The Russian Connection: Racing To Weekend

It was only Wednesday when we last left this unfolding saga of Donald and the Russians. It was then we were told that former FBI Director James Comey had made detailed notes about his meetings with the Donald. Comey’s associates have since revealed that Comey was uncomfortable meeting or even talking on the phone with Trump but he had hoped to educate, if that is at all possible, the president on the function of the FBI and how the White house should interact with the agency.

Then Wednesday evening the Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein announced the appointment of a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller III to oversee the investigation of the Trump campaign’s connection to Russia. On Thursday, Rosenstein briefed the entire Senate, in a closed session, on his memo and the decision to fire Comey. He told the Senate that the decision to fire Comey predated his memo and that he already knew Trump had decided to fire the FBI director. Today in his question and answer session with the entire House, Rosenstein revealed that he had discussed Comey’s removal with then Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III in December with intent to restore confidence and integrity to the agency which they felt Comey had damaged. According to Politico this raises even more questions about Comey’s ouster:

The discussion raises questions not just about President Donald Trump’s decision to oust Comey but Sessions’ public statements about Comey’s performance.

During the presidential campaign, Sessions criticized the then-FBI director — but for the opposite reasons cited by Rosenstein in a controversial three-page memo laying out the rationale for firing Comey. Sessions said Comey was going too easy on Hillary Clinton, whereas Rosenstein wrote last week that Comey had treated her unfairly in his handling of the FBI’s investigation into her emails.

In October, Sessions had praised Comey’s decision to alert Congress he was reopening the Clinton email investigation 11 days before the election. “He had an absolute duty, in my opinion, 11 days or not, to come forward with the new information that he has and let the American people know that, too,” Sessions, who was a top Trump campaign surrogate, told Fox Business at the time.

Also since Wednesday, McClatchy News revealed retired Lt. General Michael Flynn stopped a military action that was opposed by Turkey after he had accepted money to be its agent. The action was eventually carried out after Flynn was fired.

From a report by NBC News, it appears that the current national security advisor, Gen. H. R. McMaster, isn’t as up to speed on on counter-terrorism as we have been led to believe and was apparently unaware of the extreme sensitivity of the information Trump shared with the Russian Foreign Minister and ambassador.

But the other big news is Reuters’ article reporting Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians

Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.

The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.

Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.

In January, the Trump White House initially denied any contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. The White House and advisers to the campaign have since confirmed four meetings between Kislyak and Trump advisers during that time. [..]

The 18 calls and electronic messages took place between April and November 2016 as hackers engaged in what U.S. intelligence concluded in January was part of a Kremlin campaign to discredit the vote and influence the outcome of the election in favor of Trump over his Democratic challenger, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. [..]

In addition to the six phone calls involving Kislyak, the communications described to Reuters involved another 12 calls, emails or text messages between Russian officials or people considered to be close to Putin and Trump campaign advisers.

One of those contacts was by Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and politician, according to one person with detailed knowledge of the exchange and two others familiar with the issue.

It was not clear with whom Medvedchuk was in contact within the Trump campaign but the themes included U.S.-Russia cooperation, the sources said. Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter.

Medvedchuk denied having any contact with anyone in the Trump campaign. [..]

Veterans of previous election campaigns said some contact with foreign officials during a campaign was not unusual, but the number of interactions between Trump aides and Russian officials and others with links to Putin was exceptional.

“It’s rare to have that many phone calls to foreign officials, especially to a country we consider an adversary or a hostile power,” Richard Armitage, a Republican and former deputy secretary of state, told Reuters. [..]

Beyond Medvedchuk and Kislyak, the identities of the other Putin-linked participants in the contacts remain classified and the names of Trump advisers other than Flynn have been “masked” in intelligence reports on the contacts because of legal protections on their privacy as American citizens. However, officials can request that they be revealed for intelligence purposes. [..]

After Vice President Mike Pence and others had denied in January that Trump campaign representatives had any contact with Russian officials, the White House later confirmed that Kislyak had met twice with then-Senator Jeff Sessions, who later became attorney general.

Kislyak also attended an event in April where Trump said he would seek better relations with Russia. Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, also attended that event in Washington. In addition, Kislyak met with two other Trump campaign advisers in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention.

Jonathan Landay, D.C. national security correspondent for Reuters, talks with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow about his new reporting into at least 18 contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russians.

And last but not least, Vice Pres. Mike Pense’s denial of any knowledge of these shenanigans is becoming less and less believable.

The Watergate investigation moved like a freight train, this is moving like the EU’s TGV.