TRUMP’S NOMINEE FOR FBI DIRECTOR WORKS FOR A LAW FIRM REPRESENTING ONE OF RUSSIA’S LARGEST NATIONAL OIL COMPANIES: CAN HE REALLY BE COUNTED ON TO OVERSEE A VIGOROUS INVESTIGATION OF POSSIBLE COLLUSION BETWEEN RUSSIA AND THE TRUMP TEAM?

On paper, Christopher A. Wray appears to be an excellent choice to serve as the next FBI Director. As a Yale Law School graduate and executive editor of the law review, as well as a law clerk to a federal judge, Wray seems to have the impeccable academic credentials to oversee the country’s chief law enforcement and investigative organization.

Wray also has had a long and distinguished career as a federal prosecutor and high-level official of the U.S. Department of Justice under President George W. Bush, where he led the successful federal investigation of Enron Corp. The FBI has referred to the work of the Enron Task Force as the “largest and most complex white-collar investigation” in the agency’s history.

After 9/11, while serving as Assistant Attorney General, the Department of Justice came under criticism for its attempts to legally justify the use of enhanced interrogation techniques such as “waterboarding,” which many experts viewed as the equivalent of torture. No doubt the Senate Committee reviewing Wray’s credentials will properly delve into Wray’s views on this subject and possible participation in the decision-making process at the Justice Department that led to the “sign off” on the use of such techniques.

As a litigation partner with the prestigious Atlanta and the Washington-based law firm of King & Spalding, Wray also caused more than a few eyebrows to be raised as a criminal defense lawyer for Governor Chris Christie during the “Bridgegate” investigation. When close associates of Christie were indicted for ordering the closing of some of the lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in retaliation for perceived “failure” of the Mayor of Ft. Lee, New Jersey to support Christie in his last run for New Jersey Governor, the defense lawyers persistently demanded to see Governor Christie’s cell phone and phone records. Christie apparently used this cell phone to text with others during a key state hearing into Bridgegate, and the phone was even studied during a probe that Christie commissioned into the affair. However, this key phone went “missing” thereafter for an extended time period, until it mysteriously turned up in the possession of Christie’s lawyer – Christopher Wray. This is another subject that is likely to come up during Wray’s Senate confirmation hearing.

Even more troubling is the fact that Wray’s law firm – King & Spaulding – boasts on its website that it represents Rosneft, one of Russia’s largest state-controlled oil companies. http://www.kslaw.com/imageserver/KS.

Rosneft was prominently mentioned in the now infamous 35-page Dossier prepared by former British MI-6 agent Christopher Steele. The Dossier claims that the CEO of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, offered candidate Donald Trump, through Trump’s campaign manager Carter Page, a 19% stake in the company in exchange for lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia. The dossier claims that the offer was made in July while Page was in Moscow. Ironically, the Dossier goes on to allege that, by mid-October 2016, when Sechin and Rosneft came to the conclusion that Trump was unlikely to win the Presidential election, Sechin “put feelers out to other business and political contacts” to purchase a stake in Rosneft.

By strange (or not-so-strange) coincidence, Rosneft ended up selling a 19.5% stake in the company on December 7, 2016 — worth approximately $11 billion — to Qatar’s state-owned wealth fund, commodity trader Glencore Plc and an unidentified Cayman Islands firm, which the owners of are also unnamed.

In 2012, Rosneft and Exxon had arranged for a $500 billion oil drilling joint-venture, which was nixed by President Barack Obama when he imposed the 2014 sanctions that crippled Russia’s ability to do business with U.S. companies. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the CEO of Exxon at the time. The lifting of sanctions by the Trump Administration would enable Exxon to renew its joint venture agreement with Rosneft, and presumably the law firm of King & Spalding would end up in the middle of the contract negotiations between those two companies, as well as Rosneft’s negotiations with other U.S. companies who would be joining the stampede to do business with the Kremlin and its many other state-owned enterprises.

If Wray was confirmed as the FBI Director, would he have to recuse himself with regard to the FBI’s critical role in the investigation currently being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller? The FBI is supplying most of the investigative resources that Mueller must rely upon to properly conduct his investigation. Without an FBI Director who is 100% behind Mueller’s investigation into meddling by Russia in the 2016 investigation and possible collusion with the Trump Team, as well as allegations that this collusion was covered up, the entire independent investigation could be placed in jeopardy. Similarly, if despite his law firm’s connections with a key Russian-owned company, Wray refused to recuse himself from the Russia-Trump investigation, a serious cloud could be cast over the FBI’s level of commitment to this critical matter.

One of several reasons why former Senator Joe Lieberman was generally considered to be unqualified for the FBI Director’s job was that his law firm – Kasowitz, Benson, Torres – has represented Trump for many years, including the handling of Trump’s lawsuit against journalist Tim O’Brian, author of “Trump Nation,” who had the audacity to write that Trump was only worth $250 million, not the billions he claimed. In other words, the nomination of Lieberman as FBI Director would have been perceived as the installation of a pro-Trump advocate in the middle of the Trump-Russia investigation, rather than the selection of a dispassionate objective leader to oversee the investigation.

Similarly, the nomination of Wray as FBI Director raises serious questions as to whether Wray – given his law firm’s affiliation with Rosneft – would be perceived as an attempt by Trump to install a “Russia-friendly” Director at the helm of the FBI.

JARED KUSHNER HAD CLOSE BUSINESS TIES WITH RUSSIA LONG BEFORE HE MET WITH THE RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR

The media is understandably fascinated by the revelation that Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak at Trump Tower on December 1 or 2, 2016 (the White House has been rather vague as to the exact date). Apparently neither Kushner nor Flynn disclosed the meeting on their security clearance forms. Both of them have a lot of explaining to do. Not only was the meeting undisclosed, but the alleged reason for the meeting was highly unorthodox. According to an intercepted communication between the Ambassador and the Kremlin, Kushner had requested that the Russians give him access to a backchannel communications facility at the Russian embassy. His apparent intent was that he wanted to communicate directly with Moscow, free from the prying eyes and ears of the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies.

It also recently has been disclosed that Kushner had another undisclosed meeting during the Transition period with Sergey Gorkov, a KGB graduate and head of Vnesheconombank (VEB), the Russian state-owned bank that has been subject to U.S. sanctions. This bank has also been linked to Russian spy operations in the U.S.

While Kushner’s apparent level of trust in the Russians demonstrated by his meeting with Kislyak and Gorkov may be surprising, it was not completely unexpected. Kushner has strong business relationships with Russian individuals and companies tied to Russia and Vladimir Putin. In some cases, these relationships have been in place for many years.

In May 2015, Kushner’s real estate company paid $295 million for the majority share in the former New York Times Building on West 43rd Street in Manhattan as part of a deal with Lev Leviev, the Uzbek-Israeli “King of Diamonds” with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Leviev serves as chairman of Africa Israel Investments Ltd., which has a Russian subsidiary, AFI Development PLC, a public company traded on the London Stock Exchange which is one of the largest real estate development companies in Russia. Leviev is also chairman of the Federation of the Jewish Communities of the CIS (former Soviet republics), and is closely associated with Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow who is often referred to in the Jewish press as “Putin’s rabbi.”

In November 2014, Kushner and his brother Joshua also formed a real estate investment company – Cadre – which attracted substantial venture capital from Russian high-tech billionaire Yuri Milner. As founder of the investment firms Digital Sky Technologies (now called Mail.ru Group) and DST Global, Milner’s net worth went from zero to $12 billion in two years as a result of his investments in Facebook and other social media platforms. Milner also owned the largest Internet providers in Russia and elsewhere in eastern and central Europe.

Other Russian and Chinese investors who invested in Cadre and other Kushner companies were rewarded with U.S. visas as part of the EB-5 program. The program gives investors putting at least $500,000 into American companies a two-year visa and a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, are also close friends with Russian billionaire and Putin crony Roman Abramovich and his wife, Dasha Zhukova. Ivanka invited her close friend Dasha to the Trump Inauguration in January 2017, and they have been frequently spotted together at the U.S. Open tennis tournament and other events.

Abramovich, who is perhaps best known as the owner of the legendary Chelsea Soccor club in London, was reported by BBC to have given a $35 million yacht to Putin as a “gift.” Abramovich is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia (FJCR), which is a major supporter and ally of President Vladimir Putin within Russia.

Abramovich has a one-third interest in Evraz PLC, one of the world’s largest steel manufacturing companies. Through one of its Canadian subsidiaries, Evraz supplied about 40% of the steel used for the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in North Dakota.

One of Trump’s first actions in office was to sign an executive order expediting the approval of the Keystone pipeline. Construction of the pipeline had been halted by the Obama Administration in November 2015 based on environmental and other concerns. One of Trump’s campaign promises was to reverse this Obama order and to finish construction of the pipeline. Owned by TransCanada, the pipeline is intended to move Canadian tar sands oil southward through the Dakotas to Illinois, Oklahoma, and Texas. On January 24th, Trump also signed another executive order requiring that the steel for all U.S. pipelines had to be made in the U.S. to the “maximum extent possible.” Two days later, TransCanada filed a presidential permit application for the Keystone pipeline with the U.S. Department of State, which was granted.

Ironically, much of the steel to be used for the Keystone pipeline had already been manufactured outside the U.S. by Abramovich’s company Evraz, and was sitting in a field in North Dakota waiting to be used once Trump “green lighted” the project. Evraz had lobbied heavily against provisions that would have mandated that all of the Keystone steel be made in the U.S., and they got their wish when Trump’s executive order contained enough “wiggle room” to ensure that all of Evraz’s foreign manufactured steel was used on the pipeline. Just to be doubly sure, Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced on March 3, 2017 that Trump’s executive order requiring that U.S. steel be used on U.S. pipelines only applied to new pipelines, not those already under construction. This “clarification” meant that the Keystone pipeline was completely exempted from the executive order.

In March 2017, Jared, Ivanka, and their family took a ski vacation to Aspen, Colorado. There were some grumbling emanating from the White House to the effect that Kushner, as one of Trump’s senior advisors, should not have been off skiing in Aspen while Trump’s health care  agenda was going up in flames in Congress.

As it turned out, however, Kushner’s trip to Aspen was not completely a vacation. Roman Abramovich and his wife just happen to own a chalet in Aspen, and the two couples just happened to arrive in Aspen on the same day (March 18th). Although there were no photographs of the two families together in Aspen, it is reasonable to assume that – given the closeness of the relationship between the two families – Jared and Roman found some quality time together to close the Keystone pipeline steel deal and cover other business matters of mutual interest.

Thus Kushner, like his father-in-law, has a longstanding history and close affinity for Russian oligarchs who operate within Putin’s inner circle. At the same time, Kushner has had a longstanding suspicion (if not outright hostility) to federal law enforcement agencies and the media who, in his view, hounded his father out of the family business and into prison. It must have seemed perfectly natural, therefore, for Kushner to want to communicate directly with the Russians, out of sight from the media and unfettered by federal law enforcement/intelligence agency “interference.”

 

U. S WITHDRAWAL FROM THE PARIS CLIMATE ACCORD WOULD NOT ONLY BE BAD NEWS FOR THE PLANET, BUT IT WILL HARM THE AMERICAN ECONOMY AND ITS STANDING AS LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD

If Russia’s goal in meddling with our 2016 election in order to support the election of Donald J. Trump as President was to isolate the U.S. from the rest of the international community of nations and to weaken the NATO alliance standing in the way of Russia’s ambitions to recover parts of eastern Europe that it had “lost” after the collapse of the Soviet Union, then it has succeeded beyond its wildest imagination.

Every one of the U.S’s allies and trading partners has signed onto the Paris Climate Agreement, which has the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and slow the alarming rise in global temperatures. There are now 194 countries that have joined the Agreement, with only two holdouts (Syria and Nicaragua).

If the Trump Administration decides to withdraw from the Agreement, it will not only be jeopardizing this historic effort to address the serious perils of climate change, but it will mark the death knell of America’s position for the past 70 years as the leader of the free world. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has – with limited exceptions – provided the leadership as well as the economic and military might to ensure that global and regional alliances promoting peace and stability can work effectively. In 1945, the international conference establishing the United Nations was sponsored by the U.S. in San Francisco, and it has been headquartered in New York City since then. The World Bank and the IMF are headquartered in Washington, D.C., and have helped contribute to global economic and financial stability for decades. In Western Europe, U.S. leadership of the NATO alliance has kept the peace in Europe and deterred the Soviet Union and its Communist allies from engulfing our democratic allies in Western Europe.

When President George W. Bush pulled the U.S. out of the Kyoto Protocol — an international treaty acknowledging that global warming exists and that that human-made CO2 emissions have caused it — the U.S.’s standing in the world was severely damaged and took years to repair. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has recently acknowledged that the international and diplomatic “blowback” from this last attempt by a Republican administration to undermine international efforts to combat climate change was far greater than anticipated.

A similar blunder by the Trump Administration with regard to the Paris Accord would be likely to have even more severe consequences, given the fact that our allies are already questioning the U.S.’s willingness and ability to lead the Western democratic alliance. The Trump White House has already caused consternation among our NATO allies by raising doubts as to whether the U.S. can continue to be relied upon to come to the defense of another NATO country that is attacked, and his suggestion that Climate Change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese has made us the laughingstock of the rest of the world. President Trump also could not resist picking a fight with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany over trade and other issues during his recent overseas trip, and his ham-handed attempt to elbow another leader out of the way during a photo-op did little to repair the damage that he has already caused to our standing among our European allies. Chancellor Merkel has already started publicly talking about the necessity for Europe to forge its own destiny without the U.S., and this kind of thinking will only accelerate if the U.S. pulls out of the Paris Accord.