The folks at HBO have a sense of humor. They’ve put All the President’s Men in rotation on one of their secondary feeds – a young and inexperienced Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward bring down President Nixon through dogged reporting – in that long-ago time before there was Google and masterfully indexed searchable archives of everything. It’s quaint. There are no computers on the desks in the Washington Post newsroom – that’s a decade away. These two use typewriters. It’s the early seventies. They also use rotary-dial landline telephones – no texting and no emails. Everything is on paper. The good stuff was shredded long ago. They have to call people. Deep Throat tells them to “follow the money” – and Bernstein actually has to fly to Miami to do that. But they get the job done. Nixon resigns. He had been doing things he shouldn’t have been doing, covering up what he shouldn’t have done in the first place – authorizing that Watergate break-in to screw the Democrats, along with other assorted “dirty tricks” to make the Democrats look like fools, or worse.
The folks at HBO seem to have decided all this is timely. Nixon had his plumbers and dirty tricksters. Donald Trump had WikiLeaks and the Russians. Nixon said nothing was going on, and damn it, he wouldn’t release those tapes. Donald Trump says nothing has been going on, and damn it, he won’t release his tax returns, which would, of course, document his ties to assorted friends of Vladimir Putin – or clear all this up in an instant, if there are no ties at all. That feels like Nixon and his tapes. There was a “smoking gun” there. The folks at HBO aren’t saying anything about Trump, but they did put that movie in rotation. They don’t have to say anything.
Maybe you had to be there long ago to see the parallel, but someone was:
The former White House counsel to President Nixon who was charged for helping cover up the Watergate scandal says he thinks President Trump’s White House is “in cover-up mode.”
“In fact the White House is in cover-up mode,” John Dean told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Monday night when asked about the administration’s response to ongoing investigations of Russian ties and Trump’s wiretapping accusations.
FBI Director James Comey earlier Monday testified that his agency is investigating links between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government.
He also stated flatly that he had “no information” to support Trump’s assertion, first made on Twitter, that former President Obama had wiretapped him at Trump Tower.
Dean said the White House’s decision to distance itself from the testimony signals a “cover-up.”
Dean understands this:
“There’s just never been any question in my mind about that. I’ve been inside a cover-up. I know how they look and feel. And every signal they’re sending is: ‘We’re covering this thing up,'” Dean said.
“Experienced investigators know this. They know how people react when they’re being pursued, and this White House is not showing their innocence, they’re showing how damn guilty they are, is what we’re seeing.”
And one thing leads to another:
Dean, who was charged with obstruction of justice during Watergate, said he is concerned Trump is getting close to obstructing justice and could do so in the future.
“There’s also the question of whether this White House will obstruct, essentially, an investigation. You now have the head of the FBI with a target painted on its back, the front-line investigators with targets painted on their backs; you have a U.S. attorney the president said he was going to retain who has been summarily fired in Preet Bharara, and it strikes me that there is in some ways a kind of obstruction land mine … that the entirety of the White House now has to tip-toe through,” Dean said.
Preet Bharara was getting too close to things – he was hot after Russian money launderers paying triple for luxury properties in Manhattan and that was getting nasty – and now Preet Bharara is out of a job, so one might consider this:
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump downplayed his business ties with Russia. And since taking office as president, he has been even more emphatic.
“I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia,” President Trump said at a news conference last month. “I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.”
But in the United States, members of the Russian elite have invested in Trump buildings. A Reuters review has found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records.
The buyers include politically connected businessmen, such as a former executive in a Moscow-based state-run construction firm that works on military and intelligence facilities, the founder of a St. Petersburg investment bank and the co-founder of a conglomerate with interests in banking, property and electronics.
People from the second and third tiers of Russian power have invested in the Trump buildings as well. One recently posted a photo of himself with the leader of a Russian motorcycle gang that was sanctioned by the United States for its alleged role in Moscow’s seizure of Crimea.
This all may be innocent. They had the money. Trump had the vacancies – no big deal – nothing sinister – but there’s that other guy from long ago:
Carl Bernstein, a previous investigative journalist on Watergate, joined CNN’s Anderson Cooper Wednesday night to comment on the ongoing Trump-Russia connection and the leaks coming out of the White House. Most recently, CNN reported possible new evidence suggesting President Donald Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russian officials against Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“There’s a cover up going on here among those who work in the Trump campaign and associates of Trump,” said Bernstein. “They’ve been concealing these contacts, which revolve around leaked emails from Podesta’s account.”
And this isn’t like the old days:
Bernstein asked why the president and his associates are “pushing back against these investigations,” when they should instead be suggesting, “we want to get to the bottom of this; we want to open up everything; I, the President of the United States, want to call these people in and ask them what happened, what is this all about?”
He added that the Trump team appears to be attempting to “keep away from what really happened here” raising a whole set of other questions.
Bernstein, pointing to Watergate, said Republicans both in the House and Senate at that time wanted it investigated “to the bottom,” famously quoting Republican Sen. Howard Baker asking, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
That’s not happening in this case, Bernstein noted.
After eight long years these guys finally have their very own (sort of) Republican president. What did Bernstein expect? But now there’s something like a smoking gun:
The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.
This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, according to one source.
The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.
Okay, this may not be a smoking gun, but there’s smoke:
In his statement on Monday Comey said the FBI began looking into possible coordination between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives because the bureau had gathered “a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.”
That’ll do, but they’re not quite there yet:
One law enforcement official said the information in hand suggests “people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready.” But other U.S. officials who spoke to CNN say it’s premature to draw that inference from the information gathered so far since it’s largely circumstantial.
Maybe so, but something was up last summer:
The FBI has already been investigating four former Trump campaign associates – Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page – for contacts with Russians known to US intelligence. All four have denied improper contacts and CNN has not confirmed any of them are the subjects of the information the FBI is reviewing.
Those are “all the president’s men” – so far. Nixon had to ask for the resignations of Halderman and Erlichman. Trump had to ask for the resignation of Michael Flynn. Paul Manafort resigned as Trump’s campaign manager last August, when his ties to Putin’s guy in Ukraine got far too much press. Page and Stone were informal advisors. The parallel isn’t exact, and the FBI’s job is getting harder:
One of the obstacles the sources say the FBI now faces in finding conclusive intelligence is that communications between Trump’s associates and Russians have ceased in recent months given the public focus on Russia’s alleged ties to the Trump campaign. Some Russian officials have also changed their methods of communications, making monitoring more difficult, the officials said.
Back in the day, Howard Hunt, at the Committee to Reelect the President – CREEP of course – shredded every bit of incriminating evidence around. These days the Russians are scrubbing hard drives and leaving no digital record on the cloud – change the methods of communications. Use carrier pigeons or something, but there are parallels:
Last July, Russian intelligence agencies began orchestrating the release of hacked emails stolen in a breach of the Democratic National Committee and associated organizations, as well as email accounts belonging to Clinton campaign officials, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.
The Russian operation was also in part focused on the publication of so-called “fake news” stories aimed at undermining Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But FBI investigators say they are less focused on the coordination and publication of those “fake news” stories, in part because those publications are generally protected free speech.
The release of the stolen emails, meanwhile, transformed an ordinary cyber-intrusion investigation into a much bigger case handled by the FBI’s counterintelligence division.
Nixon’s guys broke into the Watergate offices of the DNC to tap their phones and learn good stuff. The Russian breach of the Democratic National Committee and associated organizations was the same sort of thing – only done by a foreign power – but for the same reason. There was useful stuff there, stuff that could be used to get their guy elected. The fake news from the Nixon guys – the forged letter where Muskie insulted Canucks and all the rest – was a minor matter. So was the Russian “fake news” – the real issue was a break-in.
It was like old times, and there was that other voice from the past:
Journalist Dan Rather took to Facebook on Wednesday night to ask an important question about President Donald Trump’s administration, particularly CNN suggesting the FBI has new evidence of Trump’s associates communicating with Russian operatives to “possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
Noting that he never thought he would never hear this question asked again “with such urgency and stakes,” Rather asked what many are asking: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”
“It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of this allegation,” Rather said of CNN’s latest reporting. “Americans associated with Donald Trump illegally colluding with a foreign power.”
“Once again, all the caveats must hold,” he continued. “This isn’t proven. Allegations and suspicions are not an indictment. But with each turn of this story, the level of seriousness deepens.”
All these guys from the Watergate days are back again – old men now – so the folks at HBO had to put that old movie in rotation, as a public service. This is what happened then, in detail.
It’s happening again, and it’s worse this time, but don’t worry, there’s a young whippersnapper on the case:
Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said to MSNBC Wednesday afternoon that there is evidence that is “not circumstantial” of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Schiff’s statement escalates the rhetoric on Capitol Hill about allegations of ties between Russia and the president’s circle. It follows two major developments. On Monday, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his bureau is investigating collusion. Then, on Wednesday, Representative Devin Nunes, the chair of the House intelligence committee, made a puzzling announcement about so-called incidental collection of information from Trump team members. Nunes made that announcement without informing Schiff first.
Schiff was furious. During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, he cast doubt on whether the House investigation was still viable.
“The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both,” Schiff said. “Unfortunately I think the actions of today throw great doubt in the ability of the both the chairman and the committee to conduct the investigation the way it ought to be conducted.”
Okay, if the House investigation is now not viable, it’s time for a special prosecutor. With Watergate that was Archibald Cox. Nixon told his attorney general to fire Cox. His attorney general refused, and resigned. Nixon told his assistant attorney general to fire Cox. His assistant attorney general refused, and resigned. The third guy in line, Robert Bork, did the deed. That could happen again. Trump is easily angered. Trump’s attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, would fire any new Cox, but he has already recused himself from these matters – in his confirmation hearing he kind of forgot to mention all his talks with the Russians. He had to offer amended information to the Senate. He’s out of this loop now. This could get interesting.
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is also one of this president’s men. He was a major policy adviser to the Trump campaign, on immigration and national security – but he’s useless now. Oh well. Good men are hard to find.
That seems to be a problem for Donald Trump:
Before signing up with Donald Trump, former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian billionaire with a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government,” the Associated Press has learned. The White House attempted to brush the report aside Wednesday, but it quickly raised fresh alarms in Congress about Russian links to Trump associates.
Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.
Manafort pitched the plans to aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.
“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday that President Trump had not been aware of Manafort’s work on behalf of Deripaska.
That was probably the best thing to say, but that is also saying that they didn’t look into this guy’s background – there was no vetting – unless there was and they were fine with the Putin thing. That’s perhaps unlikely, but they should have looked:
Manafort’s plans were laid out in detailed documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.
Manafort confirmed again Wednesday in a statement that he had worked for Deripaska but denied his work had been pro-Russian in nature.
And the six Watergate burglars said they had no ties to the White House, so there was this:
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the disclosures “serious stuff” and more evidence that an independent congressional committee should investigate the Trump administration. “Other shoes will drop,” he said.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a frequent Trump critic, said of Manafort: “Clearly, if he’s getting millions of dollars from a billionaire close to Putin, to basically undermine democratic movements, that’s something I’d want to know about. I doubt if Trump knew about it.”
Democrats on the House intelligence committee said the new revelations will feature in their investigations.
The disclosure “undermines the groundless assertions that the administration has been making that there are no ties between President Trump and Russia. This is not a drip, drip, drip,” said Rep. Jackie Speier of California. “This is now dam-breaking with water flushing out with all kinds of entanglements.”
That’s a horribly mixed metaphor, but it will do:
Manafort worked as Trump’s unpaid campaign chairman last year from March until August, a period that included the Republican National Convention that nominated Trump in July. Trump asked Manafort to resign after AP revealed that he had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation until 2014 on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling pro-Russian political party.
The newly obtained business records link Manafort more directly to Putin’s interests in the region. According to those records and people with direct knowledge of Manafort’s work for Deripaska, Manafort made plans to open an office in Moscow, and at least some of his work in Ukraine was directed by Deripaska, not local political interests there.
This was known, and a worry:
Manafort has been a leading focus of the U.S. intelligence investigation of Trump’s associates and Russia, according to a U.S. official. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the investigation are confidential. Meanwhile, federal criminal prosecutors became interested in Manafort’s activities years ago as part of a broad investigation to recover stolen Ukraine assets after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych there in early 2014.
Even so, the guy is still one of the president’s men:
Manafort and his associates remain in Trump’s orbit. Manafort told a colleague this year that he continues to speak with Trump by telephone. Manafort’s former business partner in eastern Europe, Rick Gates, has been seen inside the White House on a number of occasions, helped plan Trump’s inauguration and now runs a nonprofit organization, America First Policies, to back the White House agenda.
Nixon felt the walls closing in, and so should Trump, and there’s this:
Manafort’s work with Deripaska continued for years, though they had a falling out laid bare in 2014 in a Cayman Islands bankruptcy court. The billionaire gave Manafort nearly $19 million to invest in a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable, according to legal filings by Deripaska’s representatives. It said that after taking the money, Manafort and his associates stopped responding to Deripaska’s queries about how the funds had been used.
Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Deripaska’s representatives openly accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money from him. After Trump earned the nomination, Deripaska’s representatives said they would no longer discuss the case.
Trump became president. All was forgiven. Damn. And the blogger BooMan offers two observations:
The first observation is that from the second that Manafort took a job with Donald Trump’s campaign, the campaign was compromised because of the risk that the Russians would reveal Manafort’s undisclosed lobbying work and other nefarious actions. So, even if Manafort was no longer willing to work for Putin’s interests against our own, he could be coerced in that direction, and so could Trump for having hired him.
The second observation is that although violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act are rarely enforced, they certainly can be. And that gives the FBI the crime they need to haul Manafort in and ask him to start talking.
The walls are closing in. Watch that old movie. All the president’s men were trouble back then. That didn’t end well.