Slovenian school friends and photographers reveal all - Google Search - 8:40 AM 1/19/2019

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Melania Trump, Germany, New Abwehr - Google Search

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Inside First Lady Melania Trump's mysterious life - Business Insider

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  • Melania Trump breaks from first lady tradition in many ways.
  • As a former lingerie model and an immigrant, she's very different from most modern first ladies.
  • While Trump has the support of many loyal fans, her time as first lady has been filled with controversies — and a few conspiracies.

Melania Trump is a first lady unlike any other.
She's the only first lady in almost 200 years to be born outside the US, and she's the only first lady whose native language isn't English. Trump is also the first first lady to be a former lingerie model.
Her actions as the first lady of the US have similarly broken from tradition, winning over loyal fans and sparking questions from conspiracy theorists. Trump has become known for her fashion choices, with fans applauding her designer outfits and critics slamming her expensive tastes.
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The secret life of Melania Trump: White House insiders, Slovenian school friends and photographers reveal all - Google Search

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The secret life of Melania Trump: White House insiders, Slovenian school friends and photographers reveal all - Google Search

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The secret life of Melania Trump: White House insiders, Slovenian school friends and photographers reveal all

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Melania Trump has a whole new problem

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In the time since the Democrats took control of the House, and Robert Mueller made clear that he’s gearing up for his big move, Melania Trump has tried a new strategy: lay low and hope everyone forgets she exists. Sure, she tried this last year, and it only led to controversy, because at the time her disappearance was a comparatively big scandal. This time around her husband has so many scandals going on, no one noticed or cared that Melania had largely vanished again – until now.

After Donald Trump shut down the government and effectively took America hostage, Speaker Nancy Pelosi rightly told him that he wasn’t welcome to show up and give the State of the Union address. This prompted Trump to expose the secret details of an international diplomatic trip that Pelosi and members of Congress from both parties were scheduled to take, thus killing the trip. In turn, this resulted in so much public backlash, the White House had to cancel Steve Mnuchin’s upcoming trip to Davos. Then came Melania.

Just as the public was trying to grapple with precisely which felonies Donald Trump committed by sabotaging Pelosi’s trip and trying to put her safety in danger, and just as the Davos scandal was playing out, Melania Trump climbed aboard a government airplane and flew to Mar-a-Lago. Given the timing, this became a huge scandal. Trump’s shutdown means the Speaker of the House can’t travel to conduct government business, but the fake president’s wife can take a vacation joyride?

Melania Trump’s time of being able to lay low is now over. If she had any sense, she wouldn’t have gotten on the plane yesterday. She seemed to be trying to stay out of her husband’s rapidly accelerating demise, perhaps in the hope of ending up with whichever of his assets aren’t seized, and simply disappearing. But now she’s right back in the thick of his scandals.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report

January 20 crimes mustn't go unpunished

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Baku, Azerbaijan, Jan.19
By Leman Zeynalova – Trend:
Crimes committed on the night of January 20, 1990 in Baku mustn’t go unpunished, Aurelia Grigoriu, chairperson of the Public Chamber of Moldova, politician, told Trend.
“The tragedy of January 20, 1990 is forever inscribed in the modern history as a black page of disgrace of the USSR - the country that used regular army troops against own people, own citizens,” she said. “Peaceful demonstration held in Baku in support of the sovereignty and independence of Azerbaijan was shelled from guns and crushed by tanks of the Soviet army. The invasion of Baku by a major contingent of the Soviet army, internal troops and special forces was accompanied by special cruelty and unprecedented atrocities. Massacre was committed against the civilian population, hundreds of people were killed, injured and went missing."
Grigoriu noted that sending troops and declaring a state of emergency in Baku were a gross violation of the USSR Constitution (Article 119) and the Constitution of the Azerbaijan SSR (Article 71), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 (Article 1).
"The sovereign rights of Azerbaijan were grossly and roughly violated, fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, the right to peaceful demonstration, the right to freedom of expression and the right to property were grossly violated,” she said. "Unfortunately, little is known in the world about these events. The rapid collapse of the Soviet Union began namely from this disgraceful and bloody event. The state massively violated human rights, namely of own citizens, by committing a crime against its people, in particular, the population of Baku and the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.”
“People were shot at, as if they were targets, often in the back, for the sole purpose of killing,” she noted. “Such crimes mustn’t go unpunished. In line with the norms of international humanitarian law, the perpetrators of this crime must be identified and brought to justice.”
"To this day, many details of those tragic events may be considered from a legal point of view only as part of criminal cases regarding both the Soviet leaders of that time, authorities in the republic and also the direct perpetrators of those bloody crimes,” she said.
"On the other hand, we shouldn’t forget about the double standards that are taking place in the international community regarding observance of the principles of international law and the implementation of human rights as well," she noted.
"Today, we remember the victims of that terrible bloody night that took place from January 19 to January 20, 1990, and their death wasn’t in vain," she added. "History's lessons need to be learned. No regime that orders the army to shoot at its own people will be able to stay in power afterwards.”
January 20 is a day that went down in history of Azerbaijan's fight for independence and territorial integrity.
On January 20, 1990, the Soviet army forces entered Baku to suppress the masses protesting the USSR-supported Armenian aggression based on territorial claims against Azerbaijan.
The result was an unprecedented tragedy for Azerbaijan. Valiant sons and daughters of Azerbaijan put the country's freedom, honor and dignity above everything else, sacrificed their lives and became martyrs.
The January 20 tragedy brought huge losses and death of innocent people. But it also demonstrated the spirit and pride of Azerbaijani nation, which couldn't stand the betrayal of the criminal empire led by Mikhail Gorbachev.
Azerbaijanis gained the independence they were dreaming of, and the country achieved sovereignty.
Despite that many years have passed since those bloody days, Azerbaijanis remember the dreadful night that took many innocent lives and marks the anniversary of the January 20 tragedy every year.
January 20 is immortalized in the memory of Azerbaijani nation as a Day of the Nationwide Sorrow.
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Follow the author on Twitter: @Lyaman_Zeyn
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President Trump’s second year in office and division across party lines in the U.S. | Local News

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Two years since President Donald Trump was sworn into office, local voters, politicians and professors are lamenting the intensifying political polarization in the country and how it’s affecting their everyday lives.
While a Pew Research Study released around the time of Trump’s first year anniversary in office found that although the divisions between Republicans and Democrats on issues including government, race, immigration, national security and environmental protection reached record levels during President Barack Obama’s presidency, they only grew wider under Trump.
A year later, and the country finds itself in the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, as House Republicans and Democrats wrangle over funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
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Lisa Nichols, 55, of Attleboro, said her political views align with liberal values, and over the past two years she has grown weary of the stark partisanship in the country.
“Although there has always been division in this country, it only intensified when Trump was given a podium. From there, he was able to preach his hatred and only make things worse,” Nichols said.
“He has created more division than I’ve ever seen,” she added.
Nichols grew up in a house of both Republicans and Democrats who freely expressed their differences. But, she says, they listened to one another and engaged in well-mannered conversation that was “said with love.”
“Today, I feel like people on social media are such a big part of the division in this country as they feel as if they can say anything to anyone. They definitely wouldn’t say those things to one another if they were face-to-face,” Nichols said.
“There’s just so much hatred in this country right now,” she added.
Nichols said the country is divided because people are able to pick and choose their sources of information, and they often don’t know how to differentiate between fact and opinion.
When it comes to the 2020 presidential election, Nichols said she will not vote to re-elect Trump, and hopes Americans will learn to hear out the other side’s opinion.
“There are plenty of flaws on both sides,” she said. “It’s important that we learn how to be empathetic for one another’s opinions.”
Attleboro resident Nick Lavoie is a registered Republican who lost a bid for an open city council seat in an off-year election in November.
Lavoie, who manages his own landscape business and runs his own outdoor lighting business, said Trump’s policy changes have personally impacted his business for the better.
“I think small businesses around the country are benefiting daily,” he said. “My 401(k) has also seen a dramatic increase, which I am thankful for.”
While running for city council, Lavoie got a taste of what partisan politics was all about. He said people were often more concerned about his political party rather than his goals and aspirations.
“And even after informing them it was a non-partisan race they still pushed for the only answer they cared about,” he said.
“I think we are at a time where we have been relatively safe as a nation, and as we look back there have been many times like this in the past. However, tragedies pulled us together,” he said. “I think with our two-party system it is so natural to encourage division around the nation.”
Looking forward to the 2020 presidential election, Lavoie said he expects Trump to be re-elected unless the Democrats can find a strong candidate.
“My hope for the future is that despite what happens nationally, we can get along for the better of our communities,” he said.
Bradford H. Bishop, an assistant professor of political science at Wheaton College, said the “polarized politics” of the Trump era is an intensification of a process that has been going on for decades.
However, Bishop said he believes the division during the Trump administration is different from others as it is “neatly organized across party lines.”
“What we see today are strong divisions among a number of different policy issues,” he said.
Although there is not a single answer for what drives political polarization, Bishop said that a lot of it is because there is more clarity of what both parties represent.
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“There are ideological divisions within both parties. The Democratic Party is consistently more liberal while the Republican Party is consistently more conservative.”
According to Bishop, political polarization can ultimately lead to outcomes such as the current government shutdown.
“When you have a polarized country, it is really hard to negotiate policies. For President Trump and the Democrats to arrive at a compromise would mean that someone would have to engage in a compromise that would be risky for their career,” he said.
Bishop added that it would be difficult for a Democrat to be reelected if they were to accept Trump’s decision to fund the wall, just as it would be difficult for Trump to be reelected if he backed down from the decision to fund the wall.
As a college professor, Bishop said he teaches his students on the first day of class that there are always two sides to every argument.
“No matter who you are, I think all of us should have a healthy skepticism about how right we are about everything,” he said. “I think a lot of us are really really sure about the arguments we make and the evidence we point to. That leads to conflict that could be reduced if people exposed themselves to evidence that was different from their own.”
“People by nature don’t seek out information that contradicts their own opinions,” he added. “If people were a little less sure that they were right, that would make them more willing to treat their political opponents as collaborators.”
Attleboro resident Paulo Salgueiro, who ran for city council and state representative, votes as an independent. He said he does not like to associate himself with “party politics” as it creates an “us versus them” dynamic.
“In terms of how people view general issues, it’s often divided,” he said. “Often times, Democrats have views that are too far left while Republicans can be too far right.”
Salgueiro said he’s seen many friendships end because of the past presidential election, and many people end up resenting people on Facebook because of what they choose to post about their politics.
“In the future, I hope people can begin to understand the importance of politics and what it means in their life,” he said. “The idea of hearing the other side’s idea to come to a conclusion seems to be unheard of today.”
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Trump Gloats Over BuzzFeed Rebuke: 'Sad Day For Journalism, Great Day For Country'

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Trump crowed that it was a “sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!”
But in a rare statement from Mueller’s team, a spokesman told BuzzFeed on Friday that its “description of specific statements” and its “characterization of documents and testimony” obtained by the special counsel’s office was “not accurate.”
The statement did not directly address the key point of the article, nor did it mention the Trump Tower deal in Moscow.
BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith said in response that the publication stood by its reporting and asked the special counsel to “make clear what he’s disputing.”
BuzzFeed relied on two unnamed law enforcement sources involved in the investigation.
Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani responded with his own tweets Friday, calling on the Department of Justice to “reveal the leakers of this false BuzzFeed story which the press and Democrats gleefully embraced.” He said the media’s “hysterical desire to destroy this President has gone too far.”

FBI tramples our political order

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  • Despite President Donald Trump’s seeming affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin — shown together at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, July 16 — there is no cause for the FBI to have undertaken an investigation into whether the president was a threat to national security. Photo: DOUG MILLS /NYT / NYTNS
    Despite President Donald Trump’s seeming affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin — shown together at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, July 16 — there is no cause for the FBI to have undertaken an investigation into whether the president was a threat to national security.
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    Despite President Donald Trump’s seeming affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin — shown together at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, July 16 — there is no cause for the FBI to have
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    Photo: DOUG MILLS /NYT
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Despite President Donald Trump’s seeming affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin — shown together at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, July 16 — there is no cause for the FBI to have undertaken an investigation into whether the president was a threat to national security.
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Despite President Donald Trump’s seeming affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin — shown together at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, July 16 — there is no cause for the FBI to have
... more
Photo: DOUG MILLS /NYT
FBI tramples our political order
The FBI took it upon itself to determine whether the president of the United States is a threat to national security.
No one had ever before thought this was an appropriate role for the FBI, a subordinate agency in the executive branch, but Donald Trump isn’t the only one in Washington trampling norms.
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Chris Cuomo: Mueller Did Trump A Favor By Discrediting BuzzFeed

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“Muller didn’t do the media any favors tonight and he did do the president one,” the anchor said in his Friday night broadcast as the drama unfolded.
At stake, he said, was public trust in an industry that has been under constant fire from the president and his allies.
“This allows them to say, ‘You can’t believe it, you can’t believe what you read, you can’t believe what you hear, you can only believe us,’” Cuomo added. ”‘Even the special counsel says that the media doesn’t get it right.’”
Mueller’s office hasn’t specified the errors in BuzzFeed’s story, which contended Cohen, at Trump’s behest as his then-fixer, was dishonest about the president’s efforts to build one of his namesake towers in Moscow. 
Special counsel spokesperson Peter Carr told BuzzFeed its “description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.”
Still, the outlet is standing by its work, citing two law enforcement officials privy to an investigation of the matter.
Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general under the Obama administration, told Cuomo the controversy showed that Mueller was impartial even though has has become one of the president’s favorite targets.  
“Yes, we can talk about the boomerang on the media, but also there’s someone else who demonstrated once again I think his bonafides and that’s Robert Mueller,” he said.
Despite the dust-up, Katyal pointed to last week’s New York Times report that the FBI had opened an investigation into whether Trump was acting as a Russian agent after his firing of James Comey.
That, Katyal argued, was a further indication that Congress must investigate the president.
“You take all of this together, and it really underscores the need for a serious congressional investigation using impeachment―not prejudging the outcome and saying anyone should be impeached―but everyone in this country needs to know the answers to these problems.”

The circular firing squad: Mueller targets turn on each other

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President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said during an interview that the only person he knows about who didn’t collude with Russia was Trump himself. | Alex Wong/Getty Images
After Rudy Giuliani's latest comments, it’s everyone for themselves. And it's a prosecutor’s dream for the special counsel.
Rudy Giuliani sent an unmistakable message Wednesday night: It’s everyone for themselves.
During a CNN interview, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer blurted out that the only person he knows about who didn’t collude with Russia was Trump himself. Although Giuliani tried to walk back his comments on Thursday, the remarks put the sprawling web of people caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe on notice: No one is coming to save you.
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“Ya think!!!” one former Trump campaign official wrote to POLITICO when asked whether Giuliani was trying to protect the president at the expense of everyone who worked for him.
The Team Trump infighting has been a prosecutor’s dream for Mueller, opening up an ever-widening window into the behind-the-scenes workings of a rookie politician whose campaign has been under investigation for years. The special counsel and federal prosecutors have already benefited from the internal sniping, flipping Trump’s former lawyer, national security adviser and campaign chairman.
Bickering and backstabbing were Trump world trademarks long before the former businessman launched his White House bid, from the real estate mogul’s decades of private business dealings to his years as a reality television star.
But the attitude has taken on a completely new life as Mueller’s 20-month-old probe creeps increasingly closer to the president. Now the sniping can have long-term legal consequences, and the president and his former aides have used media interviews, social media posts and court filings to take shots at each other in the interest of protecting themselves and their reputations.
“Nobody is really on the same team anymore when you’ve worked with Donald Trump,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump 2016 campaign aide who has been questioned multiple times by Mueller and congressional investigators.
“Trump puts everyone against each other when you work for him,” he added. “While he demands loyalty, he doesn’t return it. Loyalty is not a two-way street, especially when you’ve got special counsel involved in it.”
Michael Zeldin, a former Mueller DOJ aide, likened the current divisions inside Trump world to the mafia.
“Even Whitey Bulger gets beaten to death for having squealed. That always made it hard for prosecutors because it was very hard to break someone out of the organization,” Zeldin said, referencing the famous Boston mobster. “Here, everyone is saying, ‘I can cooperate.’ Whether they are fully truthful, they all seem to be available.”
The latest example is Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer who appears to be sparing few in his bid to shorten his prison sentence and resurrect his image after being swept up in multiple investigations.
Cohen turned publicly against Trump last summer and even urged voters headed into the 2018 midterms to elect Democrats so that Congress could rein in his former boss’ presidency. Next month, Cohen is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee in a high-profile hearing expected to draw gavel-to-gavel media coverage.
He’s already spent months blaming the president for any suspect behavior during the campaign, saying his “weakness” was a “blind loyalty” to Trump. Hush payments that Cohen made to women alleging affairs with Trump? Made at Trump’s direction, Cohen said. Paying people a bag of cash to rig online polls in Trump’s favor? Done because Trump made the request — and it was a check, not a bag — Cohen claimed.
In the courtroom, Cohen’s legal team has also indirectly swiped at others in Trump’s orbit. Last month, Cohen attorney Guy Petrillo argued in court that his client’s cooperation with prosecutors “should substantially mitigate his sentence, and his action stands in profound contrast to the decision of some others not to cooperate and allegedly to double deal while pretending to cooperate.”
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While Petrillo didn’t mention former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort by name, the reference was almost unmistakable. A source with knowledge of Cohen’s case confirmed that the passage was meant to invoke Manafort’s behavior.
The missives from Cohen and his legal team haven’t gone unnoticed. Trump himself struck back at his former fixer on Saturday night during a Fox News interview with a perplexing call for investigators to investigate Cohen’s father-in-law’s finances. “I guess he didn’t want to talk about his father-in-law. He’s trying to get his sentence reduced,” the president said.
Several other ex-Trump aides have turned on their former colleagues.
Rick Gates, who served under Manafort as deputy campaign chairman and then played a prominent role organizing Trump’s inauguration, has been cooperating with Mueller since pleading guilty last February. He served as a star witness against Manafort during his former boss' trial in Alexandria, Va., where the longtime GOP operative was convicted on several charges of bank and tax fraud.
Gates is still spilling his ex-colleagues’ secrets to the special counsel. In a court filing earlier this week, an FBI agent recounted how Gates snitched on Manafort’s clandestine effort to get people appointed to Trump’s new administration in January 2017.
Attorneys for Michael Flynn have taken a more subtle approach.
His lawyers tried to compare the former Trump national security adviser favorably to other Mueller targets when making the argument that Flynn didn’t deserve jail time for lying to the FBI. In doing so, they essentially called out two people: former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and Dutch attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan.
In a court filing, Flynn’s lawyers insinuated that Papadopoulos, who served a 14-day sentence last year for also lying to the FBI, was more mendacious than Flynn because he had been “specifically notified of the seriousness of the investigation” into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The FBI also warned Papadopoulos that lying to investigators was a federal offense, it said. Flynn had received neither warnings, the filing pointedly noted.
As for Van Der Zwaan, who spent 30 days in prison before being deported, Flynn’s attorneys argued that he was a “trained attorney who was represented by counsel” during his FBI interview — again, unlike Flynn.
For now, Flynn’s fate remains in the air. His sentencing has been postponed so he can continue cooperating in the Mueller probe.
The feuding among Trump associates isn’t just happening among people who have already been charged.
Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone — a Mueller target because of suspicions he had privileged knowledge that WikiLeaks was sitting on a stolen cache of Hillary Clinton campaign emails — has been on a PR blitz to tarnish several former friends as liars.
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Stone has repeatedly derided New York-based liberal talk show host Randy Credico, placing the blame for any WikiLeaks back-channel communication on his ex-pal. Similarly, Stone has lobbed effusive insults at Jerome Corsi, the right-wing author and conspiracy theorist who also has drawn Mueller’s interest because of possible links to WikiLeaks. In an Instagram post last month, Stone accused Corsi of “working with Mueller to sandbag me on a fabricated perjury charge.”
They all have good reason to point the finger at each other. Stone has long said he expects to be indicted for lying to Mueller — a charge he denies. And Corsi’s lawyers have circulated a draft court document showing Mueller wanted their client to plead guilty to a false statement charge they say is bunk.
Open warfare in Trump’s orbit has produced its share of schadenfreude, as well.
“Justice was well-served today,” former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said in an NPR interview last August after Cohen pleaded guilty and Manafort was convicted on the same day.
Steve Bannon, the former Trump White House senior strategist, was ousted from Trump’s circle after he almost gleefully predicted trouble for the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who is in Mueller’s crosshairs for an election-year meeting with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Clinton.
“They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV,” he said in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury.”
Annemarie McAvoy, a defense attorney and media consultant who previously represented Gates, said she wasn’t surprised by all of the discord. It starts with the president and trickles down to all the people who have worked for him, she said.
“Of course, every attorney is going to try to represent his or her client as zealously as possible and make them look the best and make everyone around them, who might say anything bad about them, look worse,” McAvoy said.
Typically in cases dealing with a large number of people from the same side of an organization, co-defendants will demonstrate some collegiality with each other. But, McAvoy said, there’s a different dynamic at play when none of the people who have been caught in the Mueller probe are on the same team anymore.
“All of these people have to try to, assuming they’re not going to jail, to make a living, deal with their neighbors, try to have some sort of normal life after this,” she said.
To Democrats, the infighting has occasionally prompted legal concerns. Several House chairmen issued a warning to the president on Sunday after he went after Cohen’s father-in-law, saying Trump appeared to be obstructing congressional oversight functions.
“Organized crime and international money laundering are a dirty business,” former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told POLITICO. “It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, as the ship is sinking, the rats are jumping out.”
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In a rare move, Mueller’s office denies BuzzFeed report that Trump told Cohen to lie about Moscow project

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Here's What Critics of the FBI's Counterintelligence Investigation of Trump Miss

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This post is a couple days late, and the news cycle is moving on at its typical lightning speed, but I still wanted to reply to Rich Lowry’s response to my argument that it was proper and prudent for the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation of the president. I fear that we’re going to have to agree to disagree. Rich gets the practical problem mostly right. It does present obvious difficulties when the FBI investigates its ultimate boss — even when that investigation is directly supervised by someone else. But I still think he misses the law, and the law is what defines the FBI’s mission.
A combination of statutes (passed through Congress, obviously), regulations, and presidential orders have created a specific counterintelligence mission and structure. This counterintelligence mission has been carefully defined, the FBI’s role in domestic operations has been carefully defined, and prior presidents have provided additional precise guidance. Here’s the crucial consideration — neither the Constitution nor the relevant statutes exempt the president from their scope. A president can be a threat to national security as that term is defined in the relevant policy guidance. A president — as a human being who is subject to potential corruption and foreign influence — can indeed act “on behalf of foreign powers.” Congress can and should investigate the president, but so can and so should the agency that Congress created and abundantly-resourced for precisely the purpose of conducting counterintelligence activities.
Congress holds presidents accountable by conducting investigations, overriding vetoes, and potentially through impeachment, but we can’t forget its lawmaking and funding power. It hems in a president with laws, and it creates and funds a law-enforcement apparatus that holds every American accountable. The Constitution grants a president considerable power, but it does not exempt him from the operation of law. Yes, the president can take action to shut down an investigation, but that requires a positive act on his part — an act he can be held accountable for by Congress and the public. He doesn’t have the inherent constitutional or statutory right to be free of FBI inquiries if such inquiries have sufficient evidentiary basis.
Moreover, let’s not exaggerate what the FBI has done. Rich asked whether the it’s the FBI’s job to “check and balance the president,” but an investigation isn’t a check on the president. It’s an inquiry. It’s a fact-gathering exercise. It’s not a prosecution. It’s not an impeachment proceeding. The question is whether the FBI can fulfill its legally defined role (as approved by Congress) when even the president is the target of the investigation? And the answer is that it can — absent a proactive exercise of presidential power.
Of course to say that the FBI can investigate the president is different from arguing whether it should in any given instance. My own view is that there should be a very high bar to clear before an attorney general should approve an investigation. If it turns out — once the facts are fully known — that the FBI’s decision to open a counterintelligence investigation turned largely on such acts as firing James Comey or giving erratic interview questions to Lester Holt, then I’ll retract my initial assessment that the investigation was prudent and judge that the FBI grotesquely abused its power. If, however, the decision (as I believe) turned on a number of additional factors — crucially including the multiplicity of troubling Trump team contacts with Russian operatives — then I’ll stand by my initial assessment.
Finally, I don’t want to go line-by-line through Rich’s piece, but a couple items did stand out. Rich says this:
David emphasizes how the regulations governing a counterintelligence investigation focus on the activity of the foreign power. Yeah, sure. But that’s why the Times story was so explosive. It reported on a counterintelligence investigation of Trump himself, who is obviously not a foreigner, but the duly elected president of the United States.
I’m puzzled by this point. Focus on foreign actors frequently involves investigating how they interact with American citizens. That’s a fundamental part of counterintelligence. If the FBI believed that Russia was attempting to induce Trump to act on its behalf, that would necessarily expose Trump to scrutiny.
Rich also says this:
Finally, the main contention of David’s piece is that since the FBI is authorized to undertake such a counterintelligence investigation by regulation, the president has in effect authorized the investigation of himself. Then, he takes back, or at least significantly vitiates, this point at the end of his piece by conceding: “It is quite fair to say (and obvious as you read the relevant guidelines) that counterintelligence responsibilities were not allocated with a potential investigation of the president in mind.”
I took nothing back. The policies, by their own terms, still apply to the president. We may prefer that the authors of the relevant statutes and executive orders had the foresight to outline a separate set of procedures for our commander-in-chief that could answer some of the thorny questions raised by any presidential investigation (like the DOJ did when it published its analysis of presidential indictments), but we’re left with the language we have, and any good textualist knows that’s the language you apply.
The president is a powerful citizen, but he’s still a citizen. When the Constitution doesn’t exempt him from the scope of the law, when statutes don’t exempt him, and when he hasn’t used those powers he possesses to exempt himself, then legal processes should work on him much like they do with anyone else. That’s one of the virtues of a constitutional republic. A president can be held accountable by his own government.
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This may be the smoking gun in the Russia investigation

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"President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.
"Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. 'Make it happen,' the sources said Trump told Cohen."
The BuzzFeed story also claims that Cohen confirmed this information to special counsel Robert Mueller after "the special counsel's office learned about Trump's directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents."
It's hard to overstate what a big deal that is. No other major outlets have confirmed the BuzzFeed report. But if the BuzzFeed report is right, then the President of the United States directed an underling to lie under oath -- which is, in and of itself, a crime.
Don't take my word for it. Check out this exchange between Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Attorney General nominee William Barr during his confirmation hearings earlier this week (hat tip to 
Washington Post's Jacqueline Alemany for flagging
):
Klobuchar: The President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right?
Barr: Well, yes. Well, any person who persuades another to -- yeah."
Klobuchar: "You also said that a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction, is that right?
Barr: Yes."
Which, well, that was sort of on point, no?
Ask yourself this: Why, if there was nothing worrisome or untoward about Trump's dealings with Russia, would he instruct Cohen to lie to about the depth and breadth of the conversations between the Trumps and the Russians regarding a potential construction project in Moscow? You don't have to lie or cover up things that are no big deal, right?
And we know from Cohen that he not only lied to the special counsel's office about Trump Tower Moscow but did so because he believed the truthful details of how long the conversations with Russians over the project went on (until June 2016, according to Cohen) and the involvement of the Trump family (Cohen said he repeatedly briefed them on developments) might jeopardize the billionaire businessman's chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination.
The problem for Giuliani is that the BuzzFeed report doesn't hinge on Cohen. It says that the special counsel unearthed the evidence that Trump had told Cohen to lie through "multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents." Mueller's office only went to Cohen to confirm/admit he actually did it. The special counsel's office didn't get the information from Cohen. That fact makes Giuliani's claim that Cohen is a proven liar -- which he is! -- largely meaningless.
If the BuzzFeed report is true (and yes that remains an "if" since CNN has not corroborated the reporting), then the entire Russia conversation changes. As Barr helpfully noted earlier this week, the President telling someone who works for him to lie to Congress about an ongoing investigation is obstruction of justice. And obstruction of justice is a crime.
"All they get to do is write a report," Giuliani told CNN's Dana Bash in May 2017. "They can't indict. At least they acknowledged that to us after some battling, they acknowledged that to us."
Let's assume that's true -- although to do that it means we take Giuliani's word for it, which, given 
his recent "no collusion" flip-flop
, might be a dicey proposition.) What that means is that Mueller's report will likely move through political channels rather than legal one. So rather than an indictment, perhaps impeachment.
"If true -- and proof must be examined -- Congress must begin impeachment proceedings and Barr must refer, at a minimum, the relevant portions of material discovered by Mueller," 
tweeted former Attorney General Eric Holder
. "This is a potential inflection point."
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse agreed, 
tweeting
, "If this is true, this is plain, slam-dunk, criminal obstruction of justice (18 U.S.C. 1505, 1512), subornation of perjury (18 U.S.C. 1622), conspiracy (18 U.S.C. 371) and likely aiding and abetting perjury (18 U.S.C. 2)."
The "if true" part is, of course, the key. BuzzFeed has put the credibility of its entire organization on the line here. To make an allegation that the President of the United States purposely obstructed justice in an investigation into Russia's attempts to interfere in a presidential election is a massive deal -- and the sort of thing that, if wrong, can do irreparable damage to a company's reputation.
But if the BuzzFeed article is right -- and one of the reporters who bylined the story insisted on CNN Friday morning that the information in the piece is "rock solid" and that the sourcing "goes beyond" the two sources cited -- then this is the smoking gun (or at least a smoking gun).
If Mueller has the goods -- as the BuzzFeed report suggests he does -- then it is very, very hard to see how impeachment proceedings won't be started in the House once the special counsel report comes out. Whether Trump is actually removed from office is a more political question that depends on how clear -- if at all -- Trump's culpability is in the Mueller report.
Make no mistake: This is a very big moment in an investigation seemingly stuffed full of them. And, for students of history, you'll remember that the first article of impeachment against then-President Richard Nixon was that he had obstructed justice by ordering others to lie. So, there's that.
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Power Up: Cohen bombshell could significantly change Mueller debate

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Trump-Deutsche Bank links - Google Search

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Trump-Deutsche Bank links in sights of U.S. House investigators

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats now in control of the U.S. House of Representatives are working out which House panels will take the lead in investigating President Donald Trump’s business ties to Deutsche Bank, lawmakers and aides familiar with the plans told Reuters.
FILE PHOTO: A Deutsche Bank sign is seen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, U.S., January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
As the new Democratic House of Representatives majority launches a range of investigations into the Republican president and his businesses, the Intelligence Committee and Financial Services Committee are poised to dig into his ties with Deutsche, one of the world’s largest financial institutions.
Democratic lawmakers’ aides are discussing how to divide up the investigative work among committees and prevent overlap on requesting documents, aides said.
Since U.S. voters on Nov. 6 shifted majority control of the House from the Republicans to the Democrats, the party has been promising to probe the first two years of Trump’s administration and possible conflicts of interest presented by his hotel, golf course and other ventures, as well as Trump family members.
White House officials did not respond to a request for comment. The White House in the past has referred questions about Trump businesses to the Trump Organization.
Officials at the Trump Organization could not immediately be reached for comment.
A Deutsche Bank spokesman said: “Deutsche Bank takes its legal obligations seriously and remains committed to cooperating with authorized investigations. Our recent record of cooperating with such investigations has been widely recognized by regulators. We intend to keep working in this spirit.”
The Financial Services Committee, chaired by Democrat Maxine Waters, has the broadest power to look into Trump’s relationship with Deutsche.
When the Republicans still controlled the House, Waters tried in 2017 to request documents from the bank on its dealings with Trump and his businesses, as well as information about potential Russian money laundering through the bank.
But the bank told Congress that privacy laws prevented it from handing over such information without a formal subpoena. Committee Republicans ignored Waters’ request. As chairwoman, Waters can now issue subpoenas herself.
In recent weeks, Waters has been publicly quiet about her plans. In a speech on Monday on committee priorities, she made no mention of the bank. A Waters spokesman declined to comment.
Democratic aides outside the committee said Waters plans to move quietly on the Deutsche inquiry. She cannot begin formally issuing subpoenas until after the committee holds its first business meeting, expected by the end of January.
Deutsche has extended millions of dollars in credit to the Trump Organization, making the bank one of few willing to lend extensively to Trump in the past decade.
Pelosi urges Trump to reschedule State of the Union
A 2017 financial disclosure form showed liabilities for Trump of at least $130 million to Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, a unit of German-based Deutsche Bank AG.
House Intelligence Committee Democrats also want to investigate Trump and his Deutsche links, said three congressional officials familiar with committee discussions.
A Judiciary Committee spokesman said it has been consulted.
Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Ginger Gibson; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa Shumaker
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Jay Ambrose: FBI, probe thyself |

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We’ve long known, haven’t we, that federal bureaucrats increasingly run the American show. But did we expect an FBI investigation that stepped out of bounds to see if our president was a Russian agent? Such a heinous crime, if true, could obviously spell his end, but such a probe is a slur on democracy.
As a matter of separation of powers, Congress can do it, yes, but the FBI needs actual hard evidence of a crime to proceed. Otherwise, what we have on our hands is an agency that can search out pretty much any soul it wants whenever it wants, the sort of thing you get in tyrannies. If you dislike a leader, someone whose politics you find threatening, for instance, then search here, there and everywhere for something foul.
According to the New York Times, which broke the story, the instigating factor was President Donald Trump firing FBI director James Comey. This was seen as just maybe obstruction of justice, a means of ending any further explorations of Russia interference with the 2016 presidential election. But, first off, the president had the right to fire the guy. Second, the Department of Justice itself said he deserved as much for one haughty transgression after another. Third, the investigation continued. Nothing was obstructed.
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What is more, the Times story tells us, there has been no revelation of Trump yapping in secret with Russian agents or of his scooting along in designated directions. If there is an implicating fact or dozens, how about letting them loose as a replacement for guesses and prejudice. Sadly, the Department of Justice is keeping them in a cage where they are unlikely to infect the rest of us with truth.
So worry, please worry, worry a lot because, for one thing, Congress has allowed an ever more powerful administrative state in which prohibitions can often come in second to bureaucratic druthers. For something else, consider that some big-brother intelligence agents have likely committed felonies by leaking classified information never exactly making Trump look sane or decent or trustworthy. Consider that, even during the election campaign, you had intelligence agency bigwigs plotting how to handle this character they feared, checking out this, that and the other in suspect ways.
The Department of Justice has meanwhile played games with congressional oversight. Partisan, get-Trump advocates were part of what was supposed to be an unbiased special counsel probe. The FBI seemed to depend a lot on a fraudulent Russian document that may have been employed illegally. Then there were the blindfolds strapped on when looking at the Hillary Clinton campaign organization and the Clinton Foundation.
The FBI investigation was short-lived because then we got the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who has spent 20 months and $25 million driving the all-powerful federal government bulldozer to smashes aplenty. The thing is, there are all sorts of questions about its validity, and so far the smashes have seemed mostly irrelevant to the probe’s central point. We’ll have reports soon. They will either be killers or nothing much, according to different leaks the Mueller team denies having made.
It also seems the case that the Democratic controlled House is prepared to eschew a lot of time-wasting public policy questions to focus on probing Trump until the 2020 election is decided for good. Something real could be there, but chances are not bad that this will be the equivalent of another government shutdown showing Trump’s foes can be worse than he is.
———
ABOUT THE WRITER
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at speaktojay@aol.com.
———
©2019 Tribune Content Agency, LLC
—————
PHOTO of Jay Ambrose is available from the Columnist Mugs
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Copyright 2019 Tribune Content Agency.
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Dana Milbank: The president has no concept of 'honor' | Opinion

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WASHINGTON - President Trump, on his way to a border photo op that even he reportedly thought pointless, gave insight last week into the thinking that faked an immigration crisis, shut down the government and gave him the "absolute right" to use emergency powers to circumvent Congress.
Asked an unrelated question on the White House South Lawn on Jan. 10, Trump volunteered a comparison between Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. - and the leaders of the People's Republic of China.
"I find China, frankly, in many ways, to be far more honorable than Cryin' Chuck and Nancy. I really do," he said. "I think that China is actually much easier to deal with than the opposition party."
China, which is holding a million members of religious minorities in concentration camps for "re-education" by force?
China, according to Trump's own FBI director, is, by far, the leading perpetrator of technology theft and espionage against the United States and is "using illegal methods" to "replace the U.S. as the world's leading superpower"?
China, whose ruling Communist Party has caused the extermination of tens of millions of people since the end of World War II, through government-induced famine, the ideological purges of the Cultural Revolution, and in mowing down reformers in Tiananmen Square?
Now, the president is declaring that China's dictatorship, by far the world's biggest international criminal and abuser of human rights and operator of its most extensive police state, is more honorable than his political opponents in the United States.
In Trump's view, your opponents are your enemies - and your actual enemies are your friends. How can you negotiate with a man who thinks like this?
I often criticize the ideas or actions of Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Steve King and the like, and condemn Republicans' cowardice in handling Trump; I don't for a moment doubt that they, unlike Chinese President Xi Jinping, want the United States to prosper. In a broader sense, there is no way forward if we can't accept that our American political opponents love our country, too.
Maybe Trump, who has, more than once, misspelled the word "honor," is ignorant of this regime's history. Last month, he claimed "relations with China have taken a BIG leap forward!" - echoing Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward, which left an estimated 45 million people dead.
But he can't be unaware of China's current atrocities. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, led by Republicans Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (N.J.), issued a report in October on China's persecution of Christians, its more than 1,300 political and religious prisoners, mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslims, crackdowns on Tibet and a democratic Hong Kong, detention and harassment of Americans, multiple "efforts to export its authoritarianism," an "ever-expanding scope of domestic repression" with Orwellian technologies, and a "dire human rights situation" on a "downward trajectory, by virtually every measure, since Xi Jinping became Communist Party General Secretary."
When Trump's "good friend" Xi effectively became president for life last year, Trump spoke approvingly and called him "a great gentleman."
By declaring this man's government "far more honorable" than patriotic American legislators, Trump dishonors us all.
Dana Milbank is a syndicated columnist. You can follow him on Twitter, @Milbank.
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Page 16

The quintessential Trump campaign story: A bag of cash, Michael Cohen and a rigged online poll

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Ukrainian Oligarch Scrutinized by Robert Mueller Was a Giuliani Client – Mother Jones

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A Russian Ukrainian mogul who has drawn scrutiny from special counsel Robert Mueller has a business connection to one of the lead lawyers representing Donald Trump in the Russia investigation: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani told Mother Jones that Pavel Fuks, an oil and real estate magnate, hired his security firm, Giuliani Security & Safety, in 2017 to advise Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million in Ukraine. “He was [a] sponsor of a preliminary study that my firm did of security and emergency management in Kharkiv and some on advice on a planned Holocaust Memorial,” Giuliani said in a text message. However, a Ukrainian magazine, Novoye Vremyareported last year that Fuks said he retained Giuliani to “create a U.S. office for supporting investment in” Kharkiv. When asked about Fuks’ claim, Giuliani said, “I have no knowledge of that.” He said he did not do any work in the United States for Fuks or Kharkiv.
In November 2017, Giuliani traveled to Kharkiv, located near the Russian border in eastern Ukraine, in connection with the work. That year, he was also photographed with Fuks in New York. But the former mayor minimized their connection, saying that his personal involvement in the project ended in December 2017 and that his firm has no continuing relationship with Fuks.
Giuliani declined to say how much Fuks paid his firm but noted it was “well in line with similar projects all over the world.” He said his work for Fuks does not come “anywhere near a conflict” with his current work for Trump. But the connection highlights the complications caused by Giuliani’s work for international clients, among them autocrats and allegedly corrupt officials, as he represents the president.
Giuliani’s work in Ukraine is notable because Fuks and other prominent Ukrainians have recently emerged as figures in the Trump-Russia scandal. The New York Times reported last week that Fuks is among a dozen Ukrainian businessmen and political officials who attended Trump’s inauguration. During their time in Washington, DC, some of the Ukrainians arranged meetings with Republicans and Trump allies to promote peace plans regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict that were aligned with the Kremlin’s interests.
The presence of the Ukrainians, including Fuks, at exclusive inaugural confabs has drawn Mueller’s interest. Tickets to many of these events required donations of tens of thousands of dollars to the inaugural committee, which could not legally accept foreign money. Mueller is reportedly investigating whether Americans helped Ukrainians and other foreign nationals funnel donations to the inaugural committee and to a political action committee run by Trump allies. Peter Carr, a Mueller spokesman, declined to comment.
Last August, Sam Patten, a lobbyist tied to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, pleaded guilty to arranging for a straw donor to buy inaugural event tickets using $50,000 put up by an unnamed foreigner. That person matches the description of Serhiy Lyovochkin, the onetime chief of staff to Ukraine’s former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. Lyovochkin, now a member of Ukraine’s parliament, is business partners with Dmitro Firtash, an oligarch indicted in federal court in Chicago in 2014 for allegedly paying bribes to officials in India. Firtash has since battled US government efforts to extradite him from his adopted home of Austria. The Justice Department claimsthat Firtash, who has denied wrongdoing, is an “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime.”
Born in Kharkiv, Fuks reportedly got rich in Moscow in the 2000s through investments in real estate, energy, and banking. Fuks has said that he negotiated with the Trump Organization between 2004 and 2010 to use the Trump brand on a Moscow tower he owned. Fuks told Talking Points Memo that he met with Trump in New York City in 2006 and in Palm Beach in 2008 to discuss the venture, which never went forward. He has also claimed to have a relationship with Donald Trump Jr.
Since 2015, Fuks has operated in Ukraine, investing in gas, real estate, and other ventures. He has built ties to Ukrainian politicians, including Kharkiv Mayor Hennadiy Kernes, a prominent former member of Yanukovych’s party. In 2014, Kernes was shot by a sniper while bicycling, leaving him partly paralyzed. Giuliani said in a text that he was “very impressed with Mayor [Kernes] who was crippled during the Russian invasion and fought them off.” Public reports on the shooting differ substantially from Giuliani’s account. In 2015, Kernes was charged along with some of his bodyguards with kidnapping, torturing, and threatening to murder two anti-Yanukovych activists. The charges were thrown out last fall, after prosecutors reportedly failed to show up to hearings.
Al Jazeera reported last year that Fuks was questioned by Ukrainian authorities about a complex scheme to obtain $160 million of assets allegedly stolen from the country by Yanukovych, who was forced out of power and fled the country in 2014. Yanukovych had employed Manafort as a lobbyist and adviser. The former Trump campaign chairman is currently imprisoned and awaiting sentencing for tax evasion, money laundering, and other crimes, many of which involve his efforts to hide millions of dollars in payments he received from Yanukovych and his allies.
Giuliani’s foreign consulting work has recently drawn scrutiny. In recent years, he has represented Qatar and a Turkish gold trader prosecuted in federal court for violating US sanctions on Iran, a case that drew personal attention from Turkey’s autocratic president Recep Erdogan. Last summer, Giuliani sent a letter to Romania’s president attacking an anti-corruption campaign there. He later acknowledged he was paid to send the missive by a firm run by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who represents one or more wealthy Romanians investigated under the campaign. His letter drew a rebuke from the State Department, which noted that the former mayor’s statements contradicted US policy. In October, Giuliani attended a technology conference in Armenia where he appeared on a panel with a Russian currently on the US sanctions list. TriGlobal Strategic Ventures, a New York-based firm that has advised Russian oligarchs and others with Kremlin ties, arranged that trip. The firm also boaststhat it “facilitated [the] introduction between the City of Kharkiv and Giuliani Security & Safety.” Its president, Vitaly Pruss, says in an online biography that he “worked closely with Giuliani Partners” from 2008 to 2011. A man who answered the phone at TriGlobal’s office hung up when contacted by Mother Jones.
In September, seven Senate Democrats asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Giuliani violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by lobbying for foreign interests without registering with the US government. Giuliani has never registered with the Justice Department as a lobbyist or a foreign agent. He says he does not need to because he only provides advice and does not lobby for his clients.
But critics, including these Senate Democrats, say that Giuliani’s access to Trump and other top US officials would make it easy for him to privately push for US policy to reflect his clients’ interests. “Mr. Giuliani communicates in private with the President and his senior staff on a regular basis,” the senators wrote. “Without further review, it is impossible to know whether Mr. Giuliani is lobbying U.S. government officials on behalf of his foreign clients.”
Giuliani told Mother Jones that his work in Ukraine, “like all the work I do, had nothing to do with representing them before any part of the US government. All of it was for the internal benefit of the City of Kharkiv. At the time we started and completed it, I had no idea I would be representing the President.”
Hannah Levintova contributed reporting.
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paul whelan - Google Search

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Story image for paul whelan from Detroit Free Press

Paul Whelan's brother says Russia delays consular prison visit

Detroit Free Press-5 hours ago
MOSCOW — The brother of an American being held in Moscow for alleged spying says a prison visit by U.S. Embassy staff has been ...
Russia postpones Paul Whelan's Thursday meeting with US Embassy ...
International-Southgate News Herald-2 hours ago
Story image for paul whelan from The Independent

Paul Whelan: Russia says alleged UK spy was caught red-handed

The Independent-Jan 16, 2019
Paul Whelan was imprisoned as he was carrying out illegal activities in his hotel room in Moscow, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov ...
Brother: Paul Whelan gets Russian prison visit
International-The Detroit News-Jan 16, 2019
Story image for paul whelan from The Moscow Times

Paul Whelan's Family Will Not Be Seeking Access to Him in Russia ...

The Moscow Times-Jan 15, 2019
Paul Whelan's family has no immediate plans to visit him in Russia, his brother has said, rejecting Whelan's lawyer's claims earlier on Tuesday.
Story image for paul whelan from CNN International

US citizen Paul Whelan, accused of spying in Russia, files appeal

CNN International-Jan 10, 2019
(CNN) US citizen Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Russia on suspicion of espionage, has filed an appeal against a Moscow court's decision ...
Paul Whelan Isn't a Spy, and Putin Knows It
International-The Atlantic-Jan 10, 2019
Story image for paul whelan from ABC News

Paul Whelan made for a convenient target for Russian intelligence: Ex ...

ABC News-Jan 12, 2019
In the days following American Paul Whelan's arrest in Moscow on espionage charges, suggestive details began to emerge about his past.
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House rebukes Trump administration plan to ease Russian sanctions

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Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The House overwhelmingly voted Thursday against President Donald Trump's plan to ease sanctions for companies with ties to a Russian oligarch and ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The 362-53 vote included some 130 Republicans who broke ranks with their party.
The Treasury Department proposed lifting sanctions imposed last April by the Trump administration against companies controlled by Oleg Deripaska, but keeping penalties in place against the oligarch. On Wednesday, the department extended the sanctions against the companies -- including one that's a producer of aluminum -- through Jan. 28.
Earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin -- ahead of a briefing with the House -- said the department plans to lift the sanctions on the companies because they are being restructured to "sever Deripaska's control and significantly diminish his ownership."
"One of the goals of sanctions is to change behavior, and the proposed delistings of companies that Deripaska will no longer control show that sanctions can result in positive change," he said.
Deripaska and his companies were among dozens of individuals and entities sanctioned a year ago in reaction to "the Kremlin's malign agenda" that includes cyberattacks and aggression in Ukraine and Syria. At the time, Mnuchin said the Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and Russian elites.
Deripaska, a senior government official involved in the energy sector, has said he doesn't separate himself from the Russian state. He has acknowledged possessing a Russian diplomatic passport and claims to have represented Moscow in other countries. He's been investigated for money laundering and accused of threatening the lives of business rivals, illegally wiretapping a government official and taking part in extortion and racketeering. He has also been accused of bribing a government official, ordering the death of a businessman and having links to a Russian organized crime group.

The cringiest tweets by @womenforcohen, which Michael Cohen created to make himself a ‘sex symbol’

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Michael Cohen's Effort To Rig Reader 'Polls' Shows Exactly Why They Mean Nothing

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That Cohen was able to cook up such a plan highlights the glaring problems with reader polls, and why — as we’ve written previously — they shouldn’t be confused with real surveys.
Scientific polling, whether conducted by phone, using an online panel, or in some other fashion, is fundamentally designed to be representative. It relies on some mix of sampling (choosing who’s selected to take the survey) and weighting (adjusting the data to account for the fact that some types of people are more likely than others to respond). 
Recent changes in technology have complicated that process, and even rigorous polling is far from infallible. But there’s an enduring, basically sound underlying principle: making the pool of respondents look as much as possible like the larger population whose opinions the pollsters are trying to measure.
While they’re fun to take, reader polls fail on multiple levels as tools to gauge public sentiment.
That’s why, even if a scientific poll reaches only a thousand or so people, it can reflect the opinions of a broader group, whether that’s something like registered Republican voters or the American public as a whole. 
These techniques, of course, require pollsters to have a basic ability to control who takes their survey and to monitor the demographics of those who respond.
Reader polls, by contrast, offer none of that. While they’re fun to take, they fail on multiple levels as tools to gauge public sentiment. The people reading any particular website aren’t representative of the public at large. Those who take the time to read a particular story ― and to weigh in on it ― are even less so.
Would you be surprised, for example, to learn that HuffPost readers who clicked on a story about partisan acrimony are more politically argumentative than the average American?
Perhaps most troublingly, because reader polls have no means of gatekeeping or measuring who responds, they’re intensely vulnerable to intentional manipulation by people with a vested interest in the outcome, whether that’s someone like Cohen or online trolls. (This is also how you end up at risk of being told to name your research ship “Boaty McBoatface” or your soccer team “Footy McFooty Face.”)
The problem with reader polls isn’t that they’re conducted online. In this day and age, there are plenty of scientific web-based pollsters with procedures in place to conduct representative surveys. The problem with reader polls is the lack of any provisions for sampling or weighting and the lack of even basic safeguards against being gamed by online mobs.
As Democratic primary season heats up, it’s likely that similar types of reader polls will start to make a reappearance as well. But even when a campaign isn’t making a systematic effort to rig them, they are still of extremely limited utility for understanding what Americans think.
To sum up: Any “poll” that does not exert some measure of control over who takes it and how many times they do so is not really a poll, and it shouldn’t be treated like one.
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Page 17

Law firm tied to Manafort reaches $4.6 million settlement

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A law firm tied to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's international consulting work has agreed to pay $4.6 million and register as a foreign agent.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A law firm tied to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s Ukrainian consulting work has agreed to pay more than $4.6 million and publicly acknowledge that it failed to report its work for a foreign government, the Justice Department said Thursday.
The civil settlement with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, one of the largest law firms in the world, brings to a close at least one part of a probe that developed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Mueller’s team has delved deeply into Manafort’s years of work in the eastern European country as it investigated possible coordination between Trump associates and Russia in the 2016 election.
The investigation into Manafort, who now faces years in prison, also entangled several prominent firms, lobbyists and lawyers, including former Skadden partner and Obama White House counsel Greg Craig. They were all involved in some form of foreign lobbying or public relations work for Ukrainian interests that the former Trump campaign chairman sought to conceal from the U.S. government.
The 44-page settlement agreement contains a damning narrative of Skadden’s conduct and that of a senior partner who is not named but matches Craig’s description.
According to the agreement, Skadden acknowledged that in 2012 it acted as an agent of Ukraine by participating in a public relations campaign for a report it authored for that country’s government. The report sought to prop up the legitimacy of the prosecution of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a political foe of Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s president at the time and a longtime Manafort patron.
In 2012 and 2013, the public relations campaign drew the attention of the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act unit, which opened an inquiry into whether the firm should register under the law. But the settlement says a senior Skadden partner made several “false and misleading” statements to the government that allowed the firm to avoid registration.
Though the Ukrainian government initially said the law firm was only paid $12,000, the Justice Department settlement says Skadden was actually paid more than $4.6 million. That money came from a Ukrainian businessman, who paid the firm through an offshore account in Cyprus controlled by Manafort.
John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said Skadden failed in its due diligence by relying on the untruthful senior partner in its responses to the government and “hid from the public that its report was part of a Ukrainian foreign influence campaign.”
In a statement, Skadden said, “We have learned much from this incident and are taking steps to prevent anything similar from happening again.”
The law firm will now have to register and pay the $4.6 million fine, which equals the proceeds of the Ukrainian work. The firm also agreed to make available current and former partners and other employees for questioning by investigators, including before grand juries.
It wasn’t immediately clear what the settlement means for Craig, the lead author of the Tymoshenko report. His lawyers did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan, as part of a referral from Mueller, have for months been investigating Skadden, Craig and two prominent Washington lobbying firms to determine whether they had knowingly violated FARA as part of their work for Manafort.
Prosecutors in recent months have questioned witnesses about work performed by Skadden and the two other firms, the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs.
Both lobbying firms have denied any wrongdoing.
Skadden previously surfaced in the Mueller investigation after one of its attorneys, Alex van der Zwaan, pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators probing the firm’s Ukrainian work. Van der Zwaan, a Dutch citizen who lives in London, served 30 days in federal prison.
FARA, the statute at issue in the settlement, is a decades-old law meant to allow Americans to know when foreign entities are trying to influence public opinion or policymakers. The law, enacted in 1938 to unmask Nazi propaganda in the United States, requires people to disclose to the Justice Department when they advocate, lobby or perform public relations work in the U.S. on behalf of a foreign government or political entity.
The Justice Department has stepped up criminal enforcement of the law, bringing several high-profile prosecutions in the last year, including several related to Mueller’s probe.
___
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
___
Read the settlement: <a href="http://apne.ws/IEfEnKd" rel="nofollow">http://apne.ws/IEfEnKd</a>
Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.
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Gangster Geopolitics: The Kremlin’s Use of Criminals as Assets Abroad | Russia Matters

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Gangster Geopolitics: The Kremlin’s Use of Criminals as Assets Abroad

January 17, 2019
Mark Galeotti

Gangster Geopolitics: The Kremlin’s Use of Criminals as Assets Abroad | Russia Matters

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Gangster Geopolitics: The Kremlin’s Use of Criminals as Assets Abroad

January 17, 2019
Mark Galeotti
In September 2011, two Chechens suspected of involvement in the January suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, which left 37 people dead, had just left an Istanbul mosque after Friday prayers when, along with a companion, they were shot dead. According to an indictment cited in a major Turkish newspaper, prosecutors had identified two of the hitmen as Russian nationals working for the Kremlin’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which, prosecutors said, was fighting Chechen groups in Turkey, including those linked to Chechnya’s insurgency against Moscow. But subsequent reporting by the BBC identified one of the suspects as a member of a Moscow crime gang; another Russian suspected of killing a Chechen militant in Turkey in 2015 likewise hailed from organized crime, according to the BBC, and was also accused by Turkish authorities of working for Russian intelligence.
Especially since 2014, there has been a steady trickle of cases suggesting that Moscow is using organized crime as a covert tool for the “dark aspects” of its foreign policy. Beyond the specific cases discussed in this article, to a considerable extent this assessment is based on discussions with Western officials, especially numerous semi-structured conversations with seven European security and law-enforcement officers. Publicly available details are often scant, as organized crime investigations, and the consequent trials, tend to be lengthy and details are kept under wraps until court proceedings are over. Nonetheless, the consensus within the European security community is that there has been a definite uptick in the use of criminals to further Russia’s foreign policy goals. While in Soviet times the Kremlin’s political police demonstrated a willingness to turn to criminals as assets or recruits when needed, the scale and approach seemingly adopted by President Vladimir Putin’s Russia has changed.
Following the post-EuroMaidan worsening of relations with the West, the Kremlin has increasingly adopted what has been called a “mobilization state” approach. Aware of the West’s greater economic, military and soft power, Russia has been turning to any available alternative foreign policy levers, from nationalist oligarchs to disruptive media outlets. The gangsters are no exception, and instead of simply identifying unacceptable behaviors, as it did in the past, the Kremlin—occasionally—makes specific demands of those gangsters susceptible to its pressure.
Russia’s practices in this area are also different from those of most other countries. Collaboration with criminals by governments in pursuing foreign-policy goals is certainly not unique to Moscow, and one could look at U.S. examples ranging from cooperation with the Mafia in the 1943 conquest of Sicily to the 1985-87 Iran-Contra deals with drug traffickers. However, in fairness, these cases are extremely rare, singular and typically carried out in the context of wars, both open and undeclared. It is striking in contrast that Russia appears to be deploying organized-crime connections abroad in ostensible peacetime, reflecting that Moscow sees the current geopolitical clash with the West as an existential political struggle analogous to war.
‘Crimintern’
Some elements of Russian state cooperation with criminal networks can, like the American examples above, be seen in military conflicts, declared or not: In Ukraine, for example, local gangsters in Crimea allegedly provided muscle as so-called “self-defense volunteers” alongside the infamous “little green men,” and some of the forces fighting on the side of Russian-backed separatists in Donbas include organized crime figures.
Other cases involving alleged state-criminal linkages prop up Russia’s interests abroad more subtly. For instance, after the suspected paymaster of the notorious U.S.-based Russian “sleeper” spies disappeared from Cyprus following his arrest there in 2010, several U.S. and European counter-intelligence officials told me they believe Russian criminal groups involved in human trafficking quietly smuggled him to Russia, or else into Greece for subsequent exfiltration by Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). As with all such allegations in this article, Russia denies cooperating with criminals.
However, the main activities criminal gangs are required to perform in the new Russian “Crimintern” tend to involve either intelligence missions or generating chernaya kassa (“black cash”)—money with no provable connection to the Russian state, but helpful in paying for some of its projects. The suspicion voiced by a number of European security services is that these funds then go toward bankrolling useful political figures or media outlets.
Criminal money-laundering networks can also be used to “clean” intelligence agencies’ operational funds. According to a specialist from the Italian Guardia di Finanza, or financial police, this tends to involve small-scale operations through individuals’ bank accounts, not huge, multi-beneficiary schemes like the 1998-99 Bank of New York money-laundering operation or the 2008-14 “laundromat” documented recently by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. For example, after Estonian security officer Eston Kohver was kidnapped across the border by an FSB commando team (Russia denies the charge despite compelling evidence from its own border guards), Estonian security services told me that the cigarette smuggling gang he had been investigating was being given a free pass to transport its goods across the Russian frontier. In return, they said, the gang members conducted surveillance on areas and individuals of interest to Moscow (as have other smugglers) and kicked back a share of their profits into otherwise unremarkable bank accounts for the FSB’s use.
According to a Bulgarian security officer, a similar case, which appears to have stalled since 2017, involved smugglers working through the port of Varna, bringing in drugs and counterfeit consumer goods from Odessa. These were Ukrainians working for a Russia-based gang, and the working hypothesis was that they were not only feeding information on Odessa back to Moscow via contacts in the Russian expat community in Varna, but since 2016 also being “taxed” a share of their profits as chernaya kassa funds paid through the accounts of their contacts in Varna.. His belief, although it was just speculation, was that this was in return for a degree of impunity for the gang’s leaders in Moscow.
Among European security officials there is also a growing concern that criminal moneys are being spent to establish potential listening stations and staging posts for Russian intelligence. A German counter-intelligence officer told me that a series of other properties in Germany and elsewhere in Nordic Europe had been bought by criminals, yet seem to be only sporadically occupied. The common denominator was that “they all are close to, sometimes even overlooking, strategic ports, bases and airfields.” His speculation was that the criminals bought them, but the Russian espionage services—especially military intelligence, formerly known as GRU—would use them for its own purposes. (Similar speculation concerning a recent Finnish raid near Turku, however, is likely unfounded.)
Likewise, the Kremlin has for some time employed hackers as adjuncts to its own internet campaigns of disruption and espionage. Increasingly, instead of so-called “patriotic hackers”—often more enthusiastic than skillful—they are employing cybercriminals, some of whom are directly recruited into government service, but more often deployed for pay or to avoid prison. They have been used to break into foreign systems and, according to some security experts, they may also be used for money-making ventures, again intended to raise chernaya kassa funds.
The Past
In Soviet times, the Kremlin actively used criminals to advance its interests. It was willing to bankroll, arm and shelter terrorists operating in the West, and the KGB cultivated black marketeers and hard-currency speculators dealing with Western tourists as informants. Indeed, the Cheka, the Bolsheviks’ first political police, recruited bandits and gangsters for its needs, and later vory, members of the criminal subculture, became crucial to the running of the Gulag camps.
After the Soviet collapse, however, the Communist leadership’s centralized control over such activity disintegrated and a new blurring of the boundaries between the political, economic and criminal elites arose. This was especially evident in 1990s St. Petersburg where Putin served as deputy mayor. Part of his portfolio then seems to have been managing the authorities’ relationship with the city’s powerful underworld, and especially the dominant Tambovskaya grouping, something comprehensively explored by political scientist Karen Dawisha. Putin appears to have successfully bartered economic opportunities for the criminals’ cooperation.
When Putin first became the country’s elected president in 2000, he brought his lessons to bear on the national level. In effect, organized crime was offered a deal: Don’t challenge or embarrass the state and you won’t be treated as an enemy of the state. This did not mean absolute impunity: The police and the courts still continued their efforts against the gangsters, and even criminal kingpins faced arrest if they stepped out of line. However, it did represent a social contract that most of the gangs were happy to accept, having survived a decade of turf wars and amassed significant wealth that they wanted to keep.
The Future
The mobilization-state model assumes that all organizations and individuals can be yoked to national interests: It is not so much totalitarianism as conscription. Since there is little prospect of the current geopolitical clash with the West easing in any substantive way so long as Putin is in the Kremlin, or of his reinventing his model, this use of criminals as an instrument of statecraft—though it is a response to a specific challenge—is likely to be persistent.
So far the practice has apparently been confined to Europe, but the constraints of its further spread are likely situational rather than structural. “Eurasian organized crime” in the U.S., to use the FBI’s term, is typically multi-ethnic and as likely to be dominated by Armenians or Georgians or Uzbeks as Russians. It is also much less directly connected to Russian-based networks and thus less vulnerable to pressure from the Kremlin. However, there are virtual worlds of criminality, from money laundering to cybercrime, in which geography is much less important. In May 2018, for example, a Kazakh-born Canadian hacker was convicted in California of working for the FSB. Furthermore, Russian gangs are more strongly connected to the underworlds of Latin America (where they swap cocaine for Afghan heroin) than to those of the U.S., and may make inroads into networks stretching northwards.
Even so, the threat must be kept in context. Gangsters make uncomfortable and often unreliable agents—deniability is bought at the expense of effectiveness. The Kremlin will still likely prefer to use its more conventional covert assets where it can, and the criminals will simply be an auxiliary asset used when their capabilities are especially appropriate or other resources are overstretched.
Besides which, whenever states think they can use criminals, they tend also to open themselves up to reciprocal exploitation. With corruption a serious problem for the Russian security and intelligence services, there has already been evidence of such blowback—from the use of state cyber assets for private gain to military intelligence assets being used to gather information on Russian gangsters abroad, according to Canadian police. Here and now, this crime-state nexus is clearly an additional security headache for the West, but in the longer term it may pose at least as serious a problem for Russia itself.
Opinions expressed in this article are solely the author's. Many of the issues discussed here are covered in greater detail in Mark Galeotti’s new book (see below).
Photo by Kassel95 shared on Pixabay for free use.
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