As special counsel Robert Mueller expands the scope of his probe into Russian connections to Trump and his associates, far beyond the mandate he was given by Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on May 17, a new leader has taken over the White House press operation. Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, is determined to stop the flow of damaging internal leaks and rumors. He wants to take a more positive approach to promoting Trump’s message.
The obsession with the Russian probe has been a constant obstacle to White House efforts to focus public attention on Trump’s agenda. The Russian “witch hunt,” as Trump describes it, has served as a constant distraction to the implementation of his policies and aided the Democrat resistance strategy to obstruct Trump’s efforts to govern.
On Friday, Scaramucci and Trump’s newly promoted press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, launched a new initiative to expose the endless stream of Russian “fake news” and discredit the special counsel’s investigation into alleged Trump campaign collusion with the Russian as “much ado about nothing.”
Earlier this month, Scaramucci forced CNN to publicly retract a Russian witch hunt story directed against him. This alone would seem to qualify him to lead the effort to discredit the entire Russian investigation. The fact that he is also a successful businessman, well-spoken and professes total loyalty to Trump is likely to make him that much more effective in his mission.
Scaramucci made the round of the television news talk programs on Sunday to introduce his smooth, light-hearted, soft-spoken but determined approach to promoting Trump’s message while signaling a determination to impose a new discipline on the White House press operation. At the same time, he offered more cooperation with the mainstream news media if they would reciprocate by reporting on the Trump White House more fairly.
MUELLER INVESTIGATION RUNNING WILD
Reports last week made it clear that special counsel Mueller and his prosecutors have far exceeded their original mandate. Their original instructions were to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the [2016 presidential] campaign” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” But according to Bloomberg, the New York Times and other news outlets, the Mueller investigation is looking at any Russian-related Trump family financial transactions which took place as long ago as 2008, seven years before Trump became a presidential candidate.
These include Trump’s sale of a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida to a Russian buyer in 2008, the sale to Russians of apartments in some of Trump’s luxury residential buildings, and a television event in 2013 which a Russian developer paid Trump $20 million to produce in Moscow.
The leaks from the Mueller team indicate that they have issued subpoenas to various banks and foreign lenders for the financial records on a broad range of Trump business transactions in wide ranging search for any evidence of illegal ties to the Russians.
John Dowd, a private lawyer for the president, responded to questions about these probes by suggesting that they were “well beyond the mandate of the special counsel [and] are unrelated to the election of 2016 or any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” He added the federal statute of limitations had expired on all of these events, meaning that Mueller could not launch any criminal prosecution related to them.
TRYING TO TURN MANAFORT
The Mueller team has also taken over an ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors in New York looking into accusations that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was involved in real estate investments in 2008 to launder money for pro-Russian Ukrainian investors.
Manafort stepped down as Trump’s campaign manager in June 2016, after two months on the job, because of media reports about his work for Viktor Yanukovich, the Kremlim-backed former leader of Ukraine who was forced from power by pro-West street protests in 2014. His overthrow eventually led to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. Manafort had previously worked as a highly paid political consultant for Yanukovich’s party. A New York Times report said that Manafort once owed $17 million to Russian shell companies.
According to some reports, Mueller’s team is pursuing that investigation to pressure Manafort into becoming a witness against Trump, and giving testimony about some prosecutable illegal act of collusion involving others in the Trump campaign.
Manafort’s spokesman, Jason Maloni, said, “Paul Manafort is not a cooperating witness. Once again there is no truth to the disinformation put forth by anonymous sources and leakers.”
Mueller investigators are also reportedly looking into other old financial transactions that have nothing to do with Trump himself or the Russians. These include an accusation that a company which licensed Trump’s name for its hotel condominium project in lower Manhattan was evading taxes, questions about the financing Jared Kushner used for real estate holdings, and the relationship of Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, to the financially troubled Bank of Cyprus.
These investigations have no apparent connections to the reason for the appointment of Mueller as special counsel, alleged campaign collusion with Russian interference in the election.
BASIC INVESTIGATIONS LEADING NOWHERE
Meanwhile, none of the original threads of the investigation seemed to be leading to anything that could be prosecuted as crime in a court of law. This includes the Russian connections to former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the motivations for the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and the recently ballyhooed meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 between Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort, and a group of Russians led by lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The meeting was agreed to by Donald Trump Jr. based upon a promise by one of his former business associates that the Russians would deliver valuable “opposition research” information gathered by a Russian state prosecutor that could be used against Hillary Clinton in the campaign. When the Russians failed to deliver any useful information and instead began to discuss U.S. economic sanctions on Putin’s associates and their impact on the adoption of Russian children, the meeting went nowhere. Kushner quickly left the room, Manafort lost interest, and Donald Jr. ended the meeting after just 20 minutes, declaring it a failure.
The meeting became a problem for the Trump team only because Donald Jr. was not initially truthful in answering questions about its original purpose and the number of Russians who were involved. His changing story raised suspicions that there may have been something to hide, forcing Donald Jr. to disclose the emails used to set it up.
That meeting is the only hard evidence that Russian agents had made any contact with the Trump campaign. It is still a focus of Mueller’s investigation, which has asked the White House to preserve any further information it might have on the meeting. However, there is no indication that it led to any further Trump-Russian contacts or campaign-related collusion.
Instead, the recent stories about the Mueller investigation have increasingly focused on the investigative process itself rather than any actionable evidence of criminal or illegal activity that is being uncovered.
Trump’s critics in the media are complaining about his focus on the excesses of the Mueller probe and the liberal political bias of the prosecutors Mueller has hired. They claim that Trump’s new strategy is to discredit the investigation to the extent that he would be able to order Rosenstein or some other official in the Justice Department to fire Mueller for exceeding his authority.
DEMOCRATS HOPING AND SEARCHING FOR TRUMP’S IMPEACHMENT
Trump’s critics claim that he wants to end the probe before it comes up with evidence of serious wrongdoing on his part that would justify his impeachment, which has been the ultimate goal of the entire Russia witch hunt.
Trump’s critics hope to provoke Trump into repeating the historic mistake made by President Richard Nixon on October 20, 1973, when he ordered the notorious Saturday night massacre. Nixon demanded the firing of the special prosecutor who was looking into the Watergate scandal. Eventually Nixon got his way, but the replacement prosecutor was still able to continue the investigation, uncovering evidence of Nixon’s obstruction of justice, which ultimately forced him to resign as president in disgrace.
THIS IS NOT ANOTHER WATERGATE SCANDAL
There are significant differences between the Watergate scandal and the current Russian witch hunt. First, the Watergate scandal was based upon a real crime, the burglary by White House operatives of the Democrat Party office in the Watergate building. Second, President Nixon was personally involved in directing the cover up of White House involvement in the burglary. Finally, there was hard evidence, audio tapes of Nixon’s Oval Office conversations in which he ordered the cover up.
None of those three elements have been found so far in the Russian investigation, which raises serious questions about whether it should be allowed to continue indefinitely.
Columnist James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal is now suggesting that unless the special prosecutor can find a real justification for his investigation, it should be shut down before the probe goes too far afield looking for crimes that aren’t there.
Freeman concludes, “in the absence of any evidence of a crime, no American, not even Donald Trump, deserves to be the subject of an investigation without limit.”
National Review commentator Andrew McCarthy suggests that unless Mueller can demonstrate meaningful progress toward the original goals of the investigation, the man who provided him with his mandate, Assistant Attorney General Rosenstein, should step in to impose reasonable limits on the probe. These should include requiring Mueller to specify the violations of federal law that he intends to prosecute and any hard evidence of those violations that has been found which relate to the election, instead of speculation, unproven conspiracy theories, and side investigations into suspicions of unrelated crimes.
McCarthy also suggests that it is time for Rosenstein to re-examine his original decision to appoint a special prosecutor, in light of former FBI Director Comey’s public admission that he deliberately leaked a government memo to the media for that specific purpose. There is also the fact that very little evidence of real crimes has turned up despite a full year of investigations by the FBI and now Mueller.
TIME FOR SPICER TO GO
Meanwhile, many Republicans believed that it was time to replace Sean Spicer as Trump’s White House spokesman. That was not because of any specific mistake Spicer made from the podium, but because of the deterioration of his relationship with the White House press corps, whose members were determined to take out their hatred of Trump on his spokesman.
Before joining the Trump White House, Spicer had been the spokesman for the Republican National Committee (RNC) since 2011. He joined the Trump team with Reince Priebus, who had been Spicer’s boss at the RNC before Trump appointed Priebus to serve as the White House chief of staff. Some viewed Spicer and Priebus as the foremost advocates for mainstream GOP values in the Trump White House.
Spicer got off on the wrong foot with the White House press corps when, two days before his first White House press conference, he publicly challenged the accuracy of their coverage of Trump’s inauguration. That set the contentious tone for their subsequent relationship, which was further aggravated in February when Spicer denied access to an off-camera briefing to representatives of media outlets which have been consistently hostile to Trump.
In recent weeks, Spicer’s deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, had frequently substituted for him at press briefings. She generally received a much better reception than Spicer. Mrs. Sanders is the daughter of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who ran for the GOP nomination himself in 2008 and last year. His daughter played an active role in the management of those campaigns, as well as the George W. Bush 2004 re-election campaign and several Senate races.
She joined the Trump campaign in February 2016, after her father gave up his bid for the nomination. She soon became a visible and effective part of the campaign’s media operation, frequently appearing on cable news programs as a surrogate to explain Trump’s policies. She consistently demonstrated the ability to deflect hostile questions while keeping her cool and staying on message.
THE MAN TRUMP PICKED TO DELIVER HIS MESSAGE
The hiring of Scaramucci, the resignation of Spicer and the promotion of Sanders came suddenly on Friday. Spicer strenuously objected to the hiring of Scaramucci as the new White House Communications Director. The post had been open since another career GOP operative, Mike Dubke, resigned in May. Spicer wanted that job for himself. He resigned rather than agree to work under Scaramucci, who lost no time in making it clear that he was in charge and wholeheartedly dedicated to Trump’s battle for the hearts and minds of the American people.
He declared his first order of business to be plugging the leaks in the White House press operation by getting rid of any staff member in his department who continues to give damaging information to Trump’s enemies in the mainstream media.
In the long term, Scaramucci said he wants to “de-escalate” the tensions between the press and the White House, even though the poisonous atmosphere in the White House briefing room is primarily the fault of liberal reporters’ hatred of Trump.
LETTING “TRUMP TO BE TRUMP”
The new White House communications director made it clear he believes that Trump is his own most effective spokesman. He will not try to get Trump to change the way he communicates with the American people. He refused to criticize Trump’s use of his Twitter account to bypass the media and deliver his message directly to more than 100 million followers, even though the tweets sometimes work at cross purposes to the daily White House political theme.
The morning after Scaramucci’s appointment, Trump lost no time in using his Twitter account to comment on a variety of issues, including the discussion of changes to Obamacare among Senate Republicans, new critical articles about his administration in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and the failure of the media to be equally critical of Hillary Clinton’s long history with the Russians.
Trump even had a tweet for his new communications director, writing, “In all fairness to Anthony Scaramucci, he wanted to endorse me first, before the Republican primaries started, but didn’t think I was running!”
One of the targets of Trump’s tweets was his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom Trump blames for failing to block the Russia investigation by recusing himself on the advice of Justice Department ethics experts. Trump complains that Sessions didn’t warn him in advance that he would step aside from the investigation if he were appointed attorney general. That cleared the way for FBI officials who were hostile to Trump, such as Andrew McCabe and James Comey, to expand the probe to the point that it is seriously interfering with his presidency. That embittered Trump against Sessions, leading to a series of hostile tweets in which has called his attorney general “beleaguered” and “very weak.”
Some believe that goal of Trump’s barrage of negative tweets about Sessions is intended to pressure the attorney general into resigning, rather than forcing Trump to fire him. Others who are close to the president, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, believe that in the end the attorney general will be allowed to stay on the job, based on Trump’s appreciation for Sessions’ personal loyalty during the early days of his presidential campaign.
JOB 1: SHUTTING DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE LEAKS
On Sunday, Scaramucci emphasized repeatedly that the damaging leaks from the White House press operation to the media will no longer be tolerated.
He told Chris Wallace of Fox News, “[W]e have to get the leaks stopped… I’m a businessperson so I will take dramatic action to stop those leaks. … I’m going to pare down the staff because it’s just not right…. Something is going on inside the White House that the president does not like. We will fix it.” Scaramucci also told Wallace that he wasn’t ready to condemn the entire mainstream media for unfair reporting.
He said he believes that only some mainstream reporters are deliberately “stretching” or “making up” false stories against Trump, while the others still maintain a “level of objectivity.” Scaramucci hopes it is possible to improve that situation by having the White House “engage” in a “softer” way with the mainstream media, rather than the current attitude, which is, “they’re tough on us, so let’s be tough on them.”
However, Scaramucci was highly critical of the media for taking comments by Trump and White House officials out of context to suggest that they are seriously contemplating taking drastic actions, such as blocking the Russia investigation by ordering that Mueller be fired, or Trump using his presidential authority to pardon himself and members of his campaign for collusion with the Russians, even though there is still no evidence that it ever happened.
Scaramucci dismissed the idea, declaring that “he [Trump] has no one to pardon. He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Scaramucci declared an amnesty for past leaks from the White House press operation. “As far as I’m concerned, there will be a new start for everybody on the team,” he said. But he also bluntly told John Dickerson of CBS News that any team member caught still leaking is “going to get fired. . . Tomorrow I’m going to have a staff meeting. And it’s going to be a very binary thing. I’m not going to make any prejudgments about anybody on that staff. If they want to stay on the staff, they’re going to stop leaking.”
TIME TO DELIVER TRUMP’S MESSAGE OF PROGRESS
He also predicted that if Trump is successful in getting the two main “pillars” of his agenda, tax and health care reform, passed by Congress over the next six months, it will result in a “different conversation about the presidency, the communication coming out of the White House and our achievements.”
In an extended and sometimes hostile discussion with CNN commentator Jake Tapper, Scaramucci admitted, “there’s obviously a communications problem [at the White House], because there’s a lot that we’ve done as it relates to executive orders, bills that have been signed, economic progress. . . the economy is super-strong, business optimism is way up,” but Trump is not getting the credit he deserves for that.
The first impression that Scaramucci made as the new White House communications director was largely positive. They noted that he is very similar to Trump in his informal style and approach.
Fox reporter Chris Wallace said, following his Sunday interview with Scaramucci, “I love this new guy. Finally, the Trump White House has a surrogate who talks like the boss.”
Associated Press Washington bureau chief Julie Pace agreed with Wallace, saying, “Exactly, I think that’s what has a lot of Trump loyalists and supporters happy with this pick. They feel like this is somebody who understands the way the president communicates, who’s going to go up there and have one mission, and that’s to serve the president, to promote his agenda.”
Noting CNN’s blatant anti-Trump reporting bias, Scaramucci facetiously offered to bring in some Kleenex to wipe the tears of its reporters when Trump wins re-election in 2020.
In an effort to improve White House relations with the major news outlets, Scaramucci said that if Trump agrees, he would like to “deliver the messaging a little bit differently than we’ve been doing it in the past.” Specifically, he suggested permitting the daily White House press briefing to be televised live, a once routine practice which has become rare in recent weeks.
“I think we should put the cameras on,” he said. “But if the president doesn’t want the cameras on, we’re not going to put the cameras on. It’s going to really be up to him.”
NATURAL COMMUNICATIONS TALENT
Scaramucci, age 53, is a successful Wall Street investment banker from a working class Long Island background. He has no prior experience in this particular kind of job, but he has plenty of natural communications talent, after having made numerous television appearances as a commentator on the Fox Business network and hosting his own show, called “Wall Street Week.”
Newt Gingrich said on Monday that he agreed with the appointment of Scaramucci to the White House communications post because, as a natural fighter, he will be ideal to lead the fight against Trump’s critics. He has already shown his willingness to subordinate his personal political views on such issues as gun control, climate change and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in order to fully embrace Trump’s agenda.
Scaramucci tweeted, “Past views evolved and shouldn’t be a distraction. I serve the POTUS [Trump] agenda and that’s all that matters.” He rejected the Washington “political purity test on policy. So if I’m for something and then I’m against something, then, all of a sudden, I’m a hypocrite.” He also noted that some of the world’s greatest leaders, including Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill, changed their positions over time and switched political parties.
Scaramucci’s Italian-American parents put him through college, and he started at Goldman Sachs after graduating Harvard Law School in 1989. In 1996, he launched a private capital management firm which was eventually bought up by Lehman Brothers, where Scaramucci served as the managing director of its investment management division. In 2005, three years before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, Scaramucci founded Skybridge Capital, a global alternative investment firm, and in 2009, he launched the widely attended “SALT” annual investor’s conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2011, he was named the Entrepreneur of the Year in the Financial Services category by the accounting firm Ernst & Young. His net worth has been estimated to be at least $200 million, and could possibly be worth as much as $1.5 billion.
He spoke at length on Friday in the White House press room and during his network appearances on Sunday about his admiration and personal relationship with his new boss, President Trump.
“I love the president,” he said repeatedly. “He is a very effective communicator. I think he has had a very effective use of reaching the American public directly. What I have found, when I travel around the country, is that people love him.”
INSIGHTS INTO TRUMP’S POPULARITY
In a weekend radio interview with Breitbart News, Scaramucci said he first gained an understanding of Trump’s grass roots popularity when he met his supporters at a campaign rally last year at the Civic Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I take my Secret Service day pin off and I go behind and around the security perimeter into the crowd. There’s 8,000 people there. I’m shaking hands with these people and then it dawns on me, ‘Oh my G-d, these are [exactly like] the people I grew up with,’” Scaramucci said.
“These are blue-collar, middle-class people who are shifting into the lower class because of some level of economic desperation. Factories have been shut down, opportunity has been lost in these little towns. Since NAFTA, we have lost 70,000 factories in the United States. . . It was the president [Trump] who showed me, who grew up in a middle-class area like that, what was going on in my hometown.”
Scaramucci admitted that until that point, he had been “spending too much time trying to spiral my way up into the global elite. . . I was trying to make myself some money to become financially independent and I missed it. So, it’s one of the reasons why I’m so passionate to get reconnected to that and to help the president help those people.”
Scaramucci first met Trump more than 20 years ago, and says that his appreciation and admiration for the president has grown over time.
Earlier in the 2016 primary campaign, when he was supporting other Republican candidates, Scaramucci said some nasty things about Trump, which he has now retracted.
In 2015, he called Trump “another hack politician” and a “Queens Country Bully” who inherited his money from his father.
After mending his fences with the president, Scaramucci says that Trump still reminds him frequently of his earlier harsh remarks, saying with a laugh, they were “one of the biggest mistakes I made. He brings it up every time. I personally apologize, for the 50th time, for saying it.”
A COMPLICATED POLITICAL HISTORY
Scaramucci has always been a registered Republican, but in 2008, he served as a fundraiser for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. However, in 2010, he openly criticized Obama during a CNBC television town hall for “whacking Wall Street like a piñata.” In 2012, Scaramucci served as the co-chair for National Finance for Mitt Romney’s campaign challenging Obama’s re-election.
During the 2016 Republican primaries, Scaramucci initially endorsed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and later former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. During that period, he was harshly critical of Trump’s candidacy, but in May, after Walker and Bush dropped out, he endorsed Trump and became an active member of his campaign finance committee.
After Trump’s victory in November, Scaramucci was appointed to the Executive Committee of the president-elect’s transition team, and a few days before the inauguration he was publicly named to become the Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs.
The complex international investment activities of Scaramucci’s firm delayed the approval of his appointment by the Office of Government Ethics, even though he had already reached an agreement to sell the firm to a Chinese consortium. Because of the delay, Trump gave the Public Liaison post to another successful businessman, George Sifakis.
The White House still wanted Scaramucci and his investment expertise to be part of the administration. In June, it named him senior vice president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank and was reportedly considering him for the post of U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
SCARAMUCCI FORCED CNN TO APOLOGIZE
Meanwhile, Scaramucci was subjected to a vicious attack by CNN. It reported on June 22 that he was under investigation by a congressional committee for a secret meeting at the annual economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, with Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a $10 billion Russian government investment fund in January, shortly before Trump’s inauguration.
Scaramucci said he called executives at CNN to inform them, before the story first appeared on its website, that it was incorrect, and warn them that he might sue the network. Later, Scaramucci explained to Fox News that he had met Dmitriev unexpectedly while attending a business dinner in Switzerland, and that they had talked for no more than five minutes. He insists that they never mentioned the United States’ financial sanctions on Russia, which was the suspicion the CNN story had raised.
Scaramucci also complained that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren had made a similar unsubstantiated public accusation against him regarding that meeting back in January and offered as proof a published photograph showing Scaramucci and the Russian banker together. Breitbart later reported that the Treasury Department had investigated Scaramucci’s meeting with the Russian banker and cleared him of any wrongdoing.
On July 2nd, CNN retracted its story repeating those false charges because they could not be confirmed. CNN also issued a public apology to Scaramucci, who accepted it. The three journalists in CNN’s investigative unit who produced the story were then forced to resign.
Scaramucci’s public humiliation of CNN helped to convince Trump that he was the right person to revamp the failed White House press messaging operation at this crucial time.
WINNERS AND LOSERS INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE
Reportedly, Spicer, Priebus and chief White House strategist Steve Bannon were opposed to the choice of Scaramucci to run the communications operation because of his lack of political and professional communications experience, but they were overruled by President Trump. He apparently saw in Scaramucci many of his own unorthodox qualities which enabled Trump to pull off the greatest national political upset of modern times.
Scaramucci denied that there was any animosity between him and Spicer, or the two other senior White House advisors. Despite Spicer’s refusal to stay on and work with him, Scaramucci said, “Sean is a true American patriot. This is obviously a difficult situation but I wish him well and I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money.”
With regard to the White House chief of staff, Scaramucci said, “Reince and I have been personal friends for six years. We are a little bit like brothers. We rough each other up every once in a while, which is totally normal for brothers. But he’s a dear friend. We have spent many times together personally. What I want you guys to know is that he was my first call this morning. But we are committed as true professionals as a team to the process, and getting the message out.”
Scaramucci did not claim that he and Bannon had been friends. NBC News reported that Bannon had once commented that Scaramucci would only get the White House communications job “over my dead body.” But he did claim to have a great deal of respect for the former Breitbart News chief and noted that they had each worked for the same organization, Goldman Sachs, albeit at separate times.
“Steve is one of the smartest people I know,” Scaramucci said.
“Steve has a strong personality. I have a strong personality. I want to keep my head in the game, keep my ego low, and work with Steve Bannon.”
KUSHNER MOUNTS A STRONG DEFENSE
Scaramucci said that he expected that Jared Kushner’s testimony this week would fully absolve him of wrongdoing in his contacts with Russians before and after the election.
Kushner delivered his testimony behind closed doors on Monday and Tuesday, after releasing a detailed 11-page statement describing four meetings he had with Kremlin-connected Russians before the election and during the transition period. Kushner insisted that they were “limited contacts” that involved no wrongdoing on his part.
“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. . . I had no improper contacts,” Kushner wrote. He also denied allegations that he “relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.”
He explained that the four meetings were in his capacity as the Trump campaign’s “main point of contact for foreign government officials.”
FOUR HARMLESS MEETINGS
The first meeting took place in April 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where Trump delivered his campaign’s first major foreign policy address. Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak was one of four diplomats from foreign countries to whom Kushner was briefly introduced on that occasion. There were the usual pleasantries, an exchange of business cards and invitations to lunch at their embassies, which Kushner politely declined.
Kushner denies that he had any other contacts with Kislyak, in person or on the phone, for the remainder of the campaign.
He did describe the now infamous June 2016 meeting set up by Donald Trump Jr. with a Russian lawyer and her associates. He recalls arriving late and being puzzled about why she was talking about U.S. adoptions of Russian babies. He concluded that he was wasting his time and created a pretext to leave the meeting as quickly as possible.
Kushner wrote that he reported to the Secret Service an email he received on October 30, a week before the election, from “Guccifer 400,” a screen name that has been associated with Russian hackers. It demanded a blackmail payment to prevent the pre-election publication of Trump’s tax returns. Kushner thought the email was a hoax and the Secret Service agreed that it should be ignored.
BEHIND THE SO-CALLED SECRET KUSHNER RUSSIAN CHANNEL
In his statement, Kushner describes a post-election meeting with Ambassador Kislyak and General Flynn at Trump Tower on December 1 in which they discussed how the transition team could be kept informed on Russian military operations in Syria. The goal was to avoid accidental contact with U.S. military forces operating nearby in support of anti-ISIS Syrian forces. It was for that limited purpose only that Kushner discussed the possibility of a one-time use by General Flynn of a secure Russian embassy communications channel with the Russian generals in Syria. In the end, both sides agreed it would be best to wait until after Trump’s inauguration to set up a more appropriate channel.
Kushner said his second Russian transition meeting was set up at the insistence of Ambassador Kilyak with a Putin-connected banker, Segey Gorkov, on December 13. The banker expressed the Kremlin’s “disappointment with U.S.-Russia relations” under Obama, but Kushner said he was careful not to commit to any specific changes to U.S. sanctions on the Russians in the future.
Kushner insisted that he only agreed to the December 13 meeting with Gorkov so as not to offend the Russian ambassador. He claimed that he followed diplomatic protocol to the letter, including registering two gifts he received from the banker.
KUSHNER’S BELATED FULL DISCLOSURE
Kushner said that his discussions with Kislyak and all other foreign ambassadors with whom he met during the transition were focused on the prompt opening of appropriate channels of communication after Trump took office.
He apologized once again for failing to list most of his foreign contacts during that period on his SF-86 application for a security clearance. Kushner insists that the form was submitted prematurely due to a miscommunication during a very busy period when he was trying to simultaneously move his family from New York to Washington and disengage himself from his real estate business.
He has submitted a revised SF-86 form which includes disclosures of more than 100 additional contacts he had with representatives of more than 20 countries, including Russia, in carrying out his duties with the Trump campaign and transition operation.
Kushner has excellent legal representation, and his lawyers would not have allowed him to release such a detailed public statement about his Russian meetings unless his story could be corroborated.
After emerging from his meeting on Monday with congressional investigators, Kushner was outspoken in denying allegations that he colluded with the Russians. “All of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign. I did not collude with Russians, nor do I know of anyone in the campaign who did.”
Kushner declared that his father-in-law won the election because he had a better political message and ran a smarter campaign than Hillary Clinton did, and not because he had help from Russia. “Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him,” Kushner added.
Nevertheless, Mueller’s investigation seems bound to continue, spreading an ever-widening net to find some evidence to justify its efforts to bring down Trump’s presidency and its own existence.
A mere lack of evidence will not be enough to bring this ordeal to an end. With the appointment of Scaramucci to manage the White House message and the beefing up of Trump’s personal legal team, the president appears to be following the political playbook of Bill Clinton. His communications team responded to a similarly open-ended Whitewater investigation by portraying special prosecutor Kenneth Starr as a partisan conservative determined to derail Clinton’s presidency.
Mueller has been careful throughout his public service career to steer clear of partisan entanglements. That is why he started out the current investigation with such a strong reputation for fairness. But the prosecutors he has hired to carry out the probe all seem to be Democrat supporters, including one lawyer who used to work for the Clinton Foundation.
Mueller also has a long personal and professional friendship with former FBI director James Comey, who is likely to be a key witness if the investigation leads to a legal proceeding. That could potentially put Mueller under pressure to recuse himself, sending the whole investigation back to square one.
Bill Clinton was unable to escape Kenneth Starr’s investigation because he was caught lying under oath before a federal judge. Clinton was impeached, but managed to finish his term of office because his party controlled the Senate and decided that his lie was about a personal matter that wasn’t important enough to justify ousting him.
WHAT TRUMP’S ENEMIES REALLY WANT
The Russian collusion accusations against Trump are far more serious, but so far there is no evidence that he or any senior members of his campaign were a willing part of any Russian conspiracy. Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer in June 2016 was a mistake, but that was mostly due to political inexperience, and it appears that nothing of any substance came out of it.
It is clear that the ultimate goal for Comey and others behind the Mueller investigation is not a criminal prosecution of a Trump underling. They are not interested in a latter-day Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s assistant who was set up to take the legal fall in a 2005 special counsel investigation when Democrats could not pin anything illegal on Vice President Cheney himself.
They want an excuse to impeach Donald Trump and force him out of office. Unless they find a real smoking gun, the odds against Democrats removing Trump from office are huge. This is really all about disqualifying Trump for reelection in 2020. It also depends on Democrats winning back control of the House in the 2018 midterm, since it is highly unlikely that any Republican House majority would vote for an impeachment trial.
After six months of Democrats screaming about Trump-Russian collusion and doing nothing else, some of their voters have begun to notice that they don’t have any feasible alternative solutions or decent national leaders of their own. It has become so embarrassing that even Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer has reacted. He wrote an op-ed in the New York Times promising “a better deal” for American workers from the Democrat Party. Most of them are familiar, anti-business, socialist slogans borrowed whole from last year’s Bernie Sanders campaign, including a $15 hourly minimum wage, a major Medicare coverage expansion and the forced breakup of some of the country’s largest corporations, such as ExxonMobil.
In a rare moment of candor, Schumer said that Democrats have been wrong to deny their responsibility for their loss to Trump in November. “When you lose to somebody [Trump] who has a 40-percent popularity, you don’t blame other things, such as Comey and Russia. You blame yourself,” Schumer told the Washington Post. “So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.” For once, Trump tweeted his agreement with Schumer’s analysis.