Trumped-up Memo backfires on Donald Trump

The meaning of ‘trumped-up’ according to the Cambridge Dictionary is: “deliberately based on false information so that someone will be accused of doing something wrong and punished:
Example: She was imprisoned on trumped-up corruption charges.

The fact that the phrase ‘trumped-up’ contains the name Trump is most evident by the unbelievably high number of tweets and statements by Donald Trump which are ‘trumped-up’. Now there is the ‘Memo’ being touted by Trump.

The controversial GOP memo alleges that the warrant the FBI obtained in October 2016 to track Page relied on unvetted information provided by a former British spy working for the Democrats.

While Republicans presented the memo as evidence that the investigation was tainted, the document indicates that law enforcement officials had sufficient worries about the energy consultant that they felt it was necessary to continue to monitor him.

Page had been on the radar of the FBI at least as far back as 2013, when a bureau wiretap caught suspected Russian spies discussing their attempts to recruit him. Even after being interviewed by the investigators in that case, Page continued to have extensive contacts with Russians, including trips to Moscow in July and December 2016.

It is not clear what the FBI learned about Page’s late-2016 travel abroad, which occurred just weeks after Trump’s election. But five senior Justice Department and FBI officials signed off on three requests for extensions of the foreign intelligence surveillance warrant for Page; all the requests were approved by a federal judge, according to the Republican memo. (Full article)

For months, Carter Page, the former Trump campaign adviser who was under government surveillance as part of the Russia investigation, has been shunned by Republicans and dismissed by the White House, which portrayed his campaign stint as inconsequential.

But now Mr. Page is the linchpin in a conservative effort to discredit the F.B.I. and the special counsel inquiry. He is at the center of a divisive memo written by Republican committee staff members that was released on Friday and accuses law enforcement officials of abuses in obtaining a warrant to surveil Mr. Page in 2016.

The memo falls short of the case that some Republicans promised — that the document would show bias against Mr. Trump by investigators in opening the Russia inquiry and possibly undercut the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

But for the past year, Mr. Page himself has been pitching that narrative to journalists, politicians, investigators and almost anyone who will listen. Though Mr. Trump’s allies have repeatedly sought to dismiss him as a bit character in the 2016 campaign, Mr. Page’s role could now be political fodder in the president’s efforts to discredit Mr. Mueller’s inquiry.

In 2013, Mr. Page struck up a professional friendship with the operative, Victor Podobny, who was working undercover in New York City. Mr. Page — who at the time did not have any role in American government — gave documents to Mr. Podobny about the energy sector.

Mr. Podobny was picked up by the authorities on a wiretap calling Mr. Page an “idiot” to his Russian intelligence colleagues. He was charged by the Justice Department and spirited back to Moscow before he could be arrested. Mr. Page was questioned by law enforcement officials about his contacts but never charged in the case.

Mr. Page has openly acknowledged he is the unnamed male referred to in federal court documents about Mr. Podobny.

A dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative hired to investigate Mr. Trump’s links to Russia, claimed that Mr. Page maintained deep ties to the Kremlin, including with officials sanctioned by the United States.

Mr. Nunes’s memo claims that the dossier, whose research was funded in part by Democrats, was improperly used to justify surveilling Mr. Page after he had cut ties with Mr. Trump. But the memo left out that the research was initially funded by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website.

For months, Mr. Page showed up regularly, uninvited and unannounced, at the secure offices of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, where he dropped off documents he had compiled himself. One was his own dossier in which he claimed he was the victim of a hate crime by the Hillary Clinton campaign because he was a Catholic and a man. ( Full Article )

All in all the memo confirms the legitimacy of government surveillance of Carter Page and his ties to Russia. In an attempt to discredit the FBI and others Donald Trump has exposes himself once again as a person who will go to any length to avoid public scrutiny of his ties to Russia and/or his involvement with Russian activities.

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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross benefits from business ties to Putin’s inner circle

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. has a stake in a shipping firm that receives millions of dollars a year in revenue from a company whose key owners include Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law and a Russian tycoon sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department as a member of Putin’s inner circle.

Ross, a billionaire private equity investor, divested most of his business assets before joining President Donald Trump’s Cabinet in February, but he kept a stake in the shipping firm, Navigator Holdings Ltd., which is incorporated in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. Offshore entities in which Ross and other investors hold a financial stake controlled 31.5 percent of the company in 2016, according to Navigator’s latest annual report.

Among Navigator’s largest customers, contributing more than $68 million in revenue since 2014, is the Moscow-based gas and petrochemicals company Sibur. Two of its key owners are Kirill Shamalov, who is married to Putin’s youngest daughter, and Gennady Timchenko, the sanctioned oligarch whose activities in the energy sector, the Treasury Department said, were “directly linked to Putin.”

Another powerful owner is Sibur’s largest shareholder, Leonid Mikhelson, who controls an energy company that was also sanctioned by the Treasury Department for propping up Putin’s rule.

In the aftermath of the election, investigations by Congress and the U.S. Justice Department have explored potential business ties between Russia and members of the Trump administration. While several of Trump’s campaign and business associates have come under scrutiny, until now no business connections have been reported between senior Trump administration officials and members of Putin’s family or inner circle.

During his confirmation process, Ross was asked repeatedly about his business ties to Russia, mostly related to his former role as vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, which has a long history of financing Russian oligarchs. “The United States Senate and the American public deserve to know the full extent of your connections with Russia and your knowledge of any ties between the Trump Administration, Trump Campaign, or Trump Organization and the Bank of Cyprus,” a group of five Democratic senators wrote Ross after the hearing but prior to his confirmation. Ross responded briefly to a question submitted for the hearing, saying the Russians who invested in the bank “were not my partners,” but he didn’t respond to the senators’ letter.

Commerce and conflict

The commerce secretary’s indirect business connection with Putin’s son-in-law and oligarch allies emerges from an examination of public records and a leak of millions of offshore financial documents from the Bermuda law firm Appleby obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its global network of media partners. They represent the inner workings of Appleby from the 1950s until 2016. The files include documents from Appleby’s corporate services division, which became independent in 2016 under the name Estera.

The leaked files showed a chain of companies and partnerships in the Cayman Islands through which Ross has retained his financial stake in Navigator.

The fact that Ross’ Cayman Islands companies benefit from a firm controlled by Putin proxies raises serious potential conflicts of interest, experts say. As commerce secretary, Ross has the power to influence U.S. trade, sanctions and other matters that could affect Sibur’s owners. Likewise, Sibur’s owners, and through them, Putin himself, could have the ability to increase or decrease Sibur’s business with Navigator even as Ross helps steer U.S. policy.

Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, said Ross might have to recuse himself from a range of sanctions decisions. He added that while there was no inherent violation in Ross’ holdings, the Navigator arrangement warrants closer scrutiny.

Read the complete article on the Internation Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Image source: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

Jared Kushner’s explanations on Russia reveal a man wholly unsuited to his job

Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who has been drawn into the billowing inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, told congressional investigators on Monday that he hoped his appearance before them would clear his name and “put these matters to rest”.

But in his presentation to members of the Senate intelligence committee, the 36-year-old husband of Ivanka Trump might have dug himself deeper into a hole by leaning so heavily on personal ignorance as the core of his defense. By doing so he raised a slew of new questions about how the US president could have entrusted someone with such little foreign policy ballast with a powerful international portfolio.

“I could not even remember the name of the Russian ambassador,” he writes. He added that he had “limited knowledge about” Sergey Kislyak, who stepped down as ambassador on Saturday, even after Trump had won the presidential election on 8 November 2016 and was headed for the White House.

Not knowing the ambassador’s name was a mild challenge compared with his handling of the now notorious 9 June meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya. At that engagement, Trump’s eldest son Donald Jr invited Kushner and then Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to meet four Russians including Veselnitskaya, a lawyer with ties to the Kremlin.

Kushner insists he didn’t read the email chain in which Don Jr was offered dirt on Hillary Clinton as a pretext for the meeting. When he walked into the meeting, he goes on to say that he was confused by the topic of conversation that was under way – the Russian ban on Americans adopting Russian children.

“I had no idea why that topic was being raised,” he said, apparently unaware that the adoption ban is extensively used by Russian emissaries as a euphemism for US sanctions imposed on Russia. The subject of sanctions is central to modern diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.

Trump admits ‘this Russia thing’ part of reasoning for firing James Comey

Donald Trump has said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided James Comey’s fate – contradicting the White House rationale that he fired the FBI director for mishandling the Clinton email investigation.

Comey had been leading an investigation into possible collusion between Trump advisers and Russian officials when he was dismissed by the president. Defending that decision in an interview on NBC News on Thursday, Trump said: “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

Trump also said there were three occasions on which Comey assured him he was not under investigation. The president said he called the director of the FBI to ask for an update on a possible criminal investigation into his ties with Russia.

In the NBC interview Trump also flatly contradicted his own vice-president and spokesman by saying he decided to fire James Comey before receiving a recommendation from the deputy attorney general.

Trump recalled three conversations with Comey about the FBI investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. First, he said, there was a dinner which was also about Comey’s future, raising the prospect that Trump could threaten his job.

“He wanted to stay on at the FBI,” Trump said, “and I said I’ll, you know, consider and see what happens … But we had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, ‘You are not under investigation.’’’

Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for the Department of Justice, told MSNBC: “It’s completely inappropriate for [Trump] to ask that question … It would also be a violation of DoJ rules for James Comey to answer it.”

Asked at Thursday’s White House press briefing if it was inappropriate for Trump to have asked Comey if he was under investigation, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “No, I don’t believe it is.”

She added: “I don’t see it as a conflict of interest and neither do many of the legal scholars who’ve been commenting on it over the last hour.” Sanders did not identify which “legal scholars” that she was referring to.

When the president fired Comey on Tuesday, the White House released a memo from deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein that criticised Comey for mishandling last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Press secretary Sean Spicer claimed it was this memo that prompted Trump to remove Comey, a position backed by vice-president Mike Pence on Wednesday.

Pence said in an interview with CNN that Trump had “made a decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey.”

But in the NBC interview, Trump said of Comey: “He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.”

He explained: “I was going to fire Comey. My decision. I was going to fire Comey. There’s no good time to do it, by the way. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”

The revelation came amid a flurry of reports suggesting that Trump had grown increasingly irate with Comey in recent weeks because of his high profile, his failure to stop leaks, his pursuit of the Russia investigation and his lack of support for the president’s claim that he was wiretapped by Barack Obama.

In the end, he fired Comey late on Tuesday afternoon, a move that seemed to take many White House staff by surprise. The official reason given was the FBI director’s mishandling of the investigation into Clinton’s emails.

The acting head of the FBI, meanwhile, said on Thursday that Comey enjoyed broad support among its staff – directly contradicting the White House assertion that he had lost the confidence of the FBI rank and file.

Read the complete article on the above story in The Guardian web site.

Read this The Guardian article for background on “What do we know about alleged links between Trump and Russia?

Read this New York Times articleFor Trump Supporters, the Real Outrage Is the Left’s Uproar Over Comey.