Political Animal

It Looks Like Giuliani Took Russian Money

I don’t know how anyone familiar with the English language can think it is a good branding ploy to name their company Fraud Guarantee. But that is exactly what Lev Parnas and David Correia did back in 2013. As the chief executive officer and chief operating officer they somehow attracted strategic advice and possibly seed money from Philip Reicherz who runs a venture capital fund called Magnolia Ventures. The company began with $1.5 million in the bank.

But their website indicates a defunct enterprise premised on vague promises of protection against investor fraud. The screenshot below is current as of October 15, 2019. It shows that they are promising to roll out their primary product, InvestSafe™, in the Spring of 2016. Either that never happened or they have a very lazy person running their website.

You can see that they were also saying they could provide a technology that would be an improvement on standard background checks. So, here we can see where they might be in need of some technological consulting work. Maybe back in 2015 or the winter of 2016, they might have hired someone for that purpose. Maybe a genius could figure out how to get a “technology” to listen for people “talking about fraudulent activity” by “scour[ing] the internet” and “crunch[ing] the data.” That’s certainly something some law enforcement and intelligence agencies are capable of doing. Why not two dudes in Boca Raton?

So, this is what Fraud Guarantee looks like. And here is what Rudy Giuliani has to say about it:

President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was paid $500,000 for work he did for a company co-founded by the Ukrainian-American businessman arrested last week on campaign finance charges, Giuliani told Reuters on Monday…

…Giuliani said [Lev] Parnas’ company, Boca Raton-based Fraud Guarantee, whose website says it aims to help clients “reduce and mitigate fraud”, engaged Giuliani Partners, a management and security consulting firm, around August 2018. Giuliani said he was hired to consult on Fraud Guarantee’s technologies and provide legal advice on regulatory issues.

Maybe it’s me, but August 2018 seems far too late to be offering technology advice to Fraud Guarantee. And this is a company that started with $1.5 million in seed money and never seems to have developed a product. How can they afford to pay Rudy Giuliani $500,000?

The New York Times reported last week that Parnas had told associates he paid Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for what Giuliani said was business and legal advice. Giuliani said for the first time on Monday that the total amount was $500,000.

Giuliani told Reuters the money came in two payments made within weeks of each other. He said he could not recall the dates of the payments. He said most of the work he did for Fraud Guarantee was completed in 2018 but that he had been doing follow-up for over a year.

It would be fascinating to see Giuliani explain to a prosecutor or congressional committee what kind of work he performed in 2018 and the nature of his follow-up work in 2019.

As for those two wire transfers Giuliani received, he says we shouldn’t worry about them.

According to an indictment unsealed by U.S. prosecutors, an unidentified Russian businessman arranged for two $500,000 wires to be sent from foreign bank accounts to a U.S. account controlled by [Igor] Fruman in September and October 2018. The money was used, in part, by Fruman, Parnas and two other men charged in the indictment to gain influence with U.S. politicians and candidates, the indictment said.

Foreign nationals are prohibited from making contributions and other expenditures in connection with U.S. elections, and from making contributions in someone else’s name.

Giuliani said he was confident that the money he received was from “a domestic source,” but he would not say where it came from.

“I know beyond any doubt the source of the money is not any questionable source,” he told Reuters in an interview. “The money did not come from foreigners. I can rule that out 100%,” he said.

I’ve been saying that this is the biggest scandal in American political history, and this is just a small piece of it. Even John Bolton, of all people, wanted nothing to do this operation.

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by [Ambassador to the European Union] Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and [White House chief of staff] Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition…

…It was not the first time Mr. Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms. Hill about the campaign being run by Mr. Giuliani. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Ms. Hill quoted Mr. Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation.

It’s amazing that Giuliani is still talking and still spinning. He says he’s 100% certain that he was not the recipient of two wire transfers totaling a half a million dollars that were sent by “an unidentified Russian businessman” to “gain influence with U.S. politicians and candidates” even as he freely admits that was paid exactly that amount in two wire transfers by the very same people.

As you might expect, and as the Wall Street Journal is reporting, federal prosectors are hot on Giuliani’s trail. They are not going to be any more satisfied with his answers than I am, and they have the tools to prove he’s a liar.

Lev Parnas and David Correia have both been arrested, along with Andrey Kukushkin and Igor Fruman. Two of them, Parnas and Fruman, were nailed at Dulles International Airport shortly after having lunch with Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. They were scheduled to testify before Congress but had one-way tickets indicating that they had no intention of fulfilling that commitment.

And, yet, Giuliani is still insisting on his innocence. He’s still saying things that can and will be used against him in a court of law.

And Trump is still complaining about the initial whistleblower, as if half his administration were not exposing the whole thing in sworn depositions before the House Intelligence Committee.

The Attorney General Goes to War With the First Amendment

Attorney General William Barr gave a speech at University of Notre Dame’s law school on Friday that should alarm all of us who cherish the First Amendment’s guarantee against the government’s establishment of any religion.

According to the Indianapolis Star, Barr went on to lay out a host of problems that are the result of this “organized destruction.”

Barr cited the rate of American children born out of wedlock as having increased five-fold since 1965 to a national average of 40 percent. He said that figure climbs “well over 70 percent in many large urban areas” and suggested a decline in morality was responsible.

“Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic,” Barr said. “By any honest assessment the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim. Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.”

The attorney general is laying the groundwork for actions by the Justice Department that he and his ilk refer to as a protection of “religious freedom” when, in practice, they are designed to establish Christianity as a state religion and allow for discrimination against those who practice a different faith or none at all.

These kinds of statements need to be responded to on several levels. Kevin Drum does a good job of documenting that Barr is categorically wrong when he says that “virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.”

But the white evangelical Christians that the attorney general is appealing to remain convinced that, since sometime in the 1960s or 70s, the country has been on a path to moral decay spurred by “secular humanists.” These are the “nostalgia voters” to whom Donald Trump appealed because they think that in some recent past, the United States was a God-fearing country and all of these problems started when we did things like outlaw prayer in public schools. We heard something similar from Trump’s former chief of staff, John Kelly, when he spoke at length defending Trump’s phone call to the family of Sgt. La David Johnson.

You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.

During the 60s and 70s, when movements were successful in opening the doors of belonging a bit wider for women and people of color (eventually the disabled and LGBT communities as well), nostalgia voters viewed those changes as a disruption to the social order. Their fears were first captured as a political force by Ronald Reagan and eventually exploited by Trump.

If you want to know why white evangelical Christians stay loyal to the president no matter what he does, the crux of it is that they believe that we are in the midst of a war between the non-religious and people of faith that was captured in that speech by Barr. At the heart of that war is the belief that all of the ills of society can be traced to man’s sinful nature and the only hope for relief is adherence to the tenants of Christianity (i.e., for Protestant fundamentalists, you must be “born again.”) That isn’t simply a message for individuals, it applies to countries as well. As Barr indicated in the video clip above, they don’t believe that human beings are capable of moral behavior outside of the strictures of organized religion (read: Christianity).

As long as our government adheres to the protections enshrined in the First Amendment, these white evangelicals will be at war with the rest of us. They will continue to create battle lines out of whole cloth as Barr did with his recitation of social pathologies. Even with Trump in the White House and Barr in charge of the Justice Department, they will paint themselves as victims of abuse by the system. Lance Mannion explained why.

They like feeling persecuted. They need to feel persecuted…it feeds their self-pity and sense of entitlement, and it gives them their excuse.

It’s how they turn offense into defense, how repression and oppression become liberty.

If they are under attack, then they’re free to fight back.

To make matters worse, it’s not just the attorney general. Obviously, the secretary of state is on board too.

Our founders got the religion issue just about right. Enshrined in the Constitution is the freedom to practice the religion of ones choosing and a restriction on the government’s ability to establish a religion. They obviously had enough faith in humanity to leave those decisions up to the individual. But that isn’t good enough for William Barr, Mike Pompeo, and Trump’s nostalgia voters. They have basically gone to war with the First Amendment.

The Dangerous Door That Trump Has Opened in Syria

Barack Obama often compared the presidency to a relay race, where he took the baton from a range of people who came before, ran his best leg, and then passed the baton onto his successor. He built on that analogy while talking to Max Fisher about the Iran nuclear agreement, where the topic of Nixon’s opening with China came up (emphasis mine).

To hear him draw a connection between the nuclear deal and China’s transformation, then, was striking. It suggested that Obama, though he has repeatedly insisted he does not expect the character of Iran’s regime to change, does see it as a possibility, one potentially significant enough that it evokes, at least in his mind, President Nixon’s historic trip to China.

At the same time, the lesson Obama seemed to draw from the comparison was not that he, too, was on the verge of making history, but rather that transformations like China’s under Deng, opportunities like Nixon’s trip, can have both causes and consequences that are impossible to foresee. His role, he said, was to find “openings” for such moments.

All of that wasn’t simply a profoundly wise view of the presidency, it demonstrates the ability to put ones actions in the context of history and make decisions that open possibilities for the future.

We now have a president who is deeply ignorant about history and only considers his own immediate interests when making decisions. With Trump’s recent actions in Syria, it has become clear that a very different kind of opening has occurred—one that future presidents will be dealing with for decades to come.

We are at the very early stages of seeing what some of the ramifications of Trump’s actions might be. The message sent from our Kurdish allies in northern Syria is that they feel betrayed by the United States, indicating that we are no longer a country that can be trusted to stand with our allies. Instead, the Kurds have weighed the costs of the Turkish invasion and made an agreement with Assad.

Without U.S. backing and amid mounting chaos, the Kurds appeared to face the choice between a deadly confrontation with the militarily superior Turkish forces — or a deal with the Assad regime.

By Sunday, the SDF had opted for the second option: They announced a deal with the Syrian government to allow forces loyal to the regime to enter its territory. By Monday, Syrian government troops were raising flags in the towns close to the Turkish-Syrian border…

As Rick Noack writes, that is a move that primarily benefits Russia, given that Putin has been Assad’s staunchest ally. The fact that the Kurds are now turning to Assad and Putin for assistance demonstrates how desperate they have become.

Russia began to intervene militarily in Syria on Assad’s behalf in the fall of 2015. The siege of Aleppo, which was then controlled by rebel forces, was likely a war crime. On Sunday, the New York Times released a report documenting that the Russian Air Force intentionally targeted hospitals as part of the bombing campaign. As Max Fisher wrote, it was a calculated move on Putin’s part.

The strategy, more about politics than advancing the battle lines, appears to be designed to pressure rebels to ally themselves with extremists, eroding the rebels’ legitimacy; give Russia veto power over any high-level diplomacy; and exhaust Syrian civilians who might otherwise support the opposition.

That is how Assad and Putin “play” politics—by committing war crimes. Now, because of Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds, they have been forced to make a deal with the devil and turned to Assad for protection from the Turkish invasion. Keep in mind that this is the regime that used chemical weapons on its own people—something the Kurds experienced in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

What I haven’t seen addressed at this point is how Turkey will respond to the presence of Syrian forces. If fighting breaks out between the two countries, it will present an impossible situation for NATO, given that Turkey is a member that the rest of the alliance is committed to defend. As the U.S. considers sanctions against Turkey and our NATO allies condemn their incursion into Syria, Vladimir Putin has spent time courting Erdogan, creating a potential wedge in the alliance.

But it isn’t just NATO that is affected. We could be witnessing the beginning of a realignment in the Middle East, especially considering the meetings described by Adam Taylor on Monday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Riyadh on Monday for his first state visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in more than a decade, emphasizing not only coordination between three of the biggest oil producers in the world but also Moscow’s growing influence in the Middle East…

It is part of a strategy that puts Moscow at the center of Middle East politics. Putin recently announced that he intends to visit another U.S. ally, Israel, early next year. Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Russia to meet with Putin last month, just days before a bitterly contested election…

Russia ultimately remains far weaker than the United States in a variety of ways. Its economy has suffered greatly under sanctions, and it has suffered a number of humiliating military setbacks in recent years; even its vaunted S-400 system remains untested in real life.

But with longtime partners Syria’s Kurds finding themselves at odds with Trump’s Middle East plans, and even those with many friends in Washington such as Israel’s Netanyahu unsure of their footing, allies such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE may see Russia as a more reliable alternative — even if it is opposed to the United States and allied with many of their own rivals.

The least damning explanation for what is happening would be that Putin is playing Trump like a fiddle in order to strengthen his own power and diminish the influence of the United States. But the deeper question is whether Putin is actually directing Trump.

Either way, the Russian president is using every means at his disposal to realign geopolitical alliances in a way that threatens our national security. Americans tend to have short memories, but it is important to note the events of the last week and recognize that the United States will be paying the price for Trump’s malevolence and incompetence for decades to come.

Biden Holds Steady, Warren Surges, and Iowa Looms Large

I think Nate Silver makes a good point when he says that there are some candidates in the contest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination who are doing better than expectations but only Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are actually doing well. They’re really the only ones who can be satisfied that they’re meeting their own expectations for progress. We’re almost to the point that we can begin to think of this as a two-person race.

In looking at national polls pre- and post-September 23 (the date Silver uses as the beginning of the impeachment process), there are a few interesting observations we can make. The first is that Biden is actually slightly up despite having his name dragged through the mud. It would probably be fairer to say that he’s holding steady, but there’s no sign in erosion. This appears to be the case for most of the candidates, too, as the majority of them, like Biden, are up or down less than a point.

But that doesn’t mean the polls have been static. Elizabeth Warren has gained a substantial 5.7 percent and is now nearing parity with Biden. Almost all of her gains appear to have come from Kamala Harris (down 2.6 percent), Cory Booker (down 1.3 percent) and Bernie Sanders (down 1.1 percent).

Sanders is actually weathering the fallout from his heart attack surprisingly well, but his campaign has been losing slow and steady ground to Warren for a couple of months now. He’s now looking like a second tier candidate, albeit the only second tier candidate in the race. The real news here is that Kamala Harris has fallen to 4.7 percent in the national polls. This appears to be fatal to her campaign hopes, as she really need to move upward into the teens to sustain a serious operation.

I suspect Harris doesn’t have much time to right her ship, but there is one small hopeful sign. She’s seems to have lost the battle with Warren for voters who were undecided between the two of them, but she’s also the logical landing point for these voters if Warren’s campaign badly falters in the coming months. I think her model was more reliant on Biden faltering so she could pick up some fleeing moderates, but at this point I think she’d need both Warren and Biden to collapse to get back into contention.

National polls only tell part of the story, of course. In Iowa, Warren has led in two of three recent polls and Sanders remains very much in the running. In New Hampshire, Warren had led in all three of the most recent polls and Sanders has slipped into a distant third place. Yet, Biden enjoys a narrow lead in Nevada (where Bernie Sanders looks competitive) and a massive lead in South Carolina.

Since there’s an advantage to winning the earliest contests, I think Warren looks like she’s in the best position right now. But she doesn’t have Iowa locked down by an means (RCP Avg. Warren 22.7, Biden 19.3, Sanders 16.0).

For both Biden and Sanders, it would be a very bad development if Warren were to win Iowa because it would probably solidify her advantage in New Hampshire and give her a sweep of the first two contests. Sanders would be effectively knocked out, I think, because it will kill his chances in Nevada and any chance of coming in second place in South Carolina. Biden is in a better position to recover from losing the first two (or even three) battles because of his strong lead in South Carolina. If he were to lose in Iowa and New Hampshire (and perhaps Nevada as well), I’m not sure that his lead in the Palmetto State would hold up, and it certainly would narrow.

While Sanders probably needs to win Iowa in order to survive, Biden would be in a decent position losing there provided that the winner were anybody other than Warren.

I suppose there is still plenty of time for the top three candidates to stumble or for a lower tier candidate to catch fire, but the eventual dynamics of the race seems to be coming into view. Iowa looks huge. As I wrote back on September 19, Kamala Harris has put all her chips on Iowa, so it will be decisive for her campaign. That appears to be the case for Sanders, too. Warren will be sitting pretty if she wins the Hawkeye State but in much more of a dogfight if she does not. And Biden really needs to avoid an outcome where Warren carries the first two states.

This is a very stupid way to decide a nomination. I’ve written that the Iowa caucuses are a fraud and should be doomed. It’s a subject that I will no doubt return to many times before Iowan Democrats turn out in the cold next winter to decide the fate of the country.

For now, I’ll just remind you of what happened in Iowa in 2012.

…an initial and preliminary count of the votes indicated that Mitt Romney had won the caucuses by eight votes. And that is how the media reported it. Yes, Rick Santorum had come out of nowhere to finish a shockingly strong second place, but he hadn’t won anything. Romney, who had suffered the indignity of lagging behind in the polls (at one time or another) to everyone in the race except Santorum, had managed to right his ship and avoid a bad stumble out of the gate. This was hugely helpful to him as the contest moved to Romney’s home turf in New Hampshire. Remember, not only had he served as governor in neighboring Massachusetts, but he owned a home in New Hampshire.

Two weeks later, however, and after Romney romped to victory in the Granite State, the Iowa Republican Party had to make two embarrassing announcements. The first was that they had finalized counting the votes and that it turned out that Rick Santorum didn’t have an eight vote deficit but instead a 34-vote lead. The second announcement was that it was impossible to actually declare a winner [because results from eight of 1,774 precincts could not be located for certification]

…In 2012, Iowa had 28 delegates at the convention, and according to the New York Times, Ron Paul got 22 of them, Romney got five, and Rick Santorum got zero. One vote is listed as undetermined but probably went for Romney

…you can justifiably say that Santorum won Iowa because he had the most votes in the certified count, or that Romney won because he benefited the most from the result, or that Ron Paul won because he actually got almost all the delegates, or that no one won because the party refused to declare a winner.

The Democratic caucuses operate with slightly different rules in Iowa, but it remains a beauty contest where the delegates are not decided or committed to any candidate regardless of results. It literally does not matter who wins in determining how the delegates will be awarded. Yet, the perception that someone won has a gigantic impact on the media coverage, and next year this looks to be truer and more consequential than ever.