We are rightly in the midst of a news firestorm about the administration’s family separation policy. But there are a number of things bubbling in the background of the Russia probe that I think will prove more important than they now appear. I wanted to briefly update you on them.
News emerged this weekend that the Russia-backed Brexiters who campaigned for Trump during the 2016 election had one of their top aides arrested on money-laundering, fraud and blackmail charges shortly after he and his boss, Nigel Farage, attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The guy’s name is George Cottrell, 23 years of age and apparently adept at operating in the so-called “dark web.” One of those top Brexiters, Andy Wigmore, who was already in regular contact with Russian diplomats, handed over a package of legal documents tied to Cottrell’s arrest and prosecution to one of those Russian diplomats.
President Trump just made the terms pretty clear. The kids can see their parents again if Democrats agree to fund his wall. That’s actually what he’s saying here. If Democrats will support his bill to fund a wall the kids can go free.
Trump: Give me my wall and maybe these beautiful children don't need to get hurt. pic.twitter.com/yk2s4sOjWY
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) June 18, 2018
Amidst the ugliness and moral squalor of the Trump family separation policy, the current backlash provides an important window into the nature of Trumpism. US law gives the government discretion over how to prosecute certain actions at the border. If they are prosecuted criminally that leads to parents being separated from children. It is clear from lower court decisions in recent weeks that if the goal beyond family separation is deterrence or punishment the policy has serious legal and constitutional problems. The problem for the administration is that the highest ranking members of the executive branch (Trump, Sessions and others) have already stated explicitly that the aim is deterrence.
Good morning, happy Monday. Here’s what our writers and editors have their eyes on today.
Over recent days I’ve been noting abundant evidence from the DOJ Inspector General’s report, Rep. Devin Nunes and other sources of clear anti-Clinton animus on the part of senior FBI Agents in the New York FBI Field Office and among retired agents with whom they were apparently in contact. It seems clear that members of that office leaked word of Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop more or less immediately to Capitol Hill Republicans and at least one top Trump campaign surrogate, Rudy Giuliani, to create pressure to reopen the Clinton probe.
It further seems clear that fear of such leaks was a major or even the primary reason why James Comey sent his letter to Congress on October 28th, 2016. In other words, there was not just bias – Comey himself reportedly called it a “deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton”. That bias lead to specific and repeated actions which at least violated FBI regulations and possibly violated the law. Those violations triggered a chain of events which likely changed the outcome of the election. That is a very big deal. And yet, these basic facts, which seem all but beyond dispute receive no clear examination in the IG Report.
Fascinating but unsurprising. Rep. Adam Schiff says it’s the first he’s heard of the “good FBI agents” immediately leaking news of the Anthony Weiner laptop to Rep. Devin Nunes.
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) June 17, 2018
Big states have big ambitions. The backdrop to what we call the “Trump/Russia” story is how Russia has suborned a whole web of business and political elites in the U.S. and Europe using money corruption and in some cases blackmail to serve Kremlin interests. Here’s a new nugget at the heart of the Brexit and Trump efforts which is simply remarkable, though the names of the players are so little known that it likely won’t get the attention it deserves.
We know that Russian diplomats and intelligence officers were supporting the Brexit campaign in the UK in much the same way they were funding and supporting the Trump effort in the U.S. We also know that the two campaigns ended up intertwining. Once Brexit was successful in the UK, its top campaigner and its top money man, Nigel Farage and Arron Banks, literally went to the U.S. and started campaigning for Trump.
It turns out that an aide to Farage, George Cottrell, was arrested by the FBI just after attending the GOP convention in July along with Farage. He was charged with a series of crimes related to money laundering, wire fraud, bribery, blackmail and more. He was also something of a denizen of the so-called “dark web.” Cottrell had a close personal relationship with both Farage and Banks, though both sought to diminish the extent of that relationship after Cottrell’s arrest.
Yesterday I posted this lengthy post about a critical shortcoming in the 2016 election IG Report. Despite specifically being to requested to address the issue, Inspector General Horowitz basically ignored lots of evidence about bias against Secretary Clinton. Indeed, he didn’t so much ignore evidence as ignore the question itself, specifically about anti-Clinton sentiment in the FBI’s New York field office and specifically whether the fear of leaks out of that office was the driver of the October 28th Comey letter which clearly damaged Clinton significantly in the final days of the campaign. It turns out that I simply missed some of the clearest evidence for that anti-Clinton bias in the report itself.
Before looking at that, let’s address another point. The IG Report is in a sense of a masterpiece bureaucratic document. If the effort were to hide evidence of bias out of the New York field office it does a poor job. It simply draws no inferences from that evidence. So, for instance, much of the report is framed around examining whether pretty good evidence of hostility toward candidate Trump (though by no means only Trump) affected the actions of lead agent Peter Strzok. But whether the abundant evidence of bias and actions by those hostile to candidate Clinton had an effect is just passed over.
Once a week, TPM’s Matt Shuham is rounding up examples of the administration’s abuse of power, conflicts of interest, and corruption. Many of these stories deal with executive branch agencies, and don’t receive the same amount of press as the scandals that directly involve the White House. But his round up — one of our Weekly Primers for Prime subscribers — is a fascinating read. Take a look.
A few weeks ago I explained in a post that the reason the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails was so freely publicized in 2016 while the Russia probe remained firmly under wraps was, paradoxically, precisely because it was an essential political and procedural probe. Indeed, this was understood by all involved. Yet this false equation of the two investigations remains embedded in the Inspector General’s report itself. Indeed, the IG Report is at war with itself at various points about the nature of the investigation and whether the recovery of the Weiner/Abedin emails in late September 2016 did or should have mattered.
The Inspector General was troubled by the fact that the FBI was prioritizing the Russia probe in the fall of 2016 over the Clinton email probe. The key passage comes on page 329 of the report where the Inspector General writes that in light of Strzok and Page’s texts showing hostility to Donald Trump, “we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the Midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.”
In light of the fact that the Inspector General’s report ignored the questions about anti-Clinton bias in the FBI’s New York field office and questions about whether Comey’s actions were driven by fears of leaks from that same office, this seems highly relevant. Last night on Fox News, Rep. Devin Nunes explained that in late September 2016, “good FBI agents” came to him and told him they’d found the Weiner laptop with Huma Abedin’s emails with Secretary Clinton.
In light of IG's failure to look at leaking/anti-Clinton bias among agents in NYC field office, this seems quite relevant. Nunes says "good FBI agents" told him about Weiner laptop in late September 2016. pic.twitter.com/BU6ysY7Xwn
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) June 15, 2018
Note that the reference to late September 2016 makes it clear that the agents in question basically went to Nunes and other Capitol Hill Republicans immediately after they found the laptop.
I wanted to share some background information on just what’s happening with Michael Cohen. CNN is reporting that Michael Cohen is now telling family and friends that he’s open to cooperating with prosecutors. This follows ABC’s report from a couple days ago, and joins other subsequent reporting that paints an amorphous yet generally consistent picture of a man getting ready to become a cooperating witness. But there are some additional details that are important to understand.