CNN reports FBI Director James Comey will “go on the record” Wednesday and say whether the FBI is investigating ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said Comey “made the promise” on March 2 during a meeting with him and Senator Lindsay Graham. CNN, citing Senator Whitehouse, reports, “Comey assured them he would confirm if an investigation exists ‘and the scope of their Russia/Trump investigation because he had not been able to at that point say that there was one.’” The FBI however did not respond to a request from CNN for comment or confirmation. Senators Whitehouse and Graham are spearheading a “Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism of the Senate Judiciary Committee that is separate from the House and Senate intelligence committees.

From CNN.



Putin met with Renova holding company chair and Bank of Cyprus shareholder Viktor Vekselberg at the Kremlin on Tuesday according to Russian state-run TASS. A March 6 report in The New York Times on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s tenure at the Bank of Cyprus described Vekselberg,  “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.”  Russian state-run TASS reports Vekselberg was at the Kremlin to discuss “infrastructure projects” his business “is involved in” such as “an airport in Russia’s southern city of Rostov”.

From Russian state-run TASS.



The Balkanist obtained a letter signed by six U.S. Senators including former presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz addressed to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling for democracy promotion activities in the Balkans to be investigated, citing in particular Macedonia and Albania. In the context of the talk of a new Cold War, this is your proof that there is no such thing, that this is not ideological whatsoever nor is it about a free versus an unfree world but rather about mafia states and the opposing desire of citizens to live free of fear. The letter echoes Russian state propaganda in very eery ways. For example, the letter states, “Unfortunately, we have received credible reports that, over the past few years, the U.S. Mission there has actively intervened in the party politics of Macedonia, as well as in the shaping of its media environment and civil society, often favoring left-leaning political groups over others.” The letter goes on to cite unsatisfactory answers from the U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia and the U.S. Mission in Skopje as well as the use of funding by USAID and perennial boogey man of the right, George Soros and his Open Society Foundations network. Let’s compare this language to Russian state-run Sputnik of March 3 in an article entitled, “It is time to trust Russia, not Trump, on Macedonia” which discusses “Obama’s Hybrid War on Macedonia” (capitalization in the Russian propaganda original). Accordingly, “Although many high hopes were placed on the Trump Administration, it has thus far disappointingly proven itself unwilling to stop Obama’s Hybrid War on Macedonia and might even be preparing to intensify it,” which might help explain the sudden impetus for the six senators’ letter. The echoes continue as Russian state-run Sputnik goes on to attack the “liberal-progressive beliefs in radical feminism and pro-homosexual legislation” of the opposition allegedly supported currently by the U.S. Mission in the country. Who are these senators cribbing analysis from?

From The Balkanist.





Senator Lindsay Graham precedes next week’s House intelligence committee hearings with his own subcommittee hearings where FBI Director James Comey is slated to reveal whether there is an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, quite the marquee headliner (see lead BREAKING story). While Graham’s subcommittee “ lacks the resources and access that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have… his Senate Judiciary subcommittee has something the intelligence panels don’t: a Republican chairman viewed not as a Donald Trump ally but as a fierce critic.” On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “he would not object if Graham’s panel decides to issue subpoenas to force the FBI to turn over the requested information.” Senator Dick Durbin expressed his confidence in Graham, “I’ve worked with him closely so I have a lot of confidence in him.”




POLITICO has a piece on the heads of the House intelligence committee that is a portrait in Jekyll/Hyde style management. Great! The lede lays out the stakes and clash of civilizations: “Adam Schiff says Russia’s effort to sway the election for President Donald Trump is one of the most serious issues of our time. Devin Nunes isn’t even convinced Russia tried to help Trump.” In no time though we get to the fact that Schiff is ready to throw down the gauntletand take a page from Trump’s playbook and say the whole thing is rigged. “Schiff has already signaled he would be prepared to disavow the intelligence panel’s work if he feels Republicans are protecting sacred cows,” – the only intelligent objection here is a quibble with the use of the word “sacred”. While both Congressmen are from California, Schiff has a truly interesting detail in his bio that might mean something to the Russians, namely he is “a former federal prosecutor who rose to prominence in 1990 for the conviction of an FBI agent accused of passing secrets to the Soviet Union”.




The New Yorker profiles Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee. The hearings over Trump’s ties to Russia begin on Monday and these hearings are the combined Superbowl/All Star Game/Eurovision of American presidential politics and national security. “In response to the Russian hacks, Schiff’s preference was to have an outside investigation,” but “It remains to be seen whether any committee in the hyper-partisan House of Representatives can follow that model.” Of committee co-chair Republican Rep. Devin Nunes we learn that “he was best known in recent years as an outspoken critic of his congressional colleagues on the right who he believed were damaging the Republican Party with tactics such as government shutdowns. He called them “lemmings with suicide vests.” Nunes also has expressed concern about the proliferation of conspiracy theories by his constituents. But this is not the showdown we are all waiting for, this is: “James Comey, the F.B.I. director, is scheduled to testify, and Schiff is almost giddy at the prospect. Schiff is a former prosecutor who, in 1990, after two previous trials, convicted the first F.B.I. agent indicted for espionage, a case that also involved the Russians. Schiff seems ready to cross-examine Comey, who was reportedly furious about Trump’s tweet and wanted the Department of Justice to respond to it. ‘If the press reports are accurate and Comey wanted the Department of Justice to refute this and they were unwilling, then he’ll have the chance to do it,’ Schiff said.” It is not so complicated how this may help Trump since, “The intelligence committee was planning to look at several broad areas related to Russian hacking.”

From The New Yorker.





The odd couple of Trump official son-in-law Jared Kushner and Chief White House Strategist and noted rabid anti-Semite Steve Bannon have worked in concert to stay the job of an appointed Flynn hack National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster wanted out of the National Security Council on the advice of the intelligence community. The official, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, is the senior director for intelligence programs. The attempted push out the door came after “weeks of pressure from career officials at the CIA who had expressed reservations about the 30-year-old intelligence operative and pushed for his ouster.” Cohen-Watnick appealed to the odd couple and was granted permission to stay on Sunday after they met, POLITICO reports citing “two people with knowledge of the episode.” Naturally, “The incident raises questions about just how much autonomy Trump is giving to McMaster,” and suggests not much. More good news: ousted National Security Advisor was Cohen-Watnick’s boss at the Defense Intelligence Agency and brought Cohen-Watnick into the Trump transition team fold. As for owning their decisions, “Cohen-Watnick, Kushner and Bannon did not respond to requests for comment. The White House press office referred questions to the NSC. Spokesman Michael Anton declined to comment.”




According to POLITICO, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pushed back against the proposed 37 percent cut to State Department funding and won the battle. In lieu of a direct, immediate hit there will instead be “staged cuts” that are to be “spread out over several years” largely because Tillerson “wants to decide how the cuts are made”. Active measures – the vivisection! Tillerson and Trump will have met “six times in the last three weeks” following a Monday night dinner “with new National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.” POLITICO notes that “The cuts to State have been opposed by more than 120 retired generals and admirals,” in a letter to Congress. “The letter cited comments by Gen. James Mattis, now Trump’s secretary of defense, who said in 2013, ‘If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.’” That likely does not bother Trump given how much he revels in violence so long as not a hair on his head is perturbed.




Salon features an interview with intelligence community veteran and MSNBC contributor Malcolm Nance. The headline shouts: “Career counterterrorism officer says Putin pulled off a “brilliant” coup” – which is funny because the government has publicly avoided the c-word and because I came to the same conclusion and I was only educated by them. Nance correctly predicts, “if it’s not espionage, then it will be the largest financial scandal in American history.” He believes Flynn was motivated by money and that the American media was lazy and afraid and “the people who really, really understood the American media and really knew what to do and how to do it were Vladimir Putin and Russian intelligence.” However, he is much too kind to Putin, suggesting, “I would personally say [it was] the most brilliant intelligence operation quite possibly in the history of mankind at this point, because he selected the president.” We were ripe and so much of the demoralization tactics were made in America, not Russia, by our own people usually to make a buck. Our catastrophe was the result of late-stage capitalism and racial resentment over a first black president that was not a Kremlin creationthat was real, as was the outcome of NAFTA and CAFTA on small, Midwestern towns. Nance’s description of Putin’s position at the Russian sate-run RT gala dinner for the 10th anniversary of the propaganda network with ousted National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and left-wing third party candidate Jill Stein is choice: “He had both sides of the election coin at his elbow.” Nance’s description of Russia however misses 1,000 years of history and culture as he says Russia “has nothing other than oil and weapons sales” – albeit this is entirely true of Putin’s time at the helm of the Russian state. Nance discredits himself by calling Alexander Dugin “Putin’s philosopher” instead of “propagandist” as one created the other, to think otherwise is an egregious error. The conclusion however is worth absorbing to the letter: “I think this will end in impeachment. If it does not, the American system of government will split in two. I mean, like the Democrats will just stonewall and say, ‘This is treason.’ Then you’re going to get the Republicans who will say, ‘We’re going to use every level of power to go after anyone that doesn’t agree with us.’ But at the street level, you won’t see the changes. You’ll still have the right to speak out. There won’t be any arrests like there were in Russia with Pussy Riot. But people who support Trump will do all of that. They’ll come and attack you. They will silence you. There will be self-appointed groups of people and militias that will make it clear that Trump is God.” But at the street level he is wrong, there you will see everything, as always.

From Salon.





BuzzFeed sought the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit Tuesday filed against the media company over its publication of what has come to be known alternatively as the Steele dossier or “golden showers” file on Trump by Russian venture capitalist Aleksej Gubarev. He is seeking damaged from BuzzFeed related to the publication of the dossier written by former British spy Christopher Steele over a part of the document which names Gubarev’s companis, Webzilla and XBT, and says they “were key to the exposure of Democratic Party emails last year.” A spokesman for BuzzFeed News, Matt Mittenthal said, ““We look forward to resolving this matter quickly and continue to stand by our decision to publish the dossier, which was being circulated at the highest levels of government, but hidden from the public”. The effect of the lawsuit is already clear as BuzzFeed redacted Gubarev’s name from the published version and apologized to him.

From McClatchy.





Bloomberg takes a page from Russian propaganda with a story on how welcoming Russia is to immigrants, which is more fiction than fact. The headline itself is a bold effort to take over the mantle of welcoming the world’s poor and destitute from America in that it proclaims, falsely, that “Russia Wants Immigrants the World Doesn’t”. Reminder: this is Bloomberg NOT Russian state-run propaganda. The article follows recent headlines from an imaginary liberal Russian press that does not exist including “A recent editorial in Nezavisimaya Gazeta was titled ‘Trump and Le Pen would be opposition in Russia.’” On what planet? What explains all the money and support from the Kremlin to both? Russia does attract a huge number of immigrants, largely from the Caucasus and Central Asia and post-Soviet republics there. Like in America and Europe, immigrants “play a key role in manufacturing, retail, and service sectors. In the restaurant industry, kitchen staff from countries like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Georgia stay for years, sending most of their money home.” Nonetheless, “populist anti-immigrant sentiment is common and police raids of work sites are a regular occurrence” but as Trump will soon discover if he follows through with his plans to squeeze America of its undocumented work force, “economic imperatives always hold more sway.” Then there is the reality of course that “Immigrant laborers at sites like Samolyot describe daily struggles to survive amid low pay, mistreatment, and discrimination.” Some things are universal: government spin, scapegoating, challenges to the humanity of those who don’t have proper documents. Nice photos from colleague Misha Friedman.

From Bloomberg.



The parade of bizarre honors being bestowed upon deceased Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin from the peripheral edges of the former Soviet Empire continues as Churkin was honored posthumously with the highest honor from South Ossetia, an unrecognized state on the Black Sea that most recently belonged to Georgia but is occupied by Russian-aligned forces since the August War of 2008. The honor has a colorful title, the Award of Uatsamonga. Churkin’s widow, Irina, was in Moscow to receive it from Ambassador Znaur Gassiyev. “When back in 2008, Tskhinval was burned down to the ground we had only one staunch friend abroad – Vitaly Ivanovich [Churkin] who spared no effort,” Gassiyev told Churkin’s widow. Ambassador Gassiyev also conveyed his request to the president of largely unrecognized South Ossetian “that one of Tskhinval’s streets will be renamed after Vitaly Churkin.” Tskhinval is the capital of the breakway territory. The award ceremony came the same day Putin sought to integrate “South Ossetian separate military units into the Russian Armed Forces.” In practical terms, this means South Ossetian soldiers will be recruited “for military service in the Russian Armed Forces” and will be sent “to the Russian military base in a voluntary procedure for active duty.” Reuters reports that Georgia condemned the move as it will absorb the territory further into Russian state control while “under international law it is part of Georgia’s sovereign territory.”

From Russian state-run TASS, Russian state-run TASS, and Reuters.





The Gorbachev Foundation announced the death of Anatoly Chernyaev on Monday in Moscow at the age of 95, which arrived to TRUMPISTAN WATCH by way of the National Security Archive (highly recommend signing up for their email). Chernyaev was Gorbachev’s National Security Advisor from March 1986 through the death of the Soviet Union in December 1991, a position currently occupied by Nikola Patrushev who has far less concern for the universal values of law, justice and human goodness. The National Security Archive describes him as “a transformative visionary for a demilitarized and democratic Soviet Union and a new Russia that tragically never came to be.” Chernyaev co-wrote Gorbachev’s most renowned speeches, including the “anti-Fulton” speech in December 1988 “that for many observers marked the actual end of the Cold War.” He was previously part of the close circle of foreign policy advisors to Soviet leaders Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko. In 2004, he donated his handwritten diaries to the National Security Archive in Washington, “in order to ensure permanent public access to this invaluable record beyond the reach of political uncertainties in contemporary Russia.”

From The National Security Archive and The Gorbachev Foundation.


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