Rantt Rundown: All The President’s Stooges
Day 475 of the Trump presidency
There are two main stories that need to be covered before we dive into the rest of today’s news. Michael Cohen’s alleged pay-to-play schemes and Devin Nunes’ apparent willingness to expose a U.S. Intelligence source of the CIA and FBI in his never-ending effort to undermine the Russia investigation. But first, we start with Michael Cohen…
It all started yesterday with a tweet from Stephanie Clifford’s (Stormy Daniels) lawyer.
As The Atlantic put it, Avenatti’s tweet merged the “two biggest scandals of Donald Trump’s presidency in a single tweet.” Avenatti then sent out a summary of his findings, which found over $4 million moved through a shell company of Michael Cohen’s. The Treasury Department’s Inspector General is investigating if this info was leaked. Avenatti’s claims were later corroborated by multiple outlets, including The New York Times:
A shell company that Michael D. Cohen used to pay hush money to a pornographic film actress received payments totaling more than $1 million from an American company linked to a Russian oligarch and several corporations with business before the Trump administration, according to documents and interviews.
Financial records reviewed by The New York Times show that Mr. Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer and longtime fixer, used the shell company, Essential Consultants L.L.C., for an array of business activities that went far beyond what was publicly known. Transactions adding up to at least $4.4 million flowed through Essential Consultants starting shortly before Mr. Trump was elected president and continuing to this January, the records show.
Among the previously unreported transactions were payments last year of about $500,000 from Columbus Nova, an investment firm in New York whose biggest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch. A lawyer for Columbus Nova, in a statement on Tuesday, described the money as a consulting fee that had nothing to do with Mr. Vekselberg.
Russian Oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who is under U.S. sanctions, was questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller about this payment.
As you can see, Columbus Nova wasn’t the only entity who submitted payments through this shell company. It was later revealed that telecommunications company AT&T and pharmaceutical company Novartis made similar payments, in alleged pay-to-play schemes.
We discovered today that Novartis paid Cohen $1.2 million after Cohen approached them offering access to the incoming Trump administration. AT&T made their payments seeking “insights” into the administration. Special Counsel Robert Mueller questioned both companies about these payments last November, proving he is 20 steps ahead of all of us.
This flow of money raises questions. As we know, Cohen reportedly obtained $774,000 through a home-equity line of credit. Cohen paid $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) in October 2016 to keep her quiet about her 2006 affair with Donald Trump. As part of the criminal investigation being conducted by federal investigators in the Southern District of New York, Cohen is being probed for potential bank fraud and potentially violating election law by trying to suppress damning information about then-candidate Donald Trump.
Question is, how was all this money spent?
Now, we turn to Devin Nunes.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have been locked in a battle with the Justice Department about unredacted documents pertaining to the Russia investigation for weeks, and yesterday a concerning report dropped from The Washington Post:
Last Wednesday, senior FBI and national intelligence officials relayed an urgent message to the White House: Information being sought by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes could endanger a top-secret intelligence source.
Top White House officials, with the assent of President Trump, agreed to back the decision to withhold the information. They were persuaded that turning over Justice Department documents could risk lives by potentially exposing the source, a U.S. citizen who has provided intelligence to the CIA and FBI, according to multiple people familiar with the discussion and the person’s role.
Also last Wednesday…
Today, CNN reported that “Devin Nunes and fellow GOP committee member Trey Gowdy have been invited to the Justice Department for a classified briefing Thursday about the latest document request related to the Russia investigation.” This came after House Speaker Paul Ryan chimed in on Nunes’ side, saying that the DOJ should comply with their requests, in spite of the risks.
Although Nunes denied that his committee is seeking information about this source, the facts beg to differ.
From his manufactured unmasking scandal to his widely debunked memo, Nunes has been a useful tool through which the White House has tried to undermine the Russia investigation. Important to point out up front the fact that Devin Nunes was on the Trump transition team, which is a subject of the Russia investigation. So any move taken by Nunes to undermine this investigation is arguably an attempt to undermine an investigation into an operation he was a member of.
- After CIA Director Nominee Gina Haspel faced intense questioning from the Senate Intelligence Committee over her history of overseeing torture, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) called on the Senate to reject her nomination.
- Three Americans were freed by North Korea and sent home with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
- The Daily Beast reported:
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has spoken with Blackwater founder Erik Prince, two sources familiar with the matter tell The Daily Beast. It was not immediately clear what questions Mueller’s team had or what information Prince shared with the special counsel.
Prince attended a now-controversial meeting with the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund in the Seychelles on Jan. 11, 2017 — just over a week before Inauguration Day. The Washington Post reported that Mueller is interested in potential efforts at the Seychelles meeting to set up a backchannel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin.
- Tensions continued to rise in the aftermath of President Trump’s decision to violate the Obama-era Iran Nuclear Deal. The Guardian reported:
Arch-enemies Iran and Israel have appeared to edge closer to all-out war after Israel’s military said its positions in the Golan Heights were hit with a barrage of Iranian rockets, prompting it to respond with extensive strikes targeting Tehran’s forces across Syria.
The attack, if confirmed, would mark the first time Iran has fired rockets in a direct strike on Israeli forces, dramatically ratcheting up what has for years been a conflict fought through proxies.
Several but not all of the Iranian rockets were intercepted by Israeli defences, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman, Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, told reporters.
- Politico reported:
President Donald Trump’s national security team is weighing the elimination of the top White House cybersecurity job, multiple sources told POLITICO — a move that would come as the nation faces growing digital threats from adversaries such as Russia and Iran.
John Bolton, Trump’s hawkish new national security adviser, is leading the push to abolish the role of special assistant to the president and cybersecurity coordinator, currently held by the departing Rob Joyce, according to one current and two former U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the discussions.
- This Senate report is from yesterday, but given that Bolton news, we have to include it. The New York Times reported:
WASHINGTON — Russia was preparing to undermine confidence in the United States’ voting process when its hackers surveilled around 20 state election systems in the run-up to the 2016 elections, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in a brief report released on Tuesday.
But the committee said it saw no evidence that the Russians had ultimately changed vote tallies or voter registration information. In a few states, however, Russian hackers were “in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete voter registration data,” the committee said.
“These activities began at least as early as 2014, continued through Election Day 2016, and included traditional information-gathering efforts as well as operations likely aimed at preparing to discredit the integrity of the U.S. voting process and election results,” the senators wrote.
- President Trump continued his attacks on the media in yet another tweet, this time threatening the removal of press credentials due to “negative” press coverage.
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