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In 2016 Tom Barrack Too Said We Needed To Become Friends With Russia

I’ve spent the last few days putting together notes and trying to put together all the details of what was clearly the overriding and explicitly top foreign policy goal of the Trump campaign and transition: a rapprochement with Russia.

There’s one small thread of that story I want to note. We’ve previously discussed Tom Barrack, a longtime friend of the President and an extremely successful real estate investor. It is apparently through Barrack that Paul Manafort made his original approach to Donald Trump. The explanation of how that came about has never really added up. There’s clearly more to the story. We’ll come back to that.

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A Few Thoughts on Trump and Jerusalem

I’ve been watching coverage of the Jerusalem decision today on the cable networks, especially CNN. It’s telling, almost painful, watching real experts trying – really trying – to interpret this decision as part of an effort to push the peace process forward. Maybe Trump’s gotten some secret concession from Prime Minister Netanyahu in exchange for this? Maybe this is the game changer that can free up the current impasse?

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Could Deutsche Bank Even Tell Trump?

This morning we had news that the Mueller probe had subpoenaed the President’s banking records and perhaps those of his family members from Deutsche Bank, the only major back that has been willing to do business with the President since the early 1990s. Then the President’s television lawyer Jay Sekulow released a statement claiming that he had confirmed with Deutsche Bank and other sources that this was not true.

But TPM Reader CL points out that banks can be ordered not to notify a customer and presumably lawyers who represent them when grand jury subpoenas are issued for banking records.

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Trump's Lawyers Deny Deutsche Bank News

President Trump’s television lawyer Jay Sekulow releases a statement denying that Robert Mueller’s probe has subpoenaed bank records from Deutsche Bank.

“We have confirmed that the news reports that the Special Counsel had subpoenaed financial records relating to the president are false. No subpoena has been issued or received. We have confirmed this with the bank and other sources.”

C'mon

I get that if you’re a social conservative (conservative views on marriage equality, immigration, perhaps abortion) you might feel like you’re in a distinct minority in parts of Silicon Valley. (The Silicon Valley ethos is super conservative on many economic policy issues.) But this CNN segment sounds like something close to parody.

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Mueller Probing Trump's Money Ties to Russia

Yesterday there was an emerging theme among right-leaning commentators that the upshot of the Flynn plea deal, damning as it may seem, is that Robert Mueller has given up on finding an election tampering conspiracy and is focusing squarely on an obstruction of justice charge against the President. In most cases, this is presented as an indictment of the investigation itself. In other words, on the big question of the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia, there was nothing there and Mueller is falling back on charges internal to the investigation itself, i.e., ways the President allegedly attempted to obstruct it. We’ll return to this line of argument because it’s an important one.

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Nunes's Hands Are Dirty

Here’s a quick backgrounder (sub req.) on why Devin Nunes, again in the news today, is himself implicated in Mike Flynn’s effort to surveil and obstruct the Russia probe from his first days running the National Security Council.

Who Lied to Who When and Why It Barely Matters

On this weekend’s back and forth on who Mike Flynn lied to, who knew he’d lied and why it might matter, let’s step back for a moment. With regards to Flynn lying to the FBI we’re now looking at the narrow factual question of whether Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had lied to the FBI; whether McGahn told Trump; and whether Trump knew this in the intervening days before he fired Flynn when he asked James Comey to drop the investigation. We are collectively running through this chain of connections because of our semi-reasonable but likely outmoded tendency to take the various claims we’ve heard from the White House at face value: especially the claim that Flynn was fired for lying to Vice President Pence, etc.

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Taking Stock, Pt. 1: The Race for Russia

As we sift through the details of the Flynn court documents we inevitably see them through a distorted prism because we know 2017 as it happened rather than as the Trump team intended it to unfold. This is particularly important for the roughly three months between candidate Trump’s election victory on November 8th, 2016 and Mike Flynn’s ouster on February 13th, 2017.

We see Flynn’s covert communications with Ambassador Kislyak; we see the escalation of the FBI’s scrutiny of Flynn; we know other top Trump officials, like Jared Kushner, were meeting with Kislyak and others and also possibly trying to execute financial transactions with Russian government officials. It’s all sort of a jumble. But the logic of events only really comes into focus when we realize that there was a sort of race taking place between the Trump team’s effort to arrange a rapid rapprochement with Russia in the first weeks of January and February and a mix of the intelligence community, the national security apparatus and the press piecing together what had happened during the 2016 election. Imagine it as a starting pistol firing off on the morning of November 9th, with both teams racing to get more of their critical work done by the end of January.

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