High crimes and misdemeanors: Flynn, Comey, and Russians in the Oval Office

See Michael Crowley, “Trump’s big Russia reset; With Washington in an uproar over James Comey’s firing amid his Russia probe, the president and his secretary of state welcomed Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to town,” Politico, May 10, 2017 (updated 05:35 PM EDT).

Russians in the Oval Office

Vladimir Putin was absolutely beaming yesterday from the hockey game where he was interviewed by an American TV reporter. His opinion about the dismissal of FBI Director Comey: It was all done in accordance with American law and procedures. The smirk on his face was hardly concealed.

His foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the morning at the State Department, and then with President Trump and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the White House. This was the same Russian ambassador who met with Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner and other Trump associates during the campaign and the transition.  These meetings are part of the FBI and congressional investigations into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and transition and the Russians.

The Trump White House did not allow American press or photographers to attend he meeting, and gave no real details about who attended and what was discussed. What we know we know from the Russians and the pictures they posted online on the Tass news agency website.

In the pictures Trump and his guests were smiling broadly. Earlier, at the State Department, responding  to a reporter’s shouted question, Lavrov had expressed his contempt for the American press by pretending he hadn’t heard of Comey’s dismissal, concluding his sarcastic answer with a disdainful jerk of his head as he entered through the doors to meet with Tillerson.

We don’t know why everyone seemed so happy in the pictures. Was it because Trump had fresh assurances that kompromat would not be used against him by the Russians, or his and the Russianss’ belief that by decapitating the FBI and firing Comey the investigation could be stopped before it got to Trump and details of the collusion?

Or perhaps the Russians were simply happy to be in Washington in the beautiful spring weather, and happy also that neither Tillerson nor Trump put them on the spot publicly for their invasions of the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine in the spring and summer of 2014, or their complicity and active participation in the commision of horrendous war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, or their violations of fundamental human rghts in Russia by, for example, assassinating Boris Nemtsov in February, 2015, or attacking the most important opposition leader today, Alexei Navalny, in the last few months (with liquid and chemical  attacks, the second of which may have cost him the sight in one eye).

They must have been happy with Tillerson’s recent speech to State Department employees setting forth the policy that while Americans would be mindful of their values, they wouldn’t let those values get in the way when dealing with important economic or security issues.

In fact, the groundwork has been laid for the lifting of U.S. Russian sanctions as soon as Trump and Tillerson feel they can get away with it at an acceptable cost. Viewed in this light, the recent renewed push by Exxon Mobil for an exception to the sanctions must  be understood not as unfounded but as simply premature.

There was no joint press conference. Lavrov gave a press conference at the Russian embassy, where he was free to spin his lies, denying for example that there had been any Russian interference in the U.S. elections in November.

By providing pictures, the Russians have actually done a great favor for the patriotic candidates who in 2018 will oppose those Republicans who have given Trump cover with the Russians, by acting to help him slow or block the investigations into collusion with them.

Testimony of Sally Yates

The second big development in the last 10 days was the testimony of Sally Yates, the former acting Attorney General who gave the White House specific infomation that the then Director of National Security, Michael Flynn, was compromised with the Russians. He was subject to blackmail by them given the differing accounts he had given to Vice President Mike Pence and th FBI rgarding his conversations with the Russian ambassador about the easing of sanctions. He may, in fact, have been compromised by a lot more than that.

After receiving the information that Flynn could be compromised by the Russians, Trump and his White House did absolutely nothering for 18 days, dismissing Flynn only after news of Yates’  warnings appeared in the Washington Post.  For 18 days, Trump left in place a National Security Director who was subject to blackmail by the Russians.

Trump fires FBI Director James Comey

The third development in recent days has been Trump’s brutal firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, June 9, and the huge lie he put out about the reason being Comey’s mishandling of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail investigation. In an interview with Lester Holt of NBC on June 11, Trump admitted that he was going to fire Comey in any event, and that he was thinking that the Russia investigation had gone on for too long.

Key witness Michael Flynn

After Comey’s firing, it was learned that subpoenas have been issued to Michael Flynn to produce all papers and records related to his contacts and business dealings with the Russians.

Flynn has apparently commited acts which might constitute serious crimes. If prosecuted and convicted, he could spend many years in prison. His earlier efforts to gain immunity in exchange for his testimony before Congressional committees failed.

Flynn’s testimony could be explosive.  It may be the key to blowing open the conspiracy involving collusion with the Russians, if there is one.  If he talks, he could bring the whole Trump charade on Russia crashing down.

Hopefully he is under very good security protection.

Russia’s “Trump card” is working

Putin’s “Trump card” is already paying off. While the focus in the U.S. media has been on whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians intervening in the U.S. election, less attention has been paid to the reasons for Trump’s pro-Russian positions and failure to criticize Putin or Russia.

The strongest hypothesis for this behavior is that Trump has been compromised by the Russians. This will remain the strongest hypothesis until an alternative, more persuasive explanation is presented.

Contrary to earlier reports in the press, a number of elements of the Christopher Steel dossier have now been corroborated.  Other facts in that dossier, by their very nature, may not be subject to confirmation by news or intelligence agencies without Steele’s contacts. Some sources may be dead.

It is hard to imagine a U.S. administration not compromised by the Russians where:

1. The president has steadfastly refused to criticize Putin or the Russians directly for more than a year;

2. The Secretary of State and the President meet with the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office and at the State Department for the first time since before Russia invaded and annexed the Crimea in February and March 2014 and invaded the eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014, and hold no news conference, and make no public mention of the invasions or the fact they have been the main causes for bad relations between the two countries and the imposition of U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia in 2014; and

3. At these meetings on May 10, the President and Secretary of State make no public comment on the Russian intervention in the November, 2016 U.S. elections, at the direction of Vladimir Putin, and allow the Russian foreign minister’s assertion at his press conference at the Russian embassy that Russia was not involved in any such intervention to go unchallenged.

In making judgments about Russian influence in the Trump administration, we should not seek to apply a criminal law standard of “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”, but rather use common sense and look to the conclusions that “a preponderance of the evidence” point to.

What are the more likely explanations for Trump’s policies and actions toward Putin and Russia?

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James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.