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Monday, February 20, 2017


A mental health break and back to the spy business

by Tom Sullivan

A few of my colleagues here are already so dizzy from riding the President 45 merry-go-round that they are taking needed down time. It's easy to find this fight too much to handle. It's going to be a long march. So take a mental health break before you stab someone in the face with the stem of a margarita glass, okay?

Josh Marshall linked yesterday to his September 2015 post about relaxing by hand-building a small sailboat with his son. It brought back a story about the value of working with your hands. First, Josh Marshall:

I cannot think of the last time I had what I would call a hobby. At first my hobby was history but it was also my profession. Then there were years hustling to find some footing in journalism and a name for myself as a writer. I have never been able to work at something I didn't love or was driven to do. So hobbies and avocations and work were all the same thing. Then there was TPM. And for a decade and a half TPM has been both my work, my hobby, my living, in a word, my everything. As work, it is all words and symbols. I love it. In some ways I am it. But there’s nothing physical or tactile or concrete about it. Woodworking was filling some void in me that I hadn’t known existed.
Marshall walked his readers through the whole project. Once done, he had to learn to sail it.

Several of my old roommates are now priests and ministers. One (the Presbyterian) shared a similar story. He received a gift from his wife one summer: a class of his choosing at the John C. Campbell Folk School. The arts school was founded in 1925 at Brasstown, NC deep in the mountains west of here:
From Basketry to Writing, you can choose from over 860 weeklong and weekend classes each year in a broad variety of areas. Your creative learning vacation is enhanced by knowledgeable instructors and small classes.
He told me that for his vacation he'd taken a class in coopering.

"You made barrels?" I asked.

"Well, I made a wooden bucket," he said, smiling.

It wasn't much to look at, he admitted, but it was his creation.

He'd made friends with a woman police officer from Chicago who came each year for blacksmithing. She had her own forge and shop at her home in Illinois.

It was funny, reverend roommate said, many of those he'd met in Brasstown, like her, were in "people" professions. They spent their days interacting with people and their problems rather than concrete objects. Like Josh Marshall, they found doing something tactile relaxing. Working with their hands was therapeutic.

"You know," he said, "I can counsel a parishioner for years and then one night he can go home and put a bullet in his head. And what have I got to show for it?"

"But I made this potholder," I laughed, holding up an imaginary one.


Right after Marshall's tweet about boat building, it was back to business:

The Times reports:

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.
The president's personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, delivered the proposal. The backstory is "amazingly byzantine," says Marshall:
Having spent some time studying the matter, the biggest red flags about Donald Trump's ties to Russia and businessmen around Vladimir Putin have always been tied to the Trump SoHo building project in Lower Manhattan, from the first decade of this century. I base my knowledge of this on this rather cursory but still quite good April 2016 article from the Times and my own limited snooping around the Outer Boroughs Russian and Ukrainian emigre press. (I summarized the most salient details of the earlier Times article in Item #3 of this post.) This was a key project, perhaps the key project in the post-bankruptcy era in which Trump appeared heavily reliant on Russian funds to finance his projects. Sater was at the center of that project. The details only came to light after the project got bogged down in a complicated series of lawsuits.

After the lawyers got involved, Trump said he barely knew who Sater was. But there is voluminous evidence that Sater, a Russian emigrant, was key to channeling Russian capital to Trump for years. Sater is also a multiple felon and at least a one-time FBI informant. Bayrock Capital, where he worked was located in Trump Tower and he himself worked as a special advisor to Trump. Again, read the Times article to get a flavor of his ties to Trump, the Trump SoHo project and Russia. For my money there's no better place to start to understand the Trump/Russia issue.
Sater cropped up last August:
A Russian-born, mafia-linked businessman whose ties to both Donald Trump and loyalists of Russian President Vladimir Putin have sparked scrutiny, visited Trump Tower last month for undisclosed business, he told POLITICO.

The businessman, Felix Sater, also donated the maximum allowable contribution to Trump’s presidential campaign, according to the campaign’s most recent FEC filing.

Sater, whose firm co-developed a major Trump project in New York and who was later hired by Trump to drum up business in the former USSR, has said that he closely associated with Trump and his family, while Trump has suggested he wouldn’t even recognize Sater.
And last May:
The Russian-born businessman had already done a stint in prison for stabbing a man in the face with the stem of a margarita glass, and he was now awaiting sentencing for his role in a Mafia-orchestrated stock fraud scheme — all the while serving as a government informant on the mob and mysterious matters of national security.
Marshall has an update here that suggests Sater has "ties to at least certain elements of US law enforcement and intelligence." He had a hand in Trump's failed Trump Tower Fort Lauderdale and appears to be someone who "works with a bewildering cast of characters in the interests of saving his own neck."

Trump knows all the best people. Top, top people.

David Burbach, Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College, tweeted, "We're in full spy novel territory."

And "This week in Trump" is just getting started.