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[The Republicans Need to Review the Statutes on Treason Right Now!]

 

Introduction

There is a growing body of evidence that certain high level Republican senators and congressmen have been taking vast substantial campaign donations from Russian operatives and Russian oligarchs.  If by chance you’re wondering why the Republican leadership, along with Donald Trump, are holding 850,000 federal workers hostage with the government shutdown just consider the following facts:

The Russian government conspired to interfere with democratic elections in 2016 in the United States. This was an act of war.

Our founding fathers had good reason to create an Emolument Clause in the United States Constitution because they wanted to remove a president or other members of the government such as senators or congressmen for corruption. Emolument traces back to the Latin word emolumentum, meaning “profit, gain,” which is believed to have referred to payments made to millers for grinding corn — emolere means “grind out.” Today, perhaps coincidentally, people refer to work as “the grind.”

The following is a report by the Brookings Institute, dated December 16, 2016. It is titled,“The Emoluments Clause: Its text, meaning, and application to Donald J. Trump. It was written by  Norman Eisen, Richard Painter and Laurance H. Tribe. They reported that:

“Foreign interference in the American political system was among the gravest dangers feared by the Founders of our nation and the framers of our Constitution.  The United States was a new government, and one that was vulnerable to manipulation by the great and wealthy world powers (which then, as now, included Russia).

One common tactic that foreign sovereigns, and their agents, used to influence our officials was to give them gifts, money, and other things of value.  In response to this practice, and the self-evident threat it represents, the framers included in the Constitution the Emoluments Clause of Article I, Section 9.  It prohibits any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Only explicit congressional consent validates such exchanges.

While much has changed since 1789, certain premises of politics and human nature have held steady. One of those truths is that private financial interests can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders.  As careful students of history, the Framers were painfully aware that entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious risk to the Republic.  The Emoluments Clause was forged of their hard-won wisdom.  It is no relic of a bygone era, but rather an expression of insight into the nature of the human condition and the preconditions of self-governance.

Now in 2016, when there is overwhelming evidence that a foreign power has indeed meddled in our political system, adherence to the strict prohibition on foreign government presents and emoluments “of any kind whatever” is even more important for our national security and independence.

Never in American history has a president-elect presented more conflict of interest questions and foreign entanglements than Donald Trump. Given the vast and global scope of Trump’s business interests, many of which remain shrouded in secrecy, we cannot predict the full gamut of legal and constitutional challenges that lie ahead.  But one violation, of constitutional magnitude, will run from the instant that Mr. Trump swears he will “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” While holding office, Mr. Trump will receive—by virtue of his continued interest in the Trump Organization and his stake in hundreds of other entities—a steady stream of monetary and other benefits from foreign powers and their agents. In the attached brief, we examine the Emoluments Clause in detail and conclude that Donald Trump’s diverse dealings violate both the spirit and the letter of this critical piece of the U.S. Constitution.”

Norman L. Eisen, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, was the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2009 to 2011 and ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2014. He is the chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Richard W. Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, was the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007. He is the vice chair of CREW. Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard University. 

 

Who are these Republicans?

The following is a column for the Dallas News by the Dallas Morning News in August, 2017.

“Party loyalty is often cited as the reason that GOP leaders have not been more outspoken in their criticism of President Donald Trump and his refusal to condemn Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Yet there may be another reason that top Republicans have not been more vocal in their condemnation. Perhaps it’s because they have their own links to the Russian oligarchy that they would prefer go unnoticed.

Donald Trump and the political action committees for Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and John McCain accepted $7.35 million in contributions from a Ukrainian-born oligarch who is the business partner of two of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s favorite oligarchs and a Russian government bank.

During the 2015-2016 election seasons, Ukrainian-born billionaire Leonard “Len” Blavatnik contributed $6.35 million to leading Republican candidates and incumbent senators. Mitch McConnell was the top recipient of Blavatnik’s donations, collecting $2.5 million for his GOP Senate Leadership Fund under the names of two of Blavatnik’s holding companies, Access Industries and AI Altep Holdings, according to Federal Election Commission documents and OpenSecrets.org.

Marco Rubio’s Conservative Solutions PAC and his Florida First Project received $1.5 million through Blavatnik’s two holding companies. Other high dollar recipients of funding from Blavatnik were PACS representing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at $1.1 million, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham at $800,000, Ohio Governor John Kasich at $250,000 and Arizona Senator John McCain at $200,000.

In January, Quartz reported that Blavatnik donated another $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee. Ironically, the shared address of Blavatnik’s companies is directly across the street from Trump Tower on 5th Avenue in New York.

Len Blavatnik, considered to be one of the richest men in Great Britain, holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and the U.K. He is known for his business savvy and generous philanthropy, but not without controversy.

In 2010, Oxford University drew intense criticism for accepting a donation of 75 million pounds from Blavatnik for a new school of government bearing his name. Faculty, alumni and international human rights activists claimed the university was selling its reputation and prestige to Putin’s associates.

Blavatnik’s relationships with Russian oligarchs close to Putin, particularly Oleg Deripaska, should be worrisome for Trump and the six GOP leaders who took Blavatnik’s money during the 2016 presidential campaign. Lucky for them no one has noticed. Yet.

Oleg Deripaska is the founder and majority owner of RUSAL, the world’s second largest aluminum company, based in Russia. Len Blavatnik owns a significant stake in RUSAL and served on its Board until November 10, 2016, two days after Donald Trump was elected.

Deripaska controls RUSAL with a 48 percent majority stake through his holding company, EN+ Group, and the Russian government owns 4.35 percent stake of EN+ Group through its second-largest state owned bank, VTB. VTB was exposed in the Panama papers in 2016 for facilitating the flow of billions of dollars to offshore companies linked to Vladimir Putin and is under sanctions by the U.S. government.

Deripaska has been closely connected to the Kremlin since he married into Boris Yeltsin’s family in 2001, which literally includes him in the Russian clan known as “The Family.” According to the Associated Press, starting in 2006, Deripaska made annual payments of $10 million to Paul Manafort through the Bank of Cyprus to advance Putin’s global agenda.

Len Blavatnik’s co-owner in RUSAL is his long-time business partner, Viktor Vekselberg, another Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin. Blavatnik and Vekselberg hold their 15.8 percent joint stake in RUSAL in the name of Sual Partners, their offshore company in the Bahamas. Vekselberg also happens to be the largest shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus.

Another oligarch with close ties to Putin, Dmitry Rybolovlev, owns a 3.3 percent stake in the Bank of Cyprus. Rybolovlev is known as “Russia’s Fertilizer King” and has been in the spotlight for several months as the purchaser of Trump’s 60,000 square-foot mansion in Palm Beach. Rybolovlev bought the estate for $54 million more than Trump paid for the property at the bottom of the crash in the U.S. real estate market.

The convoluted web that links Putin’s oligarchs to Trump’s political associates and top Republicans is difficult to take in.

Trump and Putin have a common approach to governance. They rely heavily on long-term relationships and family ties. While there have been tensions between Putin and Deripaska over the years, the Kremlin came to Deripaska’s rescue in 2009 when he was on the verge of bankruptcy by providing a $4.5 billion emergency loan through state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB), where Putin is chair of the advisory board.

VEB, known as President Putin’s “pet bank,” is now in crisis after sanctions applied by Europe and U.S. in 2014 have isolated it from the international banks that were the sources of its nearly $4 billion in hard currency loans that, according to Bloomberg, mature this year and in 2018.

Russia’s international currency reserves are near a 10-year low, which has put further pressure on the president of VEB, Sergey Gorkov, to find sources of international rescue capital. Notably, it was Gorkov who met secretly with Jared Kushner in December at Trump Tower. Kushner’s failure to report the meeting with Gorkov has drawn the attention of the Senate intelligence committee that now wants to question Kushner about the meeting.

Ruth May is a business professor at the University of Dallas and an expert on the economies of Russia and Ukraine. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News. Twitter: @ruthcmay

CORRECTION, 12:11 p.m., August 7: The headline on an earlier version of this column incorrectly said Blavatnik is Russian. He was born in Urkraine during the Soviet era.

An earlier version of this column used the name Leonid “Len” Blavatnik. He changed his first name to Leonard.

The column has also been updated to remove language describing the online presentation of a press release about Blavatnik resigning from the RUSAL board because it lacked context.”

Since the original article more information has been revealed. The following is an update completed in May 2018.

Editor’s note May 8, 2018: This column originally published December 15, 2017. New allegations about $500k in payments from a Russian oligarch made to Trump attorney Michael Cohen have placed it back in the news.

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team probes deeper into potential collusion between Trump officials and representatives of the Russian government, investigators are taking a closer look at political contributions made by U.S. citizens with close ties to Russia.

Buried in the campaign finance reports available to the public are some troubling connections between a group of wealthy donors with ties to Russia and their political contributions to President Donald Trump and a number of top Republican leaders. And thanks to changes in campaign finance laws, the political contributions are legal. We have allowed our campaign finance laws to become a strategic threat to our country.

An example is Len Blavatnik, a dual U.S.-U.K. citizen and one of the largest donors to GOP political action committees in the 2015-16 election cycles. Blavatnik’s family emigrated to the U.S. in the late ’70s from the U.S.S.R. and he returned to Russia when the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late ’80s.

Data from the Federal Election Commission show that Blavatnik’s campaign contributions dating back to 2009-10 were fairly balanced across party lines and relatively modest for a billionaire. During that season he contributed $53,400. His contributions increased to $135,552 in 2011-12 and to $273,600 in 2013-14, still bipartisan.

In 2015-16, everything changed. Blavatnik’s political contributions soared and made a hard right turn as he pumped $6.35 million into GOP political action committees, with millions of dollars going to top Republican leaders including Sens. Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham.

In 2017, donations continued, with $41,000 going to both Republican and Democrat candidates, along with $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund.

So is this legal?

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking Democratic leader on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News in September: “Unless the contributions were directed by a foreigner, they would be legal, but could still be of interest to investigators examining allegations of Russian influence on the 2016 campaign. Obviously, if there were those that had associations with the Kremlin that were contributing, that would be of keen concern.”

Under federal law, foreigner nationals are barred from contributing directly or indirectly to political campaigns in local, state and federal elections.

Should Blavatnik’s contributions concern Mueller’s team of investigators? Take a look at his long-time business associates in Russia.

The Oligarchs

Oleg Deripaska is said to be one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favorite oligarchs, and he is founder and majority shareholder of Russia’s Rusal, the second-largest aluminum company in the world. Blavatnik holds a stake in Rusal with a business partner.

Further, nearly 4 percent of Deripaska’s stake in Rusal is owned by Putin’s state-controlled bank, VTB, which is currently under U.S. sanctions. VTB was exposed in the Panama Papers in 2016 for facilitating the flow of billions of dollars to offshore companies linked to Putin.

Earlier this year, The Associated Press reported that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, began collecting $10 million a year in 2006 from Deripaska to advance Putin’s interests with Western governments. Deripaska’s name turned up again in an email handed over to Mueller’s team by Manafort’s attorneys. According to The Washington Post, in the email dated July 7, 2016, just two weeks before Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president, Manafort asked an overseas intermediary to pass a message on to Deripaska: “If he [Deripaska] needs private briefings, tell him we can accommodate.”

Viktor Vekselberg is one of the 10 richest men in Russia. He and long-time business partner Blavatnik hold a 20.5 percent stake in Rusal. (They met while attending university in Russia.)

In 1990, Blavatnik and Vekselberg co-founded the Renova Group for large-scale investments in energy, infrastructure, aluminum and other metals. One of their earliest investments was in Tyumen Oil Co. (TNK), founded in 1995. TNK is best known for its contentious partnership with British Petroleum after the two entities formed a joint venture in 2003. That rocky relationship ended 10 years later when they sold out to the state-controlled energy giant, Rosneft, under pressure from the Russian government.

As for BP, that pressure took the form of growing harassment and intimidation from Russian authorities who at one point, according to Forbes, refused to renew visas for BP employees, forcing BP’s joint venture chief Robert Dudley (who is now chief executive of BP) to flee Russia and manage TNK-BP from a foreign outpost in a secret location.

Vekselberg has connections to at least two Americans who made significant GOP campaign contributions during the last cycle. They are among several Americans who also merit Mueller’s scrutiny.

The Americans

Andrew Intrater, according to Mother Jones, is Vekselberg’s cousin. He is also chief executive of Columbus Nova, Renova’s U.S. investment arm located in New York. (FEC records list his employer as Renova US Management LLC.)

Intrater had no significant history of political contributions prior to the 2016 elections. But in January 2017 he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s Inaugural Committee. His six-figure gift bought him special access to a dinner billed as “an intimate policy discussion with select cabinet appointees,” according to a brochure obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

Alexander Shustorovich, chief executive of IMG Artists, attempted to give the Republican Party $250,000 in 2000 to support the George W. Bush presidential campaign, but his money was rejected because of his ties to the Russian government, according to Quartz. So why didn’t the Trump team reject Shustorovich’s $1 million check to Trump’s Inaugural Committee?

Simon Kukes is an oil magnate who has something in common with Intrater. From 1998 to 2003, he worked for Vekselberg and Blavatnik as chief executive of TNK. Redacted CIA documents released in 2003 under the Freedom of Information Act said “TNK president Kukes said that he bribed local officials.” The CIA confirmed the authenticity of the reports to The Guardian newspaper but would not comment further. In 2016, Kukes contributed a total of $283,000, much of it to the Trump Victory Fund. He had no significant donor history before last year’s election.

There is no doubt that Kukes has close ties to the Putin government. When he left his job as CEO of TNK in June 2003, he joined the board of Yukos Oil, which at the time was the largest oil company in Russia owned by the richest man in Russia, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Four months after Kukes joined the board, authorities arrested Khodorkovsky at gunpoint on his private plane in Siberia on trumped up charges of tax evasion and tapped Kukes to be CEO. This decision could only have been made at the highest levels in the Kremlin. The arrest of Khodorkovsky rattled the nerves of international investors and was the first tangible sign that Putin was not going to be the kind of leader that global executives and Western governments had expected him to be when he first took office in 2000.

Khodorkovksy was given a 13-year sentence in a Siberian prison and served 10 years before being released by Putin in December 2013, a month before the start of the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, as a sign of goodwill. As for the fate of Khodorkovksy’s company, its largest oil subsidiary was sold in a sealed bid auction to Baikal Financial Group, a shell company with an unpublished list of officers. Baikal was registered at an address that turned out to be a mobile phone store in Tver, Russia. Three days after the auction, all of Baikal’s assets were acquired for an undisclosed sum by Rosneft, the Russian oil giant that went on to buy TNK-BP in 2013.

In total, Blavatnik, Intrater, Shustorovich and Kukes made $10.4 million in political contributions from the start of the 2015-16 election cycles through September 2017, and 99 percent of their contributions went to Republicans. With the exception of Shustorovich, the common denominator that connects the men is their association with Vekselberg. Experts who follow the activities of Russian oligarchs told ABC News that they believe the contributions from Blavatnik, Intrater and Kukes warrant intense scrutiny because they have worked closely with Vekselberg.

Even if the donations by the four men associated with Russia ultimately pass muster with Mueller, one still has to wonder: Why did GOP PACs and other Trump-controlled funds take their money? Why didn’t the PACs say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” like the Republicans said to Shustorovich in 2000? Yes, it was legal to accept their donations, but it was incredibly poor judgment.

McConnell surely knew as a participant in high level intelligence briefings in 2016 that our electoral process was under attack by the Russians. Two weeks after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement in October 2016 that the Russian government had directed the effort to interfere in our electoral process; McConnell’s PAC accepted a $1 million donation from Blavatnik’s AI-Altep Holdings. The PAC took another $1 million from Blavatnik’s AI-Altep Holdings on March 30, 2017, just 10 days after former FBI Director James Comey publicly testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s interference in the election.

And consider Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s campaign finance chairman. Could he have known that the Trump Victory Fund, jointly managed by the Republican National Committee and Trump’s campaign, took contributions from Intrater and Kukes? Mnuchin owned Hollywood financing company RatPac-Dune with Blavatnik until he sold his stake to accept Trump’s appointment as the Treasury secretary.

Which PAC officials are making the decisions to accept these donations?

 

The Supreme Court

The contributions are legal because the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling, Citizens United, and several subsequent decisions, allowed American corporations and citizens to give unlimited amounts of money to PACs and non-profit 501c4 organizations, regardless of how they make their money, where they make their money, or with whom they make their money. The only caveat is that PACs and non-profits cannot coordinate their activities with the political candidates they support.

The man who led the winning fight for Citizens United was David Bossie, president of the conservative non-profit since 2001. In 1996, Bossie was hired by Republican Rep. Dan Burton to lead an investigation into President Bill Clinton’s campaign fundraising. Burton fired him 18 months later for manipulating recordings of conversations among law officials and Webb Hubbell, a Clinton confidant who resigned as associate attorney general and pleaded guilty to tax fraud during the Whitewater investigation. CNN reported at the time that Newt Gingrich, who was speaker of the House, called Bossie’s tampering with the Hubbell recordings an embarrassment to the Republicans.

Bossie served as Trump’s deputy campaign chairman.

The Super PAC, Make America Number 1, is primarily funded by Trump’s largest donor, Robert Mercer. His Renaissance Technologies hedge fund donated $15.5 million to the PAC.

Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, assumed control of Make America Number 1 in September 2016 and is now tainted by her role in the communications between Wikileaks and Cambridge Analytica, the firm that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hired for $5.9 million to handle the digital portion of the Trump campaign.

Robert and Rebekah Mercer are major investors in Cambridge Analytica. According to The Wall Street Journal, Rebekah Mercer asked Cambridge chief executive Alexander Nix if the firm could compile stolen emails related to Hillary Clinton so that they could be more easily searched. (This suggestion came from someone she met at an event supporting Sen. Ted Cruz, according to The Hill. Cambridge Analytica had worked on digital marketing for Cruz before he dropped out of the Republican primary.)

Nix confirmed that he had asked Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to forward the Clinton-related emails. Assange said he declined the request.

Rebekah Mercer also heads the non-profit Making America Great, formed in March 2017. The non-profit ran a seven-figure ad campaign highlighting Trump’s achievements. Bossie is the group’s chief strategist.

Erik Prince, brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, contributed $150,000 to Mercer’s Make America Number 1 PAC and another $100,000 to the Trump Victory Fund. Prince has recently testified to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence about his trip to the remote Seychelles for a secret meeting in December 2016 with a close ally of Putin, Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The purpose of the meeting was allegedly to setup a back channel of communication between then president-elect Donald Trump and the Russians, though Prince has denied this allegation. Before the 2015-16 elections, Prince’s political contributions totaled a mere $31,800 as far back as 2007, according to FEC records.

The hybrid super-PAC, The Committee to Defend the President, was formed in 2013 under the name Stop Hillary PAC. It is managed by Dan Backer, the lead attorney who won the McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission case in 2014. The Supreme Court decision eliminated the cap on how much wealthy individuals can donate to federal candidates, parties and PACs in a single, two-year election cycle.

Like Bossie, Dan Backer helped to open the floodgates to millions of dollars of influence brought to bear on incumbents and their political challengers who are now pressured to kowtow to their donors with the biggest bank accounts, even if their billions are earned in Russian rubles.

Backer was born in Russia and emigrated with his family to the U.S. in 1978.

The changes to our campaign finance laws created an avenue for Russia to try to influence our elections. There are holes in our firewall and they aren’t on the internet.”

Post Script

There’s an old expression—“Follow the Money.” There is another old expression—“We have the best politicians money can buy.” It’s tempting to conclude that these are unrelated or at best some form of weird mixed-metaphors or non-sequiturs (like Nazi jackboots sing their swan song).

Instead, I’d like to suggest posing the hypothesis that where the current Republican Party is concerned, the two old expressions are very much related. It’s important to follow the money in the Mueller investigation of prominent Republicans. And, we await with great anticipation the results of the Mueller investigation for their data and their conclusions.

But, in the meantime, here’s something you can take to the bank for sure: If you’re still a Trump supporter (after all these last few years) you either have your head up your #$@& %*!( oh, excuse me!) or it’s buried in the sand on an unmovable permanent basis. Another possibility is that Trump’s hard-core supporters desperately need the services of a psychiatrist. These last two axioms are definitely related. Let’s make America great again folks by sending Donald Trump and his Republican lackeys to prison.

On a personal note, I’d like to see the F.B.I. to investigate the financial background of all 30 members of the Congressional Freedom Caucus, especially Jim Jordan of Ohio. In addition, all Supreme Court Justices need to be investigated by the F.B.I. for any hint of financial corruption. This more in-depth type of prosecutorial investigation would serve our nation very well during these times when there is such a lack of trust in our political and governmental institutions.

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