Rather than walk back on his delusional early morning ramblings on Twitter, Trump has doubled down — as always — on his bizarre theory that Obama ordered a wire tap on him at Trump Tower that seems to have originated for him with Breitbart “News”. He fired off a series of inflammatory tweets in response Saturday morning that show a man, according to The New York Times, “Uninhibited by the traditional protocols of his office,” or common sense, leading him to make “the most incendiary assertions based on shreds of suspicion.” The peril of this fraught communications strategy, done “without consulting some of his most senior aides, or even agencies of his own government that might have contrary information” are obvious: “in shifting the story, Mr. Trump also kept the Russia investigation front and center, rather than his initiatives on health care, taxes or jobs.” He is succeeding at keeping Attorney Jeff Sessions’ recusal from investigations about Trump and Russia on the back burner however, as well as distracting from the obvious fact that he has no plans for these other areas either. After his series of tweets that began at 6:26am on Saturday, The New York Times also reported “His chief strategist, Mr. Bannon, the former Breitbart chairman, flew down to Florida with Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, on Saturday.” According to The New York Times, “A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ whether Mr. Trump accepted Mr. Comey’s contention” that what the president has claimed about an Obama wiretap on Trump Tower is out of line and false. Huckabee Sanders told the a.m. talk show, “I don’t think he [Trump] does.”

From The New York Times, The New York Times.





The House intelligence committee “has asked intelligence agencies to provide an expansive amount of information to them by March 17,” concerning investigations into Trump’s Russia ties. In particular, Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes and ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff have asked acting Director of National Intelligence Michael Dempsey to “make intelligence staff and contractors available for assistance and interviews by the committee and deliver ‘any and all counterintelligence information’ collected” by the March 17 deadline. A “committee source” provided a copy of the letter from Nunes and Schiff to CNN, which calls for “transcripts of conversations and raw and finished intelligence”. So far “clear tension exists between the House’s top Republican and Democratic investigators,” leading to separate conclusions. After four hours of testimony from FBI Director James Comey, “Nunes said that no evidence had been provided that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians, but Schiff accused Comey of stonewalling the committee.”

From CNN.



Jeff Sessions’ Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein was supposed to sail through his confirmation hearing, which is today, but now that Sessions has recused himself from investigations involving Trump and Russia, the pressure is on. “Democrats who have otherwise expressed confidence in Mr. Rosenstein’s prosecutorial skills,” continue to call for an independent prosecutor out of concerns the White House would exert “political pressure” otherwise. Bloomberg adds a colorful detail in its report, nothing that the last time a deputy took a grilling was Sally Yates, fired by Trump as acting Attorney General for defying the Muslim travel ban in a statement the White House labeled betrayal, as “then-Senator Sessions questioned Sally Yates at her confirmation hearing for the job of deputy attorney general on whether she’d be willing to say “no” to the president. Her affirmative answer went viral after Trump fired Yates”. The current acting Deputy Attorney General is Virginia Prosecutor Dana Boente, but if Rosenstein is confirmed, he would oversee the investigation into Trump’s Russia ties.

From The New York Times and Bloomberg.



Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page said Monday the Senate Intelligence Committee “has asked him to preserve information concerning his Russia-related activities throughout 2016.” Business Insider obtained a March 5 letter from Page to Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner thanking them for “recent correspondence regarding information that you might at some point desire for ongoing investigations into the 2016 election.” According to Business Insider, in a February letter to the Department of Justice, Page was less cooperative suggesting claims that “he served as a middle man Between Trump’s campaign and Russia” were “illegal”.

From Business Insider.



Meanwhile Senator Chuck Schumer has asked the Department of Justice’s Inspector General to investigate the Department of Justice’s investigations “to look into are whether any White House official has attempted to interfere with the federal probe and whether Sessions and Trump discussed the issue when the two men met privately in the Oval Office last month.” Other Democrats led by Senator Dianne Feinstein called on the Inspector General’s office to launch a similar probe into political interference late last week.




Attorney General Jeff Sessions who politically survived last week, padded his false testimony to the Senate during his confirmation hearings with something of a redo, namely he provided a “supplement” to his testimony Monday. He did so “despite denying any contact” with Russian officials “to Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) during his confirmation hearings.” Yes, that is called a lie. Sessions letter is an effort to stymie charges of perjury.

From Talking Points Memo.



A new CNN/ORC poll released Monday shows 65 percent of Americans want an independent investigation and the appointment of a special prosecutor into Trump’s ties to Russia. According to the data, 55 percent are either “concerned” or “very concerned” about the fact that the president may be a quisling. Broken down however, 54 percent of Republicans have “no concern” whereas 71 percent of Democrats are “very concerned”.






POLITICO has an aptly titled article, “State Dept. staffers have one question: Where’s Rex?” On a day that the White House lifted a paragraph from ExxonMobil, it’s hard not to see his fingerprints over a fair many things yet at the State Department he is like a ghost. The State Department’s daily press briefing was set to resume today but did not. Surprise! It’s because Trump has decided to throw everything at his little enormous Russia problem including errant tweets on the Sabbath and nonwhite people from majority Muslim countries in a newly revised “travel ban” also known in popular culture as “the Muslim ban,” which mysteriously excludes countries where Trump either has or has had deals cooking or companies registered. According to “multiple sources,” POLITICO reports Tillerson’s “aloof approach to his job is eroding confidence in him at the State Department”. He seems anything but aloof. Might the Russian Order of Friendship Medal recipient be the next one thrown out of the administration, especially since the State Department is effectively in shambles? The daily briefings are now set to resume tomorrow which is a good thing because “The long silence has irritated American diplomats who have watched other foreign ministry spokesmen, including those representing U.S. rivals such as Russia, try to seize control of narratives without State being able to respond.”




Ambassador Dan Fried, the longest serving career diplomat in the State Department, stepped down recently and sat down with Susan Glasser of POLITICO. He takes a swing at Trump: “are we merely going to be a schoolyard bully that steals other kids’ lunch money?” before pivoting to discussion of Russia. Ambassador Fried finds it “puzzling that during the campaign, the Trump people spoke both consistent – in consistently positive terms about President Putin, and in skeptical terms about sanctions.” He also clarifies in the clearest terms possible the situation in Ukraine. “Russia committed an act of aggression in Ukraine, and that’s the first time since 1945 a European country has seized the territory of another European country. That’s serious business. They started a war with their neighbor.” As for our election and Russian interference, Fried is absolutely accurate, “What they did in our election is no different from what they appear to be doing with respect to a number of European elections coming up.”




National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster “is discovering the limits to any ambitious overhaul” of the National Security Council. No big purges are expected and it is unclear whether he will be able to dislodge Bannon’s Strategic Initiatives Group, which plummets our national security into the hands of conspiracy extremists. Trump’s pick of former Fox News commentator K.T. MacFarland also appears to be safe in her job. Otherwise there might be a slight bureaucratic reshuffle.

From Foreign Policy.



Three years ago Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross bought shares in the failing Bank of Cyprus, “he found himself part owner of a big but failing bank with a vice chairman who used to work with Vladimir V. Putin in the Leningrad K.G.B. and five other Russians on its board.” He resigned over the weekend but it is unclear whether he sold his share. The New York Times reports that in his time at the bank, Ross “was no friend to the Russians in Cyprus — and in fact, he forced them out of the bank.” According to those “who have worked closely with the Bank of Cyprus, within months of Mr. Ross’s becoming a shareholder in the summer of 2014, all six Russians who were on the board when he arrived, including Mr. Putin’s former K.G.B. colleague, Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, were gone, ousted in a rolling purge of Kremlin influence.” However, the paper also notes, “The only Russian with a prominent role in the bank today is Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire businessman who bought shares in 2014, around the same time as Mr. Ross… A company Mr. Vekselberg controls is now the biggest single Bank of Cyprus shareholder and has a representative on the board, Maksim Goldman, an American-educated Russian lawyer.” Others on the island, such as Andreas Neocleous, the founder and chairman of the biggest law firm in Cyprus, describe Ross as a “kind of savior”, but his clients include Dmitri Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire who paid $95 million in 2008 for Trump’s Florida mansion, a price well above what it was worth. Rybolovlev was the largest shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus for a period but lost his stake of nearly 10% worth $600 million in 2013, according to his lawyer. “Mr. Ross declined to comment.

From The New York Times.





Bloomberg reports that the Russian state sponsored hacking entity known as “Cozy Bear” by Western analysts is probing yet again at the information contained in emails of progressive groups in the United States.   Bloomberg reports, “In one case, a non-profit group and a prominent liberal donor discussed how to use grant money to cover some costs for anti-Trump protesters.” Some groups have handed over ransoms despite the fact that “there is little guarantee the documents won’t be made public anyway. Demands have ranged from about $30,000 to $150,000, payable in untraceable bitcoins” according to Bloomberg’s sources “familiar with the probe.” The digital signature of the group appears to be the same Cozy Bear responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee last year. Interestingly, ransom was not a part of their modus operandi until this latest round of attacks just disclosed yesterday. The Bloomberg report also makes clear “that state-sponsored hackers continue a broader targeting of liberal groups in the U.S.”

From Bloomberg.



Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov faults “hysteria” in Washington for media stories and political concerns about Russia’s alleged interference into the 2016 election. Never mind 17 intelligence agencies concur, that Trump officials have concealed their links or the fact that considerable evidence, including statements from Kremlin officials support the claim. No, no Russophobia again – the classic culprit, as if it were as rampant as racism, anti-Semitism or misogyny in American society, but it’s not. Rather, Peskov faulted “emotional extremism of trying to make a toxic country out of Russia, to make a toxic ambassador out of Russia’s ambassador.” This is not the direction of extremism a keen observer sees when looking at an administration set to ban travel by citizens from majority Muslim countries or publish weekly lists of immigrant criminals. Peskov observes this will all do “lots of harm to the future of our bilateral relations.” No, no, that will be the result of the mistrust stemming from supporting a lunatic who is a complete danger to all free societies and free individuals everywhere and hacking our political system, both things the Russian state has done.

From Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Russian state-run Sputnik.



Former CIA Director Michael Hayden told Yahoo News and Finance anchor Biana Golodryga that “there’s a lot of smoke” linking Trump and Russia. He would not draw conclusions but he did state the obvious, namely, that there is a lot of “connective tissue between at least elements of the Trump campaign and people inside the Russian Federation — an unusual number.”” Concerning Trump’s wiretap accusations, Hayden said, ““Barack Obama could not authorize this. It had to go through the courts… If this happened, if some sort of warrant were granted, I’m not even sure that the president would know.” Might this explain why the Department of Justice has so far declined to refute allegations of a wiretap at Trump Tower – albeit not one authorized by Obama? On the other hand, ““You have two sources of FISA warrants saying, ‘Nah, we didn’t do this… Wow.” Hayden is, in other words, similarly perplexed as the rest of us who don’t reside in the realm of conspiracy theory by Trump’s sensational allegations.

From Yahoo! News.





The New Yorker profiles a terribly corrupt project, the Trump Tower Baku, in my old stomping grounds of Azerbaijan. The country is a fantastically kleptocratic post-Soviet republic that has brilliantly leveraged its geopolitical position bordering Russia and Iran with friendly ties to Israel and the United States to maximum gain. The Trump Tower Baku project however does no such brilliantly leveraged thing. Rather, the Trump Organization’s partners, Minister of Transportation Ziya Mammadov and his son, Anar, appear to be fronting companies tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. While not Russia connected per se, the model could be a blue print for other shady Trump Organization deals and appears to have never undergone the slightest bit of scrutiny by the Trump Organization. The author leaves out some colorful details about protagonist Anar, however, namely his penchant for bear kebab and his ties to a shady lobbying outfit in Washington, the Azerbaijan America Alliance, which many informed observers thought was a likely front for the Gülen Movement in part. Once this organization stole an image of mine for their website and I can tell you despite numerous calls and invoices, I was never able to confirm it even existed other than on paper. A great read and probably grounds enough alone for impeachment, but alas, we no longer have a functioning state, in part thanks to our own stupidity and in part due to our new friends in Moscow.

From The New Yorker.


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