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Manafort Faces Renewed Scrutiny over $40M in ‘Suspicious Transactions’

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort is facing renewed scrutiny after special counsel Robert Mueller resurrected a shelved federal investigation that previously identified $40 million in “suspicious transactions” to and from Manafort’s companies, according to BuzzFeed News. 

The discovery indicates the scope of Manafort’s alleged crimes are much broader than initially when he was indicted in October 2017 for an alleged $18 million money laundering scheme involving pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych.

The FBI uncovered the transactions primarily in 2014 and 2015 as part of an investigation to tackle international kleptocracy, and agents interviewed Manafort at his attorney’s office in Washington D.C. At the time, Manafort denied wrongdoing and said he knew nothing of Yanukovych’s government reportedly stealing money, according to internal FBI emails. Although Manafort pledged to disclose documents to the bureau, he never did.

The probe fizzled, according to two former federal law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation, because FBI leaders determined Manafort’s crimes weren’t significant enough to warrant charges.

“We had him in 2014,” one of the former officials said. “In hindsight, we could have nailed him then.”

The officials said a lack of resources made it too difficult to build a complex case against the former Ukrainian president, so the investigation petered out.

In the meantime, banks continued to alert federal officials of suspicious transactions involving Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges related to his work with eastern European countries. The charges include money laundering, conspiracy against the U.S. and tax fraud. 

Mueller reopened the investigation in September and used some of the findings to help indict Manafort. Mueller is considering leveling new charges against Manafort as investigators comb through the suspicious transactions.

His business partner, Rick Gates, plans to plead guilty to fraud charges in exchange for a reduced sentence and his testimony against Manafort.

FBI Faces Mounting Pressure over Failure to Act on Tip about School Shooter

FBI Director Christopher Wray speaking at a previous congressional committee hearing.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

The FBI’s admission that it failed to properly follow up on a tip about the Florida school shooter has drawn mounting criticism, including calls for the bureau’s boss to step down.

Among those demanding the resignation of FBI Director Christopher Wray is Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who on Monday also called on the bureau to release “all details” on why it never acted on an anonymous caller’s tip on Jan. 5 that Nikolas Cruz “had a desire to kill people” and had “the potential” of “conducting a school shooting.”

“Last week, our state and nation was shocked to learn of the FBI’s inexcusable inaction after receiving a tip informing them of Cruz’s desire to carry out a school shooting,” Scott said in a statement. “The FBI’s failure to initiate an investigation raises many questions, and the victims’ families deserve answers now.”

Scott last week called for Wray to step down after acknowledging that FBI “protocols were not followed” following the tip.

“Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life,” the FBI said in a statement Friday.

The bureau also is facing heat from some prominent Republicans in the U.S. House.

Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., sent a letter Friday to Wray indicating the FBI failed to act on “warning signs that (Cruz) was capable of such monstrous actions,” Homeland Security Today wrote

“The Committees are seeking to understand these protocols and why they were not followed in this case,” Gowdy and Goodlatte wrote. “Accordingly, the Committees request the FBI brief the Committees on the tip, protocols, and FBI’s actions before and after the incident as soon as possible, but no later than March 2.”

President Trump, who has waged a campaign to undermine confidence in the FBI amid the special counsel investigation into Russian interference, suggested over the weekend that the bureau missed “many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter” because of the resources spent on the Robert Mueller probe.

“This is not acceptable,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”

Trump’s response drew heavy criticism, including from current and former FBI officials who pointed out that the bureau employs more than 30,000 people and is capable of conducting numerous investigations at one time.

Some prominent Democrats, including Rep. Adam Schiff, said Scott should not be forced to resign.

“I don’t think the director should resign, no, but there clearly is a serious problem here when you have threat information of that detail and it didn’t get triggered in terms of an investigation and action,” Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“There are only so many cases where you do have good input where people see something and say something, and to not follow up is inexcusable,” Schiff continued. “There needs to be a full internal investigation by the Justice Department and t

Special Counsel Investigating Trump’s Son-in-Law Kushner over Business Dealings

President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

The special counsel team investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election is now scrutinizing the president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, over his business dealings during the presidential transition.

The news, first reported by CNN, indicates that Robert Mueller’s investigation has expanded from Kushner’s contacts with Russia to his interactions with Chinese and Qatari investors. 

Over the past two months, investigators have been probing Kushner’s solicitation of financial support for 666 Fifth Ave., a debt-ridden Manhattan property that Kushner Companies purchased in 2007.

In January 2017, Kushner divested from the property, which is more than $1.4 billion in debt.

It wasn’t immediately clear what Mueller’s team was looking for. Neither Kushner nor his company has received requests for interviews, people familiar with the matter told CNN.

In a statement to congressional investigators, Kushner said he was the lead contact for foreign governments and spoke to more than 50 businesses from more than 15 countries during the presidential transition.

Russian-Linked Bots Suspected of Sowing Divisions Immediately After Florida School Shooting

Cyber crime expert, via FBI.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Suspected Russian-linked Twitter accounts pounced on the gun control debate just an hour after last week’s school shooting in Florida.

Many of the social media accounts, the New York Times reports, had been the target of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the presidential election in 2016. 

“This is pretty typical for them, to hop on breaking news like this,” said Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of New Knowledge, a company that tracks online disinformation campaigns. “The bots focus on anything that is divisive for Americans. Almost systematically.”

The news comes after last week’s indictments of 13 Russians accused of waging an unprecedented propaganda campaign to help Donald Trump get elected.

To experts on disinformation campaigns, it’s no surprise that Russian agents quickly seized the opportunity to sow division among Americans. The bots are designed to pit Americans against each other on divisive issues such as gun control, race and immigration.

The bots are “going to find any contentious issue, and instead of making it an opportunity for compromise and negotiation, they turn it into an unsolvable issue bubbling with frustration,” said Karen North, a social media professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “It just heightens that frustration and anger.”

Top intelligence officials warned Congress earlier this month that Russian agents, emboldened by their success during the presidential campaign, are planning a similar disinformation campaign during the mid-term elections this year.

The automated Twitter accounts pounced on the hashtag #Parklandshooting, injecting the issue of metal illness in the gun control debate. Some of the accounts also claimed the gunman searched for Arabic phrases on Google before the massacre.

Ex-Border Patrol Agent Paints Unflattering Portrait of Agency’s Treatment of Migrants

Francisco Cantú’s memoir, “The Line Becomes a River.”

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Francisco Cantú’s memoir, “The Line Becomes a River,” chronicles the four years he spent as a Border Patrol agent in the deserts of the American southwest.

The memoir, which Mother Jones called “the best book on immigration you will read this year,” provides a rare, unflattering glimpse into an agency with enormous power. 

Cantú, whose father was born in Mexico, became incensed over the inhumane treatment of migrants, prompting him to flee the agency and help support a family facing deportation.

“It’s true that we slash their bottles and drain their water into the dry earth, that we dump their backpacks and pile their food and clothes to be crushed and pissed on and stepped over, strewn across the desert and set ablaze,” Cantú wrote.

Cantú’s book is a ““a must-read for anyone who thinks ‘build a wall’ is the answer to anything,’” Esquire

Read: 37-Page Indictment of Russians Interfering with U.S. Elections

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

The Justice Department on Friday announced the indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian groups accused of waging a sophisticated, covert propaganda campaign to help get Donald Trump elected.

Special counsel Robert Mueller unveiled the 37-page indictment, which you can read here. 

Special counsel Robert Mueller

The indictment alleges the Russians stole the identities of Americans, spread falsehoods on social media, staged political rallies and exploited flashpoint issues, such as race, immigration and religion, to sow divisions.

“The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy,” Rod  Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the investigation, said in a brief news conference announcing the charges. “We must not allow them to succeed.”

The indictment amounted to a detailed rebuttal of President Trump’s claims that Russian interference was a “hoax” peddled by the “fake news.”

Trump’s Tweetstorm about Russian Probe Draws Heavy Criticism from Democrats, GOP

President Trump

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Donald Trump’s weekend tweetstorm in which he slammed the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election caught heavy criticism from prominent Democrats and Republicans and former nation who are concerned about the president’s unwillingness to hold Russia accountable.

The tweets, many of which were misleading and false, attacked the FBI, Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, congressional Democrats, the media and his own national security adviser. The president also suggested the Russian investigation distracted the FBI from tips about the Florida shooter, a claim that incensed friends and family members of the victims.

Rep. Adam Schiff, whom Trump called “the leakin’ monster of no control,” took aim at Trump’s assertion that the indictments vindicated him because there was no mention of collusion.

“This is a president who claims vindication anytime someone sneezes,”  the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “What this indictment sets out is information about only one element of the Russian active measures campaign — that involving their use of social media to influence attitudes, to motivate people to protest, to essentially infiltrate our political system through the cyber sphere.”

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, also speaking to CNN, criticized Trump for failing to condemn Russia.

“What are we going to do about the threat posed by Russia? He never talks about that,” Clapper said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, echoed those sentiments, saying Trump’s opposition to the Russian investigation is “one of the weirdest things in modern American history.”

“That we don’t have a president speaking out on this issue is a horror show,” Sanders said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “We got to bring Democrats and Republicans together — despite the president — to go forward and protect the integrity of American democracy.”

Also on “Meet the Press,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., expressed concerns about Trump’s dismissive remarks about Russian interference.

“Russia has clearly tried to advance their agenda into the United States,” Lankford said. “The president has been very adamant to say that he didn’t collude. He’s very frustrated that people seem to accuse the fact that the only reason he’s president is because of some sort of Russian collusion. But I would say the clear message here is Russia did mean to interfere in our election.”

Former Trump Aide Gates to Testify Against Manafort in Forthcoming Plea Deal

Special counsel Robert Mueller

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates will plead guilty to charges related to fraud in exchange for testifying against his longtime business partner, Paul Manafort, in the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election.

Gates and Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign manager, were indicted in October on 12 counts involving money laundering, conspiracy against the U.S. and tax fraud. They pleaded not guilty.

Gates is expected to change his plea to guilty and will likely serve 18 months in prison in exchange for his cooperation, the Los Angeles Times reports

The special counsel probe so far has turned two defendants – former national security adviser Michael Flynn and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos – into cooperating witnesses.

The charges against Gates and Manafort stem from work they did with Ukrainian politicians who are allies with Russia. They are accused of laundering tens of millions of dollars from the work through U.S. and foreign companies and bank accounts.

Manafort, who is under house arrest and faces up to 15 years in prison, has pledged to fight the charges and even sued Mueller and the Justice Department, claiming the special counsel probe overreached its authority.

It’s not yet clear what information Gates is offering to prosecutors.