“Due to ongoing threats against his family,” Michael Cohen announced yesterday that he was postponing his highly-anticipated congressional testimony.
The threats are coming from the White House where President Trump won’t stop talking about Michael Cohen’s father-in-law, a guy by the name of Fima Shusterman.
On a phone call January 12th with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, the president of the United States launched into an extraordinary attack on Cohen’s father-in-law, a private citizen:
TRUMP: He should give information maybe on his father-in-law. Because that’s the one that people want to look. Because where does that money? That’s the money in the family. And I guess he didn’t want to talk about his father-in-law. Trying to get his sentence reduced. So it’s pretty sad. He is weak. And is very sad to watch a thing like that. I couldn’t care less.
PIRRO: What is his father-in-law’s name?
TRUMP: I don’t know but you’ll find out and you’ll look into it. Because nobody knows what’s going on other there.
The implication here is that Shusterman, a Ukrainian emigre, is some sort of Russian organized crime figure, although in typical Trump fashion he provides no evidence.
As readers of my book know, Trump knows that Shusterman is “the money” in the Cohen family because his business benefited from it.
Even with the spotlight the president has put on him, we still know very little about Michael Cohen’s father-in-law, Fima Shusterman. The only bit of insight comes from his 1993 testimony in federal court. So here goes.
Shusterman had pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States. In exchange for leniency, he agreed to testify at the trial of Harold Wapnick, his accountant. Shusterman was sentenced to probation and fined $5,000.
On May 13, 1993, Shusterman took the witness stand in the court of Judge Carol Amon. Although he spoke some English, he had a translator present at his own request “because I do not understand English 100 percent.”
Q. Good morning, Mr. Shusterman.
A. Good morning.
Q. How old are you, sir?
Q. Are you married, Mr. Shusterman?
A. Yes, I am.
Q. And do you have any children, sir?
A. Yes, I have a daughter.
Q. Where were you born, Mr. Shusterman?
A. In the Soviet Union.
Q. When did you come to the United States, sir?
A. In May '75.
Q. And are you a citizen, Mr. Shusterman?
A. Yes, I am.
Q. Are you employed?
Q. Where are you employed?
A. I'm employed as a manager with Future Knits.
Q. And are you a co-owner of of Future Knits, sir?
A. Yes, I am.
Q. Who are your partners?
A. My partners are Shalva Botier and Edward Zubok.
Q. What business is Future Knits in?
A. This is a knitting factory.
Q. When was Future Knits established, sir?
A. I'm not sure. I think it was established in '81.
Q. Future Knits, sir, when was Future Knits established?
A. In 1988.
Q. And prior to Future Knits, sir, how were you employed?
A. I was employed with S&Z Fashions and LVA Corp.
Q. Were you a co-owner of those corporations?
A. Yes, I was.
Q. And were your partners the same individuals as your partners
in Future Knits?
A. Yes, correct.
Q. Were S&Z Fashions and LVA also in the knitting business?
Q. When did you join S&Z Fashions and LVA?
A. In July of '84.
Q. Between years 1985 to 1988, were you involved with any other corporations
other than S&Z and LVA and Future Knits?
Q. Did you have an ownership or office position with any other corporation, sir?
A. Yes. I was secretary with Martha Cab Corporation, and Bar Trans Corporation.
Q. And, sir, is Barn Transportation with an "N" end, B-A-R-N?
A. Barn, B-A-R-N.
Q. Who is shareholder of Martha and Barn, sir?
A. My wife was.
Q. Are you an officer of those corporations?
A. Yes, I am.
Shusterman was also secretary of N.Y. Funky Taxi Corp. and New York Fulton Taxi Corp.
Today, the chief executive of N.Y. Funky Taxi, Martha Cab and Barn Trans is Michael Cohen, who married Mr. Shusterman’s daughter, Laura, a year following her father’s guilty plea and court appearance. Cohen owns and operates a fleet of cabs in New York and Chicago.
Note to my readers: This work costs me both time and money (in the case of this transcript quite a bit of money). I do this work for free in the hope that people will find it valuable. If you agree, the best way you can support this work is by purchasing my book, Trump/Russia, which has much more information on the president’s decades-long connection to Russian criminal money.
Q. Mr. Shusterman, have you been convicted of a crime?
Q. What crime were you convicted of, sir?
Q. When were you convicted?
A. In March of this year, '93.
Q. How were you convicted, sir?
A. I pleaded guilty.
Q. And, Mr. Shusterman, in connection with your guilty plea,
did you enter into an agreement with the government?
Q. Would you tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Mr. Shusterman,
what your understanding is of that agreement?
A. My understanding is that I obligated myself to fully, 100 percent,
cooperate with the government.
Q. And did the government agree to do anything in return, sir?
A. Yes, they did.
Q. What did they agree to do, sir?
A. They would advise the judge about my full cooperation and
about my help rendered in their investigations.
Q. Mr. Shusterman, have you been sentenced yet?
A. No, not yet.
Q. Do you know what sentence you are facing, sir?
Q. What is that, sir?
A. Five years in prison, and up to $250,000 in fines.
Q. Sir, have any promises been made to you regarding your sentence?
Q. Do you know who will be sentencing you, Mr. Shusterman?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. And who is that, sir?
A. Judge Amon.
Q. Mr. Shusterman, you've testified that you pled guilty to
the crime of conspiracy. Could you tell the ladies and gentlemen
of the jury what is it that you did?
A. I concealed income from the state, and I cashed checks in the amounts
that exceeded $10,000.
Q. Mr. Shusterman, what did you need this cash for, sir?
A. To operate our business.
Shusterman goes on to say that from 1984 to 1988 he would regularly bring checks from his customers made out to S&Z Fashions, LVA, and Future Knits and leave them in Wapnick’s office.
A few days later, Shusterman would return and collect cash, always in amounts more than $10,000, in a paper bag or envelope. Wapnick would keep 3 percent for his services.
The total amount cashed with the Wapnicks was “somewhere between five and five and a half million dollars,” Shusterman testified.
Shusterman is then cross-examined by Harold Wapnick, who does a terrible job of representing himself with convoluted lines of questions.
However, he does stumble into a couple of things that are interesting in light of Trump’s claims that Shusterman is “the money in the family.”
Wapnick: Sir, you own a -- you own 40 percent of a
40-machine factory, sir?
Q. What percentage do you own of a 40-machine factory, sir?
A. 15 percent as of today.
Q. 15 percent. Would you say that the 15 percent value is in excess
of a million dollars, sir?
A. If you pay me half a million I'll sell it to you gladly.
Q. Thank you. How about the -- do you own five -- 9 taxicab medallions?
And are they worth about two million dollars?
The Court: Wait a minute. I don't think he gave an answer.
Q. Are they worth about two million dollars, sir?
A. Did you say two million?
Q. Let's say $170,000 apiece, and we multiply it by nine, so, okay --
what's a half a million dollars among friends. Is it worth ---
The court: I take it you're withdrawing your last question.
Wapnick: No I'm asking him is it worth a million and a half dollars, sir.
Shusterman: Only on paper.
A decade later, beginning in 2003, Shusterman made the first of three apartment purchases at Trump World Tower across from the United Nations building in Manhattan. By 2005, Shusterman had spent $7.6 million on Trump’s properties.
So where did this money come from and what did Trump know about it?
You might not realize it but a Russian company accused of financing an attack on American democracy is trying to use the U.S. court system to make a mockery of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The company is Concord Management and Consulting LLC. The Russian company, owned by one of Putin’s cronies, stands accused of bankrolling the operations of the St. Petersburg-based Internet troll farm that bombarded Americans with divisive content on social media during the 2016 election.
Not only has Concord Management pleaded not guilty to what it calls “a make-believe crime” — conspiracy to defraud the United States — it has battled to gain access to Mueller’s sensitive investigative files.
No doubt it would be interesting to Concord and its Russian masters how Mueller was able to obtain such detailed and devastating information.
I was wondering what sort of attorney would represent a company like Concord Management.
The answer, it turns out, is a bad one.
His name is Eric A. Dubelier and he has somehow managed to reach the rank of partner at the firm Reed Smith LLP despite repeatedly embarrassing himself and his firm in court.
His legal filings in the case quoted Flounder (!) from the film Animal House. In open court, he pointed his finger at Jeannie Rhee, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, and said her claim that he had hung up on her in a phone call was “bullshit.”
Judge Dabney Friedrich called Dubelier’s actions “unprofessional, inappropriate, and ineffective.”
This is what is known in the legal profession as a “benchslap.”
Sure, it stings. Most attorneys just take it.
Not Dubelier. His response was a legal filing one observer described as “breathtakingly petulant:”
Perhaps more importantly however, the Court did not consider the fact that while the mainstream media has largely ignored Defendant’s pending motions, when the word “Judge” appears before a person’s name, this political adornment suggests to the public that there now is some higher level of wisdom than among the mere mortal lawyers in the case, and as such, every single mainstream media organization repeated the Court’s words as gospel.
How dare the media quote the judge!
But there’s more.
The direct consequence was swift and clear; that is, undersigned counsel have received overnight and continuing today a flow of hatred in the form of voicemail and electronic mail from self-proclaimed patriots containing threats, intimidation, and the desire that both undersigned counsel promptly die. One communication specified that the cause of death for [co-counsel Katherine] Seikaly should be by fire. Apparently some of these brave self-proclaimed patriots were whipped into their frenzy by a cable television entertainer unknown to undersigned counsel named Rachel Maddow who devoted a significant portion of her variety program to the words spoken by the Court yesterday. So while counsel’s words used in advocacy can hurt, the words of a Judge can have devastating consequences.
Dubelier’s humiliation is palpable. Which is surprising. It’s not the first time he’s been benchslapped.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also benchslapped Dubelier in her 2011 dissent in the case of Connick v. Thompson.
This case involved an infamous episode of prosecutorial misconduct in the death penalty case of John Thompson. (Thompson spent 14 years on Louisiana Death Row until an investigation found blood evidence that would have exonerated him was withheld from the defense. Dubelier was the special prosecutor on the case.)
Here’s RBG’s benchslap of Dubelier:
On what basis can one be confident that law schools acquaint students with prosecutors’ unique obligation under Brady? Whittaker told the jury he did not recall covering Brady in his criminal procedure class in law school. Dubelier’s alma mater, like most other law faculties, does not make criminal procedure a required course.
Translation: Just because Eric Dubelier has a law degree doesn’t mean he knows the law.
The Brady rule RBG is talking about is the 1963 Supreme Court case of Brady v Maryland. Ever since that ruling, prosecutors have had to share with defense attorneys any evidence that might help exonerate a defendant.
Dubelier, questioned under oath, could not articulate the Brady rule, according to a Slate article on the Thompson case.
Dubelier’s alma mater, Tulane University, bears some of the blame here. Dubelier spent the better part of a decade at Tulane, leaving a bachelor’s degree (with honors), an MBA, and finally, in 1984, a law degree.
A year out of law school, Dubelier, working for the New Orleans district attorney’s office, embarrassed himself before Judge Oser in a high-profile point-shaving case against a former Tulane basketball star, John “Hot Rod” Williams.
That’s another violation of the same Brady obligations Justice RBG referenced earlier.
Judge Oser reversed himself and, later, dismissed the case again saying Dubelier had deliberately concealed Brady material from the defense. Williams was acquitted in a retrial.
Despite his disastrous performance in the Hot Rod Williams case, Dubelier remained a close assistant to New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. (the father of singer Harry Connick Jr.). It didn’t hurt that Dubelier was briefly married to Connick’s niece.
After New Orleans, Dubelier spent more than a decade as a prosecutor the U.S. Attorney’s office, first in Miami and later in Washington, D.C. In his defense, he seems to have performed his duties without any more national embarrassments. One of the individuals he prosecuted was Francisco Martin Duran on charges of trying to assassinate President Clinton.
He left what now refers to as “the real Justice Department” in 1998 to join Reed Smith. One of his clients at Reed Smith was the widow of Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Breitbart News, which is interesting given his current representation of the (alleged) financier of the Russian troll farm.
As for the Concord case, the troll farm lawyer got his revenge on the press when he trolled reporters with another filing that made a cryptic reference to a nude selfie in Mueller’s possession.
The Trump/Russia scandal has filled our heads with a lot of intelligence jargon. Unwitting asset. Agent. Active measures. But what do these words actually mean?
Someone pointed me to the CIA’s own Glossary of Intelligence Terms, created in 1989. Granted it’s a bit outdated, but it’s also quite helpful. (I am indebted to The Black Vault, an online repository of declassified documents for the glossary.)
Here’s how the CIA defines active measures:
Active measures: A literal translation of a Russian phrase that is used to describe overt and covert techniques and intelligence operations designed to advance Soviet foreign policy objectives and to influence events in foreign countries by altering people’s perceptions. Active measures should not be confused with legitimate diplomatic activities.
We often hear Trump described as a possible asset, unwitting or otherwise, of Russia. But according to the CIA’s glossary this isn’t the right use of the word.
Agent (1) A person who engages in clandestine intelligence activity under the direction of an intelligence organization but who is not an officer, employee, or co-opted worker of that organization. (2) An individual who acts under the direction of an intelligence agency or security service to obtain, or assist in obtaining, information for intelligence or counterintelligence purposes. (3) One who is authorized or instructed to obtain or to assist in obtaining information for intelligence or counterintelligence purposes.
A better word is asset.
Asset: (1) Any resource — a person, group, relationship, instrument installation, supply — at the disposition of an intelligence agency for use in an operational or support role. (2) A person who contributes to a clandestine mission but is not a fully controlled agent. (Also see intelligence asset, national intelligence asset, and tactical intelligence asset.)
We recently learned that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump after his firing of James Comey. Here’s how the CIA defines it.
Counterintelligence: Information gathered and activities conducted to protect against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage, or assassinations conducted for or on behalf of foreign powers, organizations, persons, or terrorist activities, but not including personnel, physical, document, or communications security programs. (Also see foreign counterintelligence, security countermeasures, and technical surveillance countermeasures.)
It’s interesting to view propaganda from an intelligence perspective.
Propaganda: Any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly.
The dossier compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele is often described as raw intelligence.
Raw intelligence: A colloquial term meaning collected intelligence information that has not yet been converted into finished intelligence. (Also see intelligence information.)
That takes us to another definition.
Finished intelligence: (1) The product resulting from the collection, processing, integration, analysis, evaluation, and interpretation of available information concerning foreign countries or areas. (2) The final result of the production step of the intelligence cycle; the intelligence product. (Also see intelligence cycle and end product.)
Let me know if this is helpful or there are any other terms you’d like to see explained.
Back-to-back newspaper stories have brought up the central question that motivated me when I began this blog two years ago: Is the president of the United States an agent of a foreign power?
First came the blockbuster January 11th story in The New York Times revealing that the FBI grew so concerned about the president’s behavior after his dismissal of FBI Director James Comey that they began an extraordinary investigation into whether the president was working on behalf of Russia against American interests.
That was followed by a report in The Washington Post about the “extraordinary” measures the president has taken to hide the details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump reportedly grabbed the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist not to tell other administration officials what he had discussed with the Russian leader.
The common thread in both of these extraordinary stories is what a criminal investigator might call Trump’s “consciousness of guilt.” The president is behaving as though he has something to hide when it comes to Russia and is acting to cover up a crime.
The president fired James Comey because his agents were investigating the president’s ties to Russia, as he told NBC’s Lester Holt. An early draft of Comey’s dismissal letter also referenced Russia. And why would Trump keep the details of his conversations with Putin secret from his own administration unless he had something to hide?
Last evening, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro put this remarkable question to the president when he called in to her show: “Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?”
Trump’s answer is a “non-denial denial” — something that sounds like a denial but isn’t. Missing from this answer is the word “No.”
“It’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked” goes in the pantheon of other famous non-answers like Nixon’s “I am not a crook” Mark McGwire’s “I’m not here to talk about the past” and Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
Here’s the thing about espionage: Trump can be an asset of Russia and still believe he’s not. In spy terms, this would make him an unwitting
agent asset — someone who is unaware that he or she is being exploited by an intelligence operative as a means of attack by an adversary. It’s like a chess piece that thinks it’s moving around on the board as it wishes, unaware it is being guided by an unseen hand.
Putin, after all, is a master manipulator, who spent 16 years in the KGB “studying studying the minds of the targets, finding their vulnerabilities, and figuring out how to use them,” as Fiona Hill, senior director for Russian and European Affairs on Trump’s National Security Council wrote in her aptly titled book Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin. (Hill, not surprisingly, was one of the ones kept in the dark about Trump’s conversations with Putin.)
Trump’s enormously fragile ego make him ripe for exploitation. You get a glimpse of how this works in a Washington Post story about phone conversations between Trump and Putin.
The Russian president complains to Trump about “fake news” and laments that the U.S. foreign policy establishment — the “deep state,” in Putin’s words — is conspiring against them, the first senior U.S. official said.
“It’s not us,” Putin has told Trump, the official summarized. “It’s the subordinates fighting against our friendship.”
We also see it in a photo op at the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. ,
… the Russian president leaned in to Mr. Trump, gestured to the journalists in the room, and asked: “These are the ones insulting you?”
“These are the ones. You’re right about that,” Mr. Trump responded.
What we don’t see or hear are the conversations taking place where Trump is getting fed actual Kremlin talking points. Since Trump doesn’t read and doesn’t study history how did he come to believe that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to fight terrorism or that Montenegro was going to start World War III?
Let’s not forget all the president’s policies that support Russia’s interests and undermine America’s: his attacks on NATO, his abrupt decision to withdraw troops from Syria, and his inability to protect the United States from a repeat of Russia’s 2016 attack on our democracy. If Putin had given Trump a checklist of items he wanted take care of, the end result wouldn’t look much different.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the president of the United States, most likely without realizing it, is acting as an asset of a foreign power.
It may have taken most people a long time to come around to this ugly reality (if they’ve come around at all) but it’s been plain as day to intelligence officials ever since the presidential campaign.
“In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” Michael Morrell, former acting director of the CIA, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in August 2016.
James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said the same thing when he pointed out how Putin’s dealings with the president showed what a great case officer the Russian president was.
The back-to-back explosive stories over the weekend are another signal flare being sent up from inside the Trump administration. The stories, which both involved events in 2017, may have been meant to invite a congressional subpoena to the FBI agents or Trump’s translator. With the Democrats in control of the House, they may get their chance.
Victor Boyarkin, a close aide to the sanctioned oligarch Oleg Deripaska, is getting some unwanted attention these days.
“How did you find me here?” Boyarkin asked a TIME magazine reporter who managed to track him down at a conference in Greece.
Boyarkin, reportedly a former colonel in the GRU, is part of the constellation of intelligence officers employed by Deripaska that help him maintain his proximity to the Kremlin’s inner circle.
TIME had questions for Boyarkin about Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman. References to Boyarkin (“Victor” and “our friend V”) were sprinkled in emails to Manafort during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“Tell V boss that if he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote to his associate, Konstantin Kliminik.
Boyarkin told TIME he was talking to Manafort during the presidential campaign to collect on a debt. “He owed us a lot of money,” Boyarkin said. “And he was offering ways to pay it back.”
The fact that Trump’s campaign chairman was in debt to someone like Deripaska and being hounded for money by someone like Boyarkin shows, yet again, how deeply unqualified Trump was to be president. Trump’s best defense is that he didn’t know about any of this. The much darker, worst-case scenario is that he chose Manafort precisely because he had these sorts of connections to Russia.
Boyarkin headed up “special operations” for Deripaska, according to the Paris-based newsletter Intelligence Online. This work took him to the African country of Guinea where Rusal, Deripaska’s Russian giant aluminum concern, had a plant that was shuttered by a strike. But lately, Boyarkin’s “special projects” have involved the Trump administration.
According to Intelligence Online, Boyarkin recently returned to Deripaska’s inner circle to deal with the sanctions imposed in April 2018 by the Treasury Department on Deripaska and his companies. (Exactly what role he played isn’t clear.) Lord Barker of Battle, the chairman of Deripaska’s London-listed holding company, En+, paid the DC lobbying firm $108,500-a-month, Mercury Group, to lobby for sanctions relief.
It was money well spent. Ever since those tough sanctions were imposed on Deripaska, the Trump administration has been looking for ways to soften the blow, as I wrote for The New York Times. The Treasury recently said it intends to lift the sanctions on Deripaska’s companies in what seems like a sweetheart deal.
Boyarkin was himself sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury earlier this month “for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Oleg Deripaska.” Notably, The Senate intelligence committee said the sanctions on Boyarkin “will help counter some of Russia’s malign influence efforts, and is a welcome step.” It seems the sanctions on Boyarkin appear to be part of the deal to lift the sanctions on his boss.
According to the U.S. Treasury, Boyarkin and Deripaska were both involved in providing Russian financial support to a Montenegrin political party ahead of Montenegro’s 2016 elections. A decade earlier, Manafort worked for Deripaska in Montenegro to manage a referendum campaign that ended with the country declaring its independence.
Boyarkin is a former colonel in the GRU, according to the British newspaper, The Telegraph. (Other sources describe him as a lieutenant colonel.) Boyarkin’s name shows up in the U.S. diplomatic list from the 1990s when he was posted to Washington as a Russian naval attache, often a cover for intelligence officers.
Have we learned all there is to know about Deripaska’s ties to the Trump administration?
I doubt it.