Thursday, July 20, 2017

Is Orange County Congressman And Trumpist Dana Rohrabacher An Actual Paid Kremlin Operative? Or Is He Doing This All For Free?


In the wee hours Wednesday, Nico Hines broke an explosive story at the Daily Beast about Orange County crackpot Dana Rohrabacher. The title sounds unbelievable and unplausible-- unless you've followed Dana Rohrabacher's political career: GOP Lawmaker Got Direction From Moscow, Took It Back to D.C..

A low-level Reagan staffer, Rohrabacher first won what was then a deep red district in 1988. By 1989 people in his district and on Capitol Hill had already started realizing that he had a screw loose. He skipped freshman orientation so he could go to Afghanistan and play dress-up with the Taliban. He's gotten crazier and crazier over the years-- and his district isn't quite so red as it used to be. In fact, the DCCC is targeting it because Hillary narrowly beat Trump there last year-- 47.9% to 46.2%. We'll come back to that in a moment. First though, this is what Hines reported about Rohrabacher's latest foray into foreign affairs:
Members of the team of Russians who secured a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner also attempted to stage a show trial of anti-Putin campaigner Bill Browder on Capitol Hill.

The trial, which would have come in the form of a congressional hearing, was scheduled for mid-June 2016 by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a long-standing Russia ally who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe. During the hearing, Rohrabacher had planned to confront Browder with a feature-length pro-Kremlin propaganda movie that viciously attacks him-- as well as at least two witnesses linked to the Russian authorities, including lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Ultimately, the hearing was canceled when senior Republicans intervened and agreed to allow a hearing on Russia at the full committee level with a Moscow-sympathetic witness, according to multiple congressional aides.

An email reviewed by the Daily Beast shows that before that June 14 hearing, Rohrabacher’s staff received pro-Kremlin briefings against Browder, once Russia’s biggest foreign investor, and his tax attorney Sergei Magnitsky from a lawyer who was working with Veselnitskaya.

Although House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) had prohibited Rohrabacher from showing the Russian propaganda film in Congress, Rohrabacher’s Capitol Hill office still actively promoted a screening of the movie that was held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on June 13, 2016. Veselnitskaya was one of those handling the movie’s worldwide promotion.

Invitations to attend the movie screening were sent from the subcommittee office by Catharine O’Neill, a Republican intern on Rohrabacher’s committee. Her email promised that the movie would convince viewers that Magnitsky, who was murdered in a Russian prison cell, was no hero.

The invite, reviewed by the Daily Beast, claimed that the film “explodes the common view that Mr. Magnitsky was a whistleblower” and lavishes praise on the “rebel director” Andrei Nekrasov.

...Rohrabacher’s office was given the film by the Prosecutor General’s office in Moscow, which is run by Yuri Chaika, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin who is accused of widespread corruption, and Viktor Grin, the deputy general prosecutor who has been sanctioned by the United States as part of the Magnitsky Act.

That same Prosecutor General’s office also was listed as being behind the “very high level and sensitive information” that was offered to Donald Trump Jr. in an email prior to his now infamous meeting with Russian officials at Trump Tower on June 9-- just days before the congressional hearing. Veselnitskaya attended that meeting with Trump Jr. She also happens to have worked as a prosecutor in the Moscow region and is a close personal friend of Chaika.

The Daily Beast reviewed a copy of a document that was passed to Rohrabacher in Moscow in April 2016. The document, marked “confidential,” was given to Rohrabacher and Behrends. It lays out an alternate reality in which the U.S.-- and the rest of the world-- has been duped by a fake $230 million scandal that resulted in sanctions being imposed on 44 Russians linked to murder, corruption, or cover-ups.

The document, which was handed over by an official from the Prosecutor General’s office to Rohrabacher along with means of viewing the Russian propaganda movie, suggested that U.S. “political situation may change the current climate” and claimed that it was the ideal moment to foment a challenge to the Western narrative on Putin’s kleptocracy. A subcommittee hearing that would re-examine the sanctions placed on Russia, the paper claimed, would be appreciated in Moscow.

“Changing attitudes to the Magnitsky story in the Congress… could have a very favorable response from the Russian side,” the document said.

What the U.S. would get in exchange for holding a subcommittee hearing was not laid out in detail. But the document promised to help iron out “key controversial issues and disagreements with the United States.”

...When Rohrabacher returned to the United States, he delayed the passage of the Global Magnitsky Act by holding it up in committee and tabled an amendment to remove Magnitsky’s name from its title, citing several of the claims found in the Russian document.

Next, Rohrabacher and Behrends, with the help of Rinat Akhmetshin, a Soviet army veteran and lobbyist who was also present at the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, put together a subcommittee event with witnesses including Veselnitskaya and Nekrasov, the director of the movie.

When Royce, the chair of the foreign relations committee, got wind of the hearing, he nixed Rohrabacher’s plan and offered instead to hold a full committee hearing on Russia relations. House aides conceded that he did so, in part, to avoid Rohrabacher staging an event that could have embarrassed the Republican Party-- and Congress.

During Royce’s hearing, Rohrabacher approvingly compared Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin. The congressman also submitted, for the congressional record, testimony that claimed Russia had not been behind the radioactive poisoning of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko in London.

Rohrabacher, Behrends, Akhmetshin, Veselnitskaya, and Matlock had dinner together later that night at the Capitol Hill Club, a private members’ establishment for Republicans. The evening was organized by Lanny Wiles, a veteran GOP operative.

The following day, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was caught on tape telling Republican colleagues: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” When some of the lawmakers laughed, he replied: “Swear to God.”

...Four years prior to the hearing, Rohrabacher was taken into a quiet room in Congress and warned by FBI agents that Russian intelligence operatives were trying to recruit him as an asset.

If he took the warning seriously, it certainly didn’t stop him from spending time with figures linked closely to the Russian state apparatus.

Earlier this year, Rohrabacher, who says he once arm-wrestled Putin, met Akhmetshin in Berlin. The congressman acknowledged to CNN that he suspected the former member of a Soviet counterintelligence unit might have links to the current Russian security service.

“I would certainly not rule that out,” Rohrabacher said. “[He has] an ulterior motive.”

That meeting in Germany apparently came about through sheer happenstance.

The same cannot be said of Rohrabacher’s congressional delegation trip to Moscow in the spring of 2016.

The itinerary for that three-day trip, reviewed by the Daily Beast, shows that Rohrabacher and Behrends attended a side meeting-- without the other members of the delegation-- with one of Putin’s closest confidants, Vladimir Yakunin.

A former head of the Russian Railways who has been sanctioned by the U.S., Yakunin has routinely accompanied Putin on domestic and international trips over the years. He owns a dacha near the president in an exclusive enclave on the shore of Lake Komsomolskoye.

Rohrabacher said at the time that he had agreed to the meeting at the request of Sergey Kislyak. “The Russian ambassador asked me if I would meet with him in Moscow,” he told BuzzFeed.

Kislyak has since gained notoriety in the U.S. after a series of Trump campaign associates failed to disclose their conversations with a man who has been described as “a top spy and recruiter of spies.”

There were no other meetings with Russian officials scheduled for Rohrabacher and Behrends alone. But after a delegation meeting with Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of Russia’s foreign affairs committee, at the Duma the two of them were asked to stay behind.

Once the other members of the delegation had left the room, Viktor Grin, a top Chaika deputy in the Prosecutor General’s office and one of the 44 Russians enduring a travel ban and asset freezes under U.S. sanctions, appeared with the document outlining Russia’s position on the Magnitsky sanctions. Rohrabacher and Behrends were also given access to the anti-Magnitsky movie.

...When the Royce hearing did roll around, on June 14, one of the members of Congress on the committee was appalled by the litany of Kremlin lines being repeated by Rohrabacher and his friend Ambassador Matlock.

“I thought I’d just heard a presentation from RT,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told the Daily Beast, referring to the Kremlin-funded English-language TV network.

Connolly said the rest of the committee had come to believe that evidence from a Russian source should be treated with considerable skepticism, as the country’s operatives are experts at disinformation and falsification of evidence.

He was alarmed to discover that Behrends had been taking briefings direct from Russia’s anti-Magnitsky operation.

“If that is corroborated, it is deeply disturbing,” Connolly said. “We are United States congressmen. Our job is to protect the interests of our country and our allies. It is not to collude with, excuse, dismiss, or, even worse, collaborate with a foreign adversary and its minions.”
The southern tip of Ted Lieu's district-- a beautiful piece of Southern California coastline Trump has taken over for one of his horrific golf course resorts for the very wealthy-- is just a few miles from the northern tip of Rohrabacher's district. When Congressmen Lieu and Ruben Gallego took to the floor of the House last week to read Don, Jr.'s e-mails about his meetings with Kremlin spies, Rohrabacher kept interrupting and making a monkey out of himself before the chair told him to pipe down and behave like an adult. On August 1 Ted will be visiting CA-48 to answer residents' questions about healthcare, since-- predictably-- Rohrabacher refuses to hold public meetings with his own constituents.

The district is unlikely to flip in one cycle but if the anti-Trump wave is big enough... anything could happen. Or, in a sane world with a strategic, competent DCCC, they would be working on a 2-cycle flip for 2020. So far there are at least 7 Democratic candidates vying for the opportunity to take on Rohrabacher: Anthony Zarkades, Boyd Roberts, Laura Oatman, Michael Kotick, Omar Siddiqui, Harley Rouda and the DCCC recruit, Hans Keirstead. The two candidates who seem to be getting the most traction so far are Rouda and Keirstead. Yesterday, Harley told us that "At the very least, Dana Rohrabacher was woefully derelict in doing due diligence on who he was talking to. At most, it’s something far more serious. After Dana Rohrabacher was warned by the FBI that Russian intelligence was recruiting him, he should have been on high alert for well-connected Putin allies bearing gifts. Regardless of Dana’s motives, my question is this: How does any of Dana’s pro-Putin funny business help the hardworking people of the 48th district?"

And Keirstead told us that he's "profoundly concerned with Congressman Rohrabacher's continued relationship with suspected Russian intelligence officials. He has made it a priority to entertain the Kremlin's whims and shown that he can be influenced by the Russian government. Now, it's clear that he has attempted to act on that influence. The people of Orange County deserve a representative who is standing up for them-- not one who is focused on defending Russia's interests."

The hat is part of his disguise

UPDATE: Rohrabacher Panics

This morning, The Atlantic is reporting that Rohrabacher's top Russia aide, Paul Behrends, was fired from the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that Rohrabacher chairs.
“Paul Behrends no longer works at the committee,” a House Foreign Affairs Committee spokesperson said on Wednesday evening.

Behrends accompanied Rohrabacher on a 2016 trip to Moscow in which Rohrabacher said he received anti-Magnitsky Act materials from prosecutors. The Magnitsky Act is a 2012 bill that imposes sanctions on Russian officials associated with the 2009 death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who had been investigating tax fraud. Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian attorney and lobbyist who met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower last year, reportedly brought up the Magintsky Act during the meeting.

Rohrabacher’s meeting in Moscow was an object of concern for embassy officials, who had warned the delegation about FSB presence in Moscow-- warnings Rohrabacher brushed off.

“Paul Behrends has done a terrific job for me and the committee,” Rohrabacher said in a statement on Wednesday. “I have not heard anything to the contrary. I am looking forward to discussing this with the committee leadership. I am sure we will work this out."

Behrends is a controversial figure on the Hill, where he is seen by some who have worked with or around him as egging on Rohrabacher’s pro-Russia instincts.

Behrends worked for Rohrabacher in the 1990s before becoming a lobbyist. He rejoined Rohrabacher’s office in 2014.

One of the sources with knowledge of the events suggested that Behrends was fired from the committee under pressure from House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce.

There has been tension between Royce and Rohrabacher over Rohrabacher’s activities, and Royce scuttled Rohrabacher’s plan last year to screen an anti-Magnitsky film in Congress. Royce also nixed Rohrabacher’s plan to visit Moscow again earlier this year.

Another Hill source said there was talk of a “shakeup” on the subcommittee chaired by Rohrabacher.

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At 6:32 AM, Anonymous Hone said...

Congress is a sink hole all on its own. Let's hope it does not disappear like those houses in Florida. Collusion with Russia extends well beyond Trump. Our government has been hijacked. It is all about money. Money MUST be taken out of our elections or our democracy will be finished. Will the decent representatives stop this horror show? The Republicans seems to like the Russian style of government over our own. Traitors all.


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