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TBR News December 24, 2018

Dec 24 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. December 24, 2018:”Washington is a city that lives on rumors. Many of these are based on fact and even more on wishful thinking. On the other hand, information leaked by official investigative agencies like the CIA, the FBI and the DoD is very often true so there is an admixture of fact, fiction and wishful thinking. But the seething cauldron of gossip in Washington has produced a number of facts that, when assembled in order, clearly pass muster. Herewith are various points of interest:

  • President Trump was jobbed into his office with the full cooperation of Russian intelligence.
  • They own Wikileaks entirely and released the damning, and authentic, “Podesta papers” concurrent with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. This did damage to her campaign and was a major contributory factor to her narrow defeat and Trump’s election.
  • Trump is not an honest man by any stretch of imagination.
  • Trump has constantly engaged in bribing and manipulations and does this through second parties such as Cohen his former lawyer or Manafort, his campaign manager during the election.
  • Trump and his entourage have made a number of trips to Russia (I have a listing of all of these along with Russian personages he was in contact with), seeking financing and permission to build luxury hotels in that country
  • Trump’s actions, as President, are deliberate efforts to alienate both the putative allies of the US such as Germany, France, and Canada and, to a lesser degree, Mexico.
  • Trump has deliberately launched pointless, and destructive, attacks against Mexican and Muslim immigrants, as well as Canadian and German imports. All this has done is to create a highly negative image of his persona primarily and secondarily, the global image of the United States.
  • Trump’s tariffs, and threats of tariffs, have engendered counter-tariffs that will, when implemented, create serious economic problems for American businessmen and, eventually, the public.
  • Trump’s foolish support of the Israeli far right has done, and is doing, serious damage to the US image in the Middle East. It should be noted that Russian influence in the Shiite areas of the Middle East, is growing. Also note that Iran, and parts of Iraq, both Shiite, have extensive oil reserves and that Saudi Arabia, a Sunni state, once America’s primary source of badly-need oil, is running dry.
  • Ergo, the Middle East areas where Russia is having growing influence have oil and if Russia sets itself up as major oil merchandizing source, this will give them tremendous economic leverage vis a vis the United States which is the world’s largest consumer of oil and its by products.
  • By alienating America’s allies and disrupting that country’s social structure, Trump benefits only Russia and its interests.
  • The concept of Trump taking bribes from the Russians (or the PRC) is completely understandable if one applies the concept of Occam’s Razor to the tumult and disruption he is deliberately causing both domestically and in foreign areas.
  • If he is caught at this, and I understand the FBI was deeply interested in his Russian connections long before he ran for President, either we will have to deal with another Dallas or Trump will suffer a fatal heart attack.Vice-President Pence, a Christian fanatic, would then have to be told to mind his manners or suffer similar terminal problems.
  • Trump is aware of the FBI investigation, aware of what they can find, and probably have already uncovered, so he fired the head of the FBI and even now, according to a very reliable source, is determined to replace the FBI with the cooperative CIA (their former head, Pompeo, is now Secretary of State) as the sole foreign and domestic intelligence agency. He, and his handlers, want to nip any FBI revelations in the bud so that Trump can continue on his course of castrating the United States as a global power.

18 U.S. Code § 2381 – Treason

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 807; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, § 330016(2)(J), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2148.)

 

The Table of Contents

  • How Russian Money Helped Save Trump’s Business
  • The Observer view on Donald Trump’s uncontrolled and increasingly reckless behaviour
  • The US is on the edge of the economic precipice – Trump may push it over
  • US markets: Mnuchin to convene crisis team amid White House chaos
  • Mnuchin calls big US banks after huge stock market falls
  • Markets far from merry as stock losses extend into seventh day
  • The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations

 

How Russian Money Helped Save Trump’s Business

After his financial disasters two decades ago, no U.S. bank would touch him. Then foreign money began flowing in.

December 21, 2018

by  Michael Hirsh

Foreign Policy

In the fall of 1992, after he cut a deal with U.S. banks to work off nearly a billion dollars in personal debt, Donald Trump put on a big gala for himself in Atlantic City to announce his comeback. Party guests were given sticks with a picture of Trump’s face glued to them so they could be photographed posing as the famous real-estate mogul. As the theme music from the movie Rocky filled the room, an emcee shouted, “Let’s hear it for the king!” and Trump, wearing red boxing gloves and a robe, burst through a paper screen. One of his casino executives announced that his boss had returned as a “winner,” according to Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio.

But it was mainly an act, D’Antonio told Foreign Policy. In truth Trump was all but finished as a major real-estate developer, in the eyes of many in the business, and that’s because the U.S. banking industry was pretty much finished with him. By the early 1990s he had burned through his portion of his father Fred’s fortune with a series of reckless business decisions. Two of his businesses declared bankruptcy, the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City and the Plaza Hotel in New York, and the money pit that was the Trump Shuttle went out of business in 1992. Trump companies would ultimately declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy two more times. When would-be borrowers repeatedly file for protection from their creditors, they become poison to most major lenders and, according to financial experts interviewed for this story, such was Trump’s reputation in the U.S. financial industry at that juncture.

For the rest of the ’90s a chastened Trump launched little in the way of major new business ventures (with a few exceptions, such as the Trump World Tower across from the United Nations, which began construction in 1999 and was financed by two German lenders, Deutsche Bank and Bayerische Hypo- und Vereinsbank). “He took about 10 years off, and really sort of licked his wounds and tried to recover,” D’Antonio said. As late as 2003, Trump was in such desperate financial trouble that at a meeting with his siblings following his father’s death he pressed them to hurriedly sell his father’s estate off, against the late Fred Trump’s wishes, the New York Times reported in an investigation of Trump family finances in October. And his businesses kept failing: In 2004, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts filed for bankruptcy with $1.8 billion dollars of debt.

But Trump eventually made a comeback, and according to several sources with knowledge of Trump’s business, foreign money played a large role in reviving his fortunes, in particular investment by wealthy people from Russia and the former Soviet republics. This conclusion is buttressed by a growing body of evidence amassed by news organizations, as well as what is reportedly being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Southern District of New York. It is a conclusion that even Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., has appeared to confirm, saying in 2008—after the Trump Organization was prospering again—that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”

Trump’s former longtime architect, Alan Lapidus, echoed this view in an interview with FP this month. Lapidus said that based on what he knew from the internal workings of the organization, in the aftermath of Trump’s earlier financial troubles “he could not get anybody in the United States to lend him anything. It was all coming out of Russia. His involvement with Russia was deeper than he’s acknowledged.”

The overseas money came initially in the form of new real-estate partnerships and the purchase of numerous Trump condos, said a former real-estate partner of Trump’s who witnessed the transformation of those years and later soured on Trump. “I think part of it was he was toxic to the banks. I think he also probably learned that personal guarantees [on loans] weren’t a brilliant idea either,” said the former business associate, who would speak to FP only on condition of anonymity. “So he was saying to himself, ‘What else could I do in the world? I’ll just convince people to buy my brand.’ And the only people who were willing to buy it were tasteless Russians, people who like the absurd, ostentatious gold-leaf lifestyle he has. You’re not going to sell that brand to blue bloods in Greenwich, Connecticut.”

Or as another Trump biographer, Gwenda Blair, put it: “Trump was on the Titanic heading down. Everyone’s drowning around him. … Suddenly he gets saved. It’s almost like a spaceship landed right next to where he was in the water.”

All this history helps put into context some recent developments in the investigations by Mueller and the Southern District of New York, which have focused on supposed Trump collusion or conspiracy with the Russians. It may have seemed odd at first that during the presidential campaign the people in Trump’s orbit—including Trump’s son, daughter, and son-in-law—were contacted by at least 14 Russians, according to information emerging from the federal investigations. Or that in November 2015, according to a sentencing memo published recently, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was approached by a Russian who offered “political synergy” between the Trump campaign and Russia (adding that a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin would have “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well”).

But in fact at least some of these encounters appear to have sprung from business contacts Trump had developed over nearly two decades.

According to Trump’s former real-estate partner and other sources who are familiar with the internal workings of the Trump Organization, his post-’90s revival may have really begun in the early 2000s with the Bayrock Group, which rented offices two floors down from Trump’s in Trump Tower. Bayrock was run by two investors who would help to change Trump’s trajectory: Tevfik Arif, a Kazakhstan-born former Soviet official who drew on seemingly bottomless sources of money from the former Soviet republic; and Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman who had pleaded guilty in the 1990s to a huge stock-fraud scheme involving the Russian mafia.

With Bayrock’s help, Trump began his broad transformation from a builder to a brander. He reinvented himself and his business model—going from being a force in real estate to a nearly bankrupt but brazen self-promoter who had mainly his name to sell. In lieu of the big banks, Bayrock helped to bring Trump back into real estate by supplying him with the equity stake he needed to entice new lenders for big projects, according to a former Bayrock official. The biggest of those projects was the Trump SoHo, the troubled 46-story condominium and hotel that has been a target of lawsuits since it opened in 2010 and is reportedly being investigated by Mueller over whether it was financed partly by Russian money. That deal gave Trump 18 percent of the equity just for licensing his name. (In addition to Bayrock, the other partner was the Sapir family from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.)

The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment for this article. But in a deposition related to Trump SoHo litigation, Trump said he was drawn to Bayrock because he was impressed with Kazakh-born Arif’s connections, and that Arif had brought potential Russian investors to meet him. “Bayrock knew the people, knew the investors,” Trump said.

By the time he ran for president, Trump had been enmeshed in this mysterious overseas flow of capital—which various investigators believe could have included money launderers from Russia and former Soviet republics who bought up dozens of his condos—for a decade and a half. And Felix Sater was pitching Cohen on a Moscow deal as recently as mid-2016—as Trump was clinching the Republican nomination, according to a sentencing memo recently unveiled by the Mueller probe.

As a result, some recent reports indicate that federal and congressional investigators are now focused on the Trump Organization as much as the president himself in probing alleged Russian influence. This is especially true of Democratic House members getting set to take over key committees in January. According to two Democratic staffers involved in Trump probes who spoke to FP on condition of anonymity, Democratic Senate staffers plan to work with their House colleagues—who will have subpoena power—in investigating the president’s business dealings going back to the Bayrock-Trump partnership and Trump’s other overseas sources of investment. They say another primary focus will be the Trump Organization’s more recent all-cash purchases overseas, “largely of golf courses,” in order to probe whether some of that investment may have involved money laundering.

“Our broader concern is the extent to which the Trump Organization has received an influx of foreign sources of money over the years, and if that continues to compromise the president,” said one Capitol Hill staffer. He added that this wouldn’t be an issue if Trump had followed precedent and divested himself of his business holdings, as previous presidents have.

It remains unclear whether Trump’s policies have been influenced by these past—and in some cases ongoing—business associations, or by the president’s awareness that Russian and other foreign capital helped revive his business career. But one question Mueller must certainly be probing is whether the relationships made Trump beholden to certain Russians—and whether the outreach by Russian business people to Trump and his organization reflects Kremlin tradecraft for developing intelligence assets and compromising them.

“Russian efforts either to recruit somebody as an asset or effectively coerce them into becoming an asset historically typically rely on compromise of either a financial nature or a sexual nature,” said David Kris, a former assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “Or some other nature by which they can gain leverage. Either induce somebody voluntarily to cooperate or blackmail them.” Kris added that “there is long history of that kind of activity, including in the context of presidential elections,” going back to Soviet efforts to offer money to Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 election.

Ever since his presidential campaign, Trump’s critics in Washington have questioned his unwillingness to criticize Putin directly and his push to ease sanctions against Russia. Most recently, the U.S. president appeared to blame both sides for Putin’s violent intervention in Ukraine, when Russian ships fired upon, wounded, and seized Ukrainian sailors, saying: “Either way, we don’t like what’s happening, and hopefully, it will get straightened out.” Trump at first called off a meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit at the end of last month, then held one anyway. And he recently appeared to let both Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman off the hook for political murder, which both leaders are accused of. “The world is a very dangerous place!” Trump said.

Trump, of course, is not known for a sense of loyalty to anyone who has helped him in the past—as Cohen, who was just sentenced to 36 months in prison, has recently discovered. And Trump’s standard response to accusations that, as a businessman, he occasionally dealt with unsavory partners is that what mattered was their money was good. If a buyer overpaid, all the better. As he told a campaign rally in 2015: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them?”

Some New York real-estate experts, like Joel Ross, a long-established investment banker in Manhattan, say this devil-may-care attitude is typical in the industry, and critics are overreacting in tying Trump’s business ties to his presidential policies. Though Ross says he’s “no fan” of Trump, he added that the key point is that the big 2016 Moscow negotiation went nowhere, and there is no evidence that Trump is currently basing his policies toward Russia on his business dealings. In truth, Trump’s several forays into Russia in search of possible deals is standard in big-time real estate, Ross said. And the majority of negotiations don’t pan out.

“As to any other deals, what they may earn on a management contract is not enough to get him to change foreign policy,” Ross wrote FP in an email. “This is not as serious an issue as you seem to imagine. You guys in the media have no understanding of how real estate works and how unserious these things are. Trump is not much different than most of the NY real estate developers. Obnoxious, liar, screws people, impossible to trust, etc, but in NY real estate–not unusual.”

Ross added: “None of any of that is proof of anything other than Trump was considered a bad guy who nobody trusted to do business with in the US banking world. That is far from any proof he did anything wrong as to collusion which there was none.”

What there was, at the very least, was a lot of money. The Trump-Bayrock partnership took off especially after Trump launched his reality-TV show, “The Apprentice,” in early 2004. The show featured contestants who competed for the prize of a contract to promote one of Trump’s properties. His fame escalated worldwide, and Bayrock turned that into a marketing bonanza. Real-estate experts in New York with knowledge of Trump’s career contend that Bayrock was a critical bridge back to success for him, tiding him over until the mid-2000s. That’s when lending standards had so deteriorated—during the mortgage-backed securities mania—that some U.S. lenders had become willing to deal with Trump again. Bayrock sold the debt-ridden mogul on the idea of launching an international chain of Trump-branded, mixed-use hotels and condominiums and was willing to supply him with an equity stake—the 10 percent or so any developer needs to secure a loan, the former Trump partner told FP. “Bayrock was the loyal soldier bringing him deals,” he said.

This was the period in which the Trump Organization began to grow into a global trademarking factory—he called many of his assets “Trump Marks” on his 2015 Federal Election Commission disclosure form—largely prospering on royalties, fees and rents from buildings, golf courses, and other properties and products in which Trump had little equity other than putting his name on them. As the election disclosure form revealed, among the approximately 500 corporations, trusts, limited liability companies, and other associations the Trumps hold positions in are numerous “Trump Marks” entities, from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Dubai to Toronto to Qatar. The former real-estate magnate became largely a collector of branding fees.

Bayrock’s money sometimes came from sources outside Russia and the former Soviet republics, according to one of the firm’s former employees, including an obscure Icelandic investment bank called the FL Group. But those roads too sometimes appeared to lead back to Russia. In 2017, real-estate developer Jody Kriss, whom Sater hired to help him run Bayrock, told Timothy O’Brien of Bloomberg what happened after an Icelandic competitor of the FL Group contacted him to invest in Bayrock. When Kriss brought that offer to Sater and Arif, they told him that the money behind Icelandic banks “was mostly Russian”—and they had to take FL’s funds for deals with Trump because FL was “closer to [Vladimir] Putin,” according to O’Brien. (Kriss confirmed this account to FP.) In 2007, the FL Group invested $50 million in several Bayrock projects linked to Trump, including a development in Whitestone, Queens, and Trump SoHo in Manhattan. FL Group dissolved in 2014.

Kriss told Bloomberg’s O’Brien that he eventually left Bayrock because he became convinced that the firm was a front for money launderin

Precisely where Bayrock’s other money came from remains unclear. Some of it was allegedly taken out of the Arif family chromium business in Kazakhstan, according to a lawsuit that Kriss later filed against Bayrock, which was settled for an undisclosed amount. The little development firm in Trump Tower managed to somehow locate funds “month after month, for two years, in fact more frequently, whenever Bayrock ran out of cash,” the lawsuit said. Bayrock’s owners would “magically show up with a wire from ‘somewhere’ just large enough to keep the company going.” (A spokeswoman for Bayrock, Angela Pruitt, said the company declined to comment.)

According to Trump’s 2015 Federal Election Commission disclosure form, one major bank that did continue to lend money to the Trump Organization—in the hundreds of millions of dollars—was Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest. It was the lead lender on one of the few new real-estate developments that Trump did manage to build after his debt experience of the ’90s: the 92-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, which opened in 2008. But Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Americas later sued Trump for nonpayment of loans on the project (Trump countersued, and the matter was settled). And here too Russian money may have been involved, though it may not have gone directly to Trump: Federal investigators are looking into whether Deutsche Bank sold some of Trump’s mortgage or other loans to Vnesheconombank, the Russian state development bank, or other Russian banks, Reuters reported in late 2017. Since the 2000s, Deutsche Bank has worked closely with Russian state institutions, and in 2015 the bank’s Russian arm was implicated in a $10 billion Russian money-laundering scheme; Deutsche Bank later signed a consent order and agreed to pay $630 million in fines.

Democratic Party lawmakers who are set to take over the House Select Committee on Intelligence in January are expected to investigate the relationship between Trump and Deutsche Bank, and between the bank and Russia. “There have long been credible allegations as to the use of Trump properties to launder money by Russian oligarchs, criminals, and regime cronies,” the lawmakers said in a letter to the Department of Justice on March 13. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a former federal prosecutor, said in recent interviews with The New Yorker and Meet the Press that he planned to issue subpoenas to Deutsche Bank as part of his own committee’s investigation.

“We’re going to be looking at the issue of possible money laundering by the Trump Organization, and Deutsche Bank is one obvious place to start,” he said. A 2017 report by Reuters, citing public documents, interviews and corporate records, also found that at least 63 Russians or people with Russian addresses bought nearly $100 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded Florida luxury buildings.

(In a statement, Deutsche Bank spokesman Troy Gravitt said the bank “takes its legal obligations seriously and remains committed to cooperating with authorized investigations.” Asked if Mueller had subpoenaed the bank, he declined to comment further.)

Despite these financial connections to Russia, some of which are well documented, Trump and his associates have consistently played down the relationship. “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” Trump tweeted a few days before his inauguration. A month later, when asked whether anyone advising his campaign had contact with Russia, Trump responded: “No. Nobody that I know of. … I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.” And his then spokeswoman Hope Hicks said flatly: “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, even as Trump and his advocates—such as Cohen—were making these claims, Cohen was actively working with Sater to land a big Moscow real-estate deal, federal investigators say. But Trump also claimed to barely know Sater. “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump testified in a video deposition for a civil lawsuit two years ago. “I’m not that familiar with him.” Asked about Sater by the Associated Press in 2015, Trump responded: “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it. I’m not that familiar with him.”

Yet that declaration is odd in light of the fact that by those years—the time when Trump’s career was being revived in part by Sater’s Bayrock—the Trump Organization was not very large, and Sater would have been among the few who were working closely with it. “People don’t grasp how small the Trump Organization was. I was really surprised by how few people worked there. Maybe 15 to 20,” said Blair, the Trump biographer, who visited the Trump offices about half a dozen times between the late 1980s and mid-’90s.

In a 2016 interview with ABC News, Trump did allow that he’d done one Russian deal. “The primary thing I did with Russia, I bought a house in Palm Beach at a bankruptcy,” Trump said. “I bought it for about $40 million. I sold it for $100 million to a Russian.” That 2008 sale of a six-acre Palm Beach estate to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev is also reportedly being reviewed by Mueller’s team. At the time, Trump claimed that he was able to flip the house for such a high price in only four years because of renovations. But so huge was the differential in price—especially since by the time Trump sold the property to Rybolovlev in 2008, real-estate prices were plummeting in the financial crisis—that the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, has asked for an investigation into the sale.

“That deal delivered so much cash to Trump, it almost has to be seen as a campaign contribution, or the purchase of Donald Trump,” said D’Antonio. Earlier this year the buyer, Rybolovlev, appeared on a U.S. Treasury Department unclassified list of Russian oligarchs, or influential politicians and business professionals who are considered close to Putin.

Even Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, have admitted that Russians supplied the Trump Organization much of its capital needs.

In September 2008, at the “Bridging U.S. and Emerging Markets Real Estate” conference in New York, the president’s eldest son, Donald Jr., said: “In terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. Say, in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo, and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” In 2014, his younger brother Eric—also an executive in the Trump Organization—told a well-known sports writer, James Dodson, after the latter asked him where the organization was getting the money to buy up so many golf courses: “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” (In 2017, after the Mueller investigation began, Eric Trump denied making the comment.)

What remains unclear is whether Trump was compromised or being blackmailed by the Russian government. It is also not clear whether businessmen such as Sater were exaggerating their relations with Putin, and what precisely the Russian president’s role might have been in any of these business contacts with Trump. In November 2015 Sater promised Cohen in an email he could get “all of Putin’s team to buy in” on the Moscow deal, and that in turn would highlight Trump’s business skills and get him elected. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.”

But apparently those deals didn’t happen. Nor did any meeting with Putin occur, based on the evidence known so far. Still, Lapidus, Trump’s former longtime architect, said he was flummoxed when Trump, first as a candidate and then as president, kept protesting that he knew nothing about Russia and hadn’t tried to do much business there. Lapidus said Trump himself had sent him to Moscow two decades before, in 1997, to survey a property, the Hotel Moskva—which was built into the wall of the Kremlin—to consider purchasing it.

That deal fell through, just as the one in 2016 did. But the issue is not so much what the Trump Organization did in Russia—not much as it turns out, apart from co-owning the Miss Universe contest—but rather what Russians were doing for Trump back in America, Lapidus said. “The quid quo pro has to be in there somewhere,” Lapidus said. “Trump could not get money here. He found Russia, and the Russians gave him a lot of money. He has got to be doing a quid pro quo. It’s just logical. It’s just too much money.”

 

The Observer view on Donald Trump’s uncontrolled and increasingly reckless behaviour

Observer editorial

December 23, 2018

The Observer

The US president’s actions on all fronts are now a matter of global concern

Sun 01.00 EST Sun 23 Dec 2018 01.00 EST If Donald Trump forces a shutdown of the US federal government, as happened this weekend, that in the end is a matter for Americans. When the president’s personal charity, the Trump Foundation, is closed following accusations of “a shocking pattern of illegality”, as was the case last week, the nation’s voters are free to form their own conclusions. Whether or not the US head of state is a criminal adulterer who allegedly conspired to pay hush money to former mistresses will ultimately be decided in the US courts.

But when Trump abandons the fight against Islamic State terrorists and places British, Kurdish and other allied forces in Syria and Afghanistan at increased risk by withdrawing US troops, as he did last week, when he ignores European partners and does the bidding of authoritarian leaders hostile to western democratic values, and when he indulges in a destructive tariff war that helped crash the markets last week, stokes international tensions and threatens global prosperity, then his reckless behaviour is everybody’s business.

This is the situation, almost halfway through Trump’s four-year term, that now confronts all those around the world who look to the US for leadership and example. Americans have a right to elect whoever they wish as president. Equally, the rest of us have a right to expect that the person they choose honours the multilateral alliances, commitments and responsibilities agreed by predecessors. Otherwise, America’s ability and fitness to lead will be lost.

James Mattis, the US defense secretary who quit last week over Trump’s Syrian volte-face, understands this very well. His resignation letter is a classic of its kind. He declared that America’s strength was “inextricably linked” to its international partnerships, especially Nato. Trump has consistently denigrated Nato, as part of his war on multilateralism. Coming from a highly respected figure, this was a stunning rebuke.

But Mattis wasn’t finished. It was essential to be “clear eyed” about the threat posed by “malign actors and strategic competitors”, he wrote. “It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model.” Given Trump’s notorious chumminess with Vladimir Putin, and the continuing FBI investigation into his 2016 campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia, it was a telling blow. Mattis’s letter ended abruptly, without any of the customary flourishes or thanks. Trump, reportedly, was incandescent with fury.

The reasons why Trump behaves the way he does are matters for conjecture or for a judge. In a scathing editorial, the New York Times likened the president to Petyr Baelish, a dysfunctional character in Game of Thrones who thrives on chaos. “For most people, uncertainty and disorder are scary, unsettling forces to be avoided. But for Mr Trump, they are cherished friends and strategic assets… The president clearly believes that throwing everyone else off balance gives him an edge,” the paper said.

This explanation in no way excuses Trump’s recent actions, nor was it meant to. Suggestions that Trump is simply acting to shore up his electoral base, for example by insisting on funding the promised border wall with Mexico, are not the whole story, either. In part at least, a person – any person – is defined by the friends they make and the company they keep. Since taking office, Trump has squandered the counsel and goodwill of many able people, Mattis among them. At the same time, he has cosied up to unelected foreign dictators, autocrats and “strongmen” such as Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who pushed him into last week’s U-turn on Syria.

Trump is a liability on foreign policy, a global security risk and an untrustworthy, unreliable partner. But worse than all of that, the depth of his commitment to representative democracy and rule by consent is open to serious doubt. If things get really bad in America in the next two years, that’s the biggest worry.

 

The US is on the edge of the economic precipice – Trump may push it over

Government shutdowns hurt millions. Great depressions hurt even more. History suggests real pain is round the corner

December 23, 2018

by Robert Reich

The Guardian

On Friday, Donald Trump said: “We are totally prepared for a very long shutdown.” It was one of his rare uses of the pronoun “we” instead of his preferred – and in this case far more appropriate – “I”.The shutdown is indubitably his. Congress offered him a way to continue funding the government without the money to build his nonsensical wall along the Mexican border, but Trump caved in to the rabid rightwing media and refused.

I was in Bill Clinton’s cabinet when Newt Gingrich pulled the plug on the federal government in 1996. It wasn’t a pretty picture. A long shutdown hurts millions of people who rely on government for services and paychecks.

Trump’s shutdown also adds to growing worries about the economy. The stock market is on track for the worst December since the Great Depression. World markets have lost nearly $7tn in 2018, making it the worst year since the 2008 financial crisis.

The shutdown is stoking fears that Trump could do something even more alarming. He might fail to authorize an increase in government borrowing before the federal debt reaches the current limit, which Congress extended to 2 March. A default by the US on its obligations would be more calamitous than a government shutdown.

All this brings us closer to the economic precipice. It worsens America’s most fundamental economic problem.

Economies depend first and foremost on spending. Otherwise, there’s no reason to produce goods and services. In the US, consumer spending constitutes about 70% of total demand. The rest comes from government and exports.

Export markets are in trouble. Europe’s and China’s economies were already slowing before Trump’s trade wars added to the stresses.

US government spending was hobbled even before the shutdown by a large debt, which Trump’s tax cut for big corporations and the wealthy has further enlarged.

Don’t count on American consumers to come to the rescue. Most Americans are still living in the shadow of the Great Recession that started in December 2007 and officially ended in June 2009.

More Americans have jobs, to be sure, but their pay has barely risen when adjusted for inflation. Many are worse off due to the escalating costs of housing, healthcare and education.

Trump has added to their financial burdens by undermining the Affordable Care Act, rolling back overtime pay, hobbling their ability to join together in unions, allowing states to cut Medicaid, and imposing tariffs that increase the prices of many goods.

America’s wealthy, meanwhile, have been taking home a growing portion of the nation’s total income. But the rich spend a small fraction of what they earn. The economy depends on the spending of middle-, working-class and poor families.

The only way these Americans have continued to spend is by going deeper into debt. By the third quarter of this year, household debt had reached a record $13.5tn. Almost 80% of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck.

This isn’t sustainable. Even if the Fed weren’t raising interest rates – an unwise move under these circumstances – consumers would still be in trouble. Mortgage, auto and student-debt delinquencies are already mounting.

The last time household debt was nearly this high was in 2007, just before the Great Recession. Similarly, between 1913 and 1928, the ratio of personal debt to the total national economy nearly doubled. Then came the Great Crash.

See a pattern?

The problem isn’t that Americans are living beyond their means. It’s that their means haven’t been keeping up with the growing economy. Most gains have gone to the top. If the majority of households had taken home a larger share of national income, they wouldn’t have needed to go so deeply into debt.

Without wage growth, American workers can’t continue to buy without going into deeper debt. Unless they continue to buy, the economy can’t continue to move forward.

It’s the same sort of trap that preceded the 2008 and 1929 crashes.

After the 1929 crash, the government invented new ways to boost the wages of most Americans – social security, unemployment insurance, overtime pay, a minimum wage, the requirement that employers bargain with labor unions, and, finally, a full-employment program called the Second World War.

By contrast, after the 2007 crash the government bailed out the banks and pumped enough money into the economy to stop the slide. But apart from the Affordable Care Act, nothing was done to address the underlying problem of stagnant wages.

Ten years after the start of the Great Recession, we face another economic precipice.

It’s important to understand that the root cause of those former collapses wasn’t a banking crisis. It was the growing imbalance between consumer spending and total output – brought on by stagnant wages and widening inequality.

That imbalance is back. Trump is making it worse.

 

US markets: Mnuchin to convene crisis team amid White House chaos

Treasury secretary talks to bank CEOs and calls together working group created after 1987 market crash

December 23, 2018

The Guardian

The US Treasury secretary has sought to calm market jitters about White House dysfunction and the government’s partial shutdown, calling the heads of the nation’s six largest banks and gathering the “plunge protection team” that formed after the crash of 1987.

Steven Mnuchin called the bank CEOs on Sunday in an apparent attempt to reassure financial markets. In the unusual move, Mnuchin disclosed that he had spoken to the heads of Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.

He said the CEOs all assured him they had ample money to finance their normal operations, even though there haven’t been any serious liquidity concerns rattling the market.

On Monday, Mnuchin will convene the president’s working group on financial markets, a group that includes Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The group, created following the stock market crash of October 1987, is known more commonly as the “plunge protection team” and met in 2009 in the latter stages of the financial crisis.

With investors worried about a litany of factors, including a partial federal government shutdown, the US-China trade dispute, interest rate rises and Donald Trump’s dispute with the Fed’s chairman, Jerome Powell, US stocks have plunged in December. The S&P 500 has suffered its largest monthly loss so far since the financial crisis a decade ago and is on pace for the largest loss in any December since the Great Depression.

Asian stocks were subdued on Monday as investors fretted about US political instability at a time when the global economy was showing signs of faltering. Moves were limited by a holiday in Japan while many bourses are set to close early for Christmas. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.5% to its lowest in seven weeks. Yet Chinese blue chips managed to edge up 0.2%, while E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 recouped early losses to rise 0.4%.

Oliver Pursche, a board member at Bruderman Asset Management, said: “More than anything else right now Washington and politics are absolutely driving investor sentiment and market direction and that can turn on dime.”

The US economy has been growing steadily since 2009, something most experts believe will continue, but there are signs things are slowing down in Europe and China.

Over the weekend, a flurry of reports claimed Trump had discussed the possibility of firing Powell. Such an unprecedented move would trigger further instability in the markets. US officials scrambled to deny Trump had suggested ousting Powell, who was appointed by the president barely a year ago.

Mnuchin, tweeted that he had spoken to the president, who insisted he “never suggested firing” Powell, and did not believe he had the right to do this.

However, Trump also declared – via Mnuchin – that he “totally disagrees” with the Fed’s “absolutely terrible” policy of raising interest rates and unwinding its bond-buying stimulus programme, piling further pressure on the US’s independent central bank.

Most economists and investors assert that any attempt by Trump to fire Powell would have significant repercussions in financial markets, which have long operated on the principle that the US central bank’s independence is integral to its mission and to market stability.

Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments, said Mnuchin’s acknowledgement that the White House does not have the ability to remove Powell was more reassuring for investors than trying to say it did not want to remove the Fed chair. “The administration hasn’t been all that stable when it comes to changing their mind,” he said. “Politically, these are very strange times.”

AP and Reuters contributed to this report

 

Mnuchin calls big US banks after huge stock market falls

December 24, 2018

BBC News

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has made calls to the heads of the country’s six largest banks, in an unusual move aimed at reassuring investors after big falls in US stocks.

Last week, US stocks suffered one of the worst weekly falls in a decade, as an interest rate rise and US-China trade tensions rattled markets.

Mr Mnuchin said banks confirmed they had “ample liquidity” for operations.

It also comes amid a partial government shutdown over spending plans.

“The [bank’s chief executives] confirmed that they have ample liquidity available for lending to consumer, business markets, and all other market operations,” the Treasury said in a statement attached to a tweet from Mr Mnuchin.

“[Mr Mnuchin] also confirmed that they have not experienced any clearance or margin issues, and that the markets continue to function properly,” the Treasury’s statement said.

‘Strange times’

The BBC Today programme’s business presenter, Dominic O’Connell, said the statement was “very odd” and could “spook markets, not reassure them”.

“People are wondering whether this is really a role for the US Treasury secretary,” he said.

Analysts also warned the unexpected statement could make investors nervous.

“More than anything else right now, Washington and politics are absolutely driving investor sentiment and market direction and that can turn on a dime,” said Oliver Pursche, a board member at Bruderman Asset Management.

Mr Mnuchin also tried to dismiss reports that President Donald Trump had discussed the possibility of firing Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell, after the US central bank raised interest rates last week.

The US Treasury secretary tweeted that he had spoken to the president, who insisted he “never suggested firing” Mr Powell and did not believe he had the right to do so.

Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments, said the fact that Mr Mnuchin had said the White House did not have the power to remove Mr Powell, rather than saying it did not want to remove him, would be more comforting for investors.

“The administration hasn’t been all that stable when it comes to changing their mind. Politically, these are very strange times,” he said.

All three US indexes closed lower last week, with the technology-focused Nasdaq down 20% since its peak, placing it in so-called “bear market” territory.

US investors are worried about a range of factors including slowing economic growth at home and internationally.

In addition, a partial US government shutdown began at midnight on Friday after opposition Democrats resisted President Donald Trump’s demand for $5bn (£4bn) for his Mexico border wall.

The shutdown over budget spending could continue right up to the opening of the next Congress on 3 January.

Mr Mnuchin is now set to meet with the President’s Working Group on Monday, the Treasury statement said.

The group includes market regulators and Federal Reserve governors, among others. They will discuss “coordination efforts to assure normal market operations”, the statement said.

 

Markets far from merry as stock losses extend into seventh day

December 24, 2018

by Abhinav Ramnarayan

Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – World stocks were set for their seventh straight day of losses on Monday, as investors nervy about the possibility of a prolonged U.S. government shutdown and a worsening global economy opted for the safety of bonds and gold.

MSCI’s world equity index .MIWD00000PUS, which tracks shares in 47 countries, was 0.15 percent lower on the day and down almost 7 percent in the past seven sessions — its worst stretch of daily losses since January 2016. The index is also just off its lowest level since March 2017.

“There are a whole number of factors that have triggered this latest risk off climate, including the Fed’s very modest deviation from its (rate hiking) plan and the government shutdown in the United States,” said Investec economist Philip Shaw.

The U.S. Senate has been unable to break an impasse over U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand for more funds for a wall on the border with Mexico, and a senior official said the shutdown could continue until Jan. 3.

“We may get some clarity on several factors in early 2019 starting with a clearer line of sight on the prospect for a resolution in U.S.-China trade dispute, but until there are some nerves flying around,” Investec’s Shaw said.

So much so that U.S. President Donald Trump’s Treasury secretary called top U.S. bankers on Sunday amid an ongoing rout on Wall Street and made plans to convene a group of officials known as the “Plunge Protection Team.”

U.S. stocks have fallen sharply in recent weeks on concerns over slowing economic growth, with the S&P 500 index .SPX on pace for its biggest percentage decline in December since the Great Depression. The Nasdaq .IXIC has fallen nearly 22 percent from its Aug. 29 high.

European stocks followed Asian bourses lower, with a pan-European index lower half a percent on the day and a shade away from a one-year low hit on Friday.

This added to a similar move in MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS, though losses were limited as many bourses were either shut or set to close early ahead of Christmas.

By 1000 GMT, Britain’s FTSE 100 .FTSE had fallen 0.5 percent, while France’s CAC .FCHI and Spain’s IBEX .IBEX had eased 0.9 and 0.5 percent respectively. Germany’s DAX and Italy’s FTSE MIB were shut for Christmas.

“Markets (are) still under pressure from last week’s more hawkish Fed update, exacerbating fears about slowing growth and more expensive refinancing following years of stimulus,” said Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets

GLOBAL SLOWDOWN

The political uncertainty has only added to the air of risk aversion, punishing equities to the benefit of bonds. Ten-year Treasury yields were near their lowest since August at 2.789 percent US10YT=RR, having fallen over 40 basis points in just six weeks.

The gap between two- and 10-year yields has shrunk to only 14 basis points, a flattening of the curve that has sometimes heralded economic turning points in the past

“Many of the financial and economic indicators that turn first around business cycle peaks are now flashing red in advanced economies,” warned Simon MacAdam, global economist as Capital Economics.

“This is consistent with our view that the recent loss of momentum in the world economy will develop into a more severe slowdown in 2019.”

The flight to safe havens again boosted the Japanese yen, with the dollar near a three-month trough at 111.02 yen JPY= on Monday. It fared better against the euro, which was undermined by a run of poor European data. The single currency hovered at $1.1399 EUR=, after being as high as $1.1485 last week.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar index was a shade softer at 96.745 .DXY.

Gold too has regained its appeal, holding near recent six-month peak XAU= around $1,262.6300 per ounce.

Oil prices were near their lowest since the third quarter of 2017, having shed 11 percent last week. [O/R]

Reporting by Abhinav Ramnarayan, Additional reporting by Wayne Cole in SYDNEY and Julien Ponthus in LONDON; Editing by Toby Chopra

 

The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations

December 23, 2018

by Dr. Peter Janney

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal, Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment.

Three months before, on July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.

After Corson’s death, Trento and the well-known Washington fix-lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever.

The small group of CIA officials gathered at Trento’s house to search through the Crowley papers, looking for documents that must not become public. A few were found but, to their consternation, a significant number of files Crowley was known to have had in his possession had simply vanished.

When published material concerning the CIA’s actions against Kennedy became public in 2002, it was discovered to the CIA’s horror, that the missing documents had been sent by an increasingly erratic Crowley to another person and these missing papers included devastating material on the CIA’s activities in South East Asia to include drug running, money laundering and the maintenance of the notorious ‘Regional Interrogation Centers’ in Viet Nam and, worse still, the Zipper files proving the CIA’s active organization of the assassination of President John Kennedy..

A massive, preemptive disinformation campaign was readied, using government-friendly bloggers, CIA-paid “historians” and others, in the event that anything from this file ever surfaced. The best-laid plans often go astray and in this case, one of the compliant historians, a former government librarian who fancied himself a serious writer, began to tell his friends about the CIA plan to kill Kennedy and eventually, word of this began to leak out into the outside world.

The originals had vanished and an extensive search was conducted by the FBI and CIA operatives but without success. Crowley’s survivors, his aged wife and son, were interviewed extensively by the FBI and instructed to minimize any discussion of highly damaging CIA files that Crowley had, illegally, removed from Langley when he retired. Crowley had been a close friend of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s notorious head of Counterintelligence. When Angleton was sacked by DCI William Colby in December of 1974, Crowley and Angleton conspired to secretly remove Angleton’s most sensitive secret files out of the agency. Crowley did the same thing right before his own retirement, secretly removing thousands of pages of classified information that covered his entire agency career.

Known as “The Crow” within the agency, Robert T. Crowley joined the CIA at its inception and spent his entire career in the Directorate of Plans, also know as the “Department of Dirty Tricks,”: Crowley was one of the tallest man ever to work at the CIA. Born in 1924 and raised in Chicago, Crowley grew to six and a half feet when he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in N.Y. as a cadet in 1943 in the class of 1946. He never graduated, having enlisted in the Army, serving in the Pacific during World War II. He retired from the Army Reserve in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel. According to a book he authored with his friend and colleague, William Corson, Crowley’s career included service in Military Intelligence and Naval Intelligence, before joining the CIA at its inception in 1947. His entire career at the agency was spent within the Directorate of Plans in covert operations. Before his retirement, Bob Crowley became assistant deputy director for operations, the second-in-command in the Clandestine Directorate of Operations.

Bob Crowley first contacted Gregory Douglas  in 1993  when he found out from John Costello that Douglas was about to publish his first book on Heinrich Mueller, the former head of the Gestapo who had become a secret, long-time asset to the CIA. Crowley contacted Douglas and they began a series of long and often very informative telephone conversations that lasted for four years. In 1996, Crowley told Douglas that he believed him to be the person that should ultimately tell Crowley’s story but only after Crowley’s death. Douglas, for his part, became so entranced with some of the material that Crowley began to share with him that he secretly began to record their conversations, later transcribing them word for word, planning to incorporate some, or all, of the material in later publications.

Conversation No. 52

Date: Monday, December 2, 1996

Commenced:  9:45 AM CST

Concluded: 10:21 AM CST

GD: Good morning, Robert. Well, we should be having a nice lunch in a week from today.

RTC: I’m very eager to meet you, Gregory. The telephone is fine, but nothing like a face-to-face to really establish a good relationship.

GD: I agree. As I understand it, you will ship your annotated copies of the complete Warren Report to my hotel and you will bring with you the material on ZIPPER. And pass it to me away from the others. Right?

RTC: That’s the drill now, Gregory. I have the books boxed and you may have to take them with you as shipped baggage. A bit much to stick into the overhead bins.

GD: Understood. But the rest of it?

RTC: No, that you can keep under your seat or up above. No problem with that.

GD: I am looking forward to all of this, Robert, but a little concerned about your friends. Kimmel I can do without, if you take my meaning.

RTC: Gregory, I will be there and he won’t stray off the path.

GD: That’s a comfort. Dueling with the blind is not entertaining. You know, I have been doing my homework on the ZIPPER themes and if you have the time, I have a number of questions.

RTC: Go ahead.

GD: Well, theories abound on this. One says this and another says that. You have given me your background, pretty much, and I am trying to pick the wheat from the chaff as they say. Why use Oswald?

RTC: Obvious, Gregory. We wanted a war with Soviet Russia, that’s why we used Oswald. Here he is, a professed Marxist and defector to the Soviet Union, shooting the president. We had to establish a trail to the KGB so we got, or rather Jim Angleton got, our station chief in Mexico City, Win Scott, to work up a scenario placing Oswald in that city and visiting the Soviet and Cuban embassies. They prepared a paper showing Oswald was in connection with Comrade V.V. Kostikov, head of the 13th section of the KGB…assassinations…and so on. They fucked the whole thing up so badly that we had to drop it. Fake pictures of someone not even remotely resembling Oswald, fake stories and they were working on a fake letter from Oswald to Kostikov in which he told him he was going to become a great hero by killing Kennedy. The motives? Kennedy’s humiliation of the Russians over the Cuban missile business. Howard Hunt was involved with this and he is a very vain and stupid person. He’s a little like Bill Corson, Gregory, but you mustn’t repeat any of this. Very self-important person, with delusions.

GD: Won’t say a word.

RTC: I knew you wouldn’t. Bill can fool the Trentos, who are as gullible as he is phony and they both deserve each other, believe me. No, they ruined the Russian plan at the beginning. You see, after Kennedy was dead, our agency would reveal to all the world that the Russians had plotted this and then Johnson would order a surprise nuclear attack on them. Of course, Johnson was a gutless wonder, going this way and going that, so unless we got The New York Times and other papers we influenced, to start a firestorm of anger in Americans, that one was as dead as the dodo. We had it all planned out, too. Later, they got Oswald’s bitch of a wife being deposed and two phony Russian translators who would claim that she had seen the very rifle in Russia. Of course that was a .22 target rifle and the one we planted was the cheap wop piece with a cheaper scope, so that one went out.

GD: Posner claims that Marina’s uncle was only a deputy sheriff in Russia. He said uncle had been a local bigwig in the MVD which was “just like the sheriff’s office.” Even I know better than that. In fact, as you know, Robert, the MVD was the ministry that ran the KGB. Did Posner expect anyone to believe that silly shit?

RTC: I know what you mean, but of course he did. Another self-important hebe with the brains of a cockroach but a willing tool, Gregory, You don’t have to love them to use them after all.

GD: So the war fell through. Did Johnson get wet pants?

RTC: No, it never went that far. Still, it was a distraction, but I always wince when I read the breathless expose in the Warren sludge.

GD: And there are so many theories.

RTC: Tell me about it, Gregory. Some we cooked up but mostly they are the work of the tiny of brain and the huge of ego. Oh yes, it was the mob, out to get Kennedy because of his brother’s attacks on them ordered by Joe, the ex-bootlegger. Listen, I know people in the Chicago mob and as much as they detested Kennedy, and they did get him elected by voting every cemetery early and often, they are far too smart to even try to kill a sitting president. We had the cooperation of the leadership of the FBI, who would have the lead in the investigation, but the mob would not and if that ever got out, Hoover would have to clean their respective clocks for them. No, in spite of their hatred of him, they would never have done such a thing.

GD: And the Cuban anti-Castro people…

RTC: Yes, emotional enough and after they felt Kennedy had deserted them during the Bay of Pigs disaster, they had plenty of motive, but no opportunity and emotional as they are, they would boast and Hoover’s men would have nailed them.

GD: And Lansky and the mob people who wanted to get back into the gambling business in Cuba?

RTC: The same. Meyer Lansky was a very smart man and the same I said about the Chicago mob would hold true for him and his boys. They wished Kennedy dead, but let someone else do it.

GD: Yes, and Castro.

RTC: Castro is not a stupid man and even though it leaked out, on purpose, of course, that we were trying to kill him, Castro did not have the connections to reverse the attacks on him. Like the mob and others, he was not sad to see Kennedy killed but had nothing to do with any real plotting. This sort of silly shit keeps the buffs all atwitter and with all of the books, seminars, tapes and so on, they keep anyone from digging too deeply into the realities of the dastardly deed. All the stories about mysterious tramps, men with umbrellas, men in the sewer, fake epileptics throwing convenient fits and so on are just smoke and mirrors. All the mob bosses, Cuban exiles, rich Texas oilmen, Richard Nixon and anyone else suggested either couldn’t or wouldn’t have tried to shoot Kennedy. You see, we had Hoover and the Johnson people in our camp. With these, we could shut off any inconvenient revelations at any time. And we have iron influence, let’s call it, with the major media, so no worry there. We have various retrospective television programs, usually somewhere around November 22 each year that rehash all the idiot stories and I watch them with great humor. Beats ‘I Love Lucy’ for real humor.

GD: When you started this, was it solely to provide an excuse for nuking the Russians?

RTC: No, that was a sort of afterthought, Gregory. Angleton hated the Russians and he did know that the Kennedy people were in touch with the KGB and Khrushchev people so he went from there. You might say that Jim was the sparkplug on that engine, right along. I wouldn’t pay any attention to the conspiracy books, Gregory. You know better than that, don’t you?

GD: Yes, of course, but if I am going to write about it, I will have to know what others have said. And I can just hear the squealings if and when I do this.

RTC: Oh yes, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned or a tin-horned academic one-upped.

GD: That I agree with, but the concept of one man, Jim Angleton, having the power to start a nuclear war is horrifying to me and I assume it will be to others. This is a manifestation of far too much power concentrated in too few hands. What kind of oversight was there? How many wars and assassinations were caused by someone’s upset stomach or throbbing piles? I said this Kennedy business is a microcosm of ill-advised plots and I hope you aren’t upset with me when I tell you that I am very glad it never happened. You sent me the German intercepts of the Roosevelt and Churchill talks over their secret lines and that smacks of the same thing. Personal spite, vaunting ambition and tens of thousands or millions die. Not good, Robert, not good at all.

RTC: If you ever walked in the corridors of power, Gregory, you would have a more realistic view. I don’t mind that you have occasional lapses into idealism, but please don’t let it cloud your judgment.

GD: It’s a little like doing the breast stroke in a septic tank.

 

(Concluded at 10:21 AM CST)

 

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