Jun 02 2017

The Russian Connection: “Moscow On The Potomac”

Things have slowed down a little in the continuing saga of “Moscow on the Potomac” as Charlie Pierce has dubbed Trump’s Russian woes but it’s not going away. Trump had hoped that his “Ugly American” tour of the Middle east and Europe would distract the media. It didn’t. Even while he was on foreign soil, the freight train kept rolling down that tract. After a three day weekend for Memorial Day, more subpoenas dropped, more people have become “persons of interest” and investigation was initiated as a distraction.

On Tuesday, former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will provide the documents subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Flynn will turn over documents related to two of his businesses as well as some personal documents the committee requested earlier this month, a person close to Flynn said. Flynn plans to produce documents by next week, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Flynn’s private interactions with the committee.

The decision on Tuesday was the first signal that Flynn and the Senate panel have found common ground. Congressional investigators continue to press for key documents in the ongoing investigation, and the retired lieutenant general is trying to limit damaging disclosures that hostile Democratic lawmakers could use against him.

Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, turned down a request to be interviewed and provide documents to congress regarding the probe into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election. Boris Epshteyn, a former campaign adviser who briefly served as a special assistant to Trump in the White House, also confirmed that he had relieved as request from the House. Cohen has declined to appear, while Epshteyn’s response through his lawyer was vague.

After his discussions with special counsel Robert Mueller, former FBI Director James Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8 in an open hearing. The session will be at 10 AM ET.

Tuesday, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer returned to the podium for his first press conference in two weeks with a long recap Trump’s “Ugly American” tour. The fun began when he got into to a verbal battle with the press over what he calls “fake news.” ending the session after only 30 minutes.

In his un-televised press conference on Wednesday, Spicer announced that the White House will no longer take questions about Trump’s links to Russia stating “We are focused on the president’s agenda and going forward all questions on these matters will be referred to outside counsel Marc Kasowitz.”

Also on Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee dropped its first subpoenas.

The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday issued seven new subpoenas in its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Four of the subpoenas are related directly to Russian meddling, which is also also the subject of probes from the Senate Intelligence Committee and FBI. [..]

Those three subpoenas went to the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency and are related to questions — primarily from Republicans — about how the names of associates of President Trump were un-redacted and distributed in classified Obama administration reports during the transition period.

The committee said in a statement that it had issued subpoenas to former national security adviser Michael Flynn and one company associated with the former intelligence official, Flynn Intel Group LLC; and longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and his firm, Michael D. Cohen & Associates PC.

Among the other subpoenas were three issued by chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes(R-CA), about the unmasking reportedly related to requests made by former national security adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, essentially opening another investigation. Democrats have called this a violation of his recusal.

The embattled head of the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday appeared to have launched an investigation of his own, this one into allegations that senior Obama administration officials improperly “unmasked” the identities of Trump associates captured communicating with foreign officials.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the committee, created a stir in March when he told reporters he’d seen secret documents that backed President Donald Trump’s claims that President Barack Obama had “wiretapped” his offices. [..]

On Wednesday, various news outlets reported that the intelligence committee had subpoenaed three former Obama administration officials to address Nunes’ allegations. The reports identified the three as former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan.

But House Intelligence committee staff members would not confirm the reports, and one said whatever subpoenas might have been issued were not part of the committee’s Russia probe and had not been approved by the Democrats on the committee.

As of Thursday, the first foreign person who is not a Russian has come under the scrutiny of the FBI. Britain’s former UKIP party leader, Nigel Farage, is now a person of interest because of his relationships with individuals connected to both the Trump campaign and Julian Assange.

Sources are now looking into another undisclosed meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak,Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and then Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III that happened last spring at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC.

A U.S. official with knowledge of the matter told NBC News that the FBI also is scrutinizing the Mayflower event, which was sponsored by a pro-Russian think tank. The official said the FBI is interested in who was at the event and what was said, in the context of the counter-intelligence investigation into Russian election meddling. That official said there was no indication the bureau is zeroing in on Sessions.

Sen. Al Franken, D.-Minnesota, who originally questioned Sessions about his Russian contacts during a confirmation hearing for Sessions’ appointment as attorney general, discussed the matter Wednesday night on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell

The word spread on Thursday that Trump was considering returning the two Russian compounds that were seized by the Obama administration in retaliation for interfering with the election.

Early last month, the Trump administration told the Russians that it would consider turning the properties back over to them if Moscow would lift its freeze, imposed in 2014 in retaliation for U.S. sanctions related to Ukraine, on construction of a new U.S. consulate on a certain parcel of land in St. Petersburg.

Two days later, the U.S. position changed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a meeting in Washington that the United States had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate, according to several people with knowledge of the exchanges.

That about sums up the week and it’s only Friday afternoon.