Looks as though Russian spies had Manafort under control

Retired CIA operations officer Stephen Hall, who was the Station Chief at the Embassy of the United States in Moscow, penned an op-ed for the Washington Post on Friday explaining why former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort would have been “a prime target” for Russian intelligence officials working on behalf of the Kremlin.

Hall pointed to recent reports that, in an email exchange, Manafort offered Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska “private briefings” on the status of the campaign less than two weeks before Trump clutched the Republican nomination.

As Hall noted, Deripaska is “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis,” a fact Manafort would have understood “clearly, of course,” given his career as an influence broker prior to joining the Trump campaign.

“If you choose to wade in that swamp, and you are trying to make money doing it, you cannot help becoming highly attuned to the power relationships in that part of the world,” Hall wrote.

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni described Manafort’s offer as an “innocuous” attempt to collect past debts, telling the Post, “It’s no secret Mr. Manafort was owed money by past clients.”
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But Manafort was also indebted to Russian interests, according to records from Cyprus—a noted financial tax haven. In fact, Deripaska filed a complaint in a Virginia court in 2015 alleging Manafort and his partners owed him $19 million, the New York Times reports.

In considering what Hall described as the “ideal spy” for Russian intelligence services, the former CIA intelligence officer argued Manafort would be “irresistible to Russian intelligence services.”

“In the world of Russian human intelligence collection, the ideal spy looks something like this: an individual with a significant financial vulnerability or motivation (such as debt or a threat of meaningful financial loss); someone with access to inside information of interest to the Russian government; a person who understands the need for discretion and, if necessary, secrecy,” Hall explained.

“Any Russian intelligence officer worth his salt would have identified Manafort as meeting all those qualification,” he added.

HHS Secretary Price resigns . . . I’d call that a good start . . . now let’s move on to Trump

After coming under fire for chartering expensive private jets and flying abroad on taxpayer-funded military planes totaling more than $1 million, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has resigned.

According to a statement from the White House, Price “offered his resignation earlier today and the President accepted.”

“The President intends to designate Don J. Wright of Virginia to serve as Acting Secretary,” the statement continues, “effective at 11:59 p.m. on September 29, 2017.  Mr. Wright currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.”

On Sept. 27, when asked if he intended to fire Price, President Donald Trump told reporters, “We’ll see.” He also said he is “not happy” with his cabinet members’ practices of lavish travel on the government’s dime. By Friday, the president said the controversy surrounding Price’s expensive travel were “a distraction.”

After nearly a week of public outcry about his chartered planes, Price vowed to repay the Treasury for “his seats” on the private jets. Soon after, however, documents revealed that Price would only repay roughly $52,000 of his chartered private flights — a fraction of the government dollars he spent on them.

“You may rest assured that I will continue to support your critical priorities going ahead because failure is not an option for the American people,” Price said in his resignation letter. 

Trump is a repulsive, sick excuse for a human and here’s the proof

In a 2008 interview with Howard Stern, Donald Trump tells the quintessential Donald Trump story, which took place at Mar-a-Lago during the occasion of a $100,000 per table charity event when an elderly man fell off the stage and sustained a serious head wound — and Trump did nothing but blanch and turn away “in disgust” — as he puts it. Daily Beast:

“So what happens is, this guy falls off right on his face, hits his head, and I thought he died. And you know what I did? I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s disgusting,’ and I turned away,” said Trump. “I couldn’t, you know, he was right in front of me and I turned away. I didn’t want to touch him… he’s bleeding all over the place, I felt terrible. You know, beautiful marble floor, didn’t look like it. It changed color. Became very red. And you have this poor guy, 80 years old, laying on the floor unconscious, and all the rich people are turning away. ‘Oh my God! This is terrible! This is disgusting!’ and you know, they’re turning away. Nobody wants to help the guy. His wife is screaming—she’s sitting right next to him, and she’s screaming.”

Thank God for the Marines. “What happens is, these 10 Marines from the back of the room… they come running forward, they grab him, they put the blood all over the place—it’s all over their uniforms—they’re taking it, they’re swiping [it], they ran him out, they created a stretcher. They call it a human stretcher, where they put their arms out with, like, five guys on each side,” shared Trump.

“I was saying, ‘Get that blood cleaned up! It’s disgusting!’ The next day, I forgot to call [the man] to say he’s OK,” said Trump, adding of the blood, “It’s just not my thing.”

This story more than any other demonstrates the utter shallowness, lack of normal human development and utter absence of character and human decency, of Donald Trump. He is a disgrace to humanity.

All those Trump supporters? Actually, they are Russian bots and trolls.

Donald Trump’s Facebook support …

Posts that circulated to a targeted, swing-state audience on the social media site railed against illegal immigrants and claimed “the only viable option is to elect Trump.” They were shared by what looked like a grassroots American, anti-immigrant group called Secured Borders, but Congressional investigators say the group is actually a Russian fabrication designed to influence American voters during and after the presidential election.

Donald Trump’s Twitter support …

There is evidence that Twitter may have been used even more extensively than Facebook in the Russian influence campaign last year. In addition to Russia-linked Twitter accounts that posed as Americans, the platform was also used for large-scale automated messaging, using “bot” accounts to spread false stories and promote news articles about emails from Democratic operatives that had been obtained by Russian hackers.

As more troll farms and propaganda sites are uncovered, it’s clear that not only did Russia steer the national conversation during the 2016 election, it’s still going on.

After a weekend when Americans took to social media to debate President Trump’s admonishment of N.F.L. players who do not stand for the national anthem, a network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia seized on both sides of the issue with hashtags such as #boycottnfl, #standforouranthem and #takeaknee.

 

You’d think the media would figure it out: Kneeling for the national anthem is a cover for Trump’s total failure

Last week the White House dumpster fire was going nuclear.

  • Puerto Rico was on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe “with little help in sight.”
  • The right’s latest healthcare gambit, which would strip “at least 21 million” Americans of healthcare, was collapsing.
  • Trump’s pick in the Alabama Senate special election was set to lose to a religious fundamentalist who makes the Taliban look moderate.
  • To top it off, Trump was careening toward an actual nuclear war with North Korea one insult and a tweet at a time.

Cue the classic Trump misdirection. To change the conversation, he unleashed a fusillade of tweets attacking professional football players who have been protesting during the national anthem.

Now, there are real issues at stake here, namely systematic racism and police brutality that Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid first protested on bended knee in 2016. It’s an important news story, such as why the protest began, how Kaepernick, an above-average quarterback, has been blacklisted by NFL owners for his politics — exposing the systematic racism he was protesting to begin with — and how the same owners hypocritically jumped on the protest bandwagon and tried to turn it into a watered-down feel-good moment.

But few of these stories filtered into the major media. The New York Times took Trump’s bait in its Sunday edition by splashing five stories above the fold and framing the story as one of Trump versus the NFL and other sports stars. The Washington Post weighed in with six stories and a similar context.

In taking Trump at face value, the media are being his patsies. Trump gets to define the debate, he can dog-whistle to racists, the one consistent position he’s had his whole life, and then deny he was saying anything about race while attacking an NFL and NBA that are 70 percent Black. Most of all, Trump makes it “all about him,” the technique central to his fame and fortune and presidency.

This is not a new story. Every time Trump lands in a mess of his own making, he pivots to the attack with the aim of outraging, offending, and dividing to his benefit. Two long years ago, the New York Times pointed out how Twitter enabled Trump to “deflect the controversies he delights in touching off.”

But it’s more than Twitter. Trump needs the media to play its role in his reality T.V. world, to amplify his Tweets as news in their own right rather than point out that, objectively, he is running the same con game over and over again.

Since being elected, Trump has unleashed this blunt-force instrument with abandon. Seth Meyers cracked back in January that Trump’s tweets were either “a calculated distraction or the ramblings of an unhinged narcissist.”

On his first full day, Trump made the easily disprovable lie that he drew the largest inauguration crowd in history. He took just two days to flip the conversation to voter fraud with another lie, that he lost the popular vote to Clinton because millions of people cast ballots illegally.

Two months into his presidency, there was already a guide to the “Trump distraction technique.” Numerous other media outlets and commentators have followed suit. But it’s usually as commentary after Trump’s controversy hijacked the headlines. Foreign media, like The Guardian and Financial Times, have the distance to to say what is obvious with Trump’s latest Twitter tantrum: “The president’s attacks on sportspeople divert attention from Puerto Rico’s crisis.”

Back in March of 2016, Nate Silver explained how Trump had hacked the media: “Trump has been able to disrupt the news pretty much any time he wants, whether by being newsworthy, offensive, salacious or entertaining. The media has almost always played along.”

Eighteen months later the media is still playing along. Why? Some of it is the business of media. Trump’s knows his bombast attracts eyeballs, so the media, eager for an audience, will jump on his infantile pranks like retweeting GIFs of him hitting Hillary Clinton with a golf ball or body-slamming CNN.

But there are three bigger interrelated problems at work. One is the media’s traditional deference to power. At the U.N., when Trump said ahe would “totally destroy North Korea,” he was threatening to commit genocide. That is absent from Times reporting. The Washington Post did point it out, including the fact his words could count as “conspiracy and public incitement” to commit genocide, but only in an opinion article.

Most U.S. media venerate the presidency because they view its unrivaled power as the primary source of legitimacy for America and themselves. So they are loathe to undermine it, even when it is Trump debasing it.

This raises the second problem, of objectivity. Silver points out “Trump has frequently invoked misogyny and racism; he has frequently lied, and he has repeatedly encouraged violence against political protesters.” Thus, these are “matters of fact and not opinion and to describe them otherwise would make our reporting less objective.”

Yet to this day, the New York Times can muster only that Trump “has long appeared to sanction violence.” The media treat whatever the president has to say as truth until definitely proven otherwise. This is the third problem: to the media, appearance is reality.

The media is obsessed with images and process. Conversely, they say little about the terrifying reality behind Trump’s tweets. One expert puts “the chances of conventional conflict with North Korea at 50-50 and the chances of nuclear war at 10%.” Or how Trump is deliberately abandoning nearly 4 million U.S. citizens to destruction, disease and death in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Or how one study found Trumpcare could kill close to half-a-million Americans in a decade. Half-a-million.

To be fair, the mainstream media are on to the method of Trump’s madness. But they relegate that to opinions, rather than treating his distraction techniques as the objective facts they are. That is the problem. For a narrative to change public perception it has to be the dominant story.

That is how the Bush administration successfully lied its way into the Iraq War. Some in the media disputed the falsehood that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But generally the media treated Iraq’s nonexistent WMDs as fact or even embellished the lies, most infamously by Judith Miller at the New York Times. By doing so, the media paved the way for an illegal war that spread to neighboring countries, is still ongoing, and has claimed perhaps 1 million lives in total.

Trump has gone further by making the media his chief enemy while still depending on them to be his suckers. And it’s working. He is already shifting from his spat with NFL players back to North Korea and the media are following along. It’s all part of Trump’s strategy to create one crisis after another at a whiplash pace to keep everyone off balance.

The powers that be still don’t grasp how Trump works. Until the mainstream media realize they need to treat his hypocrisy, venality, and barbarism as a fact and not an opinion, Trump will continue to call the shots. Perhaps even into a second term.

Trump’s ties to Russian money and mob detailed in Dutch documentary series

Donald Trump’s real estate empire is linked to an international money-laundering scheme that netted more than $1 billion for himself and his business partners, according to the third installment of a documentary series by Dutch filmmakers that aired Wednesday.

As Alternet’s Steven Rosenfeld reports, director of “The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump, Part III: The Multibillion-Dollar Fraud” Sander Rietveld followed the transfer of money from Kazakhstan to the United States to identify “how this could relate to Donald Trump, the Trump Organization and Trump’s real estate.”

The result, Rietveld said, ”is a follow-the-money documentary revealing the connections between several people in Trump’s orbit and an alleged multibillion-dollar fraud.” Rietveld also noted Kazakh oligarch Ilyas Khrapunov “tried to block” the documentary from airing.

“Judge turned down his request and allowed airing documentary,” Rietveld said.

The documentary zeros in on money from Kazakhstan that went towards Bayrock, the group that joined forces with Trump International for the company’s SoHo Tower project. The project manager of Bayrock, Felix Sater, pleaded guilty in 1998 to a fraud scheme involving the Russian mob. He later became an FBI informant and in 2017 began cooperating with investigators working on an international money laundering scheme, the Financial Times reports.

“The significant thing is they have got the Kazakh government saying that Bayrock was a money launderer for these guys,” James Henry, an investigative reporter who worked on the film, told AlterNet. Henry noted if special counsel Robert Mueller probes Trump’s Bayrock ties, “we have Felix Sater laundering criminal money.”

Pointing to the the previous two installments in this documentary series, Henry argued Trump and his associates have engaged in “a continuing cover-up of money laundering.”

For the first time in our history, we have a President who owes billions to an enemy and who is being blackmailed by that same enemy.