Patterico's Pontifications

9/22/2017

Yes, Betsy DeVos Is Leaving On A Jet Plane – But It’s One That She Owns And Pays For Herself

Filed under: General — Dana @ 6:13 am

[guest post by Dana]

Just your periodic reminder of how Big Media intentionally misleads readers in order to provoke an instantaneous kind of sneering outrage:

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You would need to cick on either of the links to find out that yes, DeVos does indeed travel on a private plane, however, it is her own personal plane, and she flies it at her own expense:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos flies on her personal plane at her own expense when she visits schools around the country, according to her office, as other Cabinet secretaries’ flying habits at taxpayers’ cost have drawn scrutiny.

Education Department Press Secretary Liz Hill said in a statement to The Associated Press that DeVos travels “on personally-owned aircraft” at zero cost to taxpayers. Speaking with the AP on Thursday, Hill would not disclose details about the model or any other characteristics of the aircraft.

“The secretary neither seeks, nor accepts, any reimbursement for her flights, nor for any additional official travel-related expenses, such as lodging and per diem, even though she is entitled to such reimbursement under government travel regulations,” Hill said. “Secretary DeVos accepted her position to serve the public and is fully committed to being a faithful steward of taxpayer dollars.”

But why waste time being clear from the get-go, when ginning up outrage is so much more effective!

(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)

–Dana

9/21/2017

Valerie Plame Reminds Everyone of Her Utter Vacuity

Filed under: General — JVW @ 11:09 am

[guest post by JVW]

Let’s treat this as a how-to.

Step One
Find an article that appears to make a point or two with which you agree. Don’t bother to read the whole thing or investigate its source, just start Tweeting your recommendation of it [note: I am including screen caps in anticipation of all her Tweets being deleted]:

Plame original

Step Two
When the blowback inevitably comes because you didn’t notice that you had just promoted an anti-Semitic article, double down in the most condescending manner possible:

Plame 1

Step Three
Play the old “Hey, I’m just talking candidly about my own people (well, kinda sorta)” card:

Plame 2

Step Four
Make appeals to pacifism and insist that everyone has taken the quotes out of context, even if you haven’t actually read the entire article:

Plame 3

Step Five
Insist that it’s your critics who have a blinkered view of reality, not your own lazy and incurious self:

Plame 4

Step Six
Realize that you are completely exposed and start furiously backpedaling and apologizing:

Plame apologies

Do you suppose we can get Naomi Watts to reprise the role in Fair Game 2: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?

– JVW

Jimmy Kimmel’s Dopey Sketch on Graham-Cassidy Misses the Point

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:00 am

A Republican U.S. Senator proposed a “Jimmy Kimmel” test for whether a U.S. healthcare plan is acceptable, and now (surprise!) Jimmy Kimmel is finding the latest Republican plan doesn’t meet it. Since we have now made a late-night talk show host an arbiter of health care, I guess we have to talk about Kimmel’s rant against Graham-Cassidy last night. I’m going to skip ahead to the unfunny sketch that supposedly illustrates the problem with Graham-Cassidy.

The “joke” of the sketch, for those who don’t want to sit through a painful two minutes of preachy and unfunny nonsense, is that Jimmy orders a black coffee. The barista pours it into a cup with no bottom, and the coffee goes all over the table. The barista explains that the cup decides whether it holds coffee or not. Hilarious, right? Graham-Cassidy: roasted!

To me, the irony here lies in these lines near the end of the sketch:

KIMMEL: You know what? I’ll just go to another coffee place. Thank you.

BARISTA: This is how all coffee shops are now. If you want your coffee in a cup, go to Canada.

Kimmel’s proposed solution is what we normally do when we are unsatisfied with a product or service: we go elsewhere. But Kimmel and his lefty pals are on a road away from choice, and towards exactly the sort of inadequate one-size-fits-nobody (except for the politically influential) service that government is so famous for.

This, by the way, is why I respectfully dissent from the views of some (like Joe Cunningham) that it is important that we pass Graham-Cassidy. Meh. I don’t think it matters at all. The only health care system that could work is one that depends on actual choice, which is only possible in a free market. But clearly Americans — and consequently their representatives — aren’t up for the sort of solutions that this would require. (I have discussed free-market alternatives for health care before –for example, here). Whether we tinker with a losing situation in this way or that way, in my view, matters little.

As I have said before, I think Rand Paul should be commended for standing against such tinkering. To whose who say: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” I respond: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the chance to take joint responsibility for a socialistic program that will ruin 1/6 of the economy.” Or: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the concession that this tiny meaningless improvement to the status quo is the best we’ll ever do.

Getting back to Kimmel’s sketch: the notion that Canada is the ideal is also laughable. The conservative rag The Huffington Post in June published a piece titled Why Canadians Are Increasingly Seeking Medical Treatment Abroad:

While Americans have been crossing the border for years in search of cheaper medications, it turns out there are a growing number of Canadians seeking medical treatment south of their border, raiding their bank accounts and choosing to pay for treatment instead of being treated through their nationalized health care system. In 2014, more than 50,000 Canadians left the country for medical treatment, a 25 percent increase from the previous year. A similar number left the country for treatment in 2015.

Why would someone pay for something they are entitled to receive for free?

According to The National Post, the answer comes down to a choice between time and money ― a choice that’s only available to those privileged enough to be able to finance expensive out-of-pocket medical expenses up front.

If we had a “Barista Theater” sketch about this, Jimmy would order a coffee today, and the barista would say: “Absolutely, sir! I’ll have that ready for you in a month!”

The only answer is free choice. Kimmel’s sketch implicitly recognizes this, but doesn’t face the implications of that fact. In that way, Jimmy Kimmel is like the rest of America — which knows it wants a better system, but has been lied to about how to achieve that.

I’m done banging my head against the wall. I’m like the guy who sees the car crash coming and is powerless to stop it. The best I can do is gear up for helping the victims. But the crash is happening.

[Cross-posted at RedState and The Jury Talks Back.]

The Magnitsky Act and the Woman Who Met with Trump Jr.: Part Four of a Six-Part Series

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:00 am

This is Part Four of a six-part series on the death of Sergei Magnitsky, what he uncovered before his death, and how it all relates to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian woman who met with Trump Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner in June 2016. The springboard for the series of posts is this Michael Weiss article about Veselnitskaya and how she is connected to the Magnitsky case.

In Part One, I introduced the series and Weiss’s conclusions.

In Part Two, I began setting forth the background of the aggressive tax fraud scheme that Sergei Magnitsky discovered, as set out in Browder’s book Red Notice.

In Part Three, I discussed what Magnitsky did when he uncovered the scheme — and the terrible price he paid as a result.

Today, in Part Four, I discuss the reaction of the Russian government to the Magnitsky Act, and why they hate it so much.

PUTIN’S HOSTILITY TOWARDS BILL BROWDER AND HIS EFFORTS TO REPEAL THE MAGNITSKY ACT

The Magnitsky Act has very much upset the top echelons of Russian government. Browder and Magnitsky were tried in absentia for various crimes even after Magnitsky was killed — resulting in laughable convictions that nobody takes seriously. Putin has repeatedly tried to have Browder arrested by seeking a “red notice” from Interpol authorizing him to be arrested and extradited (hence the title of Browder’s book). Interpol, which usually honors such requests, has refused to do so in Browder’s case. In 2013, Putin puppet Dmitry Medvedev was quoted as saying at Davos: “It’s too bad that Sergei Magnitsky is dead and Bill Browder is still alive and free.” That is a chilling statement from someone who had recently been the president of a country known for assassinating its enemies, both at home and abroad.

Most significantly, Vladimir Putin retaliated against the United States’s passage of the Magnitsky Act by banning adoptions of Russian children by citizens of the United States. This was a heartless act, because the children that Americans adopt from Russia are at significant risk. As Browder explains in his book:

Putin’s proposed ban was significant because over the last decade Americans had adopted over sixty thousand Russian orphans. In recent years Russia had restricted most American adoptions to sick children — those with HIV, Down syndrome, and spina bifida, among many other disorders. Some of these children wouldn’t survive without the medical care they would receive from their new American families.

This meant that in addition to punishing American families who were waiting for Russian children to join them, Putin was also punishing, and potentially killing, defenseless orphans in his own country. To say that this was a heartless proposal doesn’t even qualify as an understatement. It was evil, pure and simple.

So when you hear Putin and other top Russian officials now talk about the issue of “adoptions” you should understand that they mean “repeal of the Magnitsky Act.” As Julia Ioffe explained in The Atlantic:

Let’s get something straight: The Magnitsky Act is not, nor has it ever been, about adoptions.

The Magnitsky Act, rather, is about money. It freezes certain Russian officials’ access to the stashes they were keeping in Western banks and real estate and bans their entry to the United States. The reason Russian (and now, American) officials keep talking about adoption in the same breath is because of how the Russian side retaliated to the Magnitsky Act in 2012, namely by banning American adoptions of Russian children.

Ioffe is 100% correct. Bill Browder explained to Jacob Weisberg why this is so important to Putin:

BROWDER: Vladimir Putin has made it his single largest foreign policy priority to get rid of the Magnitsky Act. It is not a surprise at all given how much money has been spent and how many lobbyists and intermediaries are involved that they somehow found their way to Donald Trump, who at the time was the Republican nominee.

WEISBERG: Why is this bill such a priority for Putin?

BROWDER: Putin has amassed an enormous fortune over the 17 years that he’s been at the top of the heap in Russia, and the Magnitsky Act very specifically would target him. We have been able to track down information and evidence that shows that some of the proceeds from the crime—the $230 million fraud that Sergei Magnitsky uncovered, exposed, and was killed over—went to a man named Sergei Roldugin. (For those of you who remember the Panama Papers, he was the famous $2 billion cellist from Russia who got all this largesse from various oligarchs in Russian companies.)

Roldugin received some of the money from the Magnitsky crime, and it’s well-known that he is a nominee trustee for Putin. When Putin reacts to the Magnitsky Act with such personal venom, he’s reacting because he feels like the entire purpose in life, which was to steal money from the Russian state and keep it offshore, is at risk. That’s why they’re ready to ruin relations with America over the Magnitsky Act by banning adoptions and doing other things, and that’s why so much money has been spent fighting the act and fighting me, the person behind the campaign to get Magnitsky Act in the United States and around the world.

When you hear Vladimir Putin talk about adoption of Russian children, he is talking about getting the Magnitsky Act reversed. When you hear that Natalia Veselnitskaya was talking to Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner about adoption of Russian children, she was talking about getting the Magnitsky Act reversed. As Ioffe explains, the Magnitsky Act is a big deal for Russian kleptocrats because they can’t protect their money:

What made Russian officialdom so mad about the Magnitsky Act is that it was the first time that there was some kind of roadblock to getting stolen money to safety. In Russia, after all, officers and bureaucrats could steal it again, the same way they had stolen it in the first place: a raid, an extortion racket, a crooked court case with forged documents—the possibilities are endless. Protecting the money meant getting it out of Russia. But what happens if you get it out of Russia and it’s frozen by Western authorities? What’s the point of stealing all that money if you can’t enjoy the Miami condo it bought you? What’s the point if you can’t use it to travel to the Côte d’Azur in luxury?

Worse, it looked for a while like the Europeans were going to pass a similar law—because Russians stash far more money in Europe than in the United States.

By the way, when Ioffe says that Russians often keep their money in “Europe” — remember that one country that Russians love to use to stash illegal proceeds is Cyprus — the place Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov visited, as described in Part Two. Keep that in mind as you read tomorrow’s post, Part Five, in which I discuss Natalia Veselnitskaya, and her connections to the thieves who stole $230 million from the Russian government.

[Cross-posted at RedState and The Jury Talks Back.]

9/20/2017

The Magnitsky Act and the Woman Who Met with Trump Jr.: Part Three of a Six-Part Series

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:00 am

This is Part Three of a six-part series on the death of Sergei Magnitsky, what he uncovered before his death, and how it all relates to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian woman who met with Trump Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner in June 2016. The springboard for the series of posts is this Michael Weiss article about Veselnitskaya and how she is connected to the Magnitsky case.

In Part One, I introduced the series and Weiss’s conclusions.

In Part Two, I began setting forth the background of the aggressive tax fraud scheme that Sergei Magnitsky discovered, as set out in Browder’s book Red Notice.

Today, in Part Three, I will discuss what Magnitsky did — and the terrible price he paid as a result.

MAGNITSKY’S PATRIOTIC REPORTING OF THE SCHEME, AND HIS MURDER

Yesterday, I discussed how Sergei Magnitsky had uncovered a $230 million tax refund fraud scheme perpetrated by a group including officers Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov.

What does a patriotic Russian do when he discovers such a thing? He reports it. So, after discovering the fraud, Magnitsky went to an Investigative Committee to give evidence against Kuznetsov and Karpov. Trouble was, Kuznetsov and Karpov had been assigned to investigate themselves. Magnitsky gave the evidence to officials anyway, despite the involvement of the suspects in the “investigation” of their own misconduct.

Naively, Magnitsky and Browder still expected the criminals to be caught and punished. But Karpov and Kuznetsov opened up a new case against Browder, and conducted a new set of raids on companies connected to Browder. A well-placed anonymous whistleblower in the Russian government tipped off Browder that the investigation against him was being conducted by the highest levels inside the FSB. So Browder told all his associates and lawyers that they should leave Russia.

Magnitsky was the only one who refused to leave. His position was that he had done nothing wrong. Why should he leave home? He continued to provide evidence against Kuznetsov and Karpov to the Russian State Investigative Committee.

Magnitsky was later arrested by Kuznetsov and Karpov, and was brutally tortured and murdered while in custody. Browder described what happened to Magnitsky in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Sergei’s captors immediately started putting pressure on him to withdraw his testimony. They put him in cells with 14 inmates and eight beds, leaving the lights on 24 hours a day to impose sleep deprivation. They put him in cells with no heat and no windowpanes, and he nearly froze to death. They put him in cells with no toilet, just a hole in the floor and sewage bubbling up. They moved him from cell to cell in the middle of the night without any warning. During his 358 days in detention he was forcibly moved multiple times.

They did all of this because they wanted him to withdraw his testimony against the corrupt Interior Ministry officials, and to sign a false statement that he was the one who stole the $230 million—and that he had done so on my instruction.

Sergei refused. In spite of the grave pain they inflicted upon him, he would not perjure himself or bear false witness.

After six months of this mistreatment, Sergei’s health seriously deteriorated. He developed severe abdominal pains, he lost 40 pounds, and he was diagnosed with pancreatitis and gallstones and prescribed an operation for August 2009. However, the operation never occurred. A week before he was due to have surgery, he was moved to a maximum security prison called Butyrka, which is considered to be one of the harshest prisons in Russia. Most significantly for Sergei, there were no medical facilities there to treat his medical conditions.

At Butyrka, his health completely broke down. He was in agonizing pain. He and his lawyers wrote 20 desperate requests for medical attention, filing them with every branch of the Russian criminal justice system. All of those requests were either ignored or explicitly denied in writing.

After more than three months of untreated pancreatitis and gallstones, Sergei Magnitsky went into critical condition. The Butyrka authorities did not want to have responsibility for him, so they put him in an ambulance and sent him to another prison that had medical facilities. But when he arrived there, instead of putting him in the emergency room, they put him in an isolation cell, chained him to a bed, and eight riot guards came in and beat him with rubber batons.

That night he was found dead on the cell floor.

Browder responded to Magnitsky’s murder by dedicating his life to finding and punishing the people responsible for Magnitsky’s death. Browder was the driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets of people identified as being responsible for Magnitsky’s murder.

Tomorrow, in Part Four, I’ll discuss the reaction of the Russian government to the Magnitsky Act, and why they hate it so much.

[Cross-posted at RedState and The Jury Talks Back.]

9/19/2017

The Magnitsky Act And The Woman Who Met With Trump Jr.: Part Two Of A Six-Part Series

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:00 am

This is Part Two of a six-part series on the death of Sergei Magnitsky, what he uncovered before his death, and how it all relates to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian woman who met with Trump Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner in June 2016. The springboard for the series of posts is this Michael Weiss article about Veselnitskaya and how she is connected to the Magnitsky case.

In Part One, I introduced the series and Weiss’s conclusions.

Today, in Part Two, I discuss the background of the entire Magnitsky affair, as set out in Browder’s book Red Notice.

THE BACKGROUND

The story begins with Bill Browder, a finance guy who was interested in emerging markets in Eastern Europe and Russia. He made millions buying shares in Russian companies that the government sold at a fraction of their true value. He made still more money by exposing the actions of corrupt oligarchs who were stealing from companies in which his fund had an ownership stake.

Everything was going great for Browder. He was a multimillionaire with a new attractive Russian wife. Then it all changed in 2005. Upon returning to Moscow from a trip to his home in London, Russian authorities detained him in immigration for hours without explanation, let him sweat it out overnight without food and water, and then dumped him on a plane back to London. He was told he was a threat to national security.

Authorities then raided offices of holding companies connected to Browder’s fund, and seized corporate documents with seals and signatures of the corporate founders. The justification for the raids was trumped-up: a claim of underpaid taxes that was disputed by the actual tax authorities, who said the companies had actually overpaid their taxes. But the raids allowed authorities to seize the sort of documents you would need if you wanted to change the ownership of the companies.

Browder, working with a team of lawyers including tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, learned that the ownership of the companies had indeed been transferred to Viktor Markelov, a man with a manslaughter conviction, and two other criminals who had been granted an early release from prison by Russian authorities.

But the thieves and criminals who had stolen Browder’s companies, using documents that had been seized by police, had a problem. Browder had long since pulled all assets from these companies. For a while, Browder believed that whoever had stolen his companies had done it all for nothing — that they had no way to profit from the theft of the companies.

But Browder was wrong. The thieves had concocted a very clever scheme involving tax fraud. If you prefer to see things in video form, the scheme is described in this video, which was produced before Magnitsky was killed:

Here’s how the tax fraud scheme worked: the thieves had filed phony lawsuits against all of the holding companies, based on forged contracts. The thieves hired lawyers who pretended to represent the interests of Browder’s companies, but who instead affirmed the validity of the fraudulent claims against those companies. In this way, bogus multi-million dollar judgments were secured against Browder’s companies. Since Browder had already taken the companies’ assets out of Russia, these phony judgments could not be collected from the holding companies. But the new owners had a different scheme in mind.

Magnitsky, the tax lawyer, figured out the scheme. He learned that the amounts of the judgments were for the precise amounts of profits that the companies had earned each year. Now each company had a new liability exactly matching the amount of their annual profits. Their new profits for each year were exactly zero, after the phony judgments were applied against the profits.

This meant that the new owners of the companies could apply for a tax refund. Their companies had overpaid their taxes! And they claimed that all the taxes the companies had paid on their profits should be “returned” to them. Sure enough, on Christmas Eve, 2007, the tax “refund” was processed. The total amount of loot stolen by these thieves was $230 million. It was the largest tax refund in Russian history, and was granted without a single question asked — three days after the application for the tax refund had been filed.

The record-setting tax refund was processed in record time by two tax offices, one run by a woman named Olga Stepanova. The money was wired to a bank account at a small bank called the Universal Savings Bank, owned and controlled by a man named Dmitry Klyuev. Weiss, the author of the recent piece on Veselnitskaya, laid out the money trail in this fascinating and detailed piece in the Daily Beast in March 2014, which named the co-conspirators, including tax office head Stepanova and recipient Klyuev:

The conspirators allegedly included the heads of Moscow Tax Offices 28 and 25, Olga Stepanova and Elena Khimina, respectively; Klyuev’s own attorney, Andrey Pavlov; and an Interior Ministry official, Major Pavel Karpov, who had previously investigated Klyuev for attempting to steal $1.6 billion worth of shares of a profitable Russian iron ore company. (Klyuev received a two-year suspended sentence in that case.)

Weiss lays out the damning actions of the co-conspirators after the $230 million fraud was accomplished on Christmas Eve 2007:

Karpov, Pavlov, and Pavlov’s wife vacationed in Istanbul on New Year’s Day 2008. Days later, the Pavlovs flew to Dubai where they met Klyuev, Stepanova and [Stepanova’s husband Vladlen] Stepanov. The husband-and-wife accountancy team reportedly drew on funds from their Swiss bank account to buy $6 million worth of luxury real estate in artificial archipelago Palm Jumeirah. And please keep in mind that, according to Russian Untouchables, the Stepanovs’ combined declared income in 2008 was just under $40,000.

Weiss cites court documents that show that these same conspirators had previously been involved in a similarly fraudulent tax refund scheme worth $107 million involving a company called Renaissance Capital. After that scheme was carried out, Weiss reports,

Klyuev, Stepanova and Stepanova’s husband Vladlen Stepanov all went on holiday together to Dubai, as plane records obtained and published by Russian Untouchables demonstrate. From there, Klyuev and the Stepanovs traveled to Switzerland, where the husband-and-wife team reportedly kept deposits at Credit Suisse in the names of their offshore shell companies. They all returned to Moscow on the same flight. Karpov, Pavlov and Pavlov’s wife, Yulia Mayorova, meanwhile, took a five-day trip to London.

Browder has documented that the officers behind the raids on Browder’s holding companies, Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov, ended up living extravagant lifestyles on very meager salaries. Kuznetsov’s parents ended up with fancy condos and other land worth $3 million, despite a combined income of only $4500 per month. Artem Kuznetsov’s wife had a Land Rover worth $131,000 and a new Mercedes worth $81,000. Kuznetsov’s wealth was detailed in this video released by Browder in 2010:

Browder writes that Kuznetsov “made more than thirty trips to eight different countries, including Dubai, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom.” According to the above video, he flew to Cyprus by private jet and stayed in a five-star hotel. Browder writes that Kutnetsov would have to work for 145 years on his salary (about 600 Euros a month) to pay for the assets owned by his family.

The other official involved in the seizure of corporate documents from Browder, Pavel Karpov, was an equally extravagant spender despite a small income. Browder writes in his book that Pavel Karpov had traveled to “the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, the Caribbean, Spain, Austria, Greece, Cyprus, Oman, Dubai, and Turkey.” He ate at expensive restaurants in Moscow and partied at the best nightclubs, posting pictures on social media of himself with various scantily clad, attractive women. This video contains some of the details of Karpov’s wealth. The beginning of the video re-tells much of the story that the Kuznetsov video shows, so I am beginning the video for you at 1:48:

According to the video, Karpov’s pensioner mother had a $930,000 condo, other valuable pieces of land, a $47,000 Audi, and a $41,000 second-hand Porsche, despite a monthly income of only $500. Karpov, with a declared income of only $535 a month, somehow managed to drive a $72,000 Mercedes (paid off in one year) and a $126,000 Porsche. Altogether, the Karpov family’s assets were over $1.3 million.

The same pattern followed with Stepanova. Browder released this video that similarly described her astounding wealth despite a small official salary. You have to watch the video to believe it. The amounts of money involved are staggering — even compared to the luxurious lifestyles of Karpov and Kuznetsov. The video accuses the couple of having nearly $39 million in undeclared, illicit income:

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that both officers involved in the fraud — Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov– visited Cyprus, which is “a Mediterranean island nation often used for Russian money transfers.” It was reported in March that a Cyprian bank was looking into possible money-laundering by Paul Manafort, who is now a target of Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible misconduct by Trump advisers connected to Russia.

Tomorrow, in Part Three, I will discuss what Sergei Magnitsky did when he learned about this scheme — and how he suffered as a result.

[Cross-posted at RedState and The Jury Talks Back.]

Anonymous Sources Tell CNN That Manafort Was Wiretapped

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:01 am

Double whammy. Anonymous sources and #FAKENEWSCNN!! No Trump supporter will every take any of this seriously. That I can tell you:

US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.

The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.

Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive.

Stories based on anonymous sources are worth nothing. They may be worth discussing, however, because folks like Trump are bound to react to them. Just remember not to jump to a conclusion that the story is correct simply because it supports your pre-conceived notion.

If it’s true, this is potentially big news because the story appears to indicate, for the first time (as far as I can tell), that a Trump aide was actually a target of a wiretap — as opposed to incidentally captured on a wiretap that did not target them. Mitigating the bigly-ness of the news is the fact that the investigation into Manafort began in 2014 — long before Trump even entered the presidential race in June 2015:

A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party, the sources told CNN.

. . . .

The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.

Sources say the second warrant was part of the FBI’s efforts to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.

It is unclear when the new warrant started. The FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves, that reignited their interest in Manafort, the sources told CNN. As part of the FISA warrant, CNN has learned that earlier this year, the FBI conducted a search of a storage facility belonging to Manafort. It’s not known what they found.

There’s a lot here that is unclear. But Manafort has always seemed a shady character, though, and news that he is under severe scrutiny does not come as a big shock. Not only did the initial investigation into Manafort precede Trump’s entry into the presidential race, but interest appears to have been “reignited” by things he said to Russians during an incidental surveillance pursuant to warrants directed at other targets.

For me, the key takeaway is that Trump showed horrible judgment in making Manafort his campaign manager. Which we always knew anyway.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

9/18/2017

The Magnitsky Act And The Woman Who Met With Trump Jr.: Part One Of A Six-Part Series

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:00 am

This is Part One of a six-part series on the death of Sergei Magnitsky, what he uncovered before his death, and how it all relates to the Russian woman who met with Trump Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner in June 2016.

At CNN, reporter Michael Weiss has put out an amazing piece of investigative journalism looking at the strange real estate dealings of that woman: Natalia Veselnitskaya.

According to two different privately run databases, which draw on personal financial and employment information from Russian state records, Veselnitskaya went from a lowly state salary of $1,559 a year to a much more comfortable $53,645, between 1999 and 2003.

But here’s the curious thing: In August 2003, before the lion’s share of that $53,645 was earned, the Russian land registry shows that Veselnitskaya was somehow able to buy two large plots of land in an elite residential community in the Moscow suburbs — properties that cannot have been sold for less than $500,000 apiece at the time, according to two Russian brokers with extensive experience selling in that area.

Veselnitskaya would not respond to multiple interview requests for this story to confirm her employment details and her income.

How a 28-year-old provincial attorney raking in, at most, five figures was able to afford seven figures worth of property is a very Russian mystery, no less intriguing than her extraordinary and unlikely journey to the meeting at the center of the far-reaching investigation into how Moscow might have had a hand in influencing the American presidential election.

Weiss’s article explores these curious deals, and revisits some previously known information about Veselnitskaya, putting it all in a context that you may not have understood before.

I believe most stories about Veselnitskaya have failed to properly explain just how deep her ties are to some of the people accused of perpetrating a $230 million Russian tax fraud, the exposure of which led to the imprisonment, torture, and murder of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. I’d like to try to remedy that journalistic failure with this series of posts, which also constitute a review of the book Red Notice by Bill Browder, which lays out the Sergei Magnitsky story from start to finish.

The summary version is that Veselnitskaya:

  • Represented a company accused of receiving proceeds from a $230 million tax fraud scheme uncovered by Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky;
  • Has admitted a connection to Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, who is interested in reversing the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets of Russian criminals involved in the imprisonment, torture, and murder of Magnitsky;
  • Has promoted a movie that spouts the Russian government’s false propaganda that Browder and Magnitsky are the real criminals;
  • In lobbying for “Russian adoption” issues, is actually lobbying for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act;

and finally, as revealed by Weiss:

  • Oddly purchased expensive properties that were clearly beyond her means, in a manner remarkably similar to the extravagant lifestyles of the Russian police who participated in the $230 million tax fraud and had Magnitsky murdered.

Because this is a blog, and blog readers don’t want to read a 4300-word post in a single setting, I will be setting out this story in six parts.

Tomorrow, in Part Two, I will set out the background of the fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, as set out in Browder’s book Red Notice.

Stay tuned.

[Cross-posted at RedState and The Jury Talks Back.]

9/17/2017

The Plea Of One Great Dad On Behalf Of His Beautiful Son

Filed under: General — Dana @ 8:11 pm

[guest post by Dana]

In the midst of a lot of stupid stuff in the news and Trump behaving like Trump, I wanted to close the weekend with a post that isn’t about the chaos of politics, the disgusting political kabuki that happens day in and day out, and the rank hypocrisy we see on both sides of the aisle. Instead, I wanted to put up a post that reminds us about the quality of life. Real life. Because real life is happening here on the ground, and for some, the schemes and dreams of politicians don’t garner much more than an exasperated sigh. And sometimes you have to let go of the big world – big picture stuff, and circle back home to your small corner of the world where your presence makes an enormous difference in the lives of those you love. That one place where you can affect monumental change right when it’s needed the most.

Consider Dan Bezzant, whose nearly-8 year old son, Jackson, is afflicted with Treacher Collins Syndrome. Because of how the condition affects the development of bones and facial tissues, and in Jackson’s case, leads to deafness, Jackson regularly faces vicious teasing from classmates. And from adults. According to Dan Bezzant, adults behave worse than the children. Already having had had one major surgery to rebuild one of his eye sockets, he will face other surgeries as time goes on.

Last week, having received a report from his wife that students made fun of Jackson, telling him he looked like a “monster,” Bezzant poured out his anguish in a Facebook post:

My heart is in pieces right now…my soul feels like it’s ripping from my chest…this beautiful young man my son Jackson has to endure a constant barrage of derogatory comments and ignorance like I’ve never witnessed. He is called ugly and freak and monster on a daily basis by his peers at school. He talks about suicide … he’s not quite 8! He says he has no friends and everyone hates him. Kids throw rocks at him and push him shouting these horrific words … please please take a minute and imagine if this were your child. Take a minute to educate your children about special needs. Talk to them about compassion and love for our fellow man. His condition is called Treacher Collins. Maybe even look it up. He’s endured horrific surgery and has several more in the coming years. Anyway … I could go on .. .but please educate your children. Please … share this. This shouldn’t be happening … to anyone.

Dan Bezzant reminds us of what really matters:

Jackson may not look like your ‘normal’ kid, but he is such a good boy and he’s got a huge heart. That’s what matters.

Jackson Bezzant needs some encouragement. If you would like to send him a card, you can do so here: P.O. Box 1563 Idaho Falls, ID 83403. Better yet, send him a birthday card. His birthday is Sept. 28. He will turn 8 years old. Help make it a happy day for a sweet kid.

(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)

–Dana

Emmys Open Thread

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:19 pm

Comment about how you, like me, are not watching.

Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.

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