By Robert A. Vella
Before getting to today’s important news stories, I want to cast SHAME! on the mainstream media’s abhorrent decision to give free prime-time exposure yesterday to President Trump’s highly partisan border wall address to the nation which – by the way – coincided with a campaign fundraising effort cleverly disguised to conceal its true intent. The Guardian’s Jill Abramson had the best take on this political farce, in my opinion. From: Trump’s border wall address was so lame, was it in fact a distraction?
Donald Trump is a master at manufacturing faux crises. He is not a master at faking humanitarian concern.
He thought that speaking from the Oval Office and sitting behind the Resolute desk would help him invoke a grave national crisis. It’s the setting that JFK used to tell the country about life-threatening Cuban missiles. It’s where George W Bush tried to calm the country after 9/11.
Speaking robotically and looking isolated and lonely, the president tried to sell his unnecessary and inhumane $5bn border wall using stale arguments we have heard many times before. The speech sounded like campaign rhetoric and contained nothing new. In a fundraising letter I received by email in the afternoon, the president’s naked political aims were obvious.
“I want to know who stood with me when it mattered most so I’ve asked my team to send me a list of EVERY AMERICAN PATRIOT who donates to the Official Secure the Border Fund.” Then came the tin cup.
“Please make a special contribution of $5 by 9PM EST to our Official Secure the Border Fund to have your name sent to me after my speech.” After the short speech, another fundraising plea arrived, extending the deadline.
In addition to yesterday’s revelation – due to inadequately redacted court documents – that Trump’s former campaign manager had leaked private polling data to Russians involved with meddling in the 2016 presidential election, it was also revealed later that Manafort had met with Russians in Madrid after Trump had assumed office and at a time when he was no longer campaign manager. From: Analysis: Unredacted Paul Manafort filing hints at collusion
Close watchers of the investigation have been intrigued by the still-developing role of Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian political consultant who worked closely with Manafort in Ukraine. They helped Moscow-friendly politicians get elected and hold onto power for nearly a decade.
Manafort and Kilimnik stayed in touch after their Ukrainian clients were ousted in 2014. They met twice in the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to their own public statements. News reports have detailed their phone calls and emails in 2016, including one exchange where Manafort tried to use Kilimnik to reach a prominent Russian oligarch.
But Tuesday’s filing revealed they had a third meeting, this time in the Spanish capital of Madrid. One redacted portion quoted Mueller’s team: “After being told that Mr. Kilimnik had traveled to Madrid on the same day that Mr. Manafort was in Madrid, Mr. Manafort ‘acknowledged’ that he and Mr. Kilimnik met while they were both in Madrid.” A spokesman for Manafort sought to clarify the filing in a statement Tuesday night, saying that the third meeting happened in early 2017, after the election.
The growing list of Manafort-Kilimnik contacts could be relevant to the collusion question because, according to previous court filings from Mueller, the FBI has assessed that Kilimnik “has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”
Mueller’s mystery case
WASHINGTON (AP) — An unidentified company owned by a foreign government is facing a court-imposed fine of $50,000 a day for refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena that may be part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to block the subpoena and the federal appeals court in Washington issued an opinion soon after that revealed the size of the fine, but little additional information about the company or the foreign government that owns it.
The company had sought to get the Supreme Court involved in the dispute, after lower courts had ruled against it. All the documents in the case were filed under seal, but the court’s docket reflects the filings and the Supreme Court order.
Considering what’s been reported about Mueller’s focus so far, there appear to be two particularly likely possibilities here:
A Russian company: For obvious reasons, this could be a state-owned Russian company. There have been claims that the bank VTB was involved in the Trump Tower Moscow talks, and the chair of a different bank, VEB, met with Jared Kushner during the transition. The Steele dossier made various uncorroborated claims about planned payoffs to Trump associates involving the oil company Rosneft. Trump transition adviser Erik Prince met the manager of a Russian sovereign wealth fund in Seychelles. (None of these companies have been accused of wrongdoing in connection with the Mueller probe.)
A Gulf state company: Many reports this year have made clear Mueller is scrutinizing money trails and influence operations from Gulf states — the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are said to have come under scrutiny. It’s unclear why exactly Mueller has focused on this, and no charges have been brought on the topic just yet.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied a request from Virginia Republicans to block a federal court from approving new electoral boundaries.
Last summer, a federal judicial panel found that state lawmakers racially gerrymandered 11 House districts, concentrating black voters within certain boundaries. The court hired an outside expert to redraw the district map and wants to impose the new map at the end of March, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
In the meantime, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the lower court’s ruling that the districts were gerrymandered. Republicans were hoping to put the redrawing effort on hold until that appeal is heard this spring. The party argued that redrawing the boundaries and then having the high court potentially reverse the lower court’s decision and dismiss the case – along with the new maps – would be confusing for voters.
Tuesday’s order was issued two days before the lower court will hold a hearing on the proposed legislative maps and means the court can go ahead with redrawing the districts.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will brief key House Democrats Thursday on plans to end sanctions against three companies tied to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
The closed-door briefing is set for 4 p.m. on Capitol Hill, according to a House official familiar with the plans. The meeting is a response to a letter sent Tuesday jointly by the new Democratic heads of seven House committees asking Mnuchin to hold off on lifting the sanctions until he provided a full briefing on the decision.
The Treasury Department announced on Dec. 19 its intention to remove sanctions on United Co. Rusal, the world’s second-largest aluminum company, as well as EN+ Group Plc and EuroSibEnergo JSC. Mnuchin said the companies “have committed to significantly diminish Deripaska’s ownership and sever his control.” The move is to take effect 30 days later from the announcement unless Congress blocks it.
FEMA aid cutoff
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that he is cutting off federal money to fight California wildfires, claiming the money is being wasted.
“Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., replied, saying Trump’s “threat insults the memory of scores of Americans who perished in wildfires last year & thousands more who lost their homes.”
Pelosi said House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, another Californian, “must join me to condemn & call on POTUS to reassure millions in CA that our govt will be there for them in their time of need.”