Kushner Met With Russian Banker Who Is Putin Crony, Spy School Grad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAY 27 2017, 6:53 AM ET

Kushner Met With Russian Banker Who Is Putin Crony, Spy School Grad

The Russian banker Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met with in December is viewed by U.S. intelligence as a “Putin crony” and a graduate of a “finishing school” for spies who was often tasked with sensitive financial operations by Putin, according to multiple U.S. officials and documents viewed by NBC News.

Sergey Gorkov, 48, graduated from the FSB Academy, which was chartered in 1994 to educate Russian Intelligence personnel. He has long served Russian President Vladimir Putin in critical economic roles. Most recently, Putin chose him to head of the state-owned VneshEconomBank (VEB). As the Russian state national development bank, VEB has played a critical role in blunting the impact of U.S. sanctions against Russia by finding other sources of foreign capital.

Before that, Gorkov was the deputy chairman of Sberbank, Russia’s biggest bank, also state-owned, and also under U.S. sanctions since 2014.

Related: Jared Kushner Under Scrutiny in Russia Probe, Say Officials

NBC News reported Thursday that Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, according to multiple U.S. officials. Investigators believe Kushner has significant information relevant to the Russia probe, officials said. That does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him.

It is not known what has drawn FBI scrutiny, but congressional aides have said they would like to question Kushner about a meeting Kushner had with Gorkov in December 2016. At the time, Kushner was an adviser to President-elect Trump and Gorkov was chairman of VEB.

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Sources: Kushner Under Scrutiny By FBI as Part of Russia Investigation 1:04

Both the White House and VEB confirm that Kushner and Gorkov met at a banking “road show” but haven’t disclosed either the location for the meeting or the specific date in December. Details of what they discussed have not been released, although Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said Kushner is prepared to cooperate with congressional investigators or the FBI if asked.

The White House subsequently characterized the meeting as part of Kushner’s role as a transition adviser and conduit for the State Department. But Gorkov in a written statement to Reuters, said it was a business meeting. According to Reuters, Gorkov met “with a number of representatives of the largest banks and business establishments of the U.S., including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies.”

Related: Flynn, Manafort Are Key Figures in Russia Probe Mueller Will Lead

Gorkov is close to Putin, “a Putin crony,” as one official put it. Gorkov has also been awarded the “Certificate of Honor of the Government of the Russian Federation” and the “Medal of the Order of Merit for Services to the Fatherland,” both presented by Putin.

Putin has long called on former Soviet and Russian intelligence operatives to play critical roles in Russian political and economic life.

Image: Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump
Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump, with her husband Jared Kushner, talk to Attorney General-designate Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., during the inaugural luncheon in honor of President Donald Trump, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

“It is the talent pool [Putin] draws from,” said one U.S. official. “Because Gorkov is former FSB doesn’t mean that he still is, but Putin uses the security state — the FSB and military intelligence — as an extension of his rule.”

Sberbank and VEB, Gorkov’s two banks, have been critical to the Russian economy, but have also engaged in high-profile bailouts of Russian companies, including those owned by favored oligarchs. They have also played a major role in attempts to mitigate the U.S. sanctions that were imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea.

VEB was sanctioned in July 2014, Sberbank two months later. The U.S. cited the banks’ record of securing medium- and long-term U.S. sources of financing. Sanctions severely limited their ability to raise funds in the U.S. The European Union later joined in the sanctions. The banks have responded by seeking funds from other sources, including China.

The U.S. did not cite any particular transactions when it sanctioned the bank, but said instead that Russia’s failure to meet “basic standards of international conduct” warranted onerous sanctions.

Gorkov was not sanctioned personally.

Image: Evgeny Buryakov, a former New York banker who was convicted in federal court of conspiring to act in the United States as an agent of the Russian Federation, escorted by deportation officers and turned over to Russian authorities, April 5, 2017.
Evgeny Buryakov, a former New York banker who was convicted in federal court of conspiring to act in the United States as an agent of the Russian Federation, is shown in this handout photo sitting on a commercial flight, escorted by deportation officers and turned over to Russian authorities, April 5, 2017. Reuters

Putin authorized a $22 billion of state financing for VEB to cover bad debts built up since the imposition of sanctions.

VEB was also implicated in an espionage case that began before Gorkov took over 2016 but continued after he took over.

One of its New York-based employees, Evgeny Buryakov, was arrested on espionage charges in January 2015. According to court records reviewed by NBC News, Buryakov used his position to spy on unnamed U.S. companies, and sought information on high-frequency trading. Prosecutors said his internet searches included “NYC Homeland Security” and “New York City critical infrastructure.”

Buryakov claimed he had diplomatic immunity in his defense, which was paid by VEB, but after a court ruled he didn’t qualify, he pleaded guilty in March 2016. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a $100,000 fine. He returned to Russia last month after being released.

A high-stakes gamble: How Jared Kushner reacted to previous crises

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

A high-stakes gamble: How Jared Kushner reacted to previous crises

 
May 27 at 5:38 PM
Jared Kushner had barely survived a fight to save his family’s real estate empire.Taking charge of the business after his father went to prison, Kushner, 25 at the time, paid $1.8 billion in 2007 for the nation’s most expensive office building. Then the market went south, the debts piled up, and Kushner spent years pushing banks to renegotiate the loans.

But after one disgruntled lender had tried to block him, Kushner had an unusual weapon at his disposal: He owned a newspaper.

Kushner, who had purchased the New York Observer in 2006, walked into his editor’s office and suggested a story exposing potentially embarrassing details about the uncooperative lender.

“I could tell he was angry at the guy,” said the editor, Elizabeth Spiers, who resigned in 2012. Only after months of dead-end reporting did Kushner finally stop asking for the story, she said. That followed a separate incident in which Kushner wanted a “hit job” on another foe, a second Observer editor told The Washington Post.

Kushner’s career in the cutthroat world of New York real estate shows how he dealt with his worst business crisis, averting catastrophe through connections, savvy negotiation and hardball tactics that left enemies in his wake. Kushner was not reticent to strike back against those he said had crossed him.

Now, as a powerful senior White House adviser, Kushner faces a new crisis that risks not only his own reputation but ultimately, the success of his father-in-law President Trump, who has entrusted him with responsibilities ranging from Middle East diplomacy to reinventing the federal government.

A federal investigation has focused on Kushner’s secret meetings with Russians during and after Trump’s 2016 campaign. The Post reported Friday that Kushner discussed with the Russian ambassador the possibility of establishing back-channel communications with the Kremlin, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Kushner’s attorneys have said he will cooperate with the federal investigation and answer questions from a special counsel examining allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, a probe that could also examine financial connections Trump advisers may have had with Russia. Kushner declined comment.

Kushner’s allies said his experience in New York’s aggressive business culture prepared him to manage crises and tackle any problem Trump gives him to solve.

But running a real estate company, where business deals and corporate rivalries stem from the singular goal of turning the biggest profits, is far different from navigating the vast federal government or mastering the tricky politics of Washington and complexities of overseas diplomacy.

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Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret channel with Kremlin
Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in December that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, asked him about setting up a communications channel between the transition team and the Kremlin using Russian facilities in the United States. (Video: Alice Li,McKenna Ewen/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Trump has relied on Kushner as the president makes his own transition from the business world. And just as Trump has struggled to adapt, Kushner is adjusting with the lessons of the past decade in mind, saying privately that he sees a parallel between his old and new careers, believing both are blood sports.

***

Kushner’s real estate career began with a family trauma. His father, Charles, a major Democratic Party donor whose company then focused on modest apartment buildings in New Jersey, was convicted in 2005 of federal tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations, including some in Jared Kushner’s name.

The prosecutor was then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who said the elder Kushner had not taken responsibility for his “vile and heinous acts.” (Christie’s prosecution scarred the family, Kushner associates told The Post. The wound reopened during the Trump campaign, when White House officials said the younger Kushner helped quash consideration of Christie for an administration role). Christie did not respond to a request for comment.

Jared Kushner was studying law at New York University as the case generated wide attention because of its scandalous details. Charles Kushner had arranged to secretly videotape his brother-in-law meeting with a prostitute, allegedly hoping to coerce relatives to stop cooperating with federal authorities. The judge called it an act of vengeance.

Kushner told New York magazine in 2009 that his father arranged for the sex tape as a warning to warring family members who he said were trying to hurt him.

“Was it the right thing to do? At the end of the day, it was a function of saying, ‘You’re trying to make my life miserable. Well, I’m doing the same,’ ” Kushner said.

With his father incarcerated in Alabama, barred from making business deals, Jared Kushner, the eldest son, took over the empire. It had 1,000 employees and owned more than 25,000 apartments. The family’s reputation was in tatters.

“A lot of their friends and business colleagues just disappeared,” said Arthur J. Mirante II, a business consultant who advised the Kushners.

Kushner went to Alabama every week to consult his father. He came up with two risky moves. In 2006, he bought an unprofitable newspaper, the New York Observer, for a reported $10 million. The newspaper, a broadsheet printed on pink paper, aggressively covered New York business and politics. It had been especially hard on real estate titan Donald Trump, calling him the “prince of swine,” according to former columnist Michael Thomas.

Kushner’s newspaper ownership gave him entree to the city’s powerful. Kushner by then had relocated the company to Manhattan, and he added to his allure by announcing in January 2007 a deal that shocked many real estate analysts.

He agreed to pay $1.8 billion for a 41-story office building at 666 Fifth Ave., only blocks from Trump Tower, the highest price paid at the time for a U.S. office building. Kushner called it “a great acquisition,” but some real estate veterans saw it as an act of hubris. Income projections suggested that Kushner had vastly overpaid — and that was months before the Great Recession further softened the market.

Within three years, Kushner’s project was drowning. A 2010 appraisal placed its value at $820 million, about half of what he paid, and well below his debt to banks, according to financial records. As the recession set in, office rents plunged, and his building’s occupancy rate dropped from nearly full to 77 percent in 2011, according to lending documents.

Bankers turned to LNR, a Florida firm that handles distressed real estate debt as a precursor to possible foreclosure. LNR represented the banks in their effort to collect Kushner’s obligations.

That created extraordinary pressure on Kushner to negotiate with LNR to reduce his debt burden. But that, in turn, meant some banks and investors might be paid less than expected. A battle began between Kushner and the companies that helped finance his risky purchase. LNR declined comment.

One of the biggest debt holders was Colony Capital, which owned $72.2 million, according to analysts’ estimates. The company was run by Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a Trump friend. Barrack had worked for an oil baron who sold the iconic Plaza Hotel to Trump for $410 million, which Trump later acknowledged was too high, eventually forcing him to put the property into bankruptcy. The two men nonetheless remained close; Barrack had a speaking role at the Republican National Convention and headed Trump’s inaugural committee.

Kushner mentioned to his wife, Ivanka Trump — whom he married in 2009 — that Barrack was going after him on the debt. She told him that her father was close to Barrack, and so Donald Trump introduced Kushner to Barrack, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Barrack was concerned, but Kushner argued that lowering his obligation was better than foreclosure. “I’m asking you to make more money for yourself than you’ll make otherwise,” Kushner told Barrack, according to the person familiar with the conversation. Barrack did not respond to a request for comment.

A company run by another Trump associate, Steven Roth, chief executive and chairman of office giant Vornado Realty Trust, bought 49.5 percent of the project and helped run it. Roth is partners with Trump on other buildings and was chosen by the president to run a committee that will recommend how to spend federal money on infrastructure projects. Both Vornado and Roth declined comment.

At the same time, one of Kushner’s most severe challenges was dealing with a New York company called AREA Property Partners, which held $105.4 million of Kushner’s debt, according to industry estimates based on lending documents. Its chief executive, Richard Mack, objected to Kushner’s debt-relief requests. Mack declined comment.

Ultimately, Kushner made a deal with LNR to ease his debt burden and allow him to retain majority control. The agreement allowed Kushner to pay off some loans immediately, lowered his payment rate and extended the deadline on the bulk of the debt for two years, to February 2019. The initial $1.2 billion mortgage was split in two, with $115 million of what he owed subjugated by Kushner’s position so that banks may ultimately have to write it off, according to financial filings.

Such restructurings are not unusual for owners facing extensive real estate debt. But Kushner’s negotiations to protect his family’s investment left some hard feelings. A lender involved in the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing private conversations, told The Post he was upset because Kushner did little to protect his lenders. The lender said the various renegotiations could cost banks and investors hundreds of millions of dollars compared with what was originally expected.

“They could have taken steps to mitigate the damage,” the lender said.

But Kushner viewed it as a hardball business deal and showed that he was a tough negotiator, according to an individual familiar with his perspective.

Sources familiar with the arrangement said the Kushner family got back most of its $500 million investment.

Kushner divested himself of his interest in 666 Fifth Ave. when he joined the administration, although he kept stakes in about 90 percent of his real estate holdings, valued between $132 million and $407 million. He resigned from the family business and pledged a clear ethical divide. But ethics experts say his remaining business ties — many in partnerships and LLCs that cannot be easily traced — call for fuller disclosure.

His admirers in real estate say Kushner has never made deals in traditional ways, although he is quick to seek counsel.

Sandeep Mathrani, the chief executive of shopping mall giant General Growth Properties, said he has been periodically offering Kushner advice since the young developer asked to meet with him almost a decade ago.

“I think Jared got into the real estate business to redeem the reputation of the Kushner family, and I think he has definitely done that in the New York circles,” Mathrani said.

“Jared was always hungry for creative new ideas and not saying ‘This is the way we’ve done things for generations.’ Which is cool because a lot of people in real estate families, that’s how they behave,” said Asher Abehsera, a Kushner partner in a high-end project under development in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn.

***

Kushner had never shied away from hardball tactics, and as a newspaper owner, he had a media vehicle to spread negative information.

One editor of the Observer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing a private conversation, said Kushner wanted a negative story on a banker who was at odds with the family business. The editor recalled Kushner saying: “We have to do a hit job on this guy. He is a bad guy.”

“I said, ‘Jared, first off, never use the phrase ‘hit job.’ We can’t use that term. And second, there’s no story here,” the editor said.

A similar episode occurred with Spiers, the former editor who said Kushner offered a tip that cast Mack, the lender from AREA Property Partners, in a bad light.

Mainstream media organizations generally try to maintain editorial independence from their owners, so Spiers was concerned that Kushner was hoping to use the paper to punish an antagonist.

Spiers said Kushner urged her to pursue the tip, which included information about Mack’s business affairs. Spiers, who previously had founded the website Gawker, told The Post she had already determined that Kushner seemed to want to use the paper to advance his business interests.

“Jared didn’t buy the paper because he was interested in journalism. He bought the paper because it was a mechanism to gain influence in New York,” Spiers said. “He was angry at the media because he thought the media was partly responsible for his father going to jail.”

She said she told Kushner that “you realize if we did this story, if anything is wrong, even by accident, he has a malice precondition, and Jared didn’t know what I was talking about.” A public official who sues for libel must show that the publication had “actual malice” against the subject of the story.

Spiers gave the tip to two reporters, but they could not substantiate it. Kushner insisted on meeting with the reporters twice and brought in a source to speak with them, according to Foster Kamer, one of the reporters. Still, it could not be confirmed.

Kamer said that Kushner had put him in an improper position.

“To Jared, it was such a benign thing, and to myself, it was just one of the most deeply offensive . . . things that had ever happened to me professionally,” Kamer said.

In the end, the reporters and Spiers convinced Kushner that the tip did not check out, and no story was published.

“I think it took a year off my life to pursue that story,” Spiers said. “Every meeting I had with him, he asked, ‘So how’s that story coming?’ ”

Kushner was asked in March 2016 at a forum how he managed conflicts between his real estate business and the Observer. He brushed off the question.

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“If you don’t want conflicts, just go into your apartment and lock the door, don’t go to work, don’t do anything,” he said. “But as it comes up, you trust people to do the right things, and we found that we really haven’t had any issues.”

An associate defended Kushner by saying the newspaper owner spent less than 1 percent of his time on the Observer and was not involved in daily operations. As Kushner gave less attention to his newspaper, he hired a close friend, Ken Kurson, to become editor in 2013.

Kurson, who announced this past week that he was stepping down from his Observer job, said in an interview that those “who poke fun at the enormous portfolio” Kushner has at the White House fail to appreciate what he has gone through during the past decade — and what he means to Trump.

“It overlooks, first of all, the complexity and depth of what he has achieved in his business career,” Kurson said of Kushner. “It overlooks the major factor of how leaders select their teams. It is trust.”

Amy Brittain contributed to this report.

Is Jeff Sessions Just Another one of many Russian Crony’s On The Trump/Putin Payroll?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Jeff Sessions just added even more smoke to the Trump-Russia story

Story highlights

  • Sessions attributed the oversight to advice he received from an FBI employee who helped him fill out the form.
  • If Trump truly believes that this whole thing is a made-up story, then he should be unrelentingly supportive of the Mueller investigation

(CNN) Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to properly disclose his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a security clearance application, CNN reported on Wednesday night.

Sessions attributed the oversight to advice he received from an FBI employee who helped him fill out the form. The FBI employee told Sessions he didn’t need to note every interaction — especially passing ones — with foreign officials. So, Sessions didn’t.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. Phil Mudd, who spent time at the CIA and the FBI and now works as a counter-terrorism analyst for CNN, acknowledged Thursday morning on “New Day” that he, too, didn’t list every foreign official he came into contact with on his security clearance forms — comparing it to going 62 in an area where the speed limit is 55.
Fair enough.
The problem here for Sessions — and the Trump administration more broadly — is that the meetings the Attorney General failed to disclose are with the Russian ambassador. Not the ambassador to France or England or literally any other place in the world.
And that means the omissions matter. Because they land amid a federal investigation now being run by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign. And two congressional investigations into the matter. And the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn due to his misleading comments about his own conversations with Kislyak. And the Russia ties of former Trump advisers Paul Manafort and Carter Page. And Sessions’ own recusal from the federal investigation due to his meetings with Kislyak. And the reports that Trump asked then FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn and the Russians during a Feb. 14 meeting.
You get the idea. There’s just a massive amount of smoke here. Is it possible that the smoke isn’t being produced by a fire, as Trump insists? Sure. But the growing amount of smoke belies Trump’s repeated insistence that the investigation is simply “fake news” or a “witch hunt.”
The public disagrees with Trump on this, too. In a new Fox News national poll, more than six in ten (61%) of people said they were concerned with reports of “Russian meddling in U.S. affairs,” as opposed to just 38% who said they weren’t concerned. Almost 7 in 10 (68%) approved of the appointment of a special counsel to look into Russia’s meddling and possible collusion with elements of the Trump campaign. People were split on whether they thought evidence would be found proving the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians; 43 percent said they expected that to happen while 45 percent said they didn’t.
If Trump truly believes that this whole thing is a made-up story, then he should be unrelentingly supportive of the Mueller investigation. Because Mueller is the only person at this point who can clear away all the smoke and show that there is no fire. (Not even Trump can do that at this point — even if he wanted to. The story has gotten totally beyond his control.)
And yet, Trump continues to work to undermine Mueller and his findings. Which means that every development like this latest one with Sessions will just add more smoke to the story. At this point, there’s so much smoke surrounding Trump and Russia, it’s getting very hard to see.

Russian diplomat claimed Kushner wanted back channel to Kremlin: report says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Russian diplomat claimed Kushner wanted backchannel to Kremlin: report says

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner suggested backchannel communications between the Trump transition and Russia, Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak reportedly said.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner suggested backchannel communications between the Trump transition and Russia, Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak reportedly said.

(EVAN VUCCI/AP)

Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner wanted to create a backchannel communications link between the President’s transition and the Kremlin, according to alleged discussions reported Friday.Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak told other officials in Moscow that Kushner had suggested the backchannel after a meeting at Trump Tower that also included future National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to the Washington Post.

Friday night’s report, based off of information from U.S. officials, came the same day that the Post reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election had requested documents from the Trump campaign.

A letter from the committee, one of the four main inquiries into the election interference and possible Trump campaign collusion, asked for all documents going back to 2015, the Post reported.

Jared Kushner scrutinized in Trump-Russia investigation: reports

The investigations into the meddling and potential collusion have accelerated in recent weeks after the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who confirmed the FBI investigation in March and reportedly resisted pressure from Trump to end it’s look at Flynn.

Flynn and former Trump campaign chair Manafort are believed to be targets of the investigation, though multiple outlets reported Thursday that Kushner was considered a person of interest.

Team Trump had previously confirmed the meeting between Kushner, Flynn and Kislyak, but has said it was not out of the ordinary.

The Post report Friday was based off of conversations Kislyak had with other Russian officials, and the Americans involved did not comment.

Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner fail to disclose art worth millions

Sergey Kislyak reportedly told superiors about the potential of a backchannel after a December meeting.

Sergey Kislyak reportedly told superiors about the potential of a backchannel after a December meeting.

(CLIFF OWEN/AP)

It is not unusual for incoming presidential administrations to meet with foreign leaders, though before the December meeting the Kremlin had been accused of orchestrating a campaign to influence the November election.

A joint intelligence community report released in January said that the effort was aimed at helping Trump.

Kushner had originally failed to report his meeting with Vladimir Putin’s man in America on his application for a security clearance, but his lawyer said that the documents were submitted prematurely and his client would inform authorities in an interview.

A potential backchannel between the Trump team and the U.S.’s former Cold War foe had previously been raised by a report in April, when the Post reported that controversial Blackwater founder Erik Prince, also Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s brother, had acted as a go-between in January.

Prince reportedly acted as an envoy for Trump in a secretive meeting with unidentified emissary from Putin in the Seychelles, remote islands in the Indian Ocean, though Prince and the White House denied that he was sent by the incoming adminitration.

The Post reported Friday that the Kushner-Kislyak conversation in December talked about a Trump representative meeting a “Russian contact.”

CIA: Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. CreditWin McNamee/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.

The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is continuing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election.

John O. Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., testified Tuesday about a tense period last year when he came to believe that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was trying to steer the outcome of the election. He said he saw intelligence suggesting that Russia wanted to use Trump campaign officials, wittingly or not, to help in that effort. He spoke vaguely about contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, without giving names, saying they “raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

Whether the Russians worked directly with any Trump advisers is one of the central questions that federal investigators, now led by Robert S. Mueller III, the newly appointed special counsel, are seeking to answer. President Trump, for his part, has dismissed talk of Russian interference in the election as “fake news,” insisting there was no contact between his campaign and Russian officials.

“If there ever was any effort by Russians to influence me, I was unaware, and they would have failed,” Mr. Manafort said in a statement. “I did not collude with the Russians to influence the elections.”

The White House, F.B.I. and C.I.A. declined to comment. Mr. Flynn’s lawyer did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The current and former officials agreed to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity because much of it remains highly classified, and they could be prosecuted for disclosing it.

Last week, CNN reported about intercepted phone calls during which Russian officials were bragging about ties to Mr. Flynn and discussing ways to wield influence over him.

In his congressional testimony, Mr. Brennan discussed the broad outlines of the intelligence, and his disclosures backed up the accounts of the information provided by the current and former officials.

“I was convinced in the summer that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election. And they were very aggressive,” Mr. Brennan said. Still, he said, even at the end of the Obama administration he had “unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf again either in a witting or unwitting fashion.”

Mr. Brennan’s testimony offered the fullest public account to date of how American intelligence agencies first came to fear that Mr. Trump’s campaign might be aiding Russia’s attack on the election.

By early summer, American intelligence officials already were fairly certain that it was Russian hackers who had stolen tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That in itself was not viewed as particularly extraordinary by the Americans — foreign spies had hacked previous campaigns, and the United States does the same in elections around the world, officials said. The view on the inside was that collecting information, even through hacking, is what spies do.

But the concerns began to grow when intelligence began trickling in about Russian officials weighing whether they should release stolen emails and other information to shape American opinion — to, in essence, weaponize the materials stolen by hackers.

An unclassified report by American intelligence agencies released in January stated that Mr. Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”

Before taking the helm of the Trump campaign last May, Mr. Manafort worked for more than a decade for Russian-leaning political organizations and people in Ukraine, including Mr. Yanukovych, the former president. Mr. Yanukovych was a close ally of Mr. Putin.

Mr. Manafort’s links to Ukraine led to his departure from the Trump campaign in August, after his name surfaced in secret ledgers showing millions in undisclosed payments from Mr. Yanukovych’s political party.

Russia views Ukraine as a buffer against the eastward expansion of NATO, and has supported separatists in their years long fight against the struggling democratic government in Kiev.

Mr. Flynn’s ties to Russian officials stretch back to his time at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he led from 2012 to 2014. There, he began pressing for the United States to cultivate Russia as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants, and even spent a day in Moscow at the headquarters of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, in 2013.

He continued to insist that Russia could be an ally even after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea the following year, and Obama administration officials have said that contributed to their decision to push him out of the D.I.A.

But in private life, Mr. Flynn cultivated even closer ties to Russia. In 2015, he earned more than $65,000 from companies linked to Russia, including a cargo airline implicated in a bribery scheme involving Russian officials at the United Nations, and an American branch of a cybersecurity firm believed to have ties to Russia’s intelligence services.

The biggest payment, though, came from RT, the Kremlin-financed news network. It paid Mr. Flynn $45,000 to give a speech in Moscow, where he also attended the network’s lavish anniversary dinner. There, he was photographed sitting next to Mr. Putin.

A senior lawmaker said on Monday that Mr. Flynn misled Pentagon investigators about how he was paid for the Moscow trip. He also failed to disclose the source of that income on a security form he was required to complete before joining the White House, according to congressional investigators.

American officials have also said there were multiple telephone calls between Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, on Dec. 29, beginning shortly after Mr. Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed that, in retaliation for Russian election meddling, the United States was expelling 35 people suspected of being Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions.

American intelligence agencies routinely tap the phones of Russian diplomats, and transcripts of the calls showed that Mr. Flynn urged the Russians not to respond, saying relations would improve once Mr. Trump was in office, officials have said.

But after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of the calls, Mr. Flynn was fired as national security adviser after a tumultuous 25 days in office.

Hillary Clinton’s ’email’ problem was bigger than anyone realized

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Hillary Clinton’s ’email’ problem was bigger than anyone realized

Clinton: I was on way to winning until Comey, Wikileaks

(CNN) Hillary Clinton’s ongoing struggle to deal with the revelation that she used a private email server during her time as secretary of state dominated the conversation about her presidential candidacy, and research suggests it might have doomed her campaign, according to a new study by a consortium of pollsters released over the weekend.
In the paper, presented at the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s annual conference in New Orleans, pollsters and political scientists from Gallup, Georgetown University and the University of Michigan studied the daily Gallup tracking poll from July 10 to November 7, 2016. In particular, they zeroed in on one question: “Have you read, seen or heard anything about (Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump) in the last day or two?” They then zeroed in on the “yes” responses and categorized what, exactly, people said they had read, seen or heard.
Here’s what people had read, seen or heard about Clinton looks like in a word cloud (the bigger the word, the more often it was mentioned):

As you can see, “email” drowns out every other term mentioned about Clinton. It was, without question, the dominant narrative of the election for her — at least in the five months that this paper documents. And, according to the study, the mentions of email correlate directly to negative views of Clinton.
Now, check out Trump’s word cloud:

There’s nothing to match the Clinton “email” mentions. And although some of the most commonly mentioned words are negative storylines for Trump — “women,” most notably — there’s a lot of more neutral mentions: “debate,” “people” and “president.” This speaks to the theory that by throwing so many balls up in the air every day — via his stump speeches, Twitter, etc. — Trump made it impossible for anyone to follow all of them. Everything seemed like a molehill. Even the mountains.

Clinton blames Comey, Russia for election loss

Clinton blames Comey, Russia for election loss
What’s more, the word “email” came up more and more in the final weeks of the election — particularly in the wake of then-FBI Director James Comey’s announcement in late October that he was re-starting an investigation into Clinton’s server.
Here’s the word clouds broken into a week-by-week timeline of the last month of the campaign. Again, the larger the word appears, the more it was mentioned as something people had seen, read or heard about Clinton or Trump.

Not only did “email” dominate the conversation around Clinton, it dominated the entire conversation in the race. From October 23 on, Trump is barely talked about — an amazing feat for someone so willing to make news.
This study will be used by liberals as evidence that the media’s unnecessary focus on Clinton’s email server cost her the election.
I’d agree that Clinton’s email server played a decisive role in deciding the election. But I wouldn’t agree with the idea that the media is responsible for it.
After all, it was Clinton who never seemed to grasp the seriousness of the issue and how it eroded the public’s already shaky confidence in her. Her inability to do those things meant she was never able to put the story behind her. And then the Comey announcement came, which undoubtedly surged the issue back to the top of many voters’ minds.
Whatever the reasons, when people thought of Clinton in the final weeks of the race, they thought of her emails. And that was a very bad thing for her.

Philippines President Duterte Declares Martial Law On ISIS Held Island Of Mindanao

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday after a fierce bout of fighting between the army and militants linked to Islamic State in the city of Marawi.

Three members of the security forces were killed and 12 wounded, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a news conference, as clashes erupted in the wake of what the military said was a raid on a flat where about 15 rebels were hiding.

Lorenzana was speaking in Moscow, where he was accompanying Duterte on an official visit.

Duterte canceled a meeting set for Wednesday with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and planned to cut short his trip, during which he was also due to meet Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Putin will meet Duterte later Tuesday, rather than Thursday, his press secretary Dmitry Peskov was quoted as TASS news agency.

The government urged civilians on Mindanao to stay in their homes or flee if it was safe, and the military said reinforcements of an initial 500 soldiers were on the way, but were being hamstrung by rebels blocking roads.

The militants belong to the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State in the Middle East. Previous military offensives against the Maute, based in Lanao del Sur province, have lasted several days.

“There are Maute snipers all around, so the troops are still holding and elements have already joined,” Lorenzana.

Fires raged in Marawi but the military and the city’s mayor said the situation was now under control.

Witnesses told local television that gunfire was clattering sporadically around the city. Several buildings were on fire, including a church, officials said.

“(Duterte) has already declared martial law for the entire island of Mindanao,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters in Moscow.

“This is on the grounds of resistance and rebellion based on what is happening,” he said, adding that martial law would last for 60 days, as stipulated in the constitution.

Brigadier General Rolando Bautista, commander of the Philippines’ First Infantry Division, said security forces were trying to locate the militants.

“Based on our assessment right now there are more or less 100 divided into groups of 10 in different locations,” he told news channel ANC.

“Since they are advocating ISIS ideology they have to show ISIS that they are a force to be reckoned with,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato and; Martin Petty; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Copyright 2017 Thomson Reuters.

Ex-CIA chief John Brennan: ‘Russia brazenly interfered’ in US elections

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Ex-CIA chief John Brennan: ‘Russia brazenly interfered’ in US elections

Story highlights

  • House investigators are interest in diving into Russian meddling in the US election
  • Former CIA Director John Brennan’s testimony isn’t the only high profile hearing Tuesday

Washington (CNN) Former CIA Director John Brennan told House Russia investigators Tuesday that Russia “brazenly interfered” in the US elections, including actively contacting members of President Donald Trump’s campaign — but he stopped shy of dubbing it “collusion.”

“I saw interaction that in my mind raised questions of whether it was collusion,” Brennan told Rep. Trey Gowdy, saying that he supported the FBI digging further. “It was necessary to pull threads.”
Brennan was speaking to the House intelligence committee on the extent of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections and possible ties to the Trump campaign, where he was asked about how Moscow recruits sources “wittingly and unwittingly.”
“Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late,” Brennan said.
Brennan said that he first picked up on Russia’s active meddling last summer and, in an August 4, 2016, phone call with Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB intelligence agency, warned him against further interference. Bortnikov, Brennan said, denied any active efforts in the election.
Brennan cautioned lawmakers that although he could not definitively say if those contacts amounted to “collusion,” he knew that Russians were actively cutivating US contacts and, very likely, did not present themselves as Russian spies.
Brennan also said Trump might have broken protocol if he revealed highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the US in a White House meeting earlier this month.
The panel will get two cracks at Brennan — the first in public at 10 a.m. ET and the second behind closed doors — almost two months after his first appearance was dramatically canceled amid the chaos sparked by House intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ clandestine White House trip.
House investigators are particularly interested in finding out more about how Russia conducted its election attacks inside the US and who Russian spies attempted to recruit to their side, said a House intelligence committee source. Intelligence sources have previously told CNN that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page was being cultivating as a source for a Russian spy — whether he knew it or not. Page has flatly and continually denied that charge.
But Brennan’s isn’t the only high-profile hearing Tuesday. The latest news most likely to hold the Capitol captive is word that Trump asked his own intelligence chiefs — Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers — to rebut Comey’s then-public statement that the FBI had opened a criminal probe into Russia’s meddling in July of last year.
Coats is testifying in the Senate and Rogers is expected to testify in the House on budget issues, but the blockbuster news of Trump’s attempt to curtail a federal probe, first reported by The Washington Post, has already come up.
Meanwhile, Brennan is also likely to face questions about a split among intelligence leaders last summer over the purpose of Russia’s meddling in the US election — whether it was designed to support Trump or merely spur chaos and confusion in the election. Brennan told senior lawmakers as early as last summer that the Russian operation was squarely designed to support Trump.
Brennan’s appearance comes as the Russia probes have escalated greatly since Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey and subsequently the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump and Russia.
On Monday, Mark Warner, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate intelligence committee left open the threat of holding former national security adviser Michael Flynn in contempt if he continues to withhold documents in response to a congressional subpoena.

Syria Has Changed The World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND THE NEW YOUR TIMES)

Syria Changed the World

Istanbul- The world seems awash in chaos and uncertainty, perhaps more so than at any point since the end of the Cold War.

Authoritarian-leaning leaders are on the rise, and liberal democracy itself seems under siege. The post-World War II order is fraying as fighting spills across borders and international institutions — built, at least in theory, to act as brakes on wanton slaughter — fail to provide solutions. Populist movements on both sides of the Atlantic are not just riding anti-establishment anger, but stoking fears of a religious “other,” this time Muslims.

These challenges have been crystallized, propelled and intensified by a conflagration once dismissed in the West as peripheral, to be filed, perhaps, under “Muslims killing Muslims”: the war in Syria.

Now in its seventh year, this war allowed to rage for so long, killing 400,000 Syrians and plunging millions more into misery, has sent shock waves around the world. Millions have fled to neighboring countries, some pushing on to Europe.

The notion that the postwar world would no longer let leaders indiscriminately kill their own citizens now seems in full retreat. The Syrian regime’s response to rebellion, continuing year after year, threatens to normalize levels of state brutality not seen in decades. All the while Bashar al-Assad invokes an excuse increasingly popular among the world’s governments since Sept. 11: He is “fighting terror.”

“Syria did not cause everything,” said the Syrian dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a secular leftist who spent nearly two decades as a political prisoner under Mr. Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez. “But yes, Syria changed the world.”

The United Nations Security Council is paralyzed. Aid agencies are overwhelmed. Even a United States missile strike on a Syrian military air base, ordered by President Trump in retaliation for a chemical attack on a rebel-held town, seems little more than a blip in the turmoil, the latest unilateral intervention in the war. Two weeks later, the Syrian regime, backed by Russia, continues its scorched-earth bombings.

There remains no consensus on what should have been or could still be done for Syria, or whether a more, or less, muscular international approach would have brought better results.

The Obama White House kept Syria at arm’s length, determined, understandably, to avoid the mistakes of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And Western leaders surmised that unlike the 1990s civil war in Bosnia, the Syrian conflict could burn in isolation from their countries.

Moral or not, that calculation was incorrect. The crisis has crossed Europe’s doorstep and is roiling its politics.

The conflict began in 2011, with political protests. Syrian security forces cracked down, and with Western support stronger in rhetoric than reality, some of Assad’s opponents took up arms. The regime responded with mass detentions, torture, starvation sieges and bombing of rebel-held areas. Extremist jihadists arose, with ISIS eventually declaring a caliphate and fomenting violence in Europe.

More than five million Syrians have fled their country. Hundreds of thousands joined a refugee trail across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Images of crowds of desperate refugees — and of the extreme violence they had faced at home — were used by politicians to fuel fears of Islam, and of Muslims. That lifted far-right European parties already riding on resentment of immigrants, from Finland to Hungary.

The refugee crisis has posed one of the biggest challenges in memory to the cohesion of the European Union and some of its core values: freedom of movement, common borders, pluralism. It heightened anxieties over identity and culture, feeding off economic insecurity and mistrust of governing elites that grew over decades with globalization and financial crises.

Suddenly European countries were erecting fences and internment camps to stop migrants. While Germany welcomed refugees, other countries resisted sharing the burden. The far right spoke of protecting white, Christian Europe. Even the Brexit campaign played, in part, on fears of the refugees.

In the United States, as in Europe, right-wing extremists are among those embracing authoritarian, indiscriminately violent responses to perceived “Islamist” threats. White nationalists like Richard Spencer and David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, post adoring pictures on social media of Assad, who portrays himself as a bulwark against extremism.

In my decade of covering violence against civilians in the Middle East, mass murder by states has often seemed less gripping to Western audiences than far smaller numbers of theatrically staged killings — horrific as they are — by ISIS and its Qaeda predecessors.

The United States’ own “war on terror” played a part in making violations of humanitarian and legal norms routine: detentions at Guantánamo Bay, the torture at Abu Ghraib and the continuing drone and air wars with mounting civilian tolls in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.

Then, too, Syria’s war broke out when the global stage was set for division and ineffectiveness. Russia was eager for a bigger role, the United States was retreating, Europe was consumed with internal problems. Russia and the United States saw opposite interests in Syria, deadlocking the Security Council.

The New York Times

Mysterious rash of Russian deaths cast suspicion on Vladimir Putin

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘USA TODAY’)

Mysterious rash of Russian deaths cast suspicion on Vladimir Putin

Twice-poisoned Putin critic survives to te…
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A former member of the Russian parliament is gunned down in broad daylight in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. A longtime Russian ambassador to the United Nations drops dead at work. A Russian-backed commander in the breakaway Ukrainian province of Donetsk is blown up in an elevator. A Russian media executive is found dead in his Washington, D.C., hotel room.

What do they have in common? They are among 38 prominent Russians who are victims of unsolved murders or suspicious deaths since the beginning of 2014, according to a list compiled by USA TODAY and British journalist Sarah Hurst, who has done research in Russia.

The list contains 10 high-profile critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, seven diplomats, six associates of Kremlin power brokers who had a falling out — often over corruption — and 13 military or political leaders involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including commanders of Russian-backed separatist forces. Two are possibly connected to a dossier alleging connections between President Trump’s campaign staff and Kremlin officials that was produced by a former British spy and shared with the FBI.

Twelve were shot, stabbed or beaten to death. Six were blown up. Ten died allegedly of natural causes. One died of mysterious head injuries, one reportedly slipped and hit his head in a public bath, one was hanged in his jail cell, and one died after drinking coffee. The cause of six deaths was reported as unknown.

https://www.gannett-cdn.com/experiments/usatoday/responsive/embed-tool/?url=https:%2F%2Fwww.usatoday.com%2Fpages%2Finteractives%2Fsuspicious-russian-deaths-sacrificial-pawns-or-coincidence%2F&image=http:%2F%2Fwww.gannett-cdn.com%2Fexperiments%2Fusatoday%2Fresponsive%2F2017%2F04-russian-deaths%2Fassets%2Fimages%2F050117-RussianDeaths1.png&header=40%20Months,%2038%20Suspicious%20Deaths&title=Large%20proportion%20of%20unexplained%20Russian%20deaths%20since%20the%20start%20of%202014%20involve%20people%20trying%20to%20expose%20corruption&btn=View%20full%20list%20of%20deaths

Putin has long dealt with opponents harshly. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in March that Putin “has murdered his political opponents and rules like an authoritarian dictator.”

Yet the list of fatalities — 36 men and two women — suggests that Putin’s alleged attacks on his critics and whistle-blowers are more extensive and lethal than previously known. It also raises new concerns about contacts Putin and his lieutenants had with Trump’s campaign staff.

Trump praised Putin in March 2016 as a “strong leader,” and in 2015 said “I’d get along great with” the Russian leader. On Feb 6, Trump defended Putin when Bill O’Reilly, then of Fox News, called Putin a killer. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump replied. “Do you think our country is so innocent?”

The FBI and Congress are currently investigating contacts between Kremlin officials and Trump’s campaign advisers, as part of its investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Leahy made his comment about Putin at a congressional hearing that featured Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian political activist with personal experience of his government’s efforts to silence outspoken critics.

“We’ve seen political opposition leaders and activists, whistle-blowers, anti-corruption campaigners and independent journalists lose their lives in one way or another,” Kara-Murza told USA TODAY. “Sometimes these are suspicious suicides and plane crashes, really rare and horrible diseases. In many others they are straight murders.”

Kara-Murza worked with former deputy prime minister and Putin opponent Boris Nemtsov before Nemtsov was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kara-Murza worked until recently with Russian anti-corruption lawyer and political candidate Alexei Navalny, who suffered eye injury Thursday after being attacked with a chemical following his release from jail for leading unsanctioned protests against the Putin government across Russia this spring.

“Sometimes there are near-misses,” Kara-Murza testified in March before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

Kara-Murza said he was the victim of attempted poisonings twice: in May 2015 and this past February.

“Twice in the past two years I have experienced symptoms consistent with poisoning, both times in Moscow,” he said in an interview. “Both times, symptoms came on suddenly and out of nowhere. Both times spending weeks in a coma on life support machines. Both times, doctors set my chance of survival at 5%, so I’m very fortunate to be here today. ”

Read more:

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., noted at the hearing the dangers of winding up on the wrong side of politics in Russia. “In our system, if we make a bad decision, we might lose an election and have to work as a paid analyst on TV,” he told Kara-Murza. “In your case, people die.”

Rubio and other senators had called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to meet with members of Russia’s political opposition during his April visit to Moscow, but Tillerson did not have time for a meeting, deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

Most of the older diplomats on the list were probably victims of poor health, said Boris Silberman, a Russia analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“Knowing how diplomats live, going from one cocktail party to the next and not to the gym in between, it finally catches up to you,” Silberman said.

That could apply to Vitaly Churkin, 64, the Russian ambassador to the U.N., who died on Feb. 20 in New York of an apparent heart attack. Others, like Petr Polshikov, 56, a chief adviser to the Latin America department at the Russian Foreign Ministry, found dead with a gunshot wound in his Moscow home on Dec. 20, require further investigation, Silberman said.

“There’s almost a fever on the Russia story,” Silberman said. “Some of it is substantial. It’s almost like there’s something nefarious behind every piece of news. Sometimes there is. … They tend to clean up their messes this way.”

Many of the recent deaths raise suspicions because a string of Putin critics have died in obvious murders years earlier. They include:

• Nemtsov, who was shot to death while walking after dinner with his girlfriend in a security zone near the Kremlin. Two Chechen suspects, one a former bodyguard to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, are on trial, but the investigation did not reveal whether anyone ordered the hit.
• Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer who died in prison while investigating the alleged theft of $230 million by Russian government officials. No one was ever charged.
• Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian spy who defected, became a British citizen and was murdered in London in 2006 with radioactive polonium-210 while helping European authorities in a corruption investigation. The “state-sponsored murder” was an effort by the Russian government to send a chilling message to its critics, Peter Clarke, Scotland Yard’s former deputy commissioner who led the investigation, told the British Daily Mail on April 17. Two Russian suspects were identified by British authorities, but Russia refused to extradite them, and no one was charged.

• Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist who exposed Russian atrocities during the war in the restive Russian republic of Chechnya. She was gunned down in her Moscow apartment stairway in 2006. Former police officer Dmitry Pavliutchenkov was convicted of ordering surveillance of the journalist but denied killing her. He was sentenced in 2012 to 11 years in prison. Five alleged accomplices were later convicted, including two who were sentenced to life in prison. Pavliutchenkov’s promise to identify who ordered the hit never resulted in further charges.

Two of the recent victims, Oleg Erovinkin and Alex Oronov, have been described by Russian analysts as possibly connected to a dossier written by a former British spy about Trump and his campaign staff’s alleged collusion with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Erovinkin, 61, a general in the Russian spy agency and a close associate of a Putin confidant, was found dead in the back of his car on Dec. 26 in Moscow. The cause of death is unknown.

Oronov, 69, a Ukrainian-born businessman in New York, died under unknown circumstances around March 2, according to Andriy Artemenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament. Oronov had arranged a meeting between Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen; Trump business associate Felix Sater, and Artemenko in January about a peace plan for Ukraine that would benefit Russia. Artemenko alleged that Oronov died because of the peace-plan plot.

The list of recent deaths does not include Matthew Puncher, 46, a British polonium expert in the Litvinenko inquiry, reported to have stabbed himself to death in his home in Oxfordshire after returning from a trip to Russia last May.

Luke Harding chronicled a succession of suspected political murders in his 2016 book, A Very Expensive Poison; the Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and Putin’s War with the West. Former KGB officers and defectors described Soviet-era research into poisons used to kill enemies that continued in post-Soviet Russia, Harding wrote. Some substances are so rare and leave so little trace that death can be easily mistaken for a heart attack.

Journalist Hurst, who helped compile the list of deaths, said the recent uptick appears to be a sign of the growing political pressure on Putin and his cronies. “Putin is at the top of a criminal organization (and) there are all these people who have dirt on him,” she said. “It’s not surprising he’s willing to bump people off.”

Kara-Murza, who is still recovering from the alleged poisoning, said he has “absolutely no doubt this was an attempt to kill me because of my political activities in the Russian opposition for the last several years, and more specifically because of my active involvement in the campaign in support of the Magnitsky Act,” which calls for U.S. sanctions on Russian officials involved in human rights abuses and corruption.

He plans to push for similar laws in other Western countries, and to return to Russia to continue his activism when he is physically stronger.

Since many of the suspicious deaths are related to government corruption or those who exposed it, Kara-Murza urged Congress to block Russians who stole their nation’s wealth from investing in the United States.

“This is not only about money,” he said in his Senate testimony. “Much more importantly it is about the message that the U.S. sends to Russia.”

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