Follow the money… And keep an eye on the sanctions… The quid pro quo at the heart of the the relationship between the Trump administration and the government of Vladamir Putin is finally beginning to emerge

Earlier today, as Trump was formally bringing an end to the era of American global leadership by backing out of the Paris accord over the protests of environmentalists, business leaders and world leaders alike, some significant things were happening in the investigation into the quid pro quo at the heart of the relationship between the Trump administration and the government of Vladamir Putin… Following are several clips that should give you a pretty good idea of where the investigation is presently heading.

First, Yahoo News broke an incredible story today about the Trump administration’s early and aggressive efforts to roll back Russian sanctions over the objections of the U.S. State Department.

In the early weeks of the Trump administration, former Obama administration officials and State Department staffers fought an intense, behind-the-scenes battle to head off efforts by incoming officials to normalize relations with Russia, according to multiple sources familiar with the events.

Unknown to the public at the time, top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.

These efforts to relax or remove punitive measures imposed by President Obama in retaliation for Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 election alarmed some State Department officials, who immediately began lobbying congressional leaders to quickly pass legislation to block the move, the sources said.

“There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions,” said Dan Fried, a veteran State Department official who served as chief U.S. coordinator for sanctions policy until he retired in late February. He said in the first few weeks of the administration, he received several “panicky” calls from U.S. government officials who told him they had been directed to develop a sanctions-lifting package and imploring him, “Please, my God, can’t you stop this?”

Fried said he grew so concerned that he contacted Capitol Hill allies — including Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking minority member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — to urge them to move quickly to pass legislation that would “codify” the sanctions in place, making it difficult for President Trump to remove them.

Tom Malinowski, who had just stepped down as President Obama’s assistant secretary of state for human rights, told Yahoo News he too joined the effort to lobby Congress after learning from former colleagues that the administration was developing a plan to lift sanctions — and possibly arrange a summit between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin — as part of an effort to achieve a “grand bargain” with Moscow. “It would have been a win-win for Moscow,” said Malinowski, who only days before he left office announced his own round of sanctions against senior Russian officials for human rights abuses under a law known as the Magnitsky Act…

The lobbying effort produced some immediate results: On Feb. 7, Cardin and Sen. Lindsay Graham introduced bipartisan legislation to bar the administration from granting sanctions relief without first submitting a proposal to do so for congressional review. “Russia has done nothing to be rewarded with sanctions relief,” Graham said in a statement at the time. If the U.S. were to lift sanctions without “verifiable progress” by Russia in living up to agreements in Ukraine, “we would lose all credibility in the eyes of our allies in Europe and around he world,” added Cardin in his own statement. (A spokesman for Cardin told Yahoo News in an emailed statement: “I can also confirm that the senator did hear from senior Obama officials encouraging him to take sanctions steps, but that he had already been considering it as well.”)

The proposed bill lost some of its urgency six days later when Flynn resigned as White House national security adviser following disclosures he had discussed political sanctions relief with Kislyak during the transition and misrepresented those talks to Vice President Mike Pence. After that, “it didn’t take too long for it to become clear that if they lifted sanctions, there would be a political firestorm,” Malinowski said.

But the political battles over the issue are far from over. Cardin, McCain and Graham are separately pushing another sanctions bill — imposing tough new measures in response to Russia’s election interference. The measures have so far been blocked for consideration within the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by its chairman, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who says he wants to first hear the administration’s position on the issue…

OK, so the Trump administration, we now know, came into office with a clear objective. They wanted to roll back the sanctions imposed against Russia, and they wanted to do it before they addressed tax reform, health care, or anything else. It was, in other words, their primary objective. And, perhaps more importantly, they wanted to roll back these sanctions over the objections of almost everyone in the United States government. And they pushed this incredibly hard until it was discovered that Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, had lied to the FBI and others about the nature of his relationship with the Russians and the extent to which they’d discussed these sanctions during the election. As for how all of this may have come to pass, the Washington Post today published a story about a secret meeting that took place between Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the head of Vnesheconombank, the sanctioned Russian bank that, according to members of the intelligence community, operates as Putin’s private slush fund. Here’s a clip.

The White House and a Russian state-owned bank have very different explanations for why the bank’s chief executive and Jared Kushner held a secret meeting during the presidential transition in December.

The bank maintained this week that the session was held as part of a new business strategy and was conducted with Kushner in his role as the head of his family’s real estate business. The White House says the meeting was unrelated to business and was one of many diplomatic encounters the soon-to-be presidential adviser was holding ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The contradiction is deepening confusion over Kushner’s interactions with the Russians as the president’s son-in-law emerges as a key figure in the FBI’s investigation into potential coordination between Moscow and the Trump team.

The discrepancy has thrust Vnesheconombank, known for advancing the strategic interests of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and for its role in a past U.S. espionage case, into the center of the controversy enveloping the White House. And it has highlighted the role played by the bank’s 48-year-old chief executive, Sergey Gorkov, a graduate of the academy of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the domestic intelligence arm of the former Soviet KGB, who was appointed by Putin to the post less than a year before his encounter with Kushner…

The Kushner-Gorkov meeting came after Kushner met with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, in early December. At the meeting, Kushner suggested establishing a secure communications line between Trump officials and the Kremlin at a Russian diplomatic facility, according to U.S. officials who reviewed intelligence reports describing Kislyak’s account.

The bank and the White House have declined to provide the exact date or location of the Kushner-Gorkov meeting, which was first reported in March by the New York Times.

Flight data reviewed by The Washington Post suggests that the meeting may have taken place on Dec. 13 or 14, about two weeks after Kushner’s encounter with Kislyak.

A 19-seat twin-engine jet owned by a company linked to VEB flew from Moscow to the United States on Dec. 13 and departed from the Newark airport, outside New York City, at 5:01 p.m. Dec. 14, according to positional flight information provided by FlightAware, a company that tracks airplanes.

The Post could not confirm whether Gorkov was on the flight, but the plane’s previous flights closely mirror Gorkov’s publicly known travels in recent months, including his trip to St. Petersburg this week.

After leaving Newark on Dec. 14, the jet headed to Japan, where Putin was visiting on Dec. 15 and 16. The news media had reported that Gorkov would join the Russian president there…

VEB has also been used to promote the Kremlin’s strategic aims abroad, experts say, financing projects across the Eastern bloc.

“Basically, VEB operates like Putin’s slush fund,” said Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Center and a Russia expert who follows the bank’s activities. “It carries out major Kremlin operations that Putin does not want to do through the state budget.”

Before the United States imposed sanctions, VEB sought to extend its international reach to draw more investment to Russia. Among those named by the bank to an advisory board for a new global fund was Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group and now an outside adviser to the Trump White House. Schwarzman declined to comment through a spokeswoman, who said the fund’s advisory board has been inactive…

So, for some reason, shortly after Kushner, very much outside State Department protocol, sought to establish a secret and secure communications channel with the Kremlin, Putin’s banker was dispatched to the United States for a meeting with Kushner, which Kushner then failed to note in his federal security clearance application, in violation of federal law. Are you with me so far?

This isn’t conspiracy theory. These are verifiable facts… Trump, we know, came to power in large part because of Russian interference in our election. Trump said repeatedly during the campaign that it might not have been the Russians who behind the hacking of the DNC, but, in the opinion of every one of our 17 intelligence agencies, they did it. And we all saw Trump, on the campaign trail, urging them to keep it up. And, after he won, it would now appear that his first objective was to find a way to roll back the sanctions imposed against Russia, which, as we’ve discussed before, were, among other things, keeping a $500 billion oil exploration deal with Exxon from going through. Furthermore, as noted above, we now know that Putin’s banker, Sergey Gorkov, flew in to meet with Kushner as all of this was happening. All we don’t know at this point is what was in it for Trump other than the presidency. Could it be that, as the Steele dossier suggested, Trump had been offered a financial stake in the Russian oil company Rosneft? I guess we’ll have to wait and see as more of these secret meetings between Trump campaign officials and the Russians become public, and the people closest to Trump begin make deals with federal prosecutors…. Which brings us to another story of interest concerning what appears to have been a secret meeting at the Mayflower Hotel between Trump and Russian spymaster Sergey Kislyak on April 27 of last year. The following is from NBC News.

…The FBI and Congress are examining a campaign event last spring during which Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner were in a small gathering with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and other diplomats at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News.

Five current and former U.S. officials said they are aware of classified intelligence suggesting there was some sort of private encounter between Trump and his aides and the Russian envoy, despite a heated denial from Sessions, who has already come under fire for failing to disclose two separate contacts with Kislyak. Kushner also denied through a spokesman that he met privately with Kislyak that day…

So, Trump, Sessions, and Kushner, it would seem, met with Kislyak in late April, just a few weeks before Trump was named the Republican nominee for President. And, on June 14, just about six weeks after this meeting with Kislyak, we’d learn that the DNC had been hacked.

I could go on. There’s a lot more to say, but I think you probably get the point… In case you don’t, though, here’s one last quote. This one comes from a statement released earlier today by California Congresswoman Maxine Waters in response to yesterday’s news that, despite the fact that the intelligence community is against it, Trump is pushing to return two domestic spying compounds to the Russians.

I am stunned by the audacity of this President that he would dare reverse any form of the punishments imposed on Russia for election meddling when he and members of his team are under scrutiny for coordinating with Russian operatives to undermine our democracy.

For those keeping track, this President fired the FBI director who was investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia, admitted on national television that he did so because of his dissatisfaction with said investigation, met with Russian officials the next day during which he gave them classified information, and still to this day refuses to fully acknowledge the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help him prevail. This all comes as we learn more each day about the types of conversations Trump’s Kremlin Klan had with the Russian ambassador – conversations that they were all so anxious to conceal from public scrutiny.

Last week, Trump’s National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn reportedly said the President is ‘looking at’ changes to the economic sanctions imposed on Russia (The Hill 5/25/17). As I have long said, I strongly suspect this is all about the sanctions. The Russians want the sanctions lifted; and they, along with so many in Trump’s camp, possibly including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who previously served as CEO of ExxonMobil and negotiated a multi-billion dollar deal with Russia to drill in the Russian Arctic, could stand to make a lot of money if the United States lifts them.

In addition to reports that the administration is considering lifting the economic sanctions, the Washington Post is now reporting that the Trump administration is considering giving back to the Russians a 14-acre estate in Long Island, New York, and what is described as a ‘luxurious’ 45-acre property in Maryland, both of which were previously used as diplomatic compounds and believed to be used by the Russians for intelligence purposes. The Obama administration ordered the Russians to vacate those compounds late last year as punishment for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Those compounds had enjoyed diplomatic immunity, which meant that U.S. law enforcement could not enter and activities that took place there could escape U.S. prosecution. If the reports are true and Donald Trump intends to reverse Obama era punishments for Russia’s meddling in the election as well as Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, then you can be sure that I will fight tooth and nail to stop him.

There is a reason that Donald Trump will never criticize Vladimir Putin. There is a reason so many people serving in Donald Trump’s administration or connected to Donald Trump’s campaign have ties to Russia. There is a reason Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in response to Putin’s request. There is a reason that Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner met with a Russian banker, and there is a reason Kushner, former Trump National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Trump’s former campaign advisor Carter Page hid their meetings with the Russian ambassador. There is a reason that, even after being caught in a lie about meeting with the Russian ambassador once, it now appears that Jeff Sessions failed to come clean and reveal yet another previously undisclosed meeting with Ambassador Kislyak.

I am so thoroughly disgusted with this presidency. I will fight day and night to hold Trump accountable. I would ask all patriots in Congress who swore an oath to the Constitution to join me in protecting our democracy.

Welcome to the Rebel Alliance.

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  1. Iron Lung Larson
    Posted June 2, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    All lies designed to undermine our great leader.

  2. Meta
    Posted June 2, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    And today there’s this from ABC News.

    “Lawmakers ask whether looming debt left Jared Kusher vulnerable to Russian influence”

    Congressional investigators are seeking to determine whether President Trump’s son-in-law was vulnerable to Russian influence during and after the campaign because of financial stress facing his family firm’s signature real estate holding – a Manhattan skyscraper purchased at the height of the real estate boom.

    And they are focused, officials told ABC News, on a December meeting Jared Kushner held with executives from a Russian bank.

    “It’s very peculiar that of all the people he could be talking to in a transition period where you’ve got lots of balls in the air, that you end up talking to a Russian banker who is under sanction and who is related to Putin and has a KGB background,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. “I think the question has to be asked, was this about you trying to get financing for your troubled real estate that you have in New York City?”

    The timing of Kushner’s December meeting with executives from VneshEconomBank, or VEB, at the suggestion of the Russian ambassador, has also raised concerns from government watchdog groups across the political spectrum.

    Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute, (which was founded by Trump adviser Stephen Bannon and funded in part by a Trump mega-donor, Rebekah Mercer), said the meeting “had conflict of interest written all over it.”

    It looks like Bannon and Trump found their scapegoat.

    Read more:

  3. anonymous
    Posted June 2, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Give it up. No one gives a fuck.

  4. anonymous
    Posted June 2, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    It’s not true. None of it. Someone asked Putin today and he said so. Case closed.

  5. anonymous
    Posted June 2, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Now can we have a serious talk about Hillary’s email server and how she once had a somewhat confidential document on it that could have fallen into the hands of our enemies?

  6. Eek
    Posted June 2, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Word going around the interwebs this afternoon is that Bannon has been blackmailing Jared, as he has proof that he accepted a Russian payoff.

  7. wobblie
    Posted June 2, 2017 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Everything is based on ,”in the opinion of every one of our 17 intelligence agencies, they did it. ” These are the same people that have said, Iraq has WMD. Trump is probably a money launderer for the Russian mob, and Putin probably knows. But to decide that Russia “hacked” the election and that is why HRC lost is a form of escapism bordering on birthism.
    For anyone who “follows the money” it is clear that nearly all our politicians have been bought by some interest group, or some corporate oligarch or a combination of the above.

    We had a Democratic President with a Democratic majority in Congress and instead of single payer health insurance we get a mandate that you must buy insurance from private companies. Eight years ago we were bombing 2 countries, when Obama left office we were regularly bombing and droning 8 countries. At the peak of the recession we had a labor participation rate of just over 61%, after 8 years of recovery we have a labor participation rate of 61.3% and an unofficial unemployment rate of 8.3%.
    I voted for Obama twice. But in many important ways he failed. HRC never addressed these failures in ways that people ever found credible.
    “Fake News” and “Russian Hacking” didn’t tilt the election. 16 years of endless wars did.

  8. Lynne
    Posted June 2, 2017 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Re: “These are the same people that have said, Iraq has WMD. “

    Are they?

    Re “But to decide that Russia “hacked” the election and that is why HRC lost is a form of escapism bordering on birthism.”

    It depends on what you mean by “hacked”. There is no evidence that the broke into election machines or interfered with the vote counting. However, it seems very clear that Russia influenced the election in various ways that mostly are not what I would consider hacking. They planted fake news on both the left and the right that many idiots on both the left and the right believed. They hired people to use comment sections and twitter to influence people. They probably were behind the hacking of the DNC emails. The closest thing to birtherism I have seen in this election is the insistence, based on those emails, that the Democratic primary was rigged, fwiw. Other than “pizzagate” that is.

    As for why HRC lost, the truth is that it was a lot of things but with an election that close, one can validly say that any one of those things cost her the election. Was it the emails? Yes. Was it Russian influence and propaganda? Yes. Was it the far left being ding dongs who didnt learn anything from the 2000 election? Yes. Was it Comey’s testimony about the emails? Yes. Was it racism? Yes. Was it sexism? Yes.

    Re: “We had a Democratic President with a Democratic majority in Congress and instead of single payer health insurance we get a mandate that you must buy insurance from private companies.”

    We had a Democratic majority in congress for TWO short years before the left failed to turn out for the 2010 midterms. I blame those who didn’t vote then for a lack of a public option in the ACA. The Dems passed the best healthcare bill that they could have with the make up of congress that they had. They could have tweeked it later had the people voted to give them more of a mandate. They didnt. I cant blame Obama for that.

    Re: “Eight years ago we were bombing 2 countries, when Obama left office we were regularly bombing and droning 8 countries.”

    Unfortunately, it is easier to start a war than it is to end one. Still, I agree that more could have been done but I find it interesting that anyone could say that not voting for HRC would lead to less war. Do you think Trump is going to get us out of war or something? Did you not understand that might be the consequence of not voting for HRC, especially when it was Nader voters that handed the presidency in 2000 to the guy who started them?

    RE: ” At the peak of the recession we had a labor participation rate of just over 61%, after 8 years of recovery we have a labor participation rate of 61.3% and an unofficial unemployment rate of 8.3%.”

    Unfortunately, this isn’t going to get better regardless of who gets elected president because the cause of all this unemployment isn’t public policy and policy can only go so far. There are things we can do to slow the decline and HRC’s plans were pretty good actually. Certainly better than Trump’s which was the only other realistic option in November

    Re: “HRC never addressed these failures in ways that people ever found credible.”

    I guess the 65 million people in this country who voted for her aren’t people?

  9. Jcp2
    Posted June 2, 2017 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Not our people.

  10. Citywatch
    Posted June 2, 2017 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    For Trump and Putin Trump’s election is a business deal. We need to see Trump’s tax returns….all of them. We will see the Kushner connection and the Putin/Trump merger.

  11. wobblie
    Posted June 3, 2017 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    Lynn, Blaming the left for the mid-term 2010 election is stupid. The Democrats lost that election because it was clear that despite having a majority in congress and the Presidency the Democrats had failed on single payer, had failed on card check (anyone remember those promises) had failed on closing Gitmo, had failed on ending the wars, and had decided to give those responsible for the scandal of the housing crash a pass, and in fact reward them with the bank bail outs. All these failures in the first two years were the result of Democrat opposition to President Obama (except for the bank bailouts, which Obama is being richly rewarded for). It is no wonder the Dems were kicked out in 2012.
    So keep blaming the left for the Democrat failures, keep running to the right, keep recruiting corporate hacks as candidates, keep looking down on working folks (us poor deplorable ones). Collect enough campaign contributions from bankers, big pharma, and other special interest to enrich themselves and continue to blame the left for the Democrats political failures. It is such an obvious winning strategy.
    By the way in America you lose elections not so much by who votes, but by who doesn’t vote. Black voter turnout was down substantially from 2008, but I don’t see you blaming stay at home black voters, (If Detroit had turned out in 2016 the way it did in 2008 the Democrats would have won Michigan). The Democrats are totally silent about their failure to get out that vote (I wonder why). The under 30 voters were down from 2008, are the Democrats addressing why they failed to motivate those voters? I wonder why not.
    It is just so much easier to blame the left than engage in meaningful analysis. After all engaging in analysis might result in the Democrats doing some thing different.

  12. Jean Henry
    Posted June 3, 2017 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    Wobblie– Mark recently re-linked to his post about Trump, Russia and oil from a few months ago. Anyone who re-read your comments there has to be wondering why you are still spouting off.

  13. Jean Henry
    Posted June 3, 2017 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    PS Black voter turnout simply returned to its normal levels when a Black man is not at the top of the ticket. It’s still comparable to white voter turnout, btw.

  14. anonymous
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Rex Tillerson is “taking a little time off.”

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