Here’s a riddle for you: more than a year into his presidency, why has Donald Trump continued to treat Russia with the sort of respect and deference that U.S. allies, Barack Obama, kneeling N.F.L. players, the mayor of San Juan, Mika Brzezinski, CNN, Rod Rosenstein, Andrew McCabe, The New York Times, NAFTA, sanctuary cities, and a large segment of the American public can only dream of? Since taking office 15 months ago, the president of the United States has leaked information about a classified Israeli intelligence operation to two Russian envoys; hesitated to blame the Kremlin for [the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy; exploded with rage when he found out the U.S. had expelled more Russian diplomats than European countries following the incident; congratulated Vladimir Putin on a totally unexpected election victory against the wishes of senior officials; and assured Russian officials that plans for sanctions announced by U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley—in response to the Kremlin’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose actions have been likened by Trump to those of an “animal”—were never gonna happen. In attempting to crack the case of the Eastern European country’s strange grip on its little American babushka doll, some have pointed to Trump’s business interests, while others have chalked it up to the current president’s well-documented obsession with oligarchs. Yet others have consistently come back to the idea that Russia has something on the president that he doesn’t want to get out. Could it be, say, video evidence that he witnessed Russian prostitutes peeing in a bed once slept in by his predecessor? Reason and logic tells us this cannot be possible . . . and yet, on Monday, a new report nudged the impossible a hair closer in the direction of credibility!
According to Bloomberg, the story that Trump told former F.B.I. director James Comey, first in Trump Tower in December 2016, and then again during an unexpectedly intimate dinner at the White House, re: why allegations about a tape could not be possible, is a total fabrication. In Trump’s telling, a tape of him orchestrating a golden shower in Moscow in some sort of attempt to get back at the object of his obsession could not possibly exist because he did not spend the night in question at the hotel. While he concedes to being there for the Miss Universe pageant on Saturday, November 9, 2013, he told Comey that he arrived in the morning, “did events, then showered and dressed for the pageant at the hotel . . . [and] returned only to get his things because [he] departed for New York by plane that same night.” But according to flight records obtained by Bloomberg, Trump arrived in Moscow Friday morning and didn’t leave until early Sunday morning, November 10, throwing his there wouldn’t have been time for a golden shower even if I’d wanted one! defense into question. Also throwing things into question? His apparent obsession with the tape, which he was seemingly desperate for Comey to investigate just to prove it didn’t exist. You know, for Melania’s sake.
Anyway, in what we’re sure is completely unrelated news, on Monday the Trump administration’s treasury decided to ease a previously announced and highly aggressive set of sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and his aluminum company Rusal, which would have had a huge economic impact:
Fortunately for Moscow, it now appears that the sanctions against Rusal may never actually take effect. On Monday, the Treasury Department extended the sanctions’ “wind down” period—a window in which U.S. and foreign entities could complete their unfinished business with Rusal without facing any penalty—by six months, while expressing openness to lifting the sanctions entirely. “RUSAL has felt the impact of U.S. sanctions because of its entanglement with Oleg Deripaska, but the U.S. government is not targeting the hardworking people who depend on RUSAL and its subsidiaries,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “Given the impact on our partners and allies, we are issuing a general license extending the maintenance and wind-down period while we consider RUSAL’s petition [to lift the sanctions].”
If Deripaska doesn’t give up control of the firm, the Trump administration has threatened that the sanctions might still go into effect . . . eventually. But the the more likely outcome seems like the two parties will come to a mutually acceptable agreement. Incidentally, as New York’s Eric Levtiz notes, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has previously accused Deripaska of everything from extortion to money laundering to ordering a murder (though he denies any links to organized crime), so this is a very happy turn of events indeed, both for him and for the Russian economy.
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Tech billionaire wants the Supreme Court to kick people off his beach
Think of this as the 0.001%’s version of yelling “get off my lawn!” at the neighborhood kids:
Vinod Khosla, 63, believes he has the right to cut off the lone road to the waterfront at Martins Beach, a property he paid $32.5 million for a decade ago. State law says the public owns all coastline on the ocean side of the mean high tide line. Khosla says he shouldn't have to open up his private land without compensation to allow passage to the cove, which is buttressed by cliffs and impossible to reach otherwise except by water.
By the time he shut the gate in late 2009, surfers had been hitting the waves at Martins Beach for decades. When he cut off their access, a stream of lawsuits followed. Khosla’s petition earlier this year to the highest court in the land raises the question as to why, in an era of enormous perceived arrogance by technology companies, Khosla is giving the public yet another reason to rage about industry leaders.
“It’s a matter of principle, not whether the timing is right,” Khosla told reporter Sarah McBride. “This is about unfairness, and I don’t tolerate unfairness.”
Another Pence is running for office
Hardly the first candidate to run on a famous name, Mr. Pence, 61, extols two central credentials in his House bid: his service in the Marines and his success as a business executive. But an examination of his record in business shows decidedly mixed results. He was the president of a convenience store chain—making key strategic decisions—that filed for bankruptcy protection and was assessed penalties of $8.4 million by the State of Indiana for environmental damage, caused primarily by leaking underground storage tanks. A local bank, where he also served on the board of directors, was forced to sue him to recover $3.8 million in debts that he had personally guaranteed, only to have to settle for pennies on the dollar.
Martin Shrkreli no longer welcome in the securities industry
You may or may not have seen this one coming, but: in a Monday filing the Securities and Exchange Commission said the “Pharma Bro” had agreed to an order banning him from the industry in order to settle a pending administrative action against him. Shkreli could in theory apply for re-admission when he gets out of prison in 2025 for defrauding a group of hedge-fund investors, but at that point he’ll presumably have come up with alternative revenue schemes.
U.S. trade rep racked up bill as he flip-flopped on purchase of pricey office desk (ABC News)
High-profile investors bet on stocks tied to millennials: Sohn Conference (Reuters)
Fox News host Sean Hannity took out $2.5 million in loans on his Long Island mansion last year (CNBC)
Behind Bill Ackman’s epic battle with Herbalife, Icahn (CNBC)
How to Dress Like a Billionaire (W.S.J.)
Bloomberg gives $4.5 million to help U.S. keep Paris climate accord commitment (CBS News)
Texas man sentenced to 50 years for stealing $1.2 million worth fajitas (NBC News)