Daily Bread for 7.13.17

Good morning.

Thursday in Whitewater will be increasingly sunny with a high of seventy-nine. Sunrise is 5:29 AM and sunset 8:32 PM, for 15h 02m 52s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 81.9% of its visible disk illuminated. Today is the two hundred forty-sixth day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

Whitewater’s Landmarks Commission will hold a special meeting at 6 PM this evening.

On this day in 1787, the Continental Congress passes the Northwest Ordinance, providing “for the administration of the territories and set rules for admission as a state. The Northwest territory included land west of Pennsylvania and Northwest of the Ohio River, which encompassed present day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, parts of Minnesota and of course Wisconsin.” On this day in 1936, Wisconsin records its hottest temperature, of 114 degrees, in the Wisconsin Dells.

Recommended for reading in full —

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen and Ryan Goodman write that The Media Is Not Asking the Right Questions on Trump Jr. Emails and Meeting with the “Russian Government Lawyer”:

The media is, in large part, missing the point when it comes to the news about Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Vesilnitskaya and should be steering instead to raising the right questions. It is difficult to conceive of a scenario in which a private citizen in Russia has access to derogatory information on a U.S. presidential candidate. The act of offering such information was likely, at minimum, a trial balloon, and at best (from Moscow’s perspective), a chance to pass certain information from an agent of the Russian government to the Trump campaign through the candidate’s campaign manager and son, thereby also implicating Donald J. Trump himself. This raises the most important questions: what did she offer in that meeting? How did Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort respond?

Vesilnitskaya may have had her own agenda in requesting a meeting with Trump. That part could be legitimate. But Russian intelligence practice is to co-opt such a person by arming them with secret intelligence information and tasking them to pass it to Trump’s people and get their reaction. Did Trump’s associates like it? Do they want more? Did they report it to U.S. authorities?  The key point is that essentially no Russian citizen or lawyer has compromising material on Hillary Clinton which has not been supplied to them from Russian intelligence. The simple assertion that she had such information is tantamount to declaring that Vesilnitskaya was acting as agent of Russian government in this particular role. Couple that with the specific text of the email messages (PDF full text) sent to Donald Trump Jr. to set up the meeting which described the material as coming from the Russian government. All the alarm bells should have been going off in Trump Tower when they received an email offering to provide “very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and it’s government’s support for Mr. Trump.” A later email refers to the “Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow.” Donald Trump Jr.’s response: he would include Manafort and Kushner in the meeting.

Peter Beinart explains How to Know Who Will Let Trump Get Away With Anything:

It comes down a simple question: Can Trump do anything wrong? By laying out what it would consider wrongdoing, National Review has answered yes. It has set out a standard for  Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, to meet. By shifting their argument to “everyone does it,” Hannity and Gingrich have essentially answered no, nothing Trump could have done would qualify as wrongdoing. It is, after all, always possible to find examples of other people doing bad things. Remember what Trump said in December 2015 when Joe Scarborough pushed him about Putin’s murder of journalists: “I think our country does plenty of killing also.”

It’s now easier to predict which conservatives will defend Trump to the end and which conservatives will not. The argument between them will help determine whether his presidency survives.

Dan Friedman writes of his experience I Caught the Russian Ambassador As He Left His Farewell Party. It Was Super Weird:

Journalists were barred from the closed-door farewell reception hosted by the US-Russia Business Council. Several attendees, though, described what outsiders might consider a strangely serene and low-key send-off, at which business people and policy wonks mingled, snacked, and remembered the softer side of a man accused of overseeing Russian espionage efforts over nine years as Moscow’s man in D.C. There was little reference, they said, to the swirling collusion controversy that has left relations between the countries at their worst since the Cold War, not to mention the big news of the day about Donald Trump Jr….

Mother Jones caught Kislyak as he exited the St. Regis, accompanied by a few well-wishers but no evident security. Asked to assess his tenure, the ambassador called it “interesting.”

“It could have been more interesting,” he added when pressed on whether he regretted the recent downturn in relations.

It was not clear exactly what he meant. But Kislyak left the confusion hanging, climbed in the idling car, and departed.

House Judiciary Democrats have demanded answers on a DOJ Settlement of a Fraud Case Handled by the Russian Lawyer Who Met with Trump Jr.:

Today, all seventeen Democratic members of the House Committee on the Judiciary wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to request information about his decision to abruptly settle United States v. Prevezon Holdings Ltd, a money laundering case that the Department of Justice (DOJ) abruptly settled that involved Russia sanctions, New York real estate holdings, and the lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr.

In their letter, the Members wrote, “Last summer, Donald Trump, Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected attorney in an attempt to obtain information “that would incriminate Hillary.”  Earlier this year, on May 12, 2017, the Department of Justice made an abrupt decision to settle a money laundering case being handled by that same attorney in the Southern District of New York.[1]   We write with some concern that the two events may be connected—and that the Department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts.”

In addition to the letter, House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr., issued the following statement:

“The connections here are too substantial to ignore.  Why was a Russian money-laundering case involving more than $230 million dismissed without explanation?  Why was a central figure in that case chosen to approach the Trump campaign about assistance from the Russian government?  Was the firing of Preet Bharara in any way related to his office’s prosecution of these crimes?  Wittingly or unwittingly, was the Department of Justice involved?

“Even if these facts are mere coincidence—and there is reason to be doubtful that they are mere coincidence—they merit immediate explanation by the Attorney General and immediate investigation by the House Judiciary Committee.”

Background: The Prevezon case relates to a massive tax-theft and money laundering scheme uncovered in 2007 by Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.  His 2012 death in Russian custody led to the passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which enabled President Obama to sanction the Russian officials thought responsible for such human rights abuses.

2013 complaint filed in federal court alleged that Prevezon helped to launder more than $230 million stolen from the Russian treasury, largely through high-end real estate in Manhattan.  One of Prevezon’s attorneys was Natalia Veselnitskaya—a lawyer known for lobbying against the Magnitsky Act, and the “Russian government attorney” who met with Donald Trump, Jr. and others to discuss “information and official documents that would incriminate Hillary” on June 9, 2016.  Even Donald Trump Jr.’s alternative explanations for this meeting—he described the discussion, at one point, as “primarily about adoption”—appear to turn on Ms. Veselnitkaya’s efforts to protect her client and undo U.S. sanctions on Russian officials.

On May 12, 2017—just two days before the Prevezon trial was set to begin—the Department of Justice settled the case for less than $6 million and no admission of guilt.  Ms. Veselnitskaya told one Russian news outlet that the penalty was so light that it seemed “almost an apology from the government.

Full text of the letter to Attorney General Sessions can be found here.

(I’m not a Democrat, but am more than willing to support any effort to receive more information on Putin-affiliated Russian nationals making favorable deals over criminal conduct.)

James Gorman and Mae Ryan contend that Ants Can Build an Eifel Tower (Sort of):