It's the sanctions, stupid

It's the sanctions, stupid

by digby

I'm sure you are not surprised by the fact that we are learning Mueller is homing in on the quid pro quo of election sabotage in exchange for sanctions. (With a little Trump Tower Moscow sweetener...) We've been talking about it here for many months.

I wrote this back in 2017:

It's obvious at this point that there was a concerted Russian effort to infiltrate the Trump campaign. The extent to which it was successful is still unclear, although we have plenty of evidence that members of the Trump campaign were willing to talk about it. At least one, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, may well have been working for more than one boss. There are many questions about Trump's business dealings with Russia, mostly because he has been opaque and secretive about his finances and because the world in which he worked is rife with oligarchs and mobsters looking for people with whom to park their money. All this is worthy of a thorough investigation, particularly since Trump is so obviously unwilling to be forthcoming about any of it.

But frankly, even if none of that turns out to be true -- or if the Mueller investigation finds no evidence that anyone else committed any crimes -- it doesn't much matter. Michael Flynn has admitted to calling up Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak -- at the behest of other members of the incoming administration and likely the president himself -- and telling him not to worry about any U.S. retaliation against Russia for its election meddling, because when the Trump team took office they'd make it all go away. He might as well have said, "Tell Vlad thanks for the help. We've got his back."

Indeed, Donald Trump, who was then the president-elect, tweeted this the very next day:

Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016

What Flynn relayed to Kislyak that day was a shocking act of betrayal by the president-elect of the United States and his team. One can only imagine what authorities at the Department of Justice thought when they figured it out.

After all, the Obama administration was not protesting the legitimacy of Trump's victory when it imposed those punishments. Our government was sending a straightforward message to the Russians that there would be a price to pay for their audacious interference in the American democratic system and their attack on American sovereignty. And then the newly elected president, the beneficiary of that attack, secretly sent a different message saying he would make sure there was no such penalty.

The Daily Beast reported yesterday:

[T]hree sources familiar with Mueller’s probe told The Daily Beast that his team is now zeroing in on Trumpworld figures who may have attempted to shape the administration's foreign policy by offering to ease U.S. sanctions on Russia.

The Special Counsel’s Office is preparing court filings that are expected to detail Trump associates’ conversations about sanctions relief—and spell out how those offers and counter-proposals were characterized to top figures on the campaign and in the administration, those same sources said.

The new details would not only bookend a multi-year investigation by federal prosecutors into whether and how Trump associates seriously considered requests by Moscow to ease the financial measures. The new court filings could also answer a central question of the Russia investigation: What specific policy changes, if any, did the Kremlin hope to get in return from its political machinations?

“During his investigation, Mueller has shown little proclivity for chasing dead ends,” said Paul Pelletier, a former senior Department of Justice official. “His continued focus on the evidence that members of the Trump campaign discussed sanction relief with Russians shows that his evidence of a criminal violation continues to sharpen. This has to come as especially bad news for the president.”

Mueller’s interest in sanctions arose, at least in part, out of his team’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The Special Counsel’s Office noted in a court filing last week that Flynn had lied to the FBI about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak concerning U.S. sanctions. But other portions of this court filing were left redacted.

Mueller’s team is looking closely at evidence—some of it provided by witnesses—from the transition period, two individuals with knowledge of the probe said.

“Sanctions conversations that happened after November are more serious,” said Angela Stent, a former national intelligence officer for Russia under President George W. Bush. “At that point Flynn, for example, would have already known he was going to be part of the administration and those conversations would have included plans for what might happen [next].”

And Flynn wasn’t the only figure talking sanctions during that transition period, three sources with knowledge of the probe said. Several individuals in Trump’s inner circle were developing their own plans to put pressure on other parts of the government to roll back the sanctions, which have cost the Russian economy more than $100 billion, according to Kremlin estimates.

Let's not forget the most famous meeting at Trump Tower meeting where we know they talked about releasing dirt on Clinton in exchange for lifting sanctions.

It's always been the obvious quid pro quo. It's been all over the case from the beginning. Trump was more than willing to help out his pal. After all, he owed him.


The Trump administration plans to lift sanctions on companies owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska after he significantly reduced his ownership stake in them.

The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it would lift financial sanctions on Deripaska’s aluminum company, United Co. Rusal, as well as En+ Group plc and JSC EuroSibEnergo in 30 days, after Deripaska agreed to reduce his ownership stake in each of the companies to below 50 percent.

Deripaska, a billionaire aluminum magnate with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, will remain sanctioned and his property blocked.

“Treasury sanctioned these companies because of their ownership and control by sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, not for the conduct of the companies themselves,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “These companies have committed to significantly diminish Deripaska’s ownership and sever his control. The companies will be subject to ongoing compliance and will face severe consequences if they fail to comply,” he continued.

The sanctions on Deripaska and his companies were imposed in April under a law passed by Congress to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential election, in addition to other malign activities.

You'll recall that Deripaska is the guy Paul Manafort was 20 million dollars in hock to. Well, ok then.

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cheers --- digby

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