Russiagate Update: Nunes move backfires as Manafort looks even dirtier
Rep. Devin Nunes, who chairs the committee investigating Russiagate, pulled a stunt yesterday that was clearly intended to “exonerate” Donald Trump. It backfired badly:
Armed with intelligence that some Republicans said bolstered President Trump’s widely disputed claim of being wiretapped by the Obama administration, Mr. Nunes bypassed Democrats and went directly to the White House. The new information, Mr. Nunes said, showed that American intelligence agencies monitoring foreign officials may have “incidentally” picked up communications of Trump transition team members.
The move angered Democrats who said that Mr. Nunes’s attempt to buttress Mr. Trump’s accusation raised questions about his ability to conduct an impartial bipartisan investigation.
The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Representative Adam Schiff of California, issued a challenge, saying that Mr. Nunes had to decide whether he was chairman of an independent investigation or “is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both.”
With the House investigation in question, Democrats will be forced to rely on an inquiry being led by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also controlled by Republicans. Ideally, Democrats want a independent commission created to investigate the matter. The White House vehemently opposes that idea and Republican lawmakers have dismissed it as unnecessary.
It didn’t take long for Sen. John McCain, who of late has shifted from the old “maverick” label to “no f***s left to give for a political party to whom I owe nothing” mode, to throw some gasoline of the Trumpster fire:
Congress no longer has the credibility to independently tackle a probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and President Trump and his associates’ ties to Moscow, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday.
“It’s a bizarre situation, and what I think, the reason why I’m calling for this select committee or a special committee, is I think that this back-and-forth and what the American people have found out so far that no longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone,” McCain told MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren. “And I don’t say that lightly.”
McCain’s comments come amid an increasingly bitter feud that erupted between members of the House Intelligence Committee earlier Wednesday, after the panel’s chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) claimed that he had seen evidence that the U.S. intelligence community incidentally surveilled members of Trump’s transition team.
Meanwhile, Trump’s former campaign manager turns out to be the “10 Million Dollar [a Year] Man.” David Corn writes at Mother Jones:
On Wednesday morning, the Associated Press released a bombshell report revealing that Paul Manafort, who ran Donald Trump’s campaign for several months, had secretly worked for a Russian billionaire a decade ago to promote Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The news service noted that Manafort “proposed in a confidential strategy plan…that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government.” Manafort pitched this idea to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally, and in 2006 signed a $10 million annual contract for the project. The AP’s report shows Trump’s campaign was managed by an operative who had received millions from a Putin crony to bolster the Russian leader’s image in the United States at a time when US-Russia relations were tense. …
Manafort’s relationship with Deripaska began at least several years before they inked this contract when the Russian oligarch was banned from entering the United States due to his suspected connections to Russian organized crime. In the early 2000s, the aluminum magnate enlisted Manafort, a veteran lobbyist and fixer with a reputation for representing foreign despots and thugs, to help him secure a visa so he could travel to the United States, according to a source with knowledge of the arrangement,
In the late 1990s, the US State Department had refused to allow Deripaska (reportedly one of the richest men in Russia) visit the United States. … In 2000, Deripaska, who was looking to list his company on the London Stock Exchange, hired former US Senator Bob Dole and the law and lobbying firm of Alston & Bird, where Dole worked, to bolster his image and lobby the State Department. Dole won permission for Deripaska to make a short trip to the United States in December 2000, and the oligarch delivered lectures at Harvard University and a Washington, DC think tank. But, according to the Guardian, Deripaska, during this visit, was “interviewed by the FBI, which led to a second ban on his entering the US.”
This is about the time when Manafort began assisting Deripaska on the visa issue, according to the source with knowledge of this deal. Manafort also retained a publicity expert to generate positive stories about Deripaska, this source said.