Trump: ‘Spy’ was placed in campaign ‘way earlier than the Russian Hoax’

President Trump on Friday once again made the claim that the FBI improperly spied on his presidential campaign, suggesting that the bureau used a top-secret informant to surveil his team long before it began investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“The Democrats are now alluding to the the concept that having an Informant placed in an opposing party’s campaign is different than having a Spy, as illegal as that may be,” he tweeted. “But what about an ‘Informant’ who is paid a fortune and who ‘sets up’ way earlier than the Russian Hoax?”

“Can anyone even imagine having Spies placed in a competing campaign, by the people and party in absolute power, for the sole purpose of political advantage and gain?” he wrote in a second tweet. “And to think that the party in question, even with the expenditure of far more money, LOST!”

The tweets were Trump’s latest suggestion that the FBI planted a mole within his campaign to spy on his team under the guise that his associates were being influenced by Moscow.

No evidence has emerged that the FBI spied on Trump’s campaign. The informant, identified in media reports as Stefan Halper, an American academic, reportedly met with at least three advisers on Trump’s campaign in 2016.

It is not clear whether the FBI paid the informant at all for his work.

Trump’s tweets Friday came a day after select lawmakers met with top Justice Department officials for two highly classified meetings to discuss the FBI’s use of the informant in the early months of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s role in the election.

After the meetings, congressional Democrats said they saw “no evidence” that the FBI placed a spy in the Trump campaign.

Democrats were also concerned about White House lawyer Emmet Flood’s attendance at the two meetings, with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) noting that his presence “only underscores [that] the President’s legal team expects to use information gleaned improperly from the Justice Department or the President’s allies in Congress to their legal advantage.”

[The Hill]

Russian oligarch met with Michael Cohen at Trump Tower during transition

A Russian oligarch who was questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller and recently sanctioned by the US visited President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen in Trump Tower during the presidential transition in January 2017, according to video reviewed by CNN and a person familiar with the matter.

The January 9, 2017, Trump Tower appearance by Viktor Vekselberg, which was also reported Friday by The New York Times, adds to the questions swirling over the payments to Cohen, which Mueller’s team questioned Vekselberg about after the FBI stopped his private jet at a New York-area airport earlier this year.

Vekselberg, chairman of Russian asset manager Renova Group, was accompanied at Trump Tower by Andrew Intrater, who is Vekselberg’s cousin and head of Columbus Nova. Vekselberg is Columbus Nova’s biggest client.

A person familiar with the meeting told CNN that Vekselberg and Intrater met with Cohen and discussed improving US-Russia relations. The meeting was brief, the person said, and Vekselberg was not originally expected to attend.

An attorney for Cohen did not respond immediately to a request for comment. A representative for Vekselberg also did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Intrater’s firm, Columbus Nova, paid $580,000 to Cohen for a consulting contract starting in January 2017.

Since the payments have become public, Columbus Nova has attempted to distance itself from Vekselberg, denying Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit to pay Cohen. Columbus Nova recently removed references to Renova Group from the biography of its partners. It has stated it’s a “management company solely owned and controlled by Americans,” and that it hired Cohen after Trump’s inauguration.

But the newly discovered video indicates that Vekselberg and Intrater were meeting with Cohen before that, and they were just steps away from the President-elect during the transition.

Vekselberg was questioned by FBI agents working with Mueller earlier this year about the Columbus Nova payments to Cohen, as well as more than $300,000 in donations made by Intrater to Trump’s inauguration and the Republican National Committee, sources said.

Intrater was also questioned, the sources said. Intrater’s lawyer, Richard Owens, said, “Columbus Nova has cooperated with all requests for documents and information from federal authorities.”

The questions asked of Vekselberg suggest that Mueller’s team has been examining some of Cohen’s business relationships as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Cohen’s home and office were raided last month as part of a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. In court documents, the prosecutors said at least part of their inquiry stemmed from a referral from Mueller’s office.

The US Treasury Department placed Renova Group and Vekselberg on the list of sanctioned individuals and entities last month, for activities including election interference. The sanctions prohibit Vekselberg from traveling to the US.

[CNN]

Reality

Many members of the Trump administration had worked for Vekselberg.

Makan Delrahim and David Bernhardt were registered lobbyists for Access Industries, which has direct ties to Vekselberg.

And Wilbur Ross, who served as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, where Vekselberg and many other friends of Putin “invested” (laundered) their money.

Trump Goes Off: FBI ‘Spy’ on Campaign for ‘Political Reasons and to Help Crooked Hillary Win’

President Trump took to Twitter tonight to again go off on the FBI informant at the center of the latest political controversy concerning the Trump campaign.

On Sunday, Trump demanded the DOJ look into whether “the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”

Well, within just days of that tweet, the President has already reached some conclusions:

If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn’t a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered – many times higher than normal… Follow the money! The spy was there early in the campaign and yet never reported Collusion with Russia, because there was no Collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win – just like they did to Bernie Sanders, who got duped!

[Mediaite]

Trump Rails Against ‘Failing and Crooked’ NY Times For ‘Boring’ Report on Gulf Prince Offering Campaign Assistance

President Donald Trump went on a Twitter tirade Sunday against a New York Times exposé revealing his son and other campaign officials met with a Gulf emissary who offered a hand in winning the 2016 election.

Trump blasted the report, calling the publication “Failing and Crooked,” while adding in a jab at Hillary Clinton. He contended that the report was merely “a long & boring story” showing Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation “has found nothing on Russia & me.”

But it didn’t stop there. Launching into one of his trademark tweetstorms, Trump railed against Mueller’s probe as being the work of a bunch of angry democrats, and suggested that they re-focus the investigation onto the Clinton emails.

The Times reported that during the meeting arranged by Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater, Donald Trump Jr. was assured by emissary George Nader that leaders in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were hopeful Trump would secure the election, and they wanted to help. Nader has been cooperating with the the special counsel’s investigation in recent months, CNN reported.

While Trump was quick to dismiss the report and again bash the Mueller probe, the investigation has already resulted in more than a dozen indictments along with five guilty pleas.

The president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, believes there is a chance Trump could be subpoenaed in the probe, and has begun preparing him in the event that he’s interviewed, Politico reported.

[Mediaite]

Michael Cohen Took Cash From Russian Oligarch After Election

The Daily Beast can confirm that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company controlled by Putin-aligned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The allegations were initially made Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, porn actress Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, and confirmed by a source familiar with the matter.

“How the fuck did Avenatti find out?” the source asked The Daily Beast.

According to a dossier published by Avenatti on Tuesday evening, “Vekselberg and his cousin Mr. Andrew Intrater routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC beginning in January 2017 and continuing until at least August 2017.”

The funds, Avenatti suggested, may have been used to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 hush payment made to Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump.

Intrater was also a donor to the Republican National Committee, where Cohen served as a deputy finance chairman. In June 2017, Intrater donated $35,000 to a joint fundraising committee for the RNC and Trump’s reelection campaign. He also gave a quarter-million dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee. (Previously, Intrater gave only to Democrats like Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Ted Kennedy.)

Intrater and Vekselberg have also been active investors in the U.S. technology and media sectors. Columbus Nova Technology Partners was the first and only outside investor in Gawker Media, before the company was felled by a lawsuit funded by Trump ally Peter Thiel. Columbus Nova also backed the record label of former Def Jam boss Lyor Cohen, invested in the streaming music pioneer Rhapsody, and put moneybehind a gig-economy site, a “genetic risk” firm, and a company called Tomfoolery Incorporated.

Vekselberg himself has holdings all over the world—including a 26.2 percent stake in Rusal, the aluminum producing giant owned by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch now infamous for bankrolling former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort. Both Deripaska and Vekselberg were sanctioned by the U.S. government in early April. But later that month, the U.S. Treasury Department, in effect, slow-rolled the sanctions, giving companies and individuals until late October to get out of business with Rusal, which is appealing Washington’s ruling. “Given the impact on our partners and allies, we are… extending the maintenance and wind-down period while we consider RUSAL’s petition,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

And according to The New York Times, Vekselberg was recently questioned by federal agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller. CNN reported that those queries involved the oligarch’s payments to Cohen.

While Cohen’s lawyers refused to comment on the payments, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani dismissed the news as Avenatti having foresaw the president’s Tuesday withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal—part of “one of the best days of the Trump presidency”—and simply trying to “stink it up as much as possible.”

In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, Columbus Nova’s attorney, Richard Owens of Latham & Watkins, said: “Columbus Nova is a management company solely owned and controlled by Americans. After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures. Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova’s engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue. Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else other than Columbus Nova’s owners, were involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement.”

Cohen and Trump’s lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But this development could put further pressure on President Donald Trump’s inner circle. If Avenatti’s analysis is correct and the payments violated federal banking law, then the Cohen could be in serious legal jeopardy. There are reportedly concerns in the president’s inner circle that Cohen could begin cooperating with investigators. The greater the legal jeopardy he faces, the greater pressure he will face to cooperate. And he wouldn’t be the only one; former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump campaign official Rick Gates are already cooperating with Mueller’s investigators.

Meanwhile, Avenatti is making a sport of riding Cohen in the press.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump slams Mueller Russia probe, accuses team of having ‘unrevealed conflicts of interest’

President Donald Trump on Monday railed against the federal probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, accusing special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of having “unrevealed conflicts of interest” and insisting that obstruction of justice is a “made-up phony crime.”

“The Russia Witch Hunt is rapidly losing credibility. House Intelligence Committee found No Collusion, Coordination or anything else with Russia. So now the Probe says OK, what else is there? How about Obstruction for a made up, phony crime.There is no O, it’s called Fighting Back,”

It wasn’t immediately clear what conflicts of interest Trump was referring to, although the president has repeatedly slammed the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt.” Mueller, a Republican, was appointed FBI chief by GOP President George W. Bush in 2001 and served until 2013.

The tweets come just days after a U.S. federal judge, T.S. Ellis, said he is skeptical about Mueller’s ability to bring charges against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Ellis, a Reagan appointee, hammered the special counsel’s office Friday, suggesting that the charges against Manafort have nothing to do with Russian election interference and that the special counsel is only interested in squeezing Manafort for information “that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his impeachment.”

Trump wrote in the first of two Monday morning tweets on the topic. Mueller’s team is reportedly probing whether Trump committed obstruction of justice by firing James Comey as FBI director last year.

Trump, referring to Mueller’s team, added, “The 13 Angry Democrats in charge of the Russian Witch Hunt are starting to find out that there is a Court System in place that actually protects people from injustice.”

“And just wait ’till the Courts get to see your unrevealed Conflicts of Interest!” Trump said.

Trump’s tweets, however, could also be part of a more combative legal strategy that the president’s newly reshuffled legal team is said to be taking against the Mueller probe.

Last week, Trump tapped Emmet Flood, who advised Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings, to assist in the Russia investigation after Ty Cobb, the lead White House attorney handling the probe, announced plans to retire. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a longtime Trump ally and ex-federal prosecutor in New York, also recently joined Trump’s legal team to provide advice on how to deal with the special counsel’s probe.

Mueller reportedly wants to question Trump in detail about his ties to Russia, the president’s firing of Comey and whether he tried to interfere with the investigation, according to a list of questions published by The New York Times last week.

In less than a year — Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017 — his team’s work has resulted in 19 individuals being charged with crimes. That number includes 13 Russian nationals and five people who pleaded guilty (among them Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos).

[NBC News]

Trump: We’ll put sanctions on Russia ‘as soon as they very much deserve it’

President Trump on Wednesday said his administration would levy additional sanctions on Russia “as soon as they very much deserve it.”

The comments, made at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, capped a four-day stretch of confusion over whether the Trump administration would punish Moscow for its alleged role in a recent chemical attack in Syria.

Trump began to walk away from the microphone, but returned to answer a shouted question about the sanctions. He then went on to tout his record on confronting Russia.

“There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump,” the president said, restating one of his common talking points.

He noted that he has helped raise money for NATO, as well as touted a recent military strike in Syria that was carried out in coordination with France and the United Kingdom.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haleysaid on Sunday that additional sanctions against Russia would be announced as soon as Monday in response to its alleged role in a recent chemical attack in Syria.

However, the White House said Monday that Trump had decided not to impose sanctions, contradicting Haley’s comments.

Haley quickly fired back, saying “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

Kudlow later apologized, but the incident sparked speculation that all of the Trump administration was not on the same page regarding its policy toward Russia.

Trump has faced criticism from lawmakers for being hesitant at times to speak out forcefully against Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

[The Hill]

Trump just blocked his own administration’s Russia sanctions

It appears that President Trump just blocked his own administration’s plan to sanction Russia.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, announced Sunday that the Trump administration was going to hit Russia with new sanctions on Monday over its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program in the wake of the April 7 chemical attack in Douma, Syria, that killed dozens of people. The sanctions were explicitly focused on Russian companies that deal in equipment linked to Assad’s chemical weapons program.

But just a day later, the White House backtracked, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that the administration was merely “considering additional sanctions on Russia” and that “a decision will be made in the near future.”

So why the awkward reversal? Apparently President Trump wasn’t on board with sanctioning Russia.

According to the Washington Post, after Haley announced the sanctions on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning, Trump told national security advisers he was “upset the sanctions were being officially rolled out because he was not yet comfortable executing them.”

It unclear whether Haley just mistakenly announced the sanctions prematurely before the president had officially signed off on them, or if something else entirely went wrong.

But two things are obvious: The administration is once again botching the rollout of a fairly straightforward policy, and Trump is personally taking steps to ensure that he doesn’t anger Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A Russian foreign ministry official said on Monday that the Trump administration contacted the Russian embassy on Sunday and told them that the sanctions that Haley had mentioned were not actually coming.

[VOX]

Two top Trump officials were registered lobbyists for Russian-born businessman linked to Putin

A new investigation from Vice News reveals that two senior Trump administration officials were once registered lobbyists for a Russian-born businessman who has deep ties to Putin-connected Russian oligarchs.

According to Vice, Makan Delrahim — the Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division in the Department of Justice — and David Bernhardt — who is currently the No. 2 official at the Department of the Interior — were registered lobbyists for Access Industries, a holding company under the control of Soviet-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik.

Blavatnik, who is a naturalized dual U.S.-U.K. citizen, is connected to Russian oligarchs via Access Industries’ large stake in Russian aluminum company UC Rusal. Two other men who have large stakes in UC Rusal are Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg — Russian businessmen who were recently hit with sanctions by the United States Treasury Department.

What is particularly notable about Blavatnik, notes Vice, is that he once spread out campaign donations fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats — before shifting heavily in favor of the GOP during the 2016 election cycle, when President Donald Trump was the party’s nominee.

What’s more, he’s continued to give to Republicans since Trump’s election.

“Although he didn’t donate directly to Trump’s campaign, after Trump won, Access Industries gave a further $1 million to the Presidential Inaugural Committee,” Vice News reports. “And according to The Wall Street Journal, Blavatnik gave $12,700 in April 2017 to a Republican National Committee fund that was used to help pay for the team of private attorneys representing Trump in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

Read the whole report here.

[Raw Story]

Trump touts Hannity’s show on ‘Deep State crime families’ led by Mueller, Comey and Clintons

On Wednesday night, like most other weeknights, it was to be expected that President Trump would be tuning into his favorite prime-time pundit. But as if his followers needed a reminder, the president tweeted about it.

“Big show tonight on @seanhannity!” Trump tweeted, promoting Sean Hannity’s 9 p.m. segment on Fox News. By early Thursday morning, Hannity was the No. 1 topic trending on Twitter, and scores of viewers watched as Hannity fired out his usual attacks on his favorite subjects: Hillary Clinton, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and former FBI director James B. Comey.

In a conspiratorial, long-winded monologue, Hannity charted connections he sees among all three of them. The pundit outlined what he described as “obvious Deep State crime families trying to take down the president,” consisting of the Clinton “family,” the Comey “family” and the Mueller “family.”

Hannity said he was inspired by Comey, who appeared in a video this week promoting an interview between Comey and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that will air Sunday. In the interview, Stephanopoulos suggests that Comey compared Trump to a “mob boss.”

“Mr. Comey, you’re really going to compare the sitting president of the United States to a mob boss so you can make money?” Hannity said of the former FBI director, who is currently promoting his soon-to-be-released book. “If he’s going to use a sweeping analogy, I’ve decided tonight we’re going to use the Comey standard … and make some comparisons of our own.”

He began with what he called “a family responsible for actual crimes … the head of the notorious political cabal, of course Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Clinton crime family.”

For the Clinton family, Hannity brought up allegations of sexual misconduct against President Bill Clinton and, of course, accused Hillary Clinton of committing crimes, obstructing justice and mishandling national secrets on a private server. Linked to the Clinton “crime family” were individuals such as Hillary Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin, “sketchy” former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, former attorney general Loretta E. Lynch, and others, including Christopher Steele, the author of the “dossier” alleging ties between Trump and Russia.

Then there’s the “Mueller Crime Family,” Hannity said. The host drew connections between the special counsel and his “best friend” Comey, as well as notorious gangster and killer Whitey Bulger. Hannity accused Mueller of “looking the other way” at Bulger’s crimes while he was a federal prosecutor in Boston. Then, of course, Hannity mapped out the “Comey Crime Family,” linking the former FBI director to Lynch, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, Steele, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates, and “fellow Comey Deep State sycophant” former CIA director John Brennan.

Though Hannity retweeted Trump’s tweet promoting his Wednesday night show, he insisted that the president “was not given ANY heads up on my monologue using the ‘Comey’ standard!!!”

Regardless of what Trump knew before the show, the president is known to watch Hannity’s show regularly and look to it for guidance.

As CNN’s Brian Stelter tweeted, Wednesday night illustrated that “the line where Fox News ends and where Trump begins is getting blurrier by the day.”

Aides have said Trump regularly calls Hannity before or after the program to give feedback, The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey has reported. “Aides sometimes plot to have guests make points on Fox that they have been unable to get the president to agree to in person,” Dawsey wrote.

Hannity on Wednesday night once again called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt,” as does Trump, and brought on guests who attempted to discredit Justice Department officials and the special counsel.

[Washington Post]

Media

 

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