THE DOSSIER: ROADMAP FOR THE MUELLER INVESTIGATION

Recent reporting has disclosed that Christopher Steele, the former British MI-6 agent and author of the infamous 35-page Dossier on alleged Trump/Russian collusion, has been meeting with members of Mueller’s Special Counsel’s Office. While this is indeed newsworthy, the reliance by federal law enforcement on portions of the Dossier as a virtual roadmap of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election campaign has been ongoing for many months now, as first reported by Business Insider in March 2017.

In fact, long before BuzzFeed published the entire Dossier in January 2017, Steele was already cooperating with the FBI investigation, and the FBI even considered putting Steele on the federal payroll to ensure his continued assistance. No compensation was given him, but the mere fact that it was seriously considered highlights the value that federal law enforcement placed on the material he had already gathered.

Publicly, the Dossier has become a lightning rod for criticism. Both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin immediately denounced the Dossier’s contents as “fake news,” and Trump refused to take questions from Jim Acosta of CNN, which had published a report about the Dossier, but not its entire contents. Putin echoed Trump’s denunciations in even more colorful terms, calling the Dossier “rubbish” and referring to those who leaked the document as being “worse than prostitutes.” He quickly added, however, that Moscow prostitutes “were the best in the world,” which seemed rather odd since the more salacious allegations in the Dossier referenced Mr. Trump’s supposed liaisons with prostitutes while visiting Moscow.

The reaction from the mainstream press ranged from extreme skepticism to outright dismissal, with virtually every news outlet referring to the Dossier’s allegations as “unverified.”  Few commentators at the time noted the irony that the identical language used by both the White House and the Kremlin to denounce the Dossier itself tended to corroborate the allegations of collusion.

Many of those who sought to discredit the Dossier dissected it with the working assumption that if some of the Dossier’s contents could be shown to be inaccurate, then all of it could be rejected. It was repeatedly pointed out, for example, that Alfa Bank, one of the Russian banks regularly used by Russian intelligence to move money around the globe, was mistakenly referenced in the Dossier as “Alpha Bank.” Commentators questioned how, if Steele misspelled the names of key players, he could be relied upon to have gotten anything right.

This criticism based upon relatively minor mistakes in the Dossier struck me as fundamentally unfair. As a former federal prosecutor who had reviewed literally thousands of FBI reports (known as “302s”) I knew that if I disregarded the entirety of every document that contained spelling errors, there would be few reports left to rely on. Law enforcement agents and intelligence officers are trained to get their investigative results and interview notes into written reports as quickly as possible, so Steele well knew the importance of getting his intelligence information down on paper as quickly as possible. As a result, the Dossier was not – as some erroneously think – a highly polished final report; instead, it was a series of a dozen or more separate memos strung together in sequential order as new information became available to him. Small wonder, then, that much of it reads like a first draft.   

The Dossier has also withstood scrutiny by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence community because at least several of its allegations have already been verified, while few (if any) have been found to be unfounded. In particular, the Dossier’s claim that the Trump campaign had agreed to minimize U.S. opposition to Russia’s incursions into Ukraine has been circumstantially confirmed by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and even by the press.

During the 2016 Republican convention, Trump campaign operatives under the direction of Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, and J.D. Gordon, a senior Trump national security expert, succeeded in watering down the Party’s platform eliminating a proposal that the beleaguered Ukraine government be provided with “lethal weapons” by the U.S. Throughout the campaign, Trump had been saying nice things about Russia in general, and Vladimir Putin in particular, but the change in the Republican Party platform was something tangible on which  Trump could deliver as a tangible gesture of goodwill. Since party platforms are largely ignored, it may have represented only a small token, but it was an indication of what Trump could do for those who helped him in the unlikely event that he won the election.

Further evidence supporting the Dossier’s validity surfaced on February 10, 2017, when CNN reported that multiple U.S. officials had corroborated some communications between “senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals” described in the Dossier. Sources told CNN that these conversations had been “intercepted during routine intelligence gathering.” CNN further reported that such corroboration gave “US intelligence and law enforcement ‘greater confidence’ in the credibility of aspects of the dossier.”

  Last week, even some of the Republican leadership in Congress, including Senator Richard Burr, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, begrudgingly conceded that at least some of the “timeline” in the Dossier had been corroborated. Nevertheless, Burr personally criticized Steele for supposedly refusing to meet with the Committee, an allegation that the Steele camp roundly denied.

Thus, although the full extent to which the Dossier’s allegations hold up is not yet known, it has unquestionably been a major source of information and leads for U.S. investigators. Anyone who says differently is just spreading “fake news.”

REFLECTIONS OF A MARINE DAD

Since my son is about to start basic training with the Marines, I have been spending a great deal of time lately thinking about honor, courage and commitment, the core values of the Marines. Citizen soldiers have fought for the ideals of freedom and democracy since April 1775, when the local Massachusetts militias first confronted the most feared army of its day at Lexington and Concord. Few could have imagined that a rag-tag army of irregulars and citizen soldiers could bring the British Empire to its knees and win independence for this fledgling democracy. Even more astonishing is the fact that 242 years later, the Republic has not only survived, but it has become the greatest and most powerful nation on earth.

Like several generations of his forefathers who have served their country before him, my son will soon raise his right hand along with many other patriotic young men and women, and solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. They will come from all backgrounds, races, colors, and creeds, but the one thing they have in common is a devotion to their country and a willingness to fight and – if necessary – die for it.

Unfortunately, the spirit of public service and self-sacrifice appears to be on the wane. Few of my son’s classmates seem to be attracted to government service, such as the Peace Corp or VISTA, and almost none are signing up for military service.

I am saddened, but not surprised. How can we expect our younger generation to follow the call of honor, duty, and dedication to the common good when they can plainly see that our country’s elected leaders are driven more by craven self-interest and egotism?

Our young men and women must be deeply concerned about the direction in which our country is going. Is it still worth fighting and dying for? They must have some doubts. The gulf between the very rich and the rest of us in America has widened over the past several decades. More and more Americans are struggling to make ends meet, and as they see the American dream rapidly fading, they are increasingly turning in despair and desperation to alcohol and opiates. No longer is a good education and hard work a sure ticket to participate in the American dream. The only guarantee now is that you will be paying off your student loans for the rest of your working life. Small wonder, then, that most Americans are all consumed with the burdens of day-to-day survival, and have stopped looking beyond the frantic scramble to exist to ask what they can do to serve their country and their fellow citizens.

The first cabinet meeting of the new Administration on Monday, June 12, 2017, demonstrated how far the standards for our civilian leadership have fallen. The current Commander-In-Chief began the proceedings by praising himself as history’s most successful president, “with few exceptions.” Really? What of the truly great Presidents who have come before him? What of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan?

Greatness must be earned; it is not pre-ordained or self-proclaimed. It is the judgment of history about us, not our own judgment as to what place we think we deserve in history.  Uncritical self-praise and self-congratulation is a prescription for disaster, not a success. Pride cometh before the fall.

Fortunately, the one Cabinet member charged with responsibility for our armed forces had a different perspective than those of his colleagues, who were falling over each other to see who could praise the President the most. Retired General James Mattis of the U.S. Marine Corps, now serving as Secretary of Defense, firmly stated that his “praise” was reserved for the members of the armed services. “It’s an honor to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense,” he said. “And we are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making.”

Has the quality of our civilian leadership fallen so low that we must rely upon a retired general to remind us that the role of our government officials is to protect and serve the people of this great country, not just the current occupant of the White House? This is not the first time in American history that our military leaders have had to also provide the country with moral leadership as well as security. Nor, I suspect, will it be the last.

Fear seems to be the great motivator of our times, with the courage to face our deepest fears in precious short supply. The Marine Corps defines courage as “having the mental, moral and physical strength to do what is right in the face of fear.” The lesson ingrained in every Marine recruit is a simple one: You can never escape fear, it will follow you everywhere. The key is to embrace that fear, then turn it inside out and transform it into a mental, moral and physical positive field of energy that will make you and your unit invincible.

Where are the true leaders, the patriots of this generation who are willing to put country ahead of partisanship, community before tribalism? No doubt there are many young people out there who would be willing to make the necessary sacrifices that prior generations have made for their country. But will they dare to step forward when they see leaders who are less interested in making sacrifices for their fellow citizens than tweeting about petty grievances?

As much as I strongly believe in civilian control of our military, I am hugely relieved that the current President has seen fit to delegate most of the awesome responsibilities for military action to our current and former military commanders, such as General Mattis, who at least have a basic grasp of what America’s role is in the world, and that our key allies should be supported, not criticized. Our young men and women in uniform deserve wise and thoughtful leadership, and I am confident at least that our military leaders are up to the task.

Godspeed, my son. May God look after and protect you and your fellow Marines.

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.

THE KUSHNER-FLYNN “BACKCHANNEL” LINK TO PUTIN AND HIS RUSSIAN COHORTS WAS PART OF THE PLAN FROM THE BEGINNING, NOT THE PRODUCT OF SOME NAÏVE IMPULSE OR “CRAZY IDEA”

Some commentators have concluded that the extraordinary proposal by Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn to Russian Ambassador Kislyak made on December 1 or 2, 2016 at Trump Towers must have been either “naïve” or “just a crazy idea.” It was neither.

The proposal hatched by Kushner and Flynn – to establish a backchannel communications network with Moscow using the secure facilities at the Russian embassy or consulate — was part of a carefully thought out plan that Flynn had been working on for months, and with which Kushner was in full agreement.

Both Kushner and Flynn viewed the U.S. intelligence community – and indeed all U.S. law enforcement agencies and virtually the entire federal government – with deep suspicion, if not animosity. Conversely, they both viewed Russia as their friend and ally, not as a hostile foreign power. They each had their own different personal, ideological and business reasons that led them to this same startling conclusion, but they both ended up in the same place nonetheless: in a room with the Russian Ambassador discussing a scheme to deceive and circumvent the entire U.S. intelligence/law enforcement apparatus.

President Obama had fired Flynn as the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) after Flynn had shown an alarming degree of coziness with Russian intelligence services, particularly the FSB, for the ostensible reason of trying to enlist Russian cooperation in the fight against ISIS in Syria and elsewhere. Flynn spent a day at FSB headquarters in Moscow and otherwise started to act as if the Russians were our closest friends, not a hostile power on which we had imposed highly restrictive sanctions after carving off a large slice of Ukraine for itself and otherwise threatening the peace and tranquility of most of Eastern Europe. Flynn just didn’t get it, and so he had to be sacked.

Unrepentant, Flynn flouted the law by accepting a paid speaking engagement at a Russian dinner sponsored by RT (Russia Today), Russia’s primary state-sponsored propaganda outlet, and dining with Putin himself. He also accepted fees from at least one other Russian company within Putin’s inner orbit, without getting prior approval from the U.S. Defense Department, as was required for any retired U.S. military personnel.

But it wasn’t just about the money for Flynn, although the Russian cash was a nice supplement to his modest military pension. One way or the other, Flynn had come to the world view that Russia, as a primarily Christian nation, was America’s greatest potential ally in what he considered to be the developing apocalyptic battle with radical Islamic terrorism, and with Islam itself. When America finally woke up from its stupor and realized that its true enemy was Islam, not Russia, Flynn would be ready to help lead the country back to the true path – the protector of Western Civilization itself — and onward to its ultimate destiny.

Jared Kushner’s affinity for Russia, and suspicion of the FBI and federal law enforcement in general, was not ideologically based, but it was equally strong. As a young man of 23 he had suffered the indelible trauma of seeing his beloved father arrested, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned on what he believed to be bogus charges. The conspiracy theory on which the federal prosecutors (under then U.S. Attorney Chris Christie’s leadership) convicted the senior Kushner involved lurid details of hired prostitutes and family intrigue that provided almost daily fodder for the New Jersey and national press.

Jared had suffered the embarrassment and disgrace of seeing his father sentenced to federal prison in Alabama, young Jared was forced to take over the reins of his family’s real estate empire, while dutifully flying down to Alabama each weekend to visit with his father. Even after his father’s release from prison, Jared continued to bear the emotional and psychological scars, viewing the U.S. government as basically a hostile adversary to be kept at arms-length whenever possible, especially when it came to family matters. With his marriage to Ivanka, the Kushner and the Trump organizations came together very neatly, much as if two Mafia families had forged an alliance through marriage.

Jared’s affinity for all things Russian was for commercial reasons, not psychological. He had seen that Russian money had come “pouring in” (in the words of Donald Trump, Jr.) to the Trump Organization just when it was in danger of collapsing after four successive casino bankruptcies in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The major banks financing the Trump casinos had taken a major financial bath as a result and had lost their appetite for further financing of Trump’s ill-conceived ventures.

Fortunately for Trump and his organization, Russian, Ukrainian and Central Asian oligarchs had billions of dollars looking for safe havens in the West to park their money, and Russian organized crime was always looking for friendly real estate developers to help them launder their ill-gotten gains. The Trump Organization was more than willing to accommodate them. Many of the original purchasers of condos in Trump Tower and other Trump projects hailed from Russia and other former Soviet countries, and Trump entered into a close working relationship with Tevfik Arif and his Bayrock organization, which had direct ties to Putin’s inner circle and Russian organized crime, which by that time had largely merged into one large state-sponsored criminal political organization.

For Trump and his son-in-law Jared, therefore, Russia was actually the savior of their real estate empire, and Russian money was the lifeblood that kept their luxury real estate projects going, one after the other. The model was simple: build a luxury condominium complex in New York or South Florida and they will come, with their hundreds of millions. When Trump built his Sunny Isles Florida towers just north of Miami, the business plan was to market the condos directly in Moscow, St. Petersburg, the French Riviera and other locales where the Russian super-rich congregated. A virtually impenetrable labyrinth of LLCs and shell companies was formed to disguise the identities of the true owners, who could then purchase the units with millions of dollars in cash of unknown or questionable origin – no questions asked.

The effusive warmth that Trump showered on Putin and all things Russian during the campaign may have been surprising to many, but not to Kushner, Flynn and those who knew that the financial fate of the Trump Organization was largely in the hands of the Russians, and that if Putin directed that Russian financing be pulled out, the Trump ship would quickly founder and then sink, virtually without a trace. Trump’s destiny was inextricably linked with that of Putin, and Trump was intent from the beginning that Putin know that he would be a loyal and faithful ally of Russia in the unlikely event that he was to be elected as President, and that the crippling sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its Western European allies would quickly be lifted.

At first, Flynn and Manafort were the primary conduits between Russians and the Trump Campaign, and they delivered a tangible reassurance to the Russians by ensuring that the plank in the Republican National Platform be watered down, so that it omitted any reference to a U.S. intention to provide defensive military equipment to Ukraine, which had suffered the annexation of Crimea and was being pressed by pro-Russian separatist and Russian special forces in eastern Ukraine and desperately needed military equipment and spare parts from the U.S.

Then came the tightening of U.S. sanctions by the Obama Administration, at least in part due to the growing conviction by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was actively trying to interfere with the 2016 Presidential elections through a sophisticated propaganda and data analytics campaign, which flooded Facebook and other social media platforms with disinformation and fake news stories that were both directed at undercutting the Clinton campaign and promoting Candidate Trump. This effort was closely coordinated with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, which by then was little more than an arm of the Russian intelligence services for the purpose of the strategic release of tens of thousands of pages of documents hacked from the DNC, the Clinton Campaign, and other sources designed to inflict the maximum damage on Clinton and the Democrats.

Flynn was quickly dispatched by the Trump Campaign to assure Kislyak and the Russians that the anti-Russian tide would shift if Trump were to be elected, and that sanctions would be quickly lifted. In response, Putin and the Russians showed remarkable restraint in response to the expulsion of 35 of their spies operating in the U.S. under diplomatic cover and the further tightening of U.S. sanctions. They uncharacteristically announced that they would wait until after the election before deciding on a response. In other words, if Putin’s nemesis Hillary Clinton were to be elected as President, then Russian would retaliate in kind. If Donald Trump were to be elected, they would wait and see if he made good on his promises –conveyed through Flynn, Manafort (and to a lesser extent by Carter Page) – that U.S. would be lifted.

Jared Kushner also played a key – but heretofore lesser known role – in the successful Russian/Trump collaboration that essentially turned over the keys to the White House to a hostile power for the first time in American history.

Jared had dabbled in data analytics and “micro-targeting” efforts in the marketing of his family’s luxury condominiums, and he became the point man in the Trump Campaign for merging the campaign’s relatively anemic outreach efforts on social media with the sophisticated data analytic techniques of Cambridge Analytica (CA). CA, a Robert Mercer-owned company that originally worked for the Presidential campaign of Senator Ted Cruz until Mercer moved his considerable hedge fund resources in favor of Trump, had developed an approach that succeeded in “weaponizing” social media political efforts with the use of individually-based psychological profiling of voters that made the pro-Trump or anti-Hillary messaging virtually irresistible. Cambridge Anaytica’s parent company in the U.K. – Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) — had helped engineer the upset vote in favor of Brexit that led the UK out of the European Union.

Under the watchful eye of Jared Kushner, and with the assistance of Steve Bannon, who moved over to the Trump Campaign from Breitbart News, another Mercer-owned entity, Cambridge Analytica developed a sophisticated marketing strategy that closely paralleled – and indeed mimicked – the already established efforts of hundreds of Russian-financed “trolls” (computer operators) who were flooding American social media platforms with fake sites posing as “grassroots organizations” spewing Russian disinformation and fake new stories plucked from Breitbart News, Alex Jones’ Infowars or other alt-right media outlets. Both the Russian-backed operators and their parallel U.S.-based allies within the Trump Organization and its data analytical contractors –such as CA – were able to micro-target voters in key voting precincts in key battleground states (e.g. Michigan) with laser precision because they had available to them huge databases of publicly available information on virtually every man, woman and child in the U.S., as well as critical voter rolls that had been hacked by the Russians and – possibly – shared with the Trump Campaign to help them micro-target their efforts to reach voters in key precincts that would prove to provide the decisive edge on election day.

When the Washington Post and other news organizations recently reported that Jared Kushner was a “person of interest” with regard to the FBI’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump Team and the Russians, most of the focus was on the aborted plan to open a back channel line of communication with the Russians. However, the much more significant activities that Kushner engaged in had to do with the significant – and possibly decisive – coordination between the Trump Campaign’s social media campaign and that of their Russian counterparts. Of particular interest to the FBI is the uncanny speed with which the Trump Campaign was able to capitalize on the WikiLeaks data dumps of thousands of pages of DNC/Clinton Campaign documents, raising the suspicion – if not probability – that the Trump Campaign had been given advance copies of the key documents or their metadata, so that these purloined documents could be utilized almost instantaneously once the Russians/WikiLeaks publicly released them. Indeed, some of the “chatter” that the FBI is undoubtedly looking into is that one of the biggest fears that the Trump Campaign had was that someone would “jump the gun,” and that information from the WikiLeaks documents would be used by campaign operatives before the official release date by WikiLeaks.

Jared Kushner should thus be questioned under oath by the Senate Intelligence Committee and by the FBI on a wide range of subjects, not just his inexplicable omission of reference to his Kislyak meetings on his security clearance forms. During the Transition, Kushner also apparently had undisclosed meetings with Putin-crony Sergey Gorkov, the head of the Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank  (VEB) and former deputy chairman of Sberbank, Russia’s largest state-controlled bank.

Since Kushner (like Flynn) was still a private citizen during the transition period, he is subject to criminal prosecution under the Logan Act (1 Stat. 613, 18 U.S.C. § 953), which prohibits an unauthorized United States citizen from negotiating with foreign governments having a dispute with the United States.  He may be also liable under the Espionage Act, which the Obama Administration aggressively used – to the general applause of Republicans – for the leaking of national security secrets by Chelsea/Bradley Manning, NSA operative Eric Snowden and others.

Kushner must also account for his role as the chief coordinator of the Trump Campaign’s data analytics and social media campaign, and how it came about that it so closely mimicked and paralleled the Russian-backed political efforts that were virtually choreographed with the WikiLeaks disclosures of illegally-hacked documents.

In the meantime, Kushner’s top-secret security clearance should be suspended pending further investigation. Many U.S. intelligence operatives and officials have had their clearances suspended for completely inadvertent omissions from their security clearance forms of meetings that they had with government officials from friendly and even allied foreign governments or the omission of personal financial information.

In Kushner’s case (as well as that of Flynn), the failure to make the necessary disclosures was far more serious – and indeed sinister – since it is impossible to believe that such omissions were “inadvertent.” It is unreasonable to believe that Kushner somehow “forgot” to disclose highly sensitive meetings with the Russian Ambassador or a chief Russian banker about highly significant matters, whether it be about the lifting of sanctions, possible Russian loans to the Kushner/Trump real estate empire, the establishment of an unprecedented backchannel communications line with the Kremlin, or other matters. No matter what was discussed, such contacts with Russian officials should have been disclosed, and the failure to do so is strong evidence of an intent to deceive U.S. law enforcement/intelligence officials, and evidence of a guilty mind.

The smell of Treason is truly in the air, and all appropriate steps must be quickly taken to deprive Kushner of any further access to America’s secrets pending further investigation and to ensure that the wheels of justice swiftly turn. Never before in American history has the White House been potentially infested by collaborators with a hostile foreign power, and never since General Benedict Arnold secretly swore allegiance to the Crown and became a British spy has the Republic been so threatened.

THERE IS ALREADY A SOLID BASIS FOR CONGRESS TO INITIATE IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDINGS AGAINST TRUMP

After the sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey for what Trump as much as admitted to Lester Holt of NBC was an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump Team, and after telling the Russian Foreign Minister that he believed that Comey was a “nut job” and that his firing would make the Russian/Trump investigation go away, there is now a solid basis for the impeachment and removal of Trump from the Presidency.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)  announced in April 2017 that she will “fight every day until he is impeached.” A few weeks later, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that Trump’s actions “may well produce impeachment proceedings.” Other Democrats quickly followed, as well as some Republicans. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) was asked by reporters on Wednesday, May 17, 2017, whether he believed that Trump’s actions if reports were true — that Trump asked Comey to drop his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn – whether such actions were grounds for impeachment. Rep. Amash responded, “yes.”

More recently, Congressman Lieu (D-Calif.), an attorney who practiced law while he was an Air Force JAG officer, announced that he is researching the issue of impeachment and is studying the Congressional Research Service’s excellent 2015 work entitled “Impeachment and Removal.”

The Trump White House is taking the possibility of impeachment proceedings seriously, and it has been reported that Trump’s private attorney and occasional spokesperson, Michael D. Cohen, has been at the White House assembling a team of lawyers to work on the impeachment issue.

If impeachment proceedings were commenced, they would first be considered in the House Judiciary Committee, of which Congressman Lieu is a member. In order for impeachment proceedings to be commenced against President Trump, a majority of the Judiciary Committee’s 4o members would have to vote in favor of impeachment before articles of impeachment were brought before the full House for a vote. Given the current make-up of the House Judiciary Committee (there are 23 Republican members and 17 Democrats), this would require only four Republicans to join the Democrats on the Committee in voting in favor of impeachment.

If a majority of the House favored impeachment of the President, the matter would then go to the Senate for a trial, which would be presided over by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote in favor of conviction for Trump to be removed from office.

There is already a substantial basis for impeachment proceedings of Trump to begin. His firing of Comey and other heavy-handed attempts to interfere with the Russia/Trump collusion investigation constitute an Obstruction of Justice that already far exceeds the obstructions engaged in by the Nixon White House in their failed efforts to quash the Watergate scandal and investigation. Keep in mind, the Watergate break-in was truly a “third-rate burglary,” and even though the ensuing cover-up was clearly an attempt to obstruct justice, the underlying crimes that led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and ignominious departure from the White House lawn aboard the Marine 1 helicopter were inconsequential when compared to the magnitude of the crimes that the FBI is investigating regarding Russia’s meddling with our 2016 Presidential election and apparent collusion with several high-level Trump operatives, including Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone and others. To the extent that Candidate or President-Elect Trump  knew and/or encouraged members of his team to facilitate or collude with Russia and its agents (including WikiLeaks) in its efforts to destabilize America’s democratic institutions and to tip the election scales in Trump’s favor, then Trump is guilty of “Treason” and “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” under the Constitution and should be removed from office.

In addition, to the extent that –since taking the oath of office on January 20, 2017 – President Trump has obstructed the FBI’s investigation into that Trump/Russian collusion, then that adds additional grounds for impeachment.

Only two Presidents have been impeached, but the charges against them were relatively minor as compared to the potential Treason charges to which Trump may be subjected. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached for attempting to replace his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, without congressional permission. After impeachment by the House, he escaped being removed from office by a one-vote margin in the Senate. President Bill Clinton was the second president to be impeached during the Monica Lewinsky scandal of 1998. As much as Clinton’s conduct tarnished the office of the Presidency, even if he had been convicted in the Senate on the perjury and obstruction of justice charges for which he was impeached by the House (he was not), no one but the most zealous of his political enemies could have thought that Clinton’s prevarications regarding Ms. Lewinsky and her infamous dress threatened the fundamental pillars of our democracy.

Trump and his motley crew are truly in a league by themselves. At no time in American history have we had a President and his senior staff so eager to make a deal with a hostile foreign power in return for the keys to the White House, and at no time since the War of 1812 has a foreign power so threatened our democracy by mounting a direct attack on the American Homeland. While the burning of the U.S. Capitol and the entire city of Washington, D.C. by British troops on August 24, 2014, was a dark day in American history, no one ever alleged that the President of the United States or any of his administration colluded with the British.

In contrast, Trump gleefully invited WikiLeaks (and by inference the Russians) to violate U.S. criminal laws by hacking into Hillary Clinton’s emails and otherwise wreaking havoc on the American body politic during the 2016 Presidential campaign. He also surrounded himself with senior advisors – including Flynn, Manafort, Page and Stone – who he knew or should have known either had close ties with Russian or pro-Russian operatives, or were so totally lacking in political or moral scruples that they would do absolutely anything to advance the Trump cause or to subvert the Clinton campaign, regardless of the collateral damage that would be done to American security or democracy.

The stench of Treason and Obstruction of Justice is already permeating the White House and spreading rapidly. As Special Counsel Mueller and the Congressional committees continue their investigations, there is already more than enough evidence for the House Judiciary Committee to open an impeachment investigation. Our country deserves no less.

THE U.S. MUST NOT TURN ITS BACK ON THE SYRIAN PEOPLE

Dozens of people, including children, were killed on Tuesday following a chemical airstrike by Syrian government forces on a rebel-held area of the country. Video footage of the victims who were suffering the agony of chemical poisoning — writhing, choking and foaming at the mouth – was horrific.
World leaders immediately condemned this violation of international law in the strongest terms, with many calling for the immediate ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Trump Administration joined in blaming the Syrian government, but dismissed calls for the departure of the Syrian President as “impractical,” implying that it was not in America’s interests to focus on such human rights abuses. President Trump also blamed the Obama Administration, although Trump himself has not favored direct intervention in the Syrian conflict.
The use of chemical weapons is so abhorrent that after the massive death and destruction of the First World War, where both sides used mustard gas and other chemical weapons, the European powers agreed to ban the use of chemical weapons and to treat any chemical weapons use as a war crime. Amazingly, chemical weapons were not used by either side during the World War II, and chemical weapons were not used again until March 16, 1988, when Iraqi forces under Sadaam Hussein, mounted a chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja in northern Iraq. The attack killed between 3,200 and 5,000 civilians and injured between 7,000 and 10,000 more. Thousands more died of various complications, diseases and birth defects in the following years. The Halabja attack has been generally recognized as a crime against humanity and as part of a campaign of genocide by the Hussein government against the Kurdish people.
In sharp contrast to the Trump Administration’s near-hostility to Syrian refugees who have fled this war-torn area, the U.S. – which then prided itself as a beacon of hope for millions of suffering peoples around the world – opened its door to thousands of Kurdish refugees who fled from the northern areas of Iraq and sought asylum here. Many of them settled in the Nashville, Tennessee area, which now has a thriving Kurdish community that has fully integrated itself into American society, just as successive waves of immigrants from other countries had come here seeking to participate in the American dream, making both themselves and America the better for it. I have had to opportunity to represent the Kurdish communities throughout the U.S., and their contributions to the U.S. as teachers, professors, doctors, scientists. lawyers and in the arts never ceases to amaze me. They are better off for having come here, and the country is also a better place now that they have come.
Our great country was founded on a commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have been the champions of democracy and human rights around the world for over 250 years. Now we have a President who not only wants us to close our borders to many genuinely peace-loving refugees but is no longer willing to take decisive and tangible steps to prevent further atrocities from being carried out by brutal despots in Syria and elsewhere.
If America’s commitment to democracy and human rights continues its downward slide, no amount of military spending or tough-guy bluster from the White House can prevent our country from losing its most valuable asset. We are in danger of losing our soul.