Another Russiagate Roundup

Trump's fixer gets caught in his Russian swamp, and "Spygate" fizzles while doing lasting damage to the FBI.

Trump Lawyer Cohen Paid by Ukraine to Arrange White House Talks

Here's the bare-bones lede:

Michael Cohen was secretly paid at least $400,000 by Ukraine to arrange talks between Donald Trump and Ukranian president Petro Poroshenko last year at the White House, the BBC is reporting.

Trump knew nothing of the payment [knock wood], the BBC is reporting, but he did take a brief meeting with Poroshenko last June.

The details are a bit more...involved.

This transaction with the Ukrainian government constituted acting as a lobbyist for a foreign power. There happens to be a law governing that line of work, known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act, that requires lobbyists for foreign governments to register their activities with the Department of Justice. This Cohen did not do. Consequently, Cohen broke the law (again) and if he or his "client" have any illusions about any "get out of jail free" cards coming from his supposedly exalted status as the presidential fixer, they will quickly be dispelled. Which helps explain the latest Twitteruptions emerging from POTUS's "executive (i.e. goofing off) time" the past few days.

Why? One reason is why Cohen was pedaling access to Trump to President Poroshenko. The latter, like the rest of creation, was preparing to deal with a Hillary Clinton administration in Washington and was caught just as gobsmacked as everybody else when Trump pulled off the ultimate upset. So, knowing how thin-skinned and vindictive the new president is, Poroshenko sought to mend fences as quickly as possible, given his country's dependence upon the U.S. in its mortal struggle against Putin's Russia. Cohen, recognizing low-hanging fruit when he saw it, let it be known that a meeting with Trump could be arranged....for the right price. Not so coincidentally, after that "briefing meeting" at the White House (which Trump's sane advisers had opposed), Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency suddenly dropped their investigation into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The abrupt termination of the probe into Manafort’s longstanding ties and service to Poroshenko’s Putin-friendly predecessor Viktor Yanukovych raised more than a few eyebrows in Kiev and Washington, but it really shouldn't have.

The other reason for Trump's latest round of Twitter fits is how this latest caper makes Cohen an even bigger target for being turned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. It doesn't take a two-headed Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey, Jr., natch) to figure out that Trump was the at least secondary beneficiary of any heat-reduction on Comrade Manafort, just as it is less than shocking that Cohen was such an amateur about influence peddling. If Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti could connect and expose the dots, then just about anybody could. And the less complicated the scheme, the easier it is to prove guilt.

The noose is tightening around Michael Cohen. And as Trump's fixer, he knows, as the saying goes, where all the bodies are buried. Flip him, and a five kilowatt klieg light illuminates his connections to the vast wave of Russian money floating Trump’s business interests, further illustrating why Trump, despite - or, rather, because of - all his raging about "witch hunts" and "Russian hoaxes" and "NO COLLUSION!", exudes the look of a man guilty as sin about something - or things.

As Rick Wilson concluded yesterday, "Things are about to get even more ugly for Michael Cohen. The irony of Cohen’s mob-manque tough-guy act is that he had to be aware of how these stories always end; lower-level players flip or die. Now, Cohen’s freedom is contingent on giving prosecutors a bigger fish to fry. Trump knows it, Cohen knows it, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller most certainly knows it."

Trump Continues to Push False “Spy” Narrative, in Spite of Evidence

Meanwhile, in TrumpWorld, where up is down, left is right (heh), and "scandal" is defined as anything that hurts Donald J. Trump, he and his redcap mob continue to hurl conspiracy distractions against the wall as fast and rabidly as they possibly can.

"Spygate", following in the long line that has included "FISAgate" and "Tapgate," which we previously discussed, is the latest installment of this phenomenon, and like all its predecessors, there is proving to be no "there," there. The best they can do is point the finger at Stefan A. Halper and denounce him as a "partisan spy" for the Obama administration, despite the facts that (1) Halper has been a staunch Republican for over forty years, serving at a high level in three GOP administrations, and (2) he was not embedded in the Trump campaign, was never on the FBI payroll, but simply contacted three Trump campaign staffers early in the pre-Mueller Russiagate investigation.

There was, in short, no "FBI spy" planted in the Trump campaign, just as the FISA warrants were legitimate and Trump Tower phones were never tapped.

On Thursday, there was a classified meeting between Justice Department honchos, House and Senate leaders, the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Intelligence Committees, and Trump legal team shyster Emmet Flood to review Special Counsel Mueller's probe and the wild accusations leveled against it by the White House. And while the Democrats could, for partisan reasons, be expected to say that there was no evidence of FBI "spying" on Trump, that conclusion was, in fact, bipartisan:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, told NPR in an interview that he continues to support the Mueller Russia investigation — and that nothing in Thursday's hotly anticipated secret briefing on the Russia probe to congressional leaders changed his mind.

"The two investigations going on that I think will give us the answers to the questions that you raise — the [inspector general] investigation in the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation," McConnell said. "I support both of them, and I don't really have anything to add to this subject based upon the Gang of Eight briefing that we had today, which was classified."

It's as I've been saying for a year now: a man who has nothing to hide ought to have no fear of being investigated. Just express total confidence that you will be exonerated and let the probe do its thing as quietly as possible while you do your job of governing the country. It's what Reagan did in Iran-Contra and Bush43 did in all the fake scandals the Dems tried to gin up during his White House tenure. And nothing significant ultimately came of any of those probes. If Russiagate really is a "hoax," how would it be any different? And yet Trump fumes and stews and plots and rages and lashes out incessantly with one conspiracy distraction after another - just like Bill Clinton did through surrogates back in the 1990s. And as we learned back then, Sick Willie had a great deal to hide.

As to #Cult45's dismaying resemblance to Clintonoids back in the day, they haven't quite reached full debauchery yet. Redcaps parrot their hero's conspironutterism but they haven't descended to the level of saying, "Sure, Trump colluded with the Russians - so what? Hillary had to be stopped!" If, as looks increasingly likely, whatever Trump frantically fears begins to be exposed, I fully expect Trumpies to take that final step.

Former FBI Director James Comey said it well on Twitter on Wednesday: "Dangerous time when our country is led by those who will lie about anything, backed by those who will believe anything, based on information from media sources that will say anything. Americans must break out of that bubble and seek truth." That's sound bipartisan advice.

Pompeo: U.S. Will Fight Russian Interference in 2018 Elections

Eh, maybe. If so, it'll only be because Trump isn't on the ballot. The question is, how will he do that and keep his boss from finding out about it? Rex "Obtuse Oaf" Tillerson may get his pinochle partner sooner rather than later.