Lost in the Sauce: Trump’s National Security Advisor accepts Russia’s promise not to interfere despite mountains of evidence
Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater… or a global health crisis.
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Interference: Russia’s Internet Research Agency has been exposed posing as an independent news outlet to target right-wing social media users ahead of the U.S. elections. Last month, Facebook and Twitter uncovered a similar operation run by Russian state actors targeting the left.
Interference: National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien met with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva on Friday, reportedly accepting Russia’s promise not to interfere in the election… despite mountains of evidence that Russian operations have been and continue to be underway. On Face the Nation, O’Brien confirmed Russia’s commitment but added “we’ll see what happens.”
Russian media: Russian state media reacted to Trump’s performance in the debate last week, conceding that Biden won: “All the while we’ve been thinking that Biden is feeble, but it turns out he isn’t. He was able to handle the debate well and acted in an absolutely normal way.” However, a host was sure to point out that not all is lost for Trump’s fans in Russia and beyond: “In 2016, Hillary also allegedly outperformed Trump… but still didn’t end up in the Oval Office.”
Top Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov: “Trump is in a hurry, because in case of a disputed outcome, the question of who will become president will be decided by the Supreme Court…the funniest thing is that no one expects the justices of the Supreme Court to act in a just manner.”
Trump’s role: Following Trump’s non-stop lies and misinformation regarding voting and the election during the debate, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster said the president is “aiding and abetting” Putin’s disinformation efforts.
Trump’s role: According to NYT, American intelligence and homeland security officials are worried Trump’s “rant about a fraudulent vote may have been intended for more than just a domestic audience.”
They have been worried for some time that his warnings are a signal to outside powers — chiefly the Russians — for their disinformation campaigns, which have seized on his baseless theme that the mail-in ballots are ridden with fraud. But what concerns them the most is that over the next 34 days, the country may begin to see disruptive cyberoperations, especially ransomware, intended to create just enough chaos to prove the president’s point.
DNI’s role: Just hours before the debate last week, Trump’s DNI John Ratcliffe declassified a Russian intelligence assessment that was previously rejected by both parties on the the Senate Intelligence Committee as having no factual basis. The document claims that then-candidate Hillary Clinton personally approved an effort “to stir up a scandal against” Trump “by tying him to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the [DNC].” In his letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham, Ratcliffe noted that the U.S. intelligence community “does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.”
“I’m not saying whether it’s true or not,” Graham told reporters. “I’m asking Democrats, do you give a damn whether the FBI investigated it, or do you just care only about investigating Trump?”
CIA and NSA officials reportedly urged Ratcliffe not to release the Russian assessment, arguing it could have been deliberate disinformation.
Moscow mayor: Trump accused Hunter Biden of receiving millions from the wife of Moscow’s late mayor Yury Luzhkov. But Trump himself sought business with Luzhkov’s government in the 90s, according to press reports, SEC filings, and comments made by Luzhkov last year.
Courts and DOJ
NYAG: Eric Trump is scheduled to speak via video today with New York state investigators probing his family’s business practices. A judge two weeks ago gave Eric Trump until Oct. 7 to comply with a subpoena for his testimony in New York AG Letitia James’ investigation into whether the family company, the Trump Organization, lied about the value of its assets in order to get loans or tax benefits.
Vance: The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said it will not seek to enforce a subpoena for Trump’s income tax returns until the president’s appeal of the subpoena is resolved. During oral arguments on last month, Second Circuit Judge Pierre Leval suggested that he was allowed to collect the records from Mazars immediately.
Flynn: District Judge Emmet Sullivan heard arguments last week related to the DOJ’s attempt to drop charges against Michael Flynn. Sullivan suggested that he is not yet prepared to let the government abandon the prosecution and still has more questions about the case. Under questioning, Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell admitted that she briefed Trump on the case within the last two weeks and requested that he not issue a pardon.
Flynn: A lawyer for Peter Strzok told Judge Sullivan that someone had altered handwritten notes by his client in one of the recent batches of internal materials turned over to Powell — adding two dates to them that he did not write, including one that suggested a White House meeting happened earlier than it did. Judge Sullivan ordered the Justice Department to provide a sworn declaration certifying whether the materials submitted to him “were true and accurate,” saying he was “floored” by the “unsettling” claim that they had been modified.
Census: The Census Bureau finally committed to continuing its count through the end of October, after initially defying District Judge Lucy Koh’s order. The Commerce Dept. is appealing her decision.
She said the Census Bureau was “chaotic, dilatory, and incomplete” in following her original injunction, and issued a clarified injunction, directing the Bureau that it must continue its count through Oct. 31, and publicize its efforts to do so, including texting employees on Friday to inform them.
Wohl charged: Two right-wing operatives and conspiracy theorists were charged for intimidating voters with inaccurate robocalls that discouraged residents in urban areas from casting their ballots by mail. Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were charged with four felonies of intimidating voters, conspiring to violate election law, and using a computer to commit a crime.
Parscale: Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale was hospitalized last Sunday following reports of a suicide attempt at his Florida home. The Friday before, Parscale apparently told Trump campaign staffers and friends that he was under federal investigation. No further details are known but Vanity Fair reported that the Trump family is worried that Parscale could turn on them and cooperate with law enforcement about possible campaign finance violations. “The family is worried Brad will start talking,” the source said.
- There are unconfirmed reports from less reputable outlets (like DailyMail) that Parscale is under investigation for stealing up to $40 million from Trump’s campaign and $10 million from the RNC.
Paxton: Top aides of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have asked federal law enforcement authorities to investigate allegations of improper influence, abuse of office, bribery, and other potential crimes against the state’s top lawyer. In a one-page letter to the state agency’s director of human resources, seven executives in the upper tiers of the office said they each have “knowledge of facts relevant to these potential offenses and [have] provided statements concerning those facts to the appropriate law enforcement.”
Trump money and campaign
Kushner: The Kushner family real estate company was granted $850 million in government-backed loans with “unusually good terms.” The loans backed by the government-sponsored Freddie Mac last year to Kushner Companies made it possible for the business to purchase thousands of apartments in Maryland and Virginia in its largest deal in a decade.
Conflicts: Kushner holds an ownership stake worth between $25 million and $50 million in Cadre, a real estate investment firm that he helped start in 2014 with his brother. In a newly reported aspect of the conflict of interest, Cadre is eager to capitalize on “distress” in the real estate market caused by the pandemic. Without aid, owners are going to be forced to sell or be foreclosed upon, opening opportunities for Cadre to get property for cheap. Kushner, as part of the White House, is likely involved in discussions regarding coronavirus relief packages.
The hotel industry says it needs federal help to stay afloat. Cadre has indicated it is interested in hunting for hotels that go under. Kushner is involved with each of the competing sides of this equation. He could well personally benefit, if Cadre starts making a buck off hotels clobbered by the coronavirus that do not receive federal assistance.
Preferential treatment: Donors who have provided private jet travel to Trump’s re-election campaign have later seen family members receive pardons, had their companies receive additional government contracts, or received substantial coronavirus aid very quickly. “Records reviewed by The Associated Press show that donors with private aircraft have provided nearly $600,000 in private flights since July 2019 to Trump Victory, the president’s big-dollar fundraising committee led by Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News star who is dating Donald Trump Jr.”
Corruption: Last week, the USDA began requiring that a letter crediting Trump be included in millions of federally funded food aid boxes distributed across the nation to families in need. Organizations handing out the aid complain the program is now being used to bolster Trump’s image a month before a high-stakes election — and some even have refused to distribute them.
San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is removing the letters at distribution sites and asking any of the neighborhood pantries in their network that receive these boxes to do the same, says Keely Hopkins, the food bank’s communications and social media manager. “We wouldn’t put any third-party messaging in our boxes, and we wouldn’t want anyone to think we are pushing a political message,” she said.
Guilfoyle: Fox News paid the former assistant to ex-host Kimberly Guilfoyle upward of $4 million to avoid going to trial after the employee wrote a 2018 draft complaint detailing allegations of sexual harassment against her. Guilfoyle currently serves as the Trump campaign’s finance chair and is dating Don Jr.
Guilfoyle told her that she needed to know what the assistant would say if she were asked about sexual harassment, and warned her that she could cause great damage if she said the wrong thing. Guilfoyle, she said, told her that, in exchange for demonstrating what Guilfoyle called loyalty, she would work out a payment to take care of her — possibly, she said, with funds from Bolling.
Tapes: Melania Trump was secretly recorded in the summer of 2018 expressing her frustration at being criticized for her husband’s policy of separating families who illegally crossed the southern border while at the same time needing to perform traditional first lady duties, such as preparing for Christmas (YouTube clip).
Immigration: CDC officials objected to orders issued in March allowing agents at the border to immediately return to Mexico any migrants they encountered crossing the border, citing the threat of the coronavirus. At the time, White House officials said it was a decision driven by public-health experts.
A review of internal government documents and interviews with people involved in the process, however, show the policy was driven by immigration officials in the administration over the objections of senior officials at the CDC, the agency with the authority to issue the order, who warned the rationale behind enacting the pandemic policy was an inappropriate use of its public-health powers.
The AP reports that Mike Pence intervened after the CDC refused to comply. “That was a Stephen Miller special. He was all over that,” said Olivia Troye, a former top aide to Pence, who coordinated the White House coronavirus task force. She recently resigned in protest, saying the administration had placed politics above public health. “There was a lot of pressure on DHS and CDC to push this forward.”
Immigration: Last weekend, ICE installed bold black-and-red billboards along highways across the key swing state of Pennsylvania, depicting the faces of, as ICE put it, “at-large immigration violators who may pose a public safety threat.” One employee said it seemed “suspiciously political that it’s being done in a swing state. The administration almost seems to regard all of DHS as an arm of the Trump campaign these days.”
Border: Construction crews are working non-stop to build the border wall as quickly as possible ahead of the election. The latest figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show the rate of construction has nearly doubled since the beginning of the year, accelerated by the government’s ability to cut through national forests, wildlife preserves, and other public lands already under federal control.
In southeastern Arizona, blasting crews have been using dynamite to level the steep sides of Guadalupe Canyon, a rugged span where the cost of the barrier exceeds $41 million per mile. Across the state at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, border agents have forcefully broken up protests by members of the O’odham Nation attempting to block the bulldozers near ancestral burial sites and a fragile desert oasis.
Political interference: Voice Of America White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman is being investigated by political aides at parent agency USAGM for anti-Trump bias. “NPR has learned the appointees compiled an extensive report deemed ‘confidential’ on VOA White House bureau chief Steve Herman, claiming that in his reporting and tweets that Herman had been unfair to Trump and had broken the broadcaster’s standards and social media policies.”
- Separately, six senior officials at USAGM have filed a whistleblower complaint with the State Department’s inspector general and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, alleging that they were retaliated against for raising concerns about the new political leadership installed earlier this year
Corruption: The consulting firm where the wife of acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is an executive has been awarded more than $6 million in contracts from the Department of Homeland Security since September 2018.
World: Prominent US human rights lawyers are suing the Trump administration over an executive order they say has gagged them and halted their work pursuing justice on behalf of war crimes victims around the world.
Environment: Exxon Mobil Corp. has been planning to increase annual carbon-dioxide emissions by as much as the output of the entire nation of Greece. Internal projections from one of the world’s largest oil producers show an increase in its enormous contribution to global warming.
Environment: A top official at the Interior Department has delayed the release of a study that shows how oil and gas drilling in Alaska could encroach upon the territory of polar bears — which are already struggling for survival as a warming planet melts their habitat.
DHS: Federal law enforcement officials were directed to make public comments sympathetic to Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with fatally shooting two protesters in Kenosha.
Proud Boys: Far-right groups celebrated on social media after President Trump responded to a debate question about white supremacists by saying that the extremist Proud Boys, a male-only group known for its penchant for street violence, should “stand back and stand by.”