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Married to the mob

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Another day, another shakedown:

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 (£300,000) to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved.

The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law.

Mr Cohen denies the allegation.

The meeting at the White House was last June. Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country’s anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

A high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence officer in Mr Poroshenko’s administration described what happened before the visit to the White House.

Mr Cohen was brought in, he said, because Ukraine’s registered lobbyists and embassy in Washington DC could get Mr Poroshenko little more than a brief photo-op with Mr Trump. Mr Poroshenko needed something that could be portrayed as “talks”.

This senior official’s account is as follows – Mr Poroshenko decided to establish a back channel to Mr Trump. The task was given to a former aide, who asked a loyal Ukrainian MP for help.

He in turn used personal contacts in a Jewish charity in New York state, Chabad of Port Washington. This eventually led to Michael Cohen, the president’s lawyer and trusted fixer. Mr Cohen was paid $400,000.

There is no suggestion that Mr Trump knew about the payment.

A second source in Kiev gave the same details, except that the total paid to Mr Cohen was $600,000.

There was also support for the account from a lawyer in the US who has uncovered details of Mr Cohen’s finances, Michael Avenatti. He represents a porn actress, Stormy Daniels, in legal action against President Trump.

Avenatti said that Suspicious Activity Reports filed by Mr Cohen’s bank to the US Treasury showed he had received money from “Ukrainian interests”.

As well as Mr Cohen, the two Ukrainians said to have opened the backchannel for their president also denied the story.

The senior intelligence official in Kiev said Mr Cohen had been helped by Felix Sater, a convicted former mobster who was once Trump’s business partner. Mr Sater’s lawyer, too, denied the allegations. The Ukrainian president’s office refused to comment.

As was widely reported last June, Mr Poroshenko was still guessing at how much time he would have with Mr Trump even as he flew to Washington.

The White House schedule said only that Mr Poroshenko would “drop in” to the Oval Office while Mr Trump was having staff meetings.

That had been agreed through official channels. Mr Cohen’s fee was for getting Mr Poroshenko more than just an embarrassingly brief few minutes of small talk and a handshake, the senior official said. But negotiations continued until the early hours of the day of the visit.

The Ukrainian side were angry, the official went on, because Mr Cohen had taken “hundreds of thousands” of dollars from them for something it seemed he could not deliver.

Right up until the last moment, the Ukrainian leader was uncertain if he would avoid humiliation.

“Poroshenko’s inner circle were shocked by how dirty this whole arrangement [with Cohen] was.”

Hey, that’s why it’s called American exceptionalism.

I’m increasingly struck by the extent to which the Republican party has become an organized crime racket, consisting of made men like Trump and Cohen, but also lots of connected guys, such as for instance Joseph McCarthy, writing in National Review:

There are many different ways the Obama administration could have reacted to the news that Page and Manafort had joined the Trump campaign. It could have given the campaign a defensive briefing. It could have continued interviewing Page, with whom the FBI had longstanding lines of communication. It could have interviewed Manafort. It could have conducted a formal interview with George Papadopoulos rather than approaching him with a spy who asked him loaded questions about Russia’s possession of Democratic-party emails.

Instead of doing some or all of those things, the Obama administration chose to look at the Trump campaign as a likely co-conspirator of Russia — either because Obama officials inflated the flimsy evidence, or because they thought it could be an effective political attack on the opposition party’s likely candidate.

From the “late spring” on, every report of Trump-Russia ties, no matter how unlikely and uncorroborated, was presumed to be proof of a traitorous arrangement. And every detail that could be spun into Trump-campaign awareness of Russian hacking, no matter how tenuous, was viewed in the worst possible light.

The Trump-Russia investigation did not originate with Page or Papadopoulos. It originated with the Obama administration.

If you’ve ever heard a mob lawyer speaking to reporters on the courthouse steps, you’ll find these kinds of arguments very familiar.

In any case, the entire conservative movement in America is now all in with Trump.  Its major tropes are now:

“He’s not a choirboy.”  I remember Carmela Soprano used that one quite a bit.

“He’s not doing anything that other politicians haven’t done.”  This is true, in the sense that if you take the single most corrupt thing each and every other previous president did, Trump has probably done it already. (For reals, I read an article on some “respectable” conservative site the other day that made this argument, though I’m not going to look for it now).

“Trump is what liberals end up getting when they write sentences that begin, ‘Anyway, I was in a cafe this morning having a croissant before heading to Versailles . . .’ so it’s really all their fault.”  Thanks Obama I mean Erik.

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