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Sam Thielman

Sam Thielman is an investigative reporter for Talking Points Memo based in Manhattan. He has worked as a reporter and critic for the Guardian, Variety, Adweek and Newsday, where he covered stories from the hacking attacks on US and international targets by Russian GRU and FSB security services to the struggle to bring broadband internet to the Navajo nation. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son and too many comic books.

Articles by Sam

“Carter Page seemed to us to be a typical person who the Russians would attempt to co-opt or compromise or manipulate,” Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn R. Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a transcript released Tuesday.

Simpson cited what he described as Page’s youth, his ambition, and his naïveté as three reasons the Kremlin would have targeted Page, an energy consultant who served as a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign.

Simpson’s testimony took place in August but was released Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee.

Simpson also testified he had “reason to believe” someone had offered Page business deals designed to influence him.

Simpson’s assessment is in line with that of former US intelligence professionals who spoke on the record to Talking Points Memo in November. They described Page as a soft target. “Most spies are Fredos,” ex-CIA officer David Chasteen said, referring to Michael Corleone’s hapless brother in The Godfather.

“There was a fair amount of open source [public information] on his consulting firm, his complaint that he’d lost money on Russian investments and he owned stock in [state-owned Russian oil giant] Gazprom and he was really mad about the sanctions [on Russia by the U.S.] and he went over there in this hastily-arranged trip to speak to this school and that was all pretty unusual,” Simpson told Senate investigators in August, “but there’s a lot of skepticism in the press about whether he could be linked between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign because he seemed like a zero, a lightweight.”

“I remember sort of not being able to kind of explain to people [in the press], that’s exactly why he would end up as someone who they would try to co-opt,” Simpson said.

Simpson listed Page’s speech in Moscow as one of several events that gave him pause alongside the Trump campaign’s surprisingly friendly stance toward Russia.

“[T]hey changed the Republican platform,” Simpson recalled. “Carter Page shows up in Moscow and gives a speech. He’s a campaign advisor and he gives a speech about dropping sanctions. Trump continues to say mysterious things about what a great guy Putin is.”

Simpson observed that Christopher Steele’s raw intelligence dossier — the primary topic of discussion during the hearing — identified Page as someone who “seemed to be in the middle of the campaign, between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and he later turned out to be an espionage suspect who was, in fact, someone that the FBI had been investigating for years.”

That confluence of credulousness and access, John Sipher, another former CIA officer, told TPM in November, is very rare in the world of clandestine work. Simpson, too, observed that people often spy without knowing it — something intelligence agents as high up as former CIA director John O. Brennan have said publicly.

“[T]he definition of compromised is someone who has been influenced sometimes without even without their knowledge,” Simpson said. “We had reason to believe that he had, in fact, been offered business deals that were — that would tend to influence him, business arrangements.”

Read Tierney Sneed’s story on the transcript and the transcript itself here.

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A homeschooling lobby group with a low profile, but growing influence, has a surprising agenda: keeping public money away from home-schoolers, the better to ensure that parents can operate free from government regulation, including from child-welfare workers.

Critics of the group, called the Home School Legal Defense Association, say less scrutiny is the last thing homeschooling needs. And they point to a spate of recent instances of misconduct in the home-school community, including child abuse.

In May, HSLDA met with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to urge her not to let federal dollars go to home-schoolers. The conservative evangelical Christian group, which has 85,000 dues-paying members and was founded in 1983, also has influenced draft legislation on homeschooling created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive business lobbying group, of which it’s a member. Its director of federal relations, William Estrada, was a member of the Trump transition team as an advisor on education policy.

“We want to be left alone,” Estrada told TPM.

“As far as power and influence, I would say HSLDA as an institution is the most powerful home-school lobbying arm and organization, and one of the most powerful religious-right groups that nobody’s really heard of,” said Kathryn Brightbill, a policy analyst at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE). “They see themselves as representatives for the whole home-school community in the U.S.”

Brightbill’s group supports greater regulation of homeschooling, and believes HSLDA’s anti-regulatory stance puts home-schooled kids at risk.

“There are children who are falling through the cracks, and often — well, I don’t know how often because it’s so hard to get numbers — children are experiencing abuse and neglect as a result of that lack of oversight,” said Brightbill. 

HSLDA’s prime mission is providing legal assistance to home-schooling parents, sometimes including criminal defense and public relations for members charged with abusing or mistreating children. Several of the people it has defended in the courts or in the media have spurred controversy:

  • In 1995, HSLDA represented two home-schooling parents who had been ordered by a judge to send their two children to public schools after four of the couple’s other children had died in their care. The couple were ultimately allowed to continue to home-school the children.
  • In 2005, HSLDA lawyer Scott Somerville called Michael Gravelle, a home-school father who had been accused of keeping 11 of his adopted children in cages, “a hero.” (Somerville did not represent Gravelle in court). Gravelle and his wife were later convicted of child endangerment and abuse.
  • In 2013, a lawyer affiliated with HSLDA represented Carolyn and John Jackson, a couple who were indicted on 17 counts of child endangerment and assault, including allegedly keeping their children dehydrated and having their siblings police them to make sure they did not drink from the toilet in desperation. The couple were convicted on multiple counts. 

The cases attracted attention from religion writers, notably Patheos blogger Libby Anne. In response to her work, HSLDA said in a 2013 Facebook post that it receives hundreds of calls each year from parents seeking help after facing false or malicious accusations from child welfare agencies.

Asked by TPM about HSLDA’s work on behalf of these clients, Estrada did not respond. 

Although there were 1.8 million homeschooled students in the country in 2012, the most recent numbers available, there is currently no federal program to financially support home-schooling, and state and municipal support is largely limited to dual enrollment in public high schools and participation in sports programs. HSLDA wants to keep it that way, fearing that with public money comes public scrutiny, which leads to government interference.

“If some homeschoolers take the money, then all homeschoolers will be seen as being on the government dole and there’ll be government strings attached to it,” Estrada said.

In January 2017, President Donald Trump, addressing a joint session of Congress, called for a school choice bill that funded homeschooling. HSLDA responded with a formal letter in March thanking Trump for the shout-out, but adding: “We do, however, wish to ask that you ensure that any school choice legislative proposals specifically exclude homeschool families.”

The May one-on-one with DeVos was a major coup for HSLDA, and marked the first time an education secretary had sat down with the group.

DeVos has campaigned in support of homeschoolers since long before her appointment.”What you’re seeing is parents who are fed up with their lack of power to do anything about where their kids are assigned to go to school,” DeVos told Philanthropy magazine in 2013. “To the extent that homeschooling puts parents back in charge of their kids’ education, more power to them.”

HSLDA asked for the meeting with DeVos in order to lobby her to deny federal funds to home-schoolers, and to offer “general thanks,” according to an email sent before the meeting by Estrada to DeVos’s staff obtained by TPM through a Freedom of Information Act request.

A Department of Education spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the meeting.

To advance its agenda against government money, HSLDA also joined ALEC. HSLDA’s goal has been to block or modify model legislation authored by ALEC that has sought to expand access to public money for home-schoolers.

Estrada pointed to a footnote that HSLDA managed to have added to a recent piece of ALEC model legislation, which reads: “Due to the differences in each state’s homeschooling laws, homeschoolers in some states may oppose attempts to make homeschoolers eligible to receive state education dollars. The authors encourage you to reach out to homeschool organizations in your state in advance to discuss this with them.”

Brightbill said HSLDA’s policy and lobbying work is far more conservative and anti-government than many of its members might like. Some parents may have conservative views about national politics, she said, but they often want their kids to play sports on local school teams or dual-enroll in public schools when they get old enough to require more sophisticated teaching.

HSLDA members who spoke to TPM said they liked having access to lawyers who could help them comply with local regulations. But they also echoed Brightbill’s assessment: Interest in sports, in dual-enrollment, in money without the specter of restrictive curricula.

Brightbill says maintaining a basic level of regulation is crucial to kids’ safety, which is why HSLDA’s growing profile is troubling.

A 2000 HSLDA white paper that the association still promotes to its members, “The Social Worker At Your Door: 10 Helpful Hints” offers tips for avoiding child protection workers including “Do not spank children in public” and “Do not spank someone else’s child unless they are close Christian friends.”

“[T]he policies they’ve pushed have directly led to kids being abused … because of a lack of oversight,” Brightbill said.

This post has been updated.

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House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes announced Wednesday night that the Department of Justice had agreed to turn over to the committee all documents and witnesses related to Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.

“After speaking to Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein this evening, I believe the House Intelligence Committee has reached an agreement with the Department of Justice that will provide the committee with access to all the documents and witnesses we have requested,” Nunes said in a statement emailed to press. “The committee looks forward to receiving access to the documents over the coming days.”

The California Republican, a staunch Trump supporter, has repeatedly tried to redirect House Intel’s own investigation to targets other than the president. Nunes has focused in particular on intelligence gathered by research firm Fusion GPS in the form of a dossier of raw intelligence that was leaked to Buzzfeed a year ago.

Nunes stepped down from the probe in April amid investigations that he had disclosed classified information, leaving the probe’s leadership with fellow Republican Mike Conaway. But Nunes continued to use the committee’s subpoena power in August to request documents related to the FBI’s own involvement in putting together the dossier, which the Bureau has said do not exist.

The FBI also refused to respond to the subpoena with documents related to “FBI confidential human sources,” Nunes said in a letter made public last week. He also threatened deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and FBI director Christopher Wray with contempt of Congress, a move that drew censure from fellow Republicans.

Nunes’s ethics probe focused on his assertion that someone—he refused to say who—had told him that Donald Trump was under surveillance by American intelligence during his campaign. Nunes later backed down from the statement and was cleared of any wrongdoing by an ethics investigation in December, though in September, CNN reported that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had indeed been wiretapped as a result of a classified FISA warrant.

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Editor’s Note: Due to a reporting error, this story originally reported that Vkontakte had directly provided documents to Senate Judiciary Committee investigators about contacts between a company executive and the Trump campaign. TPM has no information on how the committee obtained the documents, and there is no evidence to suggest Vkontakte is cooperating with the investigation. We regret the error.

Senate investigators have obtained information about contacts between an executive at a Russian social media giant and the Trump campaign, TPM has learned.

The documents obtained by the Senate Judiciary Committee relate to communication between VKontakte and Dan Scavino, a Trump campaign staffer who now works as the White House social media director.

Vkontakte, a social network similar to Facebook, ranks as the most popular website in Russia and is owned by the publicly traded Mail.Ru.

The nature of the documents obtained by the Committee isn’t clear, but previous reports in the press have detailed emails exchanged in 2016 between Konstantin Sidorkov, VKontakte’s director of partnership marketing, and Scavino.

The Washington Post first reported on the email exchange last month, citing “people familiar with the messages.” Sidorkov emailed Scavino and Donald Jr., offering to help make Trump’s campaign “the top news in Russia,” the Post reported. In response, Scavino expressed interest, but it isn’t clear that the conversation progressed beyond that introduction.

The Post added that Scavino’s liaison with Vkontakte was Rob Goldstone, the music publicist who also brokered the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump, Jr, and a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

On Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent letters to Scavino and Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital director, asking about the campaign’s contacts with Russia. “[T]he Committee has received information that you may have corresponded with Russian nationals regarding Trump campaign social media efforts,” Feinstein wrote to Scavino.

Vkontakte is broadly used in Russia, but its English-language users tend to be politically aligned far to the right of the mainstream, the Post reported.

TPM has contacted Vkontakte for comment and will update this piece with any response.

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What did the Russian government-backed troll calling herself (or himself) Alice Donovan want?

That byline appears in at least 10 different news outlets beginning in 2016 and continuing through October of this year. The FBI believes “Alice Donovan” is the name of “a pseudonymous foot soldier in an army of Kremlin-led trolls,” according to the Washington Post. She was also actively criticizing not just the Hillary Clinton campaign but Trump-era foreign policy as recently as October.

“Donovan” appears to be the same person identified in one of Scott Shane’s New York Times stories about Russian interference on Facebook: An Alice Donovan outed by Facebook as a Russian intelligence sock puppet approvingly posted links to Kremlin cutout site DCLeaks, particularly its dump of documents related to George Soros’s Open Society Foundation.

The 13 publications that published Donovan’s emailed submissions were Counterpunch, Veterans Today, We Are Change, MintPressNews, Global Research, Global Politics, Ground Report, Op-Ed News, Restoring Liberty, Activist Post, The Duran, Popular Resistance, and foreign language outlets Reseau International and Naval Brasil. Most retread the news of the day with what appears to be very little oversight; Counterpunch is both the most traditional and the site with the clearest political perspective.

As a reporter, “Donovan” wrote blog posts that criticized Obama, Hillary Clinton, and allies including Colin Powell—similar to the themes of Russian-backed trolls masquerading as pro-Trump Americans on social media.

But a review of her articles—many of them plagiarized, according to one publication that ran them, the venerable left-wing blog Counterpunch—reveals a number of other areas of interest: Whereas Russian-controlled contributions to right-wing twitter feeds and Facebook pages stoked racism and railed against gun control, the ostensibly leftward prong of the massive Russian disinformation campaign focused on US activity in Syria, Venezuela and Turkey.

Perhaps predictably, some of the sites that published Donovan’s work have reacted largely with shrugs in much the same way that right-wing organizations felt too much was made of pro-cop memes, anti-Hillary jokes, and anti-immigrant sentiment. The origin of the articles was unimportant, suggested both Veterans Today editor Gordon Duff and Counterpunch editors Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank. “I don’t edit what people do. If it’s original, I’ll publish it,” Duff told the Post. “I don’t decide what’s real and not real.” Today Duff wrote his own conspiracy-filled piece about the Post story, primarily to criticize Counterpunch, at Veterans Today.

Counterpunch took a more philosophical tack: “So why did we run five pieces by Alice Donovan?” asked St. Clair and Frank. “First, because they were interesting and timely. The short pieces on Syria, in particular, came at a moment when Trump was engaged in his first big military action and we were eager, perhaps too eager, to publish as many different perspectives as possible on his new, more aggressive policy.”

Another site, We Are Change, didn’t respond to the accusations at all, though it did remove Donovan’s work from its public web presence.

Donovan’s articles on US military presence in the Middle East are unusual. In its mea-sorta-culpa, Counterpunch published a bibliography including as much of Donovan’s work as its writers could find, identifying one post lifted letter-for-letter from a pro-Russian, pro-Bashar al-Assad website called Inside Syria Media Center. Another—also cross-posted, this time with a shady news site called “Ground Report”—called the introduction of special forces troops into Mosul in November 2016 “a large-scale PR-campaign to support the candidate of the Democratic Party Hillary Clinton.”

Others are simply boilerplate anti-NATO, anti-Ukraine propaganda. Another Ground Report piece pushes for the cessation of sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, something the Russian government has pursued by every possible avenue.

But the feature of the Donovan articles that has provoked far less discussion is that, for nearly a year after Trump’s election, they mercilessly criticized him, as well, accusing his administration of fomenting civil war in Venezuela, making note of operations that really did cause tremendous innocent bloodshed in Syria, and stealing quotes and paragraphs from progressive publications including The Guardian and The American Interest to do so.

In short, whoever handles the Donovan account seems to have kept his or her eye on the ball: The goals of the Russian interference and influence campaigns still appear to be a weakened NATO, a withdrawal of US forces from Syria that leaves Moscow-friendly Assad in charge, and the end of punitive sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine and the murder of Sergei Magnitsky.

It may not actually matter to Moscow, or to “Alice Donovan” who is in charge: There’s still Western power abroad, and whether because the Trump administration still houses many Obama-era holdovers, because he has little interest in changing the status quo, or because he genuinely wants to maintain foreign policy continuity with his hated predecessor, the Kremlin still hasn’t achieved its goals.

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Natalia Veselnitskaya took another American client on this spring, she said—but she won’t say who.

In Trump-connected Russian lawyer Veselnistkaya’s 52-page response to a list of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, she told the committee a number of strange things, among them that she’d had another American client earlier this year, whose case she took all the way to the Russia’s prosecutor general, Yury Chaika, the “master of kompromat” and Veselnitskaya’s former employer.

Veselnitskaya’s testimony ought to be taken with heaping piles of salt, especially considering her work representing Russian security service the FSB in court in her home country. But through her extended complaints about American sanctions levied in response to the jailhouse murder of a whistleblowing Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky, she appeared to shed partial light on her own legal practice.

Veselnitskaya was ordered to answer the questions after being barred from entering the country to represent her client Denys Katsyv, who has been ordered to pay a $6m settlement, by a US judge. Her immigration status is “squarely within the purview of the executive branch,” the judge who denied her entry is reported to have said. In July, news that she had met with Donald Trump, Jr and other members of the Trump campaign broke.

She wouldn’t identify her other client to the committee, though she did say she took on at his parents’ request when she was in New York earlier this year—likely a visit in May for a hearing in the Katsyv case. She described the client to the committee as “an American citizen and a member of the US Jewish community who had been arrested in Moscow in the spring of this year for importing forbidden items” and said her advocacy got him off with a small fine rather than the four years in prison he might otherwise have faced.

[T]his summer, I was granted an audience with the RF Prosecutor General, Yu. Ya. Chaika, to deliver an official statement in connection with my defending an American citizen and a member of the US Jewish community who had been arrested in Moscow in the spring of this year for importing forbidden items. The young man was facing up to four years in prison. I accepted him as a client on his family’s request when I was still in New York. And despite the fact that the US Embassy refused to participate in the fate of the American citizen (I spoke with the US Consul in Moscow several times asking the embassy to submit a petition to the RF Prosecutor General’s Office which the embassy never bothered to do), thanks to the well-coordinated cooperation with US lawyers and experts, members of the Moscow and US Jewish communities, once Mr. Chaika had heard out the arguments of the defense and instructed that they be verified, the case was closed; my client was ordered to pay a small court penalty and allowed to return home to his family. I have no right to identify the client but the case is well known to the US Embassy in Moscow.

The US Embassy in Moscow declined to identify the American in question, though at first the operator appeared to have Veselnitskaya’s story confused with a more recent story of an American detained by Russian authorities. TPM contacted other Russian and U.S. government sources; all said they were unaware of the case.

Veselnitskaya’s official responses were taken up principally with complaining about the various players in the Magnistky Act, especially William Browder, who was Sergei Magnitsky’s employer when the latter discovered a vast alleged money-laundering scheme from which Veselnitskaya’s client, Katsyv, is said to have benefited. She also confirmed having hired former Soviet soldier and longtime Washington lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin as far back as 2015 as part of “a team of hired consultants,” on what case she did not specify, though the Katsyv case seems a likely candidate.

Veselnitskaya also confirmed the April 2 and 3 meetings with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), first reported from a Russian-language interview with Veselnitskaya, translated by Foreign Policy.

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TPM has obtained what appears to be the draft opinion article that Paul Manafort allegedly helped to ghostwrite, getting him in hot water with federal prosecutors and potentially the judge in his criminal case.

The draft op-ed was provided t0 TPM by Oleg Voloshyn, a former spokesman for Ukraine’s ministry of foreign affairs under the strongly pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. Voloshyn claims to be its author, a claim first reported Tuesday by Bloomberg.

“I wrote it myself upon my own initiative as I couldn’t stand the allegations by McClatchy that Manafort had tried to derail the European integration although in fact he was its staunchest supporter,” Voloshyn told TPM.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team alleged this week that Manafort and an associate with alleged ties to Russian intelligence —revealed by the New York Times to be Konstantin Kilimnik—ghostwrote the draft op-ed in violation of the judge’s gag order in Manafort’s criminal case. The judge has ordered Manafort to respond to Mueller’s allegations by Thursday.

Voloshyn told Bloomberg he sent a draft of the op-ed to Kilimnik last week. Kilimnik, he said, forwarded it to Manafort, who “advised me to add that the Yanukovych government also worked actively with the U.S. on nuclear disarmament and with NATO,” which Voloshyn said he already knew.

The draft op-ed was submitted to the English-language Ukrainian news outlet called the Kyiv Post, which declined to run it. Editor Brian Bonner called it “highly suspicious” and “blatantly pro-Manafort” in an interview with Bloomberg. TPM emailed Bonner late Tuesday and he had not responded by press time.

Voloshyn responded with further comment after this story was published, saying in strong terms that he had written the op-ed by himself. The Mueller probe, he said, had not even contacted him about his role. He promised to provide TPM with further evidence of the extent of his role in writing the article.

The draft op-ed, which can be read in full at the bottom of this article, could be described as a love letter to Manafort, crediting him with a number of pro-Western advances in Ukraine:

[O]ne shouldn’t ignore the fact that Ukraine under Yanukovych made a number of major steps towards the EU and the West in general. And that Manafort was among those who made those paradoxical accomplishments real.
It was that period when Ukraine finally met US requirements to get rid of the stocks of highly enriched uranium that could have potentially been used to produce nuclear weapons. Ukraine used to be the only non-NATO nation that took part in all peace-keeping and anti-terrorist operations of the Alliance world-wide.
With an eye towards 2015, the Yanukovych government – to the surprise of so many in Moscow – managed to negotiate with the EU huge list of terms of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). No other nation had accomplished this task over such a brief period of time. Yanukovych’s government had the Association Agreement initialed by March of 2012. This pace shocked Moscow.
This sense of commitment to the goal is actually the reason why Russia overreacted in the summer 2013 and imposed the trade blockade with Ukraine.
Following the European track created multiple challenges that would never had been solved by a Ukraine Government except for the consistent promotion of what had to be done by Paul Manafort.

The op-ed is strikingly similar to the way Manafort has defended himself from charges of propping up a tyrant: The US-led denuclearization initiative, the NATO exercises, and the free trade agreement.

“Anyone who takes the time to review the very public record will find that my main activities, in addition to political consulting, were all directed at integrating Ukraine as a member of the European community including assisting the Obama Administration’s effort to denuclearize Ukraine,” Manafort told CBS News’s Major Garrett earlier this year, “expanding military exercises between NATO and Ukraine, and engaging in the process of negotiating the documents which were the basis of Ukraine becoming a part of the EU – the DCFTA and Association Agreements.”

Manafort was instrumental in bringing Yanukovych to power. Yanukovych’s administration and his political party, The Party of Regions, was widely seen as not merely friendly to but controlled by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Putin reportedly sent advisers to help Yanukovych with a previous, unsuccessful presidential bid. Where they failed, Manafort succeeded, and since then he has sought to explain his motives—beyond the millions of dollars he was paid—in terms that will seem familiar to anyone who reads the op-ed Voloshyn provided.

Manafort’s spokesperson did not respond to TPM by press time. Mueller’s office declined to comment.

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European Integration Unknown Soldier

By: Oleg Voloshyn, former spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine

 EU – Ukraine Association Agreement might have never appeared but for a person now falsely accused of lobbying Russian interests.

The night of March 4, 2010 turned out to be a nervous one for the staff of Ukrainian embassy in Moscow where I used to be a press-attaché.

The first visit to Russia of newly elected president Viktor Yanukovych was on the brink of cancellation. The Kremlin wouldn’t grant the already scheduled visit an official status. Russian state media also cancelled earlier agreed interviews with members of Yanukovych team. The explanation was rather simple although possibly unusual for contemporary observers who had a mistaken and simplified perception of the fourth Ukrainian president: Russian leadership was annoyed at Yanukovych’s decision to pay his first visit after inauguration to Brussels before heading to Moscow.

Even Yushchenko in 2005 did the opposite. There was one person the Russians blamed for this “treason of special relationship with brother nation”: the political consultant to Viktor Yanukovych, American strategist Paul Manafort.Manafort persuaded Yanukovych that going first to Brussels would demonstrate to all that as President, Yanukovych intended to bring the changes required to allow Ukraine to apply for formal membership in the European Union.

Manafort brought to the Ukrainian political consultancy business a very important rule: An effective leader needs to be consistent as a President with his promises as a candidate. In his Presidential campaign VY made it clear that it was important for Ukraine to maintain its historical and cultural relationship with Russia. However, Yanukovich had also promised to implement the changes that would begin the modernization of Ukraine that would be necessary for Ukraine to become a part of the EU. The Brussels trip sent this signal loudly and clearly to all – including Russia.

I can’t but stipulate that Yanukovich was a bad president and crook who by the end of his rule had effectively lost credibility even of his staunchest supporters. And finally betrayed them and fled to Russia only to see Ukraine fall in the hands of other kleptocrats now disguised as hooray-patriots and nationalists. But with all that said one shouldn’t ignore the fact that Ukraine under Yanukovych made a number of major steps towards the EU and the West in general. And that Manafort was among those who made those paradoxical accomplishments real.

It was that period when Ukraine finally met US requirements to get rid of the stocks of highly enriched uranium that could have potentially been used to produce nuclear weapons. Ukraine used to be the only non-NATO nation that took part in all peace-keeping and anti-terrorist operations of the Alliance world-wide.

With an eye towards 2015, the Yanukovych government – to the surprise of so many in Moscow – managed to negotiate with the EU huge list of terms of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). No other nation had accomplished this task over such a brief period of time. Yanukovych’s government had the Association Agreement initialed by March of 2012. This pace shocked Moscow.

This sense of commitment to the goal is actually the reason why Russia overreacted in the summer 2013 and imposed the trade blockade with Ukraine.

Following the European track created multiple challenges that would never had been solved by a Ukraine Government except for the consistent promotion of what had to be done by Paul Manafort.

Legislation such as Criminal-Administrative Code built on fundamentally new principles consistent with the Western practices and lauded by the Western institutions is one of the vivid examples.

Even at the end of the process Manafort was engaged in helping the Europeans and the Ukrainians negotiate the final terms.

Just three months before the summit it was the EU, not Yanukovych, who hesitated whether to sign the document or not. And Manafort contributed a lot to change of mood in Brussels and major European capitals while at the same time keeping Ukraine focused on finalizing the details of the DCFTA and Association Agreement. He was doing this while Russia was imposing the trade embargo and threatening even more drastic punishment to discourage Yanukovych from getting into DCFTA with the EU.

With all that said I can only wonder why some American media dare falsely claim that Paul Manafort lobbied Russian interests in Ukraine and torpedoed AA signing. Without his input Ukraine would not have had the command focus on reforms that were required to be a nation candidate to the EU.

All listed here facts can be easily verified. If only one pursues the truth. Not tends to twist the reality in line with his or her conviction that the dubious goal of undermining Trump’s presidency justifies most dishonest means.

This post has been updated.

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After hours of radio silence following the news that former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn had pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, White House lawyer Ty Cobb finally issued a statement downplaying Flynn’s role in the White House and calling him “a former Obama administration official.”

“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year,” Cobb said in a statement. “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”

The charge, he said, demonstrated that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller is “moving with all deliberate speed.” Cobb said he still expected “a prompt and reasonable conclusion” to the Mueller probe.

Read the full statement:

“Today, Michael Flynn, a former National Security Advisor at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI.

“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year.  Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.  The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”

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There’s now a strongest contender for “weirdest subpoena” in the House investigation into Russian election interference: Randy Credico, a 63-year-old Manhattan comedian who has made several bids for local public office, tweeted an image of his subpoena on Tuesday night.

Credico has been summoned for a 2 p.m. deposition on Dec. 15—the same day he has a New York County jury duty summons to answer, his lawyer told TPM.

The committee contacted Credico on Nov. 9, according to Alternet’s Max Blumenthal, who uploaded a copy of a letter signed by Texas Republican Mike Conaway and California Democrat Adam Schiff informing Credico that he would be questioned about matters “including Russian cyber activities directed against the 2106 U.S. election, potential links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns, the U.S. government’s response to these Russian active measures, and related leaks of classified information.”

Roger Stone wrote on Facebook early Thursday morning that Credico had been his intermediary with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, but stressed that Credico had not given him anything secret or privileged, merely confirmed information that had come out of Credico’s publicly available interviews on WBAI.

It might be worth taking that last pronouncement with a grain of salt: New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza observed on Twitter that Stone had flatly lied to him about Credico’s role as go-between when Lizza pressed him on it in an interview in March and warned other reporters not to trust Stone.

Stone admitted in the Facebook post to withholding Credico’s name during his own questioning before the House Intelligence Committee, saying he did so because he was afraid for Credico’s career. “I initially declined to identify Randy for the Committee fearing that exposure would be used to hurt his professional career and because our conversation was off-the-record and he is journalist.”

Stone has apparently been privy to a wealth of tantalizing information, notably that emails stolen from John Podesta would be dumped by Wikileaks, and more recently that the initial sexual harassment allegations against Al Franken were forthcoming. Those allegations have since been matched by multiple other women and there is no evidence that they are not credible.

Credico “hates Donald Trump,” his lawyer Martin R. Stolar told TPM, but he also doesn’t much care for Hillary Clinton, according to his YouTube feed, having spent the 2016 primary season talking up Bernie Sanders and criticizing Clinton in a series of videos in which he variously does impressions of Bill Clinton, Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda and the Geico gecko mascot. It’s a gag he used during his own bids for office, including a 2013 campaign for mayor of New York in which he succeeded in getting enough signatures to land on the ballot.

“I assume it’s in regard to what the committee’s interested in, which is a fairly broad mandate to investigate these Russia connections,” Stolar said. “I can tell you that Julian Assange was on his radio program several times and that he’s spoken with Julian in situations that were not broadcast.” Those conversations were “probably subsequently, probably in preparation for future radio programs.”

Stolar said he was “not sure [Credico] will be able to shed any light on any of it.”

TPM contacted Credico by text. “My lawyers have put a gag order on my big mouth,” he responded.

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On Wednesday morning Donald Trump retweeted three videos posted by a British extremist named Jayda Fransen recently convicted of hate crimes. Two of the videos purported to show Muslims committing violent acts, but have been debunked as inaccurate or misleading.

The third video, depicting a bearded man destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary, is ironically very much akin to the sort of religious desecration associated with the oft-arrested Fransen’s hate group, Britain First—except when Fransen does it, it’s in the faces of British Muslims.

Even among British fringe figures, Britain First is considered radioactive, and for good reason: When a man named Thomas Mair murdered British MP and 41-year-old mother of two Jo Cox in June 2016, he repeatedly shouted “Britain First!” Trump’s retweets will almost certainly help revitalize the struggling group, according to experts.

Cox’s husband Brendan Cox responded to Trump on Twitter on Wednesday:

Nick Ryan, who works for UK-based antiracist group Hope Not Hate, told TPM that Britain First is committed to violence in a way that distinguishes it even from other far-right outfits. Publicly a “Christian” organization, Ryan said, Britain First uses crucifixes and Bibles in pranks intended to provoke angry responses from Muslims, which are videotaped, often misleadingly edited, and posted on social media in a bid for the sort of attention and publicity that the President of the United States provided Wednesday morning.

“[Britain First] originated from a very far-right party in the UK, the British National Party,” Ryan explained. The group is nominally involved in electoral politics, he said, but it is more interested in public stunts that can make Muslims look bad or bring them physical harm. Its membership—and it is a small organization of about 1,000 people across the entire U.K.—is composed of “thugs who are committed to violence.”

“These aren’t guys in bow ties discussing eugenics, as disgusting as that may be,” said Ryan. “They’re coming from a street-based understanding of politics.”

Fransen made British headlines for marching through a predominately Muslim area of Luton in a paramilitary uniform carrying a large crucifix and picking fights with the locals; she was arrested, prosecuted, and fined under a statute that forbids the wearing of uniforms “for a political purpose;” the law was passed in the 1930s in an effort to control British fascists like Oswald Moseley’s notoriously violent brownshirts, though it has also been used to prosecute political protestors.

When it comes to Britain First, there is little ambiguity about the group’s taste for violent confrontation. “When someone insults them back, they videotape it and then share it very rapidly on their social platforms to promote the idea that there are no-go areas and they’re just Christians minding their own business, when in fact they’re trying to incite violence,” said Ryan. “They’ll go into mosques in paramilitary uniforms and walk over the prayer mats with big heavy boots, thrust a Bible into the hands of the imams and tell them they’re worshipping a false prophet. I’ve seen them go into Brick Lane in a disused military vehicle handing out leaflets; it’s all these very high-profile stunts designed to get attention.”

Even far-right figures were horrified by Trump’s tweets on Wednesday morning; dissembling conspiracist Paul Joseph Watson tweeted that “someone might want to tell whoever is running Trump’s Twitter account this morning that retweeting Britain First is not great optics.” Britain’s own prime minister Theresa May, formerly one of the president’s staunch allies, condemned Trump, apparently for the first time: “It is wrong for the president to have done this,” she said.

Trump’s tweets can often be lined up with whatever is on cable news at the moment; in this case it’s less clear how he came across Fransen’s twitter feed. However it happened, his actions Wednesday morning will doubtless reinvigorate a movement the vast majority of the U.K. deplores and hopes will go away. “Trump’s retweets are just throwing oil on a dying fire,” Ryan said.

“I don’t see how it advances America’s interests.”

This post has been updated.

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