RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week

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RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week 
Ma12 to May 18 




Featured Investigation
New Russiagate Prober Has Haunted the FBI for Months

John Durham, the prosecutor tapped by Attorney General William Barr to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia affair, has already been looking into whether the FBI’s former top lawyer, James Baker, illegally leaked to reporters. The federal attorney from Connecticut appears to have begun that work more than seven months ago, Eric Felten of RealClearInvestigations reports, to judge from an underreported transcript of an Oct. 3 congressional interview with Baker. The Baker interview, at which Durham was not present, suggests that the prosecutor nevertheless has some people very worried. 

Felten reports: 

  • Baker's attorney, Dan Levin, interrupted the congressional grilling of his client, the former FBI general counsel, to say, “I’m sorry. I'm cutting off any discussion about conversations with reporters.” This was because, Levin said, Baker was under criminal leak investigation by "Mr. John Durham, a prosecutor." 
  • Baker had just testified that he had been approached David Corn, the Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones, who broke early news about the Steele dossier in 2016. 
  • Before being silenced under advice of counsel, Baker said was not just a contact or source for Corn; they were also old pals, having car-pooled with their kids.  
  • Thus was one of the most divisive scandals in Washington history facilitated by a company-town friendship -- an odd couple brought together by a shared interest in getting their kids dropped off at school. 
  • The specter of Durham haunts the rest of the interview. Time and again, when Baker was asked questions about reporters – even hypothetical questions about FBI policy regarding contacts with the press, Levin said, “I'm not going to allow him to answer that question” or “I am not going let him answer any questions about leaks.”  

Reached for comment, Corn insisted that the Durham inquiry under way last October "did not involve Russia or the Steele memos; it had nothing to do with me or my limited interaction with Baker." 

Read Full Article 

The Trump Investigations: Top Articles 

Top U.S. Attorney to Review Russia Probe Origins, New York Times 
Why Was FBI So Wrong in Wiretap Warrant?, Washington Examiner 
State Department Under Pressure Over Steele Contacts, Daily Caller 
Strzok FBI Team Got State Dept. Red Flag on Steele Before FISA, The Hill 
CIA, Intel Bosses Join Barr to Investigate Russia Investigators, CNN 
Dossier Finger-Pointing Pits Brennan vs. Comey, Fox News
Confirmed: Trumpworld's Felix Sater Helped Find Osama, Politico 

Other Noteworthy Articles and Series 

In PayPal Era, Why Does the Bank's 'Float' Still Sting Like a Bee? 
The float – that Bermuda Triangle of finance, where banks take your money but don’t pay interest because they are “processing” the funds – has long seemed a form of legal robbery. But even if it really did once take “three to five business days” to move money from here to there, the pell-mell advance of frictionless online banking, allowing almost anyone to send payments instantly, should have sunk the float. Only it hasn’t. John F. Wasik reports for RealClearInvestigations that both traditional banks and new “fintech” apps such as PayPal’s can still take days and sometimes months to release money, sometimes even doubling their return on the float, by earning interest on money instead of paying it. Yet the float abides in part because of regulatory inertia. Banks also claim that they must sit on money to prevent fraud. 

Toll of Boy Scout Sex Abuse: 12,200+ Reported Victims 
Los Angeles Times 
For decades, the Boy Scouts of America has closely guarded a trove of secret documents that detail sexual abuse allegations against troop leaders and others. A researcher hired by the Scouts to analyze records from 1944 to 2016 testified this year that she had identified 7,819 suspected abusers and 12,254 victims. But even those numbers grossly understate how many molesters infiltrated the Scouts’ ranks over the years, according to lawyers who have sued the organization on behalf of hundreds of abuse victims. Most predators were accused of abusing multiple boys, they noted, and many instances of abuse were never reported. The magnitude of the Scouts’ abuse problem takes on new significance as New York and New Jersey extend their statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse lawsuits. 

Leaked Letters Show Details of NRA Chief's Alleged Spending 
Wall Street Journal 
The civil war at the National Rifle Association began when its president, Oliver North, raised questions about spending by the group’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre. LaPierre forced out North, but now internal NRA documents appear to show North wasn't kidding. LaPierre apparently billed the group’s ad agency $39,000 for one day of shopping at a Beverly Hills clothing boutique, among other extravagances. The New York Times says LaPierre has spent $275,000 of the group’s money at the Zegna luxury men’s wear boutique in Beverly Hills since 2004, although allowances must be made for his wardrobe allowance. The Times also says NRA's tax records raise doubts about whether its money was being used for charitable purposes, as required by law.  

How 'Big Printer' Is Trying to Crush the Counterfeit Ink Trade 
Official printer ink from the big boys such as HP, Epson, and Canon is super-expensive. In response, a counterfeit market is booming to the tune of $3 billion a year, the industry says. This article reports on why official ink is so expensive – to compensate for the cheap initial cost of the printers. And it takes us to India to see efforts to crack down on the black (not to mention multi-colored) market. Here’s the article’s cloak-and-dagger lede: “The team moves through a dark, narrow hallway, emerging into a room crammed with an odd sort of contraband: toner and ink cartridges stacked almost to the ceiling. Authorities question a woman who deflects at first before finally admitting that all of them are counterfeits. The video, shot in India and shared with me by Hewlett-Packard (HP Inc), illustrates the raids local authorities have conducted hundreds of times around the world to try and stem the flow of counterfeit ink and toner cartridges. It’s reminiscent of a drug bust, and the economic stakes are nearly as high.” 

'Learn to Code' Was One Big Jobs Scam in Appalachia 
New York Times 
“Job retraining” is the buzzword solution when good-paying jobs evaporate for low-skilled workers. In West Virginia, with coal mining in decline, a nonprofit called Mined Minds espoused an ethos out of the TED Talks world: It promised to teach the displaced how to write computer code and then get them good jobs. Many West Virginians quit work or dropped out of school for the prospect of a stable and lucrative career in high-tech. Almost none of those who signed up for Mined Minds are working in programming now. They described it as an erratic operation, where guarantees evaporated and firings seemed inevitable, leaving people to start over again at the bottom rungs of the jobs they had left behind. 

Secret Torture Prisons: How Syria's Assad Crushed Dissent 
New York Times 
Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, is closing in on victory over an eight-year revolt -- and a secret, industrial-scale system of arbitrary arrests and torture prisons has been pivotal to his success. While Syrian forces backed by Russia and Iran fought armed rebels for territory, the government in Damascus waged a ruthless war on civilians. Hundreds of thousands were thrown into filthy dungeons, where thousands were tortured and killed. Nearly 128,000 have never emerged. Many prisoners die from conditions so dire that a United Nations investigation labeled the process “extermination.” 

Wrong-Way De Blasio Crash Covered Up 
New York Daily News 
It’s apparently not the fault of New York City Mayor and newly declared presidential contender Bill de Blasio that his driver got in an accident driving the wrong way on a one-way street; that the driver tried to blame the fender-bender on the other driver; or that a top cop ordered a cover-up of the accident, apparently because it wouldn't reflect well on the mayor, a crusader for tougher traffic enforcement. State law requires that any accident with more than $1,000 in damage be filed with the DMV -- yet no report was filed in this case even though the SUV was out of service for two weeks. Text messages showed members of the security detail were worried the press might see damage to the SUV. You have to wonder about the apparent climate of fear that seems to infect people around the mayor. 

The Pampered World of Washington's VIP Diners 
Democracy has its privileges, especially if you’re a Washington power broker. These denizens of some of the wealthiest zip codes in America enjoy especially special treatment at the city’s top restaurants – receiving a range of freebies that they are probably not reporting on their taxes. One restaurant group assigns color codes to diners. Your hue gets you one of five levels of perks, from a free round of drinks for "Reds," to a full comp and maybe a black-car ride home from Michelin-starred Minibar for “José Golds," a reference to star chef José Andrés. Because of ethics rules, politicians themselves aren’t generally feted with freebies. These celebrities are most likely to be offered the perk of privacy. Think the secret back door at RPM Italian in Mount Vernon Square or the tables with curtains at Marcel’s in Foggy Bottom. The former beverage director at the St. Regis downtown, Brent Kroll, says former Secretary of State John Kerry’s thing was pricey wines. One night Kerry was in with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ordered a highbrow French red (LaLa, by Guigal) that went for about $900 a bottle. “When they came in together, they always tended to drink stuff like that ...” says Kroll, “whereas Newt Gingrich would go for the cheapest Italian white we had and Barack Obama wouldn’t go really expensive. He wanted domestic.”  

The Navy's Probe Into the Sky Penis 
Navy Times 
The skywritten phallus prompted viral guffaws from some and online outrage from others. There are shot glasses commemorating the event and it birthed memes ahead of the Army-Navy game. But the inside story of how an EA-18G Growler jet crew drew a penis across the clear blue skies of Washington state in 2017 has never been told. Until now. The gang at "McHale's Navy," including the just-now-departed Tim Conway (Ensign Parker), wouldn't dream of such an outrage. Would they?

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