it is true.”)

And, of course, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is really credible. See also Margaret Hartmann at New York magazine, “Kushner’s White House Role Was Significantly Reduced — But Not Fast Enough.”

Robert Mueller also has a special interest in Mr. Ivanka. Esme Cribb writes for Talking Points Memo:

Investigators working for Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, are looking into contacts between White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and foreign heads of state, the Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, that Mueller’s investigators have questioned witnesses about Kushner’s involvement in a United Nations resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in disputed territories.

A day before the United Nations security council unanimously passed the resolution, Trump said it “should be vetoed.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Kushner and Trump’s former chief adviser Steve Bannon were both involved in Israeli officials’ outreach to Trump’s administration regarding the resolution.

And also:

Investigators are also making inquiries about Kushner’s meeting in December 2016 with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian state-owned bank that has deep connections to Russia’s intelligence agency, according to the report. The United States added the bank in question, Vnesheconombank, to its list of sanctioned entities in 2014.

Natasha Bertrand wrote for Business Insider:

Mueller’s team has reportedly questioned witnesses about some of Kushner’s conversations and meetings with foreign leaders during the transition, when he famously hosted former Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at Trump Tower and asked whether it would be possible to set up a backchannel line of communication to Moscow.

Kislyak then orchestrated a meeting between Kushner and the CEO of Russia’s Vnesheconombank, Sergei Gorkov, who was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in January 2016 as part of a restructuring of the bank’s management team, Bloomberg reportedlast year.

The Kremlin and the White House have provided conflicting explanations for why Kushner met with Gorkov. Reuters reported earlier this year that the FBI is examining whether Gorkov suggested to Kushner that Russian banks could finance Trump associates’ business ventures if US sanctions were lifted or relaxed.

See also “Jared’s Got Some ‘Splainin’ to Do.”

I’ll be hanging out with family for the next couple of days but will try to check in, WiFi access willing. Have a lovely Thanksgiving.

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Jared’s Got Some ‘Splainin’ to Do

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Trump Maladministration

Jared Kushner, May 2017:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

Jared Kushner, July 2017:

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, denied in a statement Monday that he suggested setting up a “back channel” communication line to the Kremlin that would bypass US intelligence agencies and persist after Trump was inaugurated.

But Kushner acknowledged in the statement, which came ahead of a closed-door appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, that he asked Russia’s ambassador to the US in December whether the Trump transition team could use Russia’s embassy to communicate privately with Moscow about Syria.

Jared Kushner, November 2017:

The President’s son-in-law and trusted adviser Jared Kushner failed to provide Senate investigators with emails he was forwarded about WikiLeaks and an invitation to contact Russia through a “backdoor,” two senior lawmakers claim.

In a letter to Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell, Senator Chuck Grassley and Senator Dianne Feinstein reveal that Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.” …

The Senate lawmakers say they know of the existence of the documents from other witnesses in their investigation. Yet Kushner, who says he is cooperating, has not produced them.

“There are several documents that are known to exist but were not included in your production. For example, other parties have produced September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks, which Мr. Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official,” the letter reads. “Likewise, other parties have produced documents concerning а “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” which Mr. Kushner also forwarded.”

It’s not clear from the article exactly what happened when or who issued the invitation to Kushner, although it may have been Sergei Millian, a Russian-American businessman who may be one of the sources included in the Steele dossier. But it certainly sounds like the backdoor-backchannel thing was something Kushner at least tried to set up.

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Another Jared-Russian Connection

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Trump Maladministration

The drips, they keep dripping. Jared Kushner is in trouble with the Senate Judiciary Committee over emails he received and forwarded but did not disclose.

 

In the letter, Grassley and Feinstein instruct Kushner’s team to turn over “several documents that are known to exist” because other witnesses in their probe already gave them to investigators. They include a series of “September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks,” which the committee leaders say Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official. Earlier this week, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. revealed that he had had direct communication with WikiLeaks over private Twitter messages during the campaign.

Committee leaders said Kushner also withheld from the committee “documents concerning a ‘Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ ” that he had forwarded to other campaign officials. And they said Kushner had been made privy to “communications with Sergei Millian” — a Belarusan American businessman who claims close ties to the Trumps and was the source of salacious details in a dossier about the president’s 2013 trip to Moscow — but failed to turn those records over to investigators.

See also The Senate Judiciary Committee sent Jared Kushner a big request for documents he has refused to provide.

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Kushner Money Blues

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Big Bill, Trump Maladministration

There’s a must-read report at Bloomberg News about the Kushner family finances. Executive summary: You think you have money problems? Boy howdy, you do not want to be them.

Here’s the story: Back in 2007, the Kushners bought a big ugly building on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan — 666 Fifth Avenue, in fact — that they couldn’t afford.

A kingmaker in New Jersey Democratic politics, Kushner had been out of prison just three months for making illegal campaign contributions and, in a bizarre episode that the tabloids couldn’t get enough of, hiring a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law. He wanted a prestige Manhattan property to mark a fresh start for the family business, which would now be led, if mostly in appearance, by his eldest child, Jared Kushner, who frequently consulted his father. Charlie had recently been turned down for towers including the Seagram Building. He saw securing Tishman’s property as a way to plant his flag.

Over the weekend, the Kushners and their partners worked out a deal in which they would put down $50 million—a pittance. Barclays Bank Plc and UBS Group AG funded $1.75 billion of the purchase, $535 million of it in short-term, high-interest loans. The terms were demanding, bordering on untenable. Nevertheless, after the deal closed in January 2007, the group celebrated with a party at one of the most expensive restaurants in New York, Per Se. Everyone there was given a pair of silver cufflinks fashioned in the embossed look of the building’s exterior.

Note the date, 2007. Then came 2008. And the Kushners were stuck with this turkey.

At 1.5 million square feet, the 1950s building ranks nowhere near the largest of New York skyscrapers. Its low ceilings and closely built columns give it a dark, closed-off feel—anathema in the era of light-filled open-plan offices.

“If that building was beginning to look obsolete at the time of purchase, it is totally obsolete now,” says Jesse Keenan, a Harvard lecturer on architecture who wrote a 2013 report on the building for Kushner Cos. He notes that Manhattan is in the midst of its largest office-construction boom since the 1980s. The most prestigious occupants—hedge funds, private equity and law firms—are moving west to new buildings, shifting the center of gravity away from the Kushners.

Since the purchase there’s been some refinancing and some share selling, but the bottom line is that the Kushner company still holds half of a $1.2 billion mortgage, on which it hasn’t paid a cent, and the full amount is due in February 2019.  See, aren’t you glad you aren’t them?

And they’ve got this big turkey of a building that they probably couldn’t sell for that much. One guy they approached to help bail them out more or less said that the lot was worth more than the building.

Among other plans, the Kushners thought they might gut and renovate the building, turning it into luxury condominiums and high-end retail space. People who were asked to invest in this idea turned it down, saying that the potential return didn’t justify the cost. The New York luxury-retail market is already close to being saturated, apparently.

No American financiers would work with them, so the Kushners have been shopping abroad for someone to take some of the financial load off their hands. This was going nowhere, either, until Trump won the election. Suddenly, people would at least take meetings. The problem is that the thing is such an obvious money-loser that no honest investor wants to have anything to do with it. And those entities that might have other motives for dumping a ton of cash into a building owned by the president’s son-in-law have been frightened off by the scrutiny surrounding Kushner. Chinese and Saudi companies that nearly bought in earlier this year have backed out already.

On top of that, a lot of the Kushner family’s other projects aren’t doing much better, as CNN reported recently. Remember the time they got caught selling visas in China? That was to prop up another project, One Journal Square in Jersey City. Recently a Kushner family request for a 30-year tax abatement and $30 million in city-issued bonds to keep the project alive was turned down by Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.

Fulop is a Democrat, and his political rival says the mayor didn’t support the tax break because of the political risk he faced for aligning himself with the Kushners in the past.

“This pivot away was clearly based upon Fulop’s identification of a shift in the political winds and recognition that Trump and Kushner are toxic in Jersey City,” said Bill Matsikoudis, a Democrat, who is running against Fulop in the city’s mayoral race.

I haven’t heard that the One Journal Square building project is now dead, but I suspect it is.

No one seems to be asking the obvious question — why isn’t the allegedly wealthy Trump family bailing out the Kushners? One suspects that the answer is that the Trumps are leveraged up to their eyeballs already. I trust Mr. Mueller will sort that out eventually.

The other part of this touches on Jared’s many meetings with people he shouldn’t have met with. Keep in mind that Kushner has kept 90 percent of his real estate holdings. How nervous is he getting, do you think?

Josh Marshall writes,

It was almost unquestionably this money hunt that led Kushner to meet with that chief of a Russian owned state bank during the transition – a source of many of his current troubles.

What all of this amounts to is that while Kushner has been given oversight of numerous key foreign policy issues and problems, his ‘family’ is simultaneously in a desperate hunt for money which basically has to come from abroad – from a lot of the people he meets with in his White House job. It’s like having a Secretary of State desperate for help getting money from every foreign potentate he meets with. In fact, it’s not ‘like’ that. It sort of is that.

This is, um, not good. All I’m going to say further, for now, is that we seriously need a Constitutional amendment that says presidents and their White House advisers must make complete tax returns public before general elections and also sell or place in a genuine blind trust all businesses and investments before taking office. But that’s not going to help us now.

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More on the Kushner Family Business

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Trump Maladministration

Josh Marshall has more on the Kushner family cash-in and their pitch to Chinese investors, including photo evidence that investors are being promised access to Trump.

You’ve probably heard that the Kushner family was caught over the weekend literally selling visas to immigrate to the United States in exchange for funding a $150 million dollar New Jersey real estate project. The sale itself is actually legal. It’s part of a highly controversial and widely abused program which provides visas to foreign nationals in exchange for $500,000 investments in US projects which by certain standards are judged to create jobs in impoverished or economically distressed parts of the United States. It’s become a widely abused vehicle for real estate developers looking to fund luxury development projects.

Whether Jersey City is “economically distressed” depends on who you are. There are a lot of luxury high-rise apartments there already. If you are looking for something cheaper, however, I found a 500 sq. foot third-floor walkup for a mere $1680 a month.

In other words, if you want to do something for Jersey City’s economically distressed residents, building another luxury high-rise ain’t it. That’s the biggest problem with living in the New York City area, actually. Middle- and lower-income people are squeezed to death because The Rent Is Too Damn High. Builders want to build luxury places to wealthy people, because they get more rent per square foot, and that’s all that gets built. Housing for everybody else can get downright squalid, if not nonexistent. The waiting lists for subsidized and low-cost housing are years long.

Trump – as well as the Kushner family’s connection to him – was explicitly invoked as the “key decision maker” in getting the visas. A Times reporter posted this picture of  the presentation to Twitter, which I’ve marked up to identify the people  in the slide …

You have to go to Talking Points Memo to see the photo, but it’s pretty damning.

This is needless to say, the most open and flagrant kind of monetizing of the Presidency – as bad as anyone could have imagined from the conjoined Trump/Kushner families. The fact that this ‘nationalist’, ‘crack down on illegal immigration’ White House is connected to cash for visas activities like this just adds a layer of oily crust to the corruption.

And that’s the stuff we know about. Reporters just happened to get wind of the Chinese presentation and showed up to cover it. How much are we not hearing about?

Let us not forget that Jared Kushner’s father served time in federal prison for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering. That doesn’t mean Kushner necessarily is dishonest himself, but it says something about Kushner family values.

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Waiting on the Alabama Returns

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Trump Maladministration

I just checked the news for the latest on voter turnout in Alabama. Word is that turnout is “high”; they expect about 25 percent of registered voters to vote.

WTF, Alabama? The whole country is biting its nails over this election, and the best you can do is 25 percent?

Last night at a rally Roy Moore’s wife Kayla actually said this —

Classic. In other news …

The European Parliament has accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of insider trading.

Earlier this year, Luke Ming Flanagan, an Irish politician and member of the European Parliament, the European Union’s governing body, commissioned a report on the 2008 eurozone banking crisis. The final version of this report, written by two Irish financial analysts, was presented in Brussels last week to a group of 52 European Parliament members affiliated with left-leaning parties. And it included a section covering Ross’ investment in the Bank of Ireland, in which he was a major shareholder and a member of the board of directors. The report alleges that when Ross sold off his holdings in the bank for a massive profit in 2014, he possessed inside information that the bank was relying on deceptive accounting practices to mask its losses and embellish its financial position.

You’ll have to read the article for details, which look pretty incriminating. But jeez louise, the guy cheats but still had to lie about being a billionaire. Pathetic.

How about this one — after dumping Matt Lauer, the Today Show’s ratings have gone up. Not surprised.

By now you’ve heard about the tweet Trump sent after Sen. Gillibrand called for him to be investigated for sexual assault.

Because, you know, nothing says “I’m not really a sexual predator” more than hurling sexist and demeaning insults at  women. And then, even better, deny that an obviously sexist comment was a sexist comment. Absolutely brilliant.

Elsewhere — take Steve Mnuchin. Please. Far, far away. He’s turning into one of the most annoying members of Trump’s cabinet, which is saying something. Bess Levin writes for Vanity Fair:

When Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed that more than 100 people in his department were “working around the clock” on forthcoming analysis regarding the G.O.P.’s tax plan, those he credited with “running scenarios” on the bills were surprised, given that such analysis did not, in fact exist. Their time had been spent, they told The New York Times, running models on “individual provisions or policy ideas”—a far cry from the detailed, thorough analysis that Mnuchin had repeatedly promised was right around the corner, and would definitively prove that the cuts paid for themselves. With the clock running down and the Inspector General digging into the mysterious case of the missing Treasury analysis, the former Goldman partner turned foreclosure mogul pulled through on Monday with a report clocking in at a single page and fewer than 500 words that says the Senate plan will totally pay for itself—assuming a set of circumstances that are about as likely as Jared Kushner bringing peace to the Middle East.

Seriously; the Treasury analysis is on one piece of paper, which is not nearly big enough to cover Mnuchin’s lying ass.

For real-live economists and tax experts, Mnuchin’s “analysis” is an infuriating disgrace. “The Treasury’s one-page note is a pathetic joke,” Jason Furman, a professor of Practice at Harvard Kennedy School and former Chairman of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, told me. “I feel awful for the dozens of talented Treasury economists who have worked for years developing sophisticated models for dynamic analysis and dynamic scoring only to be completely shut out of this process. Instead of doing an analysis, the Treasury Department assumed a can opener, using an assumption they made about growth in the budget they put together long before they even had a tax-reform plan. Then they mechanically calculated the consequences of that growth assumption for the budget finding that the tax cuts pay for themselves, a result that a consensus of top economists in the recent Booth survey rejected.”

And so on. Paul Krugman said,

The document was a shameless attempt to fool the public — carefully worded to imply that economic experts at Treasury (they’re still in there somewhere, maybe locked in a closet) had actually done an analysis to that effect, without explicitly saying so. In fact, there was no economic analysis; Trump officials just made up numbers that would give them the result they wanted.

Even reporters hardened to Trump administration lies seemed shocked by the brazenness of this bait-and-switch. What made Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, think he could get away with it?

And the answer is, Paul Ryan’s been getting away with fantasy numbers for years. Why not Mnuchin?

And all of our futures may hinge on bleeping Alabama. I need a drink.

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Another Foreign Policy Unforced Error: Jerusalem

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Trump Maladministration

Following Trump’s slurred announcement that the U.S. Embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem, the State Department updated its Worldwide Caution alert to be sure Americans traveling abroad know there are Terrorists Out There. Of course.

Trump had absolutely no idea why the move to Jerusalem might be problematic.

President Trump did not completely grasp the ramifications of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, several advisers told The Washington Post.

Trump wanted to seem “pro-Israel” and focused on “making a deal,” two advisers told the Post.

According to the newspaper, some administration officials voicing their support for the decision included Vice President Pence and adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law.

Others, though, advocated against the move, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Trump on Wednesday recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced plans to relocate the U.S. Embassy there.

WaPo:

The decision to shake off warnings from senior officials such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and align himself instead with prominent proponents of the move, including Vice President Pence and major donor Sheldon Adelson, underscored the president’s determination to break with past policy and keep a key campaign pledge — despite the potential risks to U.S. interests in the region and the goal of Middle East peace.  …

… Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, had supported the move from early in Trump’s candidacy, and Pence, who is to visit Israel this month, told Trump that his base would love the decision, something the president liked to hear.

An important outside voice advising Trump to make the leap was [Sheldon] Adelson’s, according to several people familiar with the two men’s conversations. At a White House dinner earlier this year, Adelson made the issue a main topic, one person said. In the months that followed, Adelson periodically asked others close to Trump what was causing the delay and expressed frustration, these people said. …

… “It’s insane. We’re all resistant,” said one Trump confidant who recently spoke to the president about it. “He doesn’t realize what all he could trigger by doing this.”

While Trump appeared to have made up his mind, he continued to solicit input, two White House officials said, even asking random acquaintances about the Middle East in recent months. Several advisers said he did not seem to have a full understanding of the issue and instead appeared to be focused on “seeming pro-Israel,” in the words of one, and “making a deal,” in the words of another.

The WaPo article goes on to say that the announcement had nothing to do with any peace process, but rather was mostly about Trump wanting to keep a campaign promise. Of course, it was a stupid promise because moving our embassy to Jerusalem helps neither Israel nor the United States.

Presidents need to be able to play multi-dimensional chess. Trump can’t manage one-dimensional tic-tac-toe without screwing it up.

Juan Cole:

Some sections of the crazy quilt that makes up the Trump administration want to push Iran back out of the Arab world and weaken it, in support of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Those actors have just been handed a big setback by Trump’s slurred and crazed announcement that he will move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognize it as the capital. …

… It isn’t that everyone doesn’t already know that Washington is on board with screwing over the Palestinians and humiliating the Arabs. But Trump just flaunted it in everyone’s face.

But let us consider the Saudi cold war with Iran. Given the open Saudi signals of cooperation with Israel against Tehran and given the Al Saud’s embrace of Trump, Riyadh is implicated in the Jerusalem decision whether they like it or not. In the propaganda wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iran just got a big boost.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani called up Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan and the two agreed that Jerusalem is the permanent capital of Palestine. Turkey is majority Sunni, while Iran is a Shiite republic. Any attempt to block Iran’s influence would have to aim at instigating bad relations between these two, among the most populous and wealthy countries in the Middle East.

Trump managed to bring Turkey and Iran together by what they called his “wrong” and “illegal” action. In fact, Rouhani called for all 56 Muslim-majority countries to make a stand against the US. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Jerusalem will always be Arab and Islamic. The country’s Leader, Ali Khamenei, also weighed in, pledging to organize the Muslim world for a response. So now the Iranians (not Arabs) are the champions of Arab nationalism, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt are supine. So Trump is helping make Iran a leader of the Muslim world. Good job.

Charles Pierce:

People who believe that the president* is a dealmaking genius—or, more precisely, the people who are paid to tell him they believe it—likely will see this move as a clever ploy to shock both sides into serious negotiations. Sensible people, however, will see this move as a man who fingerpaints with botulism. World leaders, of course, are basically aghast. Even Jared Kushner’s new pals, the Saudis, consider this a reckless idea. From Haaretz:

“Any U.S. announcement on the status of Jerusalem prior to a final settlement would have a detrimental impact on the peace process and would heighten tensions in the region,” Saudi Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman said in a statement. “The kingdom’s policy – has been – and remains in support of the Palestinian people, and this has been communicated to the U.S. administration.”

Jared Kushner is, of course, dumber than a bag of hammers, and the fact that this walking tribute to privileged cluelessness is in charge of our Middle East policy ought to scare the stuffing out of all of us. Politico reports that Kushner — who pushed for the move of the embassy — has no clue why this would jeopardize his good relations with the Saudis or threaten any negotiations regarding the Palestinians.

With the exception of Benjamin Netanyahu, world leaders have expressed strong condemnation of Trump’s move. And, truly, it was an unforced error. I’m not aware of any pressure being put on Trump to mess with the status quo. He did it because he wanted to.

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Is Mueller Closing In?

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Trump Maladministration

It sure seems so

President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations with the Russian ambassador last December, becoming the first senior White House official to pledge cooperation in the special counsel’s wide-ranging inquiry of election meddling.

Documents released as part of Mr. Flynn’s plea agreement show that his pre-inauguration discussions with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, about foreign policy were part of a coordinated effort by aides running Mr. Trump’s transition into the White House. In at least one instance, federal prosecutors say, Mr. Flynn was directed by a “very senior member” of Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team.

So what exactly did Flynn lie about?

He’s charged with lying about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on December 22nd, 2016 and on December 29th, 2016.

In the first set of conversations, Flynn apparently asked that Russia either delay or defeat a resolution in the United Nations Security Council. Flynn lied to the FBI about whether Russia ever described their response to this request to him, claiming that they did not.

In the second set of conversations, Flynn requested and received assurances that Russia would not respond strongly to President Obama’s announcement that he was placing new sanctions on Russia in retaliation for their meddling in our election. He dishonestly claimed not to remember that Russia had made these assurances to him.

In return for pleading guilty to these charges, Flynn will be expected to cooperate with the investigation. If he doesn’t do so satisfactorily those other charges, including the kidnapping charge which also implicates his son, could be reintroduced.

 Flynn did not make these contacts on his own initiative.

Flynn’s stipulation of the facts underlying his December 2016 conversations with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. At least one of those two conversations Flynn undertook at the direction of a “very senior” transition official, the stipulation says.

The documents do not say who directed Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak — a conversation Flynn later reportedly lied about to Vice President Mike Pence, a lie that was the stated reason that Trump fired Flynn in February. But Flynn’s statement, following his Friday guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with Mueller’s probe, shows that the transition team, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, was informed at every stage of his discussions with Kislyak.

Who was this “very senior” transition official who gave the order? Nobody really knows. Bloomberg speculates that it was Jared Kushner. Others are reporting that it was Trump himself.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn is expected to testify that President Trump instructed him to contact Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, according to a report by ABC News.

Flynn is saying that Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians,” ABC’s Brian Ross said Friday, just moments after Flynn entered a guilty plea for lying about his contact with Russians during the presidential transition period.

Oh, let it be true, please …

Or, it could have been Pence. Josh Marshall:

The first point to note is that Flynn was the person running the Trump foreign policy operation. That is what a modern National Security Advisor does. From everything we know, it’s what Flynn was doing in the latter months of the campaign and certainly during the transition. In other words, it’s not clear that there was anyone in the campaign who outranked Flynn on foreign policy matters. Other than the President-Elect or conceivably the Vice President-Elect, Flynn is the guy who would do the directing rather than getting direction.

Let’s walk through this again.

The “senior official” is the one who talked with Flynn about how to handle his discussions with Kislyak about the sanctions. It was the “very senior member” of the transition who specifically told Flynn to contact foreign governments about the Israel resolution at the UN. The language is very specific about the direction. “On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed FLYNN to contact officials from foreign governments…”

The ‘very’ in “very senior member” seems like an almost over the top effort to convey just who it was the prosecutors are talking about. It’s hard to see that that is not either Pence or President Trump, though it also strikes me as perhaps a bit too coy to refer to the incoming President as a member of transition team.

See also Mother Jones. And there’s more …

Flynn clearly kept the President’s team in Mar-A-Lago fully up to date about his conversations with Kislyak, in more or less real time. There were repeated calls with the “senior official” about Kislyak. Critically, after the full round of calls with Kislyak, Flynn “spoke with senior members [note the plural] of the Presidential Transition Team” about his conversations with Kislyak. …

… The clear takeaway is that basically all of Trump’s top advisors, including the President and almost certainly Vice President Pence, were in the loop about these calls even if they did not themselves speak to Flynn directly.

All this may account for why Trump’s behavior has been more erratic than usual lately.

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The Trump Campaign: Too Screwed to Collude?

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Trump Maladministration

In light of Jeff Sessions’s testimony today, I call your attention to Paul Waldman’s commentary:

Unlike his boss, who claims he possesses “one of the greatest memories of all time,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a man who gazes into the past and sees only a fog of out-of-focus associates and half-remembered events. But in his testimony today before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions may have hit on the new Trump administration defense for the Russia scandal, one that can be applied to almost any future revelation.

Its essence is that the Trump campaign was such an ungodly, bumbling mess that it was simply incapable of colluding with the Russians in their campaign to undermine Hillary Clinton, help Donald Trump get elected, and generally disrupt and discredit the American electoral system.

As weaselly a defense as that may seem, it contains a good bit of truth. With each new revelation about the campaign’s contacts with Russia, a picture is filling out. It’s one not of a well-organized collusion conspiracy, but instead of a bunch of nincompoops engaging in a kind of ongoing, ad hoc, fitful sort-of-collusion, one that involved lots of meetings, lots of emails, and lots of contacts between various Russians with Kremlin connections and people at different levels of the campaign. Whether it fits your definition of “collusion,” it was one heck of an incompetent conspiracy.

Yesterday the Atlantic published some private direct messages sent through Twitter between Julian Assange and Donald Trump, Jr.  What struck about these is that Junior seemed to have no clue what to do with Assange. Assange clearly was trying to rope Junior into collusion. Junior didn’t always respond, as if he wasn’t sure who Assange actually was, but he was too dim to have realized he should have nothing to do with Assange and did go along with some of his suggestions.

See also Charles Pierce:

To get back to Junior, however, how stupid do you have to be to get involved even marginally in something like this? Assange believes in nothing but himself. He’d sell Junior to the Somali pirates if he thought that would advantage him in some way. No game is worth that candle. And you can see how desperately WikiLeaks wanted to keep Junior on the string. (That request for the president*’s tax returns, so that WikiLeaks could publish them and thereby establish a neutral bona fides for future anti-Clinton news dumps, is positively Machiavellian—and it would’ve worked, too.) And now, in another perfectly predictable development, those emails are in the hands of congressional investigators. Apologies, again, to Eric Trump, who heretofore will be known as The Smart One.

Anyway, Paul Waldman continues:

There was the meeting that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had with Russians connected to the Kremlin on the promise of dirt about Hillary Clinton. There were the contacts multiple Trump officials like Papadopoulos and Carter Page had with Russians, and the fact that others within the Trump campaign were likely more aware of these contacts than we had been led to believe. Among other things, Papadopoulos was told that the Russians had “thousands of emails” that could prove damaging to Clinton, before the Russian hacks came to light; we still don’t know whom in the Trump campaign he relayed that juicy tidbit to. And I promise you, there will be more revealed about Michael Flynn; the fact that Trump was so incredibly eager to protect him after he left the White House is a flashing red light.

And Julia Ioffe reports on secret correspondence between Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks, which was essentially acting as an agent of the Kremlin during the campaign (and may still be to this day). Perhaps most striking, when WikiLeaks released a batch of information, it wrote to Trump Jr. suggesting that his father tweet about the revelations, which Trump did just 15 minutes later.

So to review, this appears to be what happened in that case: 1) Russia hacks the emails of Democrats, including Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. 2) Russia passes some of what it finds to WikiLeaks for public release. 3) WikiLeaks asks Trump’s son to promote the release. 4) Trump urges media to focus on WikiLeaks’ findings.

Was that a violation of the law? Maybe not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump Jr.’s defense will be, “Hey, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing!”

You know, they probably didn’t. Take Michael Flynn, for example. Today Sessions, whose infamous lack of recall suggests brain damage, had to deny that he knew anything about Flynn’s alleged plan to kidnap U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and return him to Turkey, where he is wanted to stand trial for being the “mastermind” behind an attempted political coup in 2016. In exchange for Gulen, Flynn would have been paid $15 million. And this was while Flynn was part of the Trump campaign.

Flynn brings us to another dim bulb named Steve Bannon. During the time Chris Christie was in charge of the transition, Christie wanted to keep Flynn completely away from the administration. Gov. Beachball may be an asshole, but he’s not an idiot. But Nancy Cook wrote at Politico,

But when Christie was fired from his transition perch on Nov. 11 — replaced by soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence — Flynn and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon celebrated by tossing binders full of potential personnel picks, carefully culled by Christie’s team, into trash bins with a sense of ceremonial glee.

And do we want to talk about Stephen Miller? If that boy has an IQ in triple digits I’m the Tooth Fairy. Josh Marshall wrote last week:

According to the Times, Miller is the “senior policy advisor” referenced in the Papadopoulos court documents. He was the only unnamed player still unidentified. This means that Miller was one of the top Trump advisors Papadopoulos was keeping posted on his efforts to set up meetings between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials, perhaps even (preposterous as it may seem) a meeting between Trump and Putin himself. …

… Miller came to Trump via Jeff Sessions. He was a top staffer to Sessions in the Senate. By 2016 he had risen to Communications Director. And when Sessions endorsed Trump in late February 2016 he brought Miller into the Trump circle. As a speechwriter and advisor, Miller played a key role taking Trump’s instinctive racist-nationalist politics and aligning it with the comparable policy mix Sessions had been pushing, with no great luck, in the Senate for years. Here’s an interesting look at the relationship.

We still don’t have a terribly good explanation of how Jeff Sessions got on the Russia bandwagon, how he ended up having as multiple private conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak over the course of 2016, including one private meeting in Sessions’ senate office in September. Miller seems like at least one likely conduit. At a minimum, Miller getting updated on Papadopoulos’ adventures makes it much less credible that Sessions knew nothing about the channels opening up between the campaign and Russia.

And of course, in the center of this nest of nincompoops is the Mega Moron himself, Donald Trump, who is something like a perfect storm of idiocy. “Dimmer than a 5-watt bulb,” this guy says. Bob Mueller, save us.

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