Political Animal

Trump’s Enablers Continue to Set Rosenstein Up to Be Fired

First they demanded a copy of the memo that initiated the FBI investigation into the Trump-Russia connection. As that was being processed, Trump’s chief enabler in Congress—Rep. Devin Nunes—threatened to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray if the document wasn’t forthcoming. The Department of Justice provided the House Intelligence Committee with a copy of the memo that simply redacted the name of a foreign country and the name of a foreign agent.

Next, Representatives Nunes, Goodlatte and Gowdy demanded a copy of the memos former FBI Director James Comey wrote about his meetings with Trump, and yesterday Goodlatte informed the House Judiciary Committee that he was going to issue a subpoena for the memos. The Washington Post is also reporting this:

Two of President Trump’s top legislative allies met with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein this week to press him for more documents about the conduct of law enforcement officials involved in the Russia probe and the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server, according to three people who were not authorized to speak publicly about the discussion.

Rosenstein’s meeting at his office Monday with Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) came days after Meadows, an influential Trump confidant, warned Rosenstein that he could soon face impeachment proceedings or an effort to hold him in contempt of Congress if he did not satisfy GOP demands for documents.

In other words, Meadows set up the meeting to make this threat: either hand over information that is part of an ongoing criminal investigation, or face impeachment.

As I’ve suggested previously, this all looks like an attempt to set Rosenstein up to be fired by Trump. The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, agrees.

Nadler, noting the memos were part of the special counsel investigation and likely could not be handed over to Congress, accused Goodlatte of seeking to create “an excuse” to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress. That possible motive, he added, might give the president “the pretext he has sought to replace Mr. Rosenstein with someone willing to do his bidding and end the special counsel’s investigation.”

Rosenstein has asked for a few days to consider the request from Republicans. But the set-up is obvious in light of this:

Rosenstein also undercut the argument that there’s great urgency to release the Comey memos, noting that several top House officials (including Nunes and Gowdy) were already allowed to review the memos in a secure Justice Department facility last year.

The Deputy Attorney General has also pointed to this:

In a 2000 letter to Congress, Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben noted that “Congress has a clearly legitimate interest in how the department enforces statutes.” But, he said, “the department’s long-standing policy is to decline to provide congressional committees with access to open law enforcement files.”

The possibility that all of this is being coordinated with the president is not only demonstrated by Trump’s tweets attacking his own Justice Department for their reluctance to comply with these demands. Following his meeting with Rosenstein this week, Meadows spoke personally with Trump, but declined to provide any information about their conversation.

When asked yesterday about the status of Mueller and Rosenstein, the president said, “They’ve been saying I’m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they’re still here.” That tells us nothing about his intentions. It is also worth noting the many times Trump assured the press that he had no plans to fire Rex Tillerson or H.R. McMaster… before he fired them.

It seems obvious that Trump and his enablers have decided that firing Mueller would set off a constitutional crisis. But they’ve calculated that, if they can create an excuse to fire Rosenstein, his successor can not only limit the contours of the investigation, but block release of any findings from the special counsel. The clock on that one might be ticking if Mueller’s report on the obstruction of justice charges is imminent.

It Might Not Matter Whether or Not Michael Cohen Flips on Donald Trump

Anywhere you look this morning, you can find an article speculating on the likelihood that Michael Cohen will cooperate with federal prosecutors and implicate the president of the United States in serious crimes in order to lessen his ultimate prison sentence. We should pause for a second a take a deep breath. This is not normal.

Michael Cohen may be under criminal investigation, and that investigation may have been going on for quite some time, but he has not yet been charged with anything. Paul Manafort is facing enough prison time that he could easily die while still in federal custody. So far, Michael Cohen’s problems are still theoretical. Yet, no one who is familiar with him doubts that Cohen is in the same boat as Manafort. Nor does anyone seem to have any second thoughts about assuming that Cohen can provide evidence of massive criminality on the part of Donald Trump. Even the lawyer Trump consulted about Cohen didn’t hesitate to make this assumption.

One of President Donald Trump’s longtime legal advisers said he warned the president in a phone call Friday that Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and close friend, would turn against the president and cooperate with federal prosecutors if faced with criminal charges.

Mr. Trump made the call seeking advice from Jay Goldberg, who represented Mr. Trump in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mr. Goldberg said he cautioned the president not to trust Mr. Cohen. On a scale of 100 to 1, where 100 is fully protecting the president, Mr. Cohen “isn’t even a 1,” he said he told Mr. Trump.

In fact, Jay Goldberg warned the president that Cohen could secretly record him in order to get evidence of his crimes.

Mr. Goldberg said the volume of correspondence taken and the potential pressure the government can bring to bear on Mr. Cohen to testify put the president in more potential peril from the Cohen matter than from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mr. Mueller is examining whether members of Mr. Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russians to affect the 2016 election. Russia officials have denied meddling in the election, and Mr. Trump has denied any collusion took place…

…In the call, Mr. Goldberg, a former prosecutor who represented Mr. Trump in divorce and real-estate matters, said he told the president Mr. Cohen could even agree to wear a wire and try to record conversations with Mr. Trump. “You have to be alert,” Mr. Goldberg said he told the president. “I don’t care what Michael says.”

It’s not clear why Jay Goldberg talked about his private counsel to the president with reporters from the Wall Street Journal and allowed them to look at the ‘thank you’ note he received from Trump’s attorney Ty Cobb, but that’s not really relevant. What matters is that he didn’t ask the president if Cohen had evidence of crimes in the records that were seized because both he and Trump already knew the answer to that question. Furthermore, if the records alone weren’t enough, he cautioned Trump that being candid with Cohen would be dangerous because their conversations might be recorded.

It’s telling that the people who have an acquaintance with the facts understand that the only question now is if Cohen will flip on the president, not whether he has anything to offer to the prosecutors.  But I think this is the wrong question to ask.

A better question is if the prosecutors now have all the evidence they need from Cohen. They may not need his testimony at all. Everyone is wondering if he’ll cut a deal, but the prosecutors may have no interest in a deal. The biggest piece of evidence Cohen could probably provide is oral confirmation that he did indeed travel to Prague as the Steele dossier alleges in order to collude with the Russians in paying off hackers and covering up Paul Manafort’s connections to the Kremlin. But the prosecutors reportedly have evidence that Cohen made the trip. They had that evidence before the raids on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. Certainly, Cohen could fill in important details and explain what Trump knew and when he knew it, but if he doesn’t want to cooperate it might not be necessary to cut a sweet deal to prove the case.

The Prague trip is hardly the only criminal vulnerability here. Cohen has been involved in real estate deals and negotiations abroad that probably involved bribes and other financial crimes. He’s made threats against journalists and people who have accused Trump of everything from fraud to sexual assault. Stormy Daniels alleges that Cohen sent someone to threaten her in Las Vegas, which was done in front of her child. Yesterday, she released a sketch artist’s drawing of the man who told her she had a nice child and it would be a shame if something happened to her mother. We already know he’s under investigation for bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations in relation to his efforts to help Trump cover up his sexual dalliances. Prosecutors also seem to have him on something related to New York City’s (and maybe Chicago’s) taxicab business, although that’s not likely to involve the president. To be honest, this is just scratching the surface. As Josh Marshall reported this week, Cohen is so tightly connected to the Russian mafia that he essentially is the Russian mafia.

TPM first reported last year that Cohen was actually a childhood friend of Felix Sater, whose father was himself a reputed capo in the Mogilevich organized crime syndicate, said to be Russia’s largest and most dangerous. Filling out this picture of how Cohen fell into this milieu we’ve always been focused on the fact that Cohen’s uncle, Morton Levine, owned and ran a Brooklyn social club, El Caribe, which was a well-known meeting spot for members of Italian and Russian organized crime families in the 1970s and 1980s. (Levine, a medical doctor has never been charged with a crime.) But now it turns out there’s a bit more to this story.

I came across this in a January AP article about Boris Nayfeld, one-time organized crime boss in Brooklyn who now wants to go home to Russia to start a new life. Nayfeld is 70 and he just finished his latest prison sentence. The whole story is a bit low energy and a sad sack in a nonetheless menacing and predatory way.

According to published reports, in the 70s and early 80s, the boss of the Russian mob in New York (and for practical purposes the whole U.S) was a man named Evsei Agron. Things ended badly for Agron when was gunned down in a mob hit in 1985. After Agron was assassinated, his organization was taken over by under-boss Marat Balagula. Authorities believed Balagula was behind Agron’s killing. But he was never charged with the crime. Balagula ran things until 1991 when he was convicted of gasoline bootlegging. Nayfeld had been the bodyguard and enforcer for both Agron and Balagula, one would say more successfully in the latter case than the former. He took over the organization when Balagula went to prison.

What I didn’t realize until now is that both Agron and his successor Balagula ran their operations out of an office in the El Caribe social club. So the El Caribe wasn’t just a mob hangout. From the 70s through the 90s at least, the bosses of the Russian mafia in the U.S. literally ran their crime organization out of the El Caribe.

So Michael Cohen’s uncle Morton Levine’s social club was the headquarters of Russian organized crime in the U.S.

That’s quite something.

The AP article includes another detail.

According to Levine, who is apparently still alive, all his nieces and nephews owned shares of the El Caribe and still do. Levine told the AP that Michael Cohen owned his stake in the club until Donald Trump was elected President when he “gave up his stake.”

That was probably wise!

It was also very recent.

Let me repeat. Michael Cohen owned a stake in the Russian mafia’s social headquarters in the United States until some time after the president was elected. As I noted two days ago, Cohen also spent time when he was supposed to be in court last week smoking cigars with a man who serves as the “right-hand man” of one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies.

I don’t know what the FBI got in their haul of Michael Cohen’s records, but it’s likely the motherlode. They’re going to have more options for bringing charges than there are items on a New York City Chinese menu. The time for Cohen to talk was long before now. I am certain of that.

Trump can certainly pardon him but New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has a plan for that. In fact, he sent a letter yesterday to Governor Andrew Cuomo and leaders in the state legislature asking them to promptly clean up the Empire State’s law so that there can be no doubt that Cohen can be charged for state crimes even if he is pardoned for federal ones. I expect that they will oblige him.

It’s still interesting to speculate about whether Cohen will flip on Trump and also about what he might have to say. But I don’t think it really matters whether he does or not. What matters is what the FBI already has, and unless they can somehow be prevented from looking at their evidence, this broad criminal enterprise is going to be exposed.

Cohen’s Law Suits Against Buzzfeed and Fusion GPS Were Always Bogus

Michael Cohen is up to his eyeballs in legal trouble, especially since the FBI raided his offices. But he could also play a starring role in Mueller’s Russia investigation if the reports in the Steele dossier are confirmed.

To review, Christopher Steele and his sources claimed that Cohen traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials as the liaison for the Trump campaign after Paul Manafort was fired. While there, the discussions focused on joint payment to the Russian hackers by both the campaign and Russia. If that turns out to be true, it is game, set and match for a criminal conspiracy.

Since the dossier was made public, Cohen has denied that he ever traveled to Prague. But beyond his denials, he filed a libel suit against Buzzfeed, who published the dossier, and Fusion GPS, the firm Steele worked for. Today we learned that he has dropped both law suits.

Embattled attorney Michael Cohen has dropped a pair of much-touted libel suits against BuzzFeed and the private investigation firm Fusion GPS over publication of the so-called dossier detailing alleged ties between President Donald Trump and Russia.

Cohen abandoned the suits late Wednesday as he continues to fight to recover documents and electronic files seized from his home, office and hotel room last week by federal authorities as part of what appears to be a broad criminal investigation into his conduct.

Cohen’s lawyers are suggesting that he is simply too busy with other legal matters to pursue these cases. But here’s the kicker:

Dropping the suits could help Cohen avoid being questioned by lawyers from Fusion GPS or having to turn over evidence related to the case — both steps that could undercut his defense in the criminal probe.

Adam Davidson tweeted this about the news:

As Davidson suggests, filing those law suits convinced a lot of people that Cohen was telling the truth when he denied ever going to Prague, which is a fundamental misreading of how Trump and his associates have used the courts. As USA Today reported prior to the election, Trump has been the plaintiff in 1,900 lawsuits. That invokes a clear pattern of using the legal system for leverage and intimidation.

If the recent McClatchy report is accurate, the Mueller team now has evidence that Cohen’s denials about visiting Prague are a lie. Less than a week after that news broke, the law suits were dropped. Filing them may have convinced the public, but it obviously didn’t work with a federal prosecutor.

The Merging of Misogyny and Modern Medical Technology

To be honest, this article hit me like a punch in the stomach and I’m still trying to recover.

Nothing like this has happened in human history. A combination of cultural preferences, government decree and modern medical technology in the world’s two largest countries has created a gender imbalance on a continental scale. Men outnumber women by 70 million in China and India…

Out of China’s population of 1.4 billion, there are nearly 34 million more males than females — the equivalent of almost the entire population of California, or Poland, who will never find wives and only rarely have sex. China’s official one-child policy, in effect from 1979 to 2015, was a huge factor in creating this imbalance, as millions of couples were determined that their child should be a son.

India, a country that has a deeply held preference for sons and male heirs, has an excess of 37 million males, according to its most recent census. The number of newborn female babies compared with males has continued to plummet, even as the country grows more developed and prosperous…Officials attribute this to the advent of sex-selective technology in the last 30 years, which is now banned but still in widespread practice.

The authors go on to document the effects of this imbalance, which include everything from an increase in sex-trafficking to the trade surplus in China. But frankly, I think they’re only beginning to scratch the surface. Cultural, political, and economic consequences will emerge that will last for decades, if not centuries.

But I’m not ready to go there yet. I’m still reeling from the fact that the global movement towards misogyny, which dates back several millennia, has been married to modern medical technology and produced this kind of effect. Human beings developed such a fear and hatred of women that they literally instituted efforts that could cause them to cease to exist in such massive quantities. That’s the gut-punch that is hard for me, as a woman, to not take personally.

We could fool ourselves into thinking that is something happening “over there” in China and India, as if it isn’t rooted in the same thing that drives misogyny in this country. But then, we just elected a president who bragged about being a “pussy-grabber.” Similarly, we could all get up on our judgmental high horses and pretend like what is happening in China and India won’t have any effect on us, which is naive at best.

As the article begins, “nothing like this has happened in human history.” We might be about to experience the most consequential outcome that misogyny will bring to planet earth. I am certainly no man-hater. Some of the people I care most about are men. But frankly, I’m not looking forward to living in a world with 70 million more men than women.