Dayspring Mishandled?

A conspiracy theory on the Prague meeting.

(Explanation for the obscure title at the end)

I should not be telling you this, but I think readers have a right to know before the weekend.

The Steele dossier on Trump’s numerous shady ties to Russia includes the notorious alleged visit by Cohen to Prague in August 2016.

1. Speaking to a compatriot and friend on 19 October 2016, a Kremlin insider provided further details of reported clandestine meeting/s between Republican presidential candidate, Donald TRUMP’S lawyer Michael COHEN and Kremlin representatives in August 2016. Although the communication between them had to be cryptic for security reasons, the Kremlin insider clearly indicated to his/her friend that the reported contact/s took place in Prague, Czech Republic.

2. Continuing on this theme, the Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of the Russian parastatal organisation, Rossotrudnichestvo, in this contact between TRUMP campaign representative/s and Kremlin officials. Rossotrudnichestvo was being used as cover for this relationship and its office in Prague may well have been used to host the COHEN / Russian Presidential Administration (PA) meeting/s. It was considered a “plausibly deniable” vehicle for this, whilst remaining entirely under Kremlin control.

3. The Kremlin insider went on to identify leading pro-PUTIN Duma figure, Konstantin KOSACHEV (Head of the Foreign Relations Committee) as an important figure in the TRUMP campaign-Kremlin liaison operation. KOSACHEV, also “plausibly deniable” being part of the Russian legislature rather than executive, had facilitated the contact in Prague and by implication, may have attended the meeting/s with COHEN there in August.

Cohen – even after his plea deal – continues to maintain he has never been to Prague and was in Rome or maybe Capri at the time. However, McClatchy reporters have found circumstantial evidence (cellphone location records) that he was there after all. What will the Mueller report reveal? If the Steele dossier’s allegation is confirmed, it could be the smoking gun that ends the Trump presidency.

My own high-level source (whose identity I am sworn not to reveal) makes the following observation, couched as a speculation. Suppose you are the head of the Czech security service BIS, Michal Koudelka. He will see Putin’s machinations to weaken or destroy the NATO alliance and reestablish Russian hegemony over the former Soviet empire as a critical threat to the security of his country. Such threats justify extreme measures. The BIS will have put a major effort into checking the Steele claims of collusion with Donald Trump, the Trump organization, or the Trump campaign. They know what really happened in Prague.

Let’s suppose that these efforts have turned up a blank on the visit: Cohen did not meet Kremlin representatives in Prague, though the conspiracy was real. A professional counterespionage officer would inevitably think about an operation to “frame the guilty”. Continue reading “Dayspring Mishandled?”

The libertine’s one-way ticket from Prague

A sinister statue in Prague hints at Trump’s fall.

One of the most specific accusations  in Christopher Steele’s dossier on the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia was that Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen had made a trip to Prague in August or September 2016 to meet several high-level Russians connected to the Kremlin. They discussed Russian assistance to the Trump campaign.

Cohen flatly denied this in a tweet:

No matter how many times or ways they write it, I have never been to Prague.

Now McClatchy reporters  say that the Mueller inquiry has evidence Cohen was lying and did in fact travel to Prague at that time. They don’t say they have evidence he met any Russians. But why should Cohen have lied about the trip if he didn’t? Points to Steele. Cohen may be engaging in literal truth-telling, if the meeting was held at a country hotel like this one. That won’t help him.

If Mueller has information about the meeting, it is probably reliable. It doesn’t seem likely that the Czech intelligence services would fail to keep tabs on visiting Russian spooks and politicians. It would be characteristic of the Trumpistas to underrate the competence of mere Slavs. Reinhard Heydrich did too, and in May 1942 the Czech government in exile in London ordered him killed – knowing very well that savage reprisals  were likely. But the Germanisation programme stalled under Heydrich’s successor Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a man just as evil, but without Heydrich’s charisma and drive, and distracted by his main job as head of the secret police.

The claim also helps to make more sense of the apparent overkill of the search warrants on Cohen’s office, home and hotel room, which had to be approved by officials at a very high level in the DOJ.  He may well have committed crimes against US election law in the botched payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, but that’s a garden-variety story. Conspiring with the Kremlin to rig an American election is on a different level, and justifies the risk of going after the personal lawyer of the US President. The point holds even if the Prague meeting was outside the scope of the warrants and the offloaded investigation.

Prague is very nice place to visit, even if you only have a day or so. It was undamaged in WWII, and gives an idea what other central European cities – Dresden, Lübeck, Nuremberg, Vienna, Budapest – must have looked like before they came under the loving attentions of RAF Bomber Command, the USAAF, or the artillery of the Red Army. All I know about sub rosa tradecraft is from John le Carré, but if it had been me, I’d have combined business with pleasure, and “accidentally” bumped into the Russians in a beer cellar.

Even in a day trip just walking around the centre, you come across a startling statue outside the opera house, where Mozart’s Don Giovanni premiered in October 1787. Side view of the Commendatore:

The front view is pure Tolkien:

Harold Pollack predicted here that Trump’s political career will end in disgrace.  We were both wrong about the election, but I still think he was right about the destination. I can’t guess either what form disgrace will take. However, the Commendatore reminds us that the height of Trump’s fall is not bounded by that of Richard Nixon. Nixon was forced to resign in shame, but after Ford’s pardon was left alone in a dignified retirement. There are circles of disgrace much lower than this. The bottom is represented by the deaths of Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci near Milan in May 1945. They were shot by partisans without trial, and their bodies hung upside-down in a square in Milan for the crowd to spit and jeer at. Trump won’t face this. But his possible futures do include death in prison, followed by a semi-secret funeral that hardly anyone outside his immediate family will attend.

I doubt there will be a Trump presidential library.

Deflection

One of my pet peeves is that newspapers will publish stories about some court opinion or other public document, but not provide any link to the documents themselves.  As a consequence, readers will walk away with only the reporter’s view of why the document was of significance, which view is likely further circumscribed by an editor who is hard put to limit the amount of information in the story due to space considerations.

Sen. Ron Wyden sent a letter to the NRA.  His letter was prompted by his interest in determining “the possibility that Russian-backed shell companies or intermediaries may have circumvented laws designed to prohibit foreign meddling in our elections by abusing the rules governing 501(c)(4) tax exempt organizations.”  Sen. Wyden asked for material relating to four specific areas of inquiry.  He received from the NRA only  a partial response to the four specific requests.  I have posted, as a single file, Sen. Wyden’s letter and the NRA’s response with my markups.

The response is, at best, an attempt to deflect the inquiry.   For instance, the NRA was asked:

  • To “identify any remuneration, transaction, or contribution that involved any of the 501(c)(4) entities associated with your organization and any entity or individual associated with any Russian official, Russian national, or Russian business interest.”  The NRA simply ignored that request; and
  • To provide “all documents related to any remuneration, transaction, or contribution” and to identify all such documents that “have already been turned over to United States authorities.”  Both requests were ignored.

Without being specific, the NRA assured Wyden that it always complied with federal election laws. Ultimately, it offered this: “As a longstanding policy to comply with federal election law, the NRA and its related entities do not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections.” (Emphasis supplied.)

In other words, the NRA did not deny that it was, in terms of its lobbying and “educational” efforts, a mouthpiece of the Russians, but merely that Russian cash had not found its way into any direct political contribution fund.

Nothing to see here.

The smoking gun

The consensus (except at Fox News and the White House) is that the Adam Schiff memo just released utterly destroys the Nunes Memo, which the Trumpites have been trumpeting for two weeks as proving that the FBI is corrupt. That’s certainly the way it reads to me: every single charge made by Nunes (based, please note, on documents he hadn’t seen) is clearly refuted. No, the Steele Dossier was not essential to obtaining the FISA warrant against Carter Page; the FBI was already on him. No, the source of that memo was not concealed from the FISA court; judges can read footnotes, and the DNC wasn’t specifically named because that would have been an unjustified bit of “unmasking” domestic players caught in intelligence dramas.  No, those warrants (the original and  three extensions) weren’t approved by some rogue Democratic judge, but by two GWB appointees, one GHWB appointee, and one Reagan appointee. And so on and so forth.

To my eyes, there’s a much bigger fact in the Schiff memo. It was already in the record, but I hadn’t noticed it before, and I can find only one published reference to it – from Joe Uchill at The Hill – and no published source draws what seems to me the two strong inferences: that the DNC/DCCC/Podesta hacks were carried out by or for Russian intelligence, and that the Trump campaign very likely knew that and helped cover it up.

Continue reading “The smoking gun”