Rantt Rundown: As The Case For Collusion Mounts, President Trump Intervenes
Over the weekend, President Trump ordered the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents, under the guise of seeking whether or not his campaign was wrongfully spied on (it wasn’t). This was clearly yet another attempt to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and an abuse of power. But before we discuss that further, let’s dive into the story that appeared to trigger President Trump’s unhinged behavior.
On Saturday, a bombshell story from The New York Times was published on yet another Trump Tower meeting where the Trump campaign was open to help from foreign nationals. It revealed that in August 2016 (three months before the election) Donald Trump Jr. and now-White House Adviser Stephen Miller held a meeting at Trump Tower that indicates the campaign was willing to accept help from more foreign nations than just Russia…
Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor.
The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters.
Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.
The company, which employed several Israeli former intelligence officers, specialized in collecting information and shaping opinion through social media.
The piece goes on to say that Donald Trump Jr. “responded approvingly” to the offer but it wasn’t clear whether it was acted on. But it does indicate one of Zamel’s companies was paid after the election.
After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Nader paid Mr. Zamel a large sum of money, described by one associate as up to $2 million. There are conflicting accounts of the reason for the payment, but among other things, a company linked to Mr. Zamel provided Mr. Nader with an elaborate presentation about the significance of social media campaigning to Mr. Trump’s victory.
Zamel’s companies also have ties to two Russian Oligarchs that we are all too familiar with.
Companies connected to Mr. Zamel also have ties to Russia. One of his firms had previously worked for oligarchs linked to Mr. Putin, including Oleg V. Deripaska and Dmitry Rybolovlev, who hired the firm for online campaigns against their business rivals.
Mr. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate, was once in business with the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty in the special counsel investigation to charges of financial crimes and failing to disclose the lobbying work he did on behalf of a former president of Ukraine, an ally of Mr. Putin. Mr. Rybolovlev once purchased a Florida mansion from Mr. Trump.
The Trump family has paid their way around the law their entire lives
I’m unsurprised at the lengths they are willing to go to win—no matter how illegal or unethical
Thus far they’ve bailed themselves out of consequences, so they believe they’re above the law
They are mistaken
— Ahmed Baba (@AhmedBaba_) May 19, 2018
It’s important to note that Nader is reportedly cooperating with Robert Mueller’s investigation.
This came mere months after June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, then-Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, Natalia Veselnitskaya (a Russian lawyer and self-described informant), and Russian operatives. It revealed that Donald Trump Jr. was very eager about the prospect of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Federal law, Section 30121 of Title 52, states that it is a crime for a foreign national to contribute money or other items of value to an American election, as well as making it illegal for an American to solicit such a contribution.
Then, today, the Associated Press even further compounded this story:
After a year spent carefully cultivating two princes from the Arabian Peninsula, Elliott Broidy, a top fundraiser for President Donald Trump, thought he was finally close to nailing more than $1 billion in business.
Broidy and his business partner, Lebanese-American George Nader, pitched themselves to the crown princes [Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates] as a backchannel to the White House, passing the princes’ praise — and messaging — straight to the president’s ears.
In return for pushing anti-Qatar policies at the highest levels of America’s government, Broidy and Nader expected huge consulting contracts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to an Associated Press investigation based on interviews with more than two dozen people and hundreds of pages of leaked emails between the two men. The emails reviewed by the AP included work summaries and contracting documents and proposals.
Summaries written by Broidy of two meetings he had with Trump — one of which has not been disclosed before — report that he was passing messages to the president from the two princes and that he told Trump he was seeking business with them.
Whether or not help was accepted from these various regimes, one thing is clear: President Trump has taken a very friendly stance with all of the nations who have reportedly offered to help his campaign.
- So back to the demand that President Donald Trump made of the DOJ and his claim the informant spied on his campaign. Like much of what Trump says, that is not exactly true. Former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa explains how the informant was not spying on the Trump campaign, but as part of the counterintelligence operation may have been trying to protect the campaign.
But Trump and his backers are wrong about what it means that the FBI reportedly was using a confidential source to gather information early in its investigation of possible campaign ties to Russia. The investigation started out as a counterintelligence probe, not a criminal one. And relying on a covert source rather than a more intrusive method of gathering information suggests that the FBI may have been acting cautiously — perhaps too cautiously — to protect the campaign, not undermine it.
So now we’ve cleared that up, it may explain why Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein responded to Trump’s order on Sunday by referring the manner to the DOJ’s Inspector General. Perhaps he’s very aware that the probe will find no wrongdoing. It’s also important to point out that Rosenstein’s response to Trump’s demand specified that it was indeed a counterintelligence investigation, further creating the distinction that Rangappa points out above.
- Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats met with President Trump today. The President is officially involved in an investigation that he is a subject of. CNN reported:
Top officials at the Justice Department, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence agreed Monday to share highly classified information with lawmakers related to the Russia investigation amid an escalating controversy over the bureau’s use of a confidential intelligence source during the 2016 presidential campaign.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday that chief of staff John Kelly planned to “immediately” schedule a meeting with the officials and leaders of Congress to “review highly classified and other information they have requested.”
- Politico reported a story that makes Trump’s claims that Hillary Clinton mishandled classified intelligence look even more hypocritical.
Trump uses a W.H. cell phone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, two senior admin officials tell Politico.
Trump has gone as long as 5 months without having the phone checked by security experts.https://t.co/KsEIBCGsTW
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 21, 2018
Gonna be wild when the WH cancels the North Korea summit and NK responds by uploading sound files of every phone conversation Trump has had over the last year and a half.
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 21, 2018