Max Blumenthal on ‘Fire and Fury’, Clinton Probe, and Russiagate

The book ‘Fire and Fury’ sparks a rift between Trump and Bannon, the FBI revives scrutiny of the Clinton Foundation, and GOP Senators target the author of the Steele dossier. Best-selling author Max Blumenthal breaks down the growing intra-elite clashes and the key developments that are being overlooked

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Story Transcript

AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Washington is abuzz over the new book Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff, which claims to be an inside account of the first days of the Trump White House. Its contents have already opened up a deep rift between President Trump and his former Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon. In the book, Bannon calls Donald Trump Jr’s meeting in June 2006, with a Russian lawyer, quote, “treasonous,” and makes several disparaging remarks about members of Trump’s family. Trump has threatened to sue Bannon and is trying to stop the book’s publication.

The fury over Fire and Fury coincides with major developments in the story that has gripped the media and political world for the past year. Just today, two Republican senators said Christopher Steele, the former British spy behind the infamous Steele Dossier, should possibly be indicted for lying about his contacts with reporters. And in a move that is widely seen as a politicized response to the Trump-Russia probe, Trump’s FBI has revived an investigation of the Clinton Foundation for potential conflicts of interest when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.

Joining me is Max Blumenthal, bestselling author, award-winning journalist and co-host of the podcast Moderate Rebels. Welcome Max, let’s start with the book Fire and Fury. It’s flying off the shelves. It apparently sold out of one D.C. bookstore within 20 minutes of it going on sale last night. A lot of attention is being paid to the rift between Bannon and Trump that it’s opened up. What to you is the important aspect of the Fire and Fury book?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, the book seems to have illustrated that this groundbreaking revelation, it’s exposed something we never knew before, which is that Donald Trump is a dundering idiot who’s completely unqualified to be in the White House. I know that may come as news to a lot of people. At the same time, we’ve learned that he is a cunning, masterful, evil genius, who colluded with Vladimir Putin to steal an election, and the historic destiny, from Hillary Clinton. So, these kind of two contradictory narratives come together in the pages of a book that provides delicious gossip to people who spend many of their dinner table conversations ventilating their disgust with Donald Trump.

It’s no surprise that the book is a bestseller. Michael Wolff himself is a pretty cunning and devious individual, who managed to insinuate himself into the White House. And he deserves credit for that. No one seemed to have noticed that he was visiting the White House constantly. And these are allegations in his book, but it seems like they’re probably true.

What’s I guess interesting to me, besides the fact that Bannon has been kicked to the curb by the Mercer family that supported him for so long, in which The Real News has done an excellent job of exposing. How the Mercer family, Robert and Rebekah Mercer, his daughter, have funded this entire political network that centers around Steve Bannon and the key figures in the Trump administration. That’s probably one of the only interesting developments for me.

The other one is just how the book has been reported out, what tidbits and juicy morsels mainstream American media has chosen to focus on, while others are kind of ignored or omitted. I thought one of the more notable revelations in the book, although it shouldn’t come as a revelation, is that Steve Bannon explicitly said that on day one we’re the US Embassy to Jerusalem and that Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who’s a close confidant of Benjamin Netanyahu, and Netanyahu himself, are all in. So, here’s another clear indication of real collusion with a foreign power to actually shape American foreign policy.

But the focus has been on the allegation that you described in the intro, which is on Bannon describing the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, the American crown prince, took with Natalia Veselnitskaya and her group, describing it as treasonous. This meeting was wrongly described by Democracy Now! today as a meeting between Russian officials and Don Trump Jr., who’s like the Fredo of the Trump crime family, another bumbling doofus who should have no role in any American political campaign.

In any case, we should unpack Bannon’s comments. Was this meeting treasonous? It was certainly idiotic, but the reality of the meeting is that Trump Jr. and Kushner were lured to the meeting with the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton. To the extent that these were Russian officials, that should be troubling, but there’s really no indication that anyone there was. We do know that there was a music producer there named Rob Goldstone, who likes to hang out at cheap casinos in Vegas.

Basically, what Veselnitskaya was doing was using that false promise to lure people who she thought were power brokers into a meeting, so she could start negotiating an attempt to roll back the Magnitsky Act. And we could spend an hour talking about the Magnitsky Act, but basically it imposed sanctions on very specious grounds, under influence from an American vulture capitalist who was working in Russia, Bill Browder, who had $250 million of his assets seized in taxes by the Russian government before he launched this campaign.

One of the companies that Browder alleged the Russian government had taken money from him and put it in the pocket of was Prevezon, which is a holding company, a Russian holding company, based in Cyprus. Prevezon goes and takes, through Natalie Veselnitskaya, the lawyer, and hires Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm which wound up producing the Steele Dossier, to set up these kind of meetings, and to undermine Bill Browder’s credibility in the United States.

And so, this is one of the unusual backstories to Russiagate that hasn’t really been investigated. And while Fusion GPS is out there, publishing an op-ed through its founders, Glenn Simpson, the former Wall Street Journal reporter, and the New York Times, defending their work, what goes unmentioned is that they were also working completely for the other side, for a Russian holding company, to undermine the credibility of Bill Browder, someone who I think played an essential role in beginning the New Cold War between the US and Russia.

AARON MATÉ: You know Max, there’s so much there. When-

MAX BLUMENTHAL: There’s so much there, and I’m sorry to get into the weeds like that and I hope it’s not confusing to people, but there’s so much there.

AARON MATÉ: Yeah, and when the Fusion GPS founders published that op-ed this week, it was treated as huge, explosive news. No one questioned that perhaps, I mean, you were one of the few reporters to say, “Well look, maybe these Fusion GPS founders have a reason to try to protect their brand right now,” since it’s in the dumps, because of how ridiculous the Steele Dossier looks because of the allegation of a pee tape with President Trump. And also, people also ignored the fact that in response, I believe it was Senator Chuck Grassley who said, in response to Fusion GPS founders saying we want our testimony to be public, Grassley said, “Well, it was you who rejected an open public hearing, and you also repeatedly took the Fifth. So, I’m not quite sure what you’re complaining about.”

On that point about Bannon, and his revelations about Israel that were ignored, there’s a quote in the book where he says about Trump’s vision for the Middle East, he says, “Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it,” which is striking. And he references, as you say, the billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. That’s been ignored, because in general, as you also say, this whole Trump-Israel collusion thing’s been ignored in the indictment of Flynn when he admits to lying about his contacts in trying to quash an Obama decision at the UN to allow a vote condemning Israeli settlement, no coverage of that since then. And certainly the coverage of this fits that trend.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I mean those Bannon comments lay out kind of a blueprint for Trump’s Middle East policy, and really highlight how that policy has been shaped through an alliance with Netanyahu’s Likud Party via Sheldon Adelson, and the kind of Likud sugar daddy, and Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. And that’s played out in various events, including the response the US made to protests in Iran this week, which may have even included a response on the ground by activating violent assets.

So, that to me is one of the core revelations in the book, but it’s not a revelation to anyone who’s been following what’s been going on with the Trump administration or understands how the Israel lobby functions. It’s just that it’s out in the open, and as Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC lobbyist, said, “The Israel lobby is like a night flower. It thrives in the darkness and wilts in the light.” And now, I think we’re beginning to see the wilting process begin.

AARON MATÉ: Right, and you know, what I wanted to say about Bannon, is that everyone’s given attention to him, his opining that the meeting in Trump Tower was treasonous, a lot less attention to the fact that he also said that he thinks if there’s anything to the Trump-Russia probe, it’s about money laundering. In other words, nothing to do with collusion.

But let me ask you Max, finally, what about this news of the FBI reviving its questions about the Clinton Foundation, and potential conflicts of interest when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State? Do you think it’s fair to view that as a politicized action in response to the Trump-Russia probe?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, you know it could be politicized. Let me just first go back to Fusion GPS for a second, because there was just a point I wanted to make, which is about why they feel compelled to defend their work in public. And that’s that the Steele Dossier, which is really the playbook for Russiagate, which was generated with funding from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, has been exposed as bunk, it’s kind of fallen apart. There are so many errors in it, beyond that Trump was urinated upon by sex workers at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow while being filmed by Vladimir Putin for compromise.

Steele’s assertion that Trump was a FSB asset as early as 2011, when he was the host of The Apprentice, and there was no indication whatsoever that he would run for president. This is contradicted by the recent report in the New York Times, that George Papadopoulos and the nutty professor Mifsud were actually the FSB, or Russian Foreign Ministry assets, who triggered the federal investigation into Trump-Russia collusion. This is an attempt by the democrats to redirect the narrative away from the Steele Dossier, and away from the work that’s done by Fusion GPS.

Fusion GPS has received tons of unwanted exposure, it’s a corporate opposition research firm, and they, like the Israel lobby, do their best work in the dark when they can fly under the radar. They’re well above the radar now, and I think we’re seeing an effort at kind of damage control by a firm which specializes mainly in attacking corporations and individuals with negative PR.

And meanwhile the New York Times reporting, based on, as usual, anonymous current and former officials, is bunk itself. I mean, if Trump was supposedly cultivated as an asset in 2011, by the FSB, then why would Russian intelligence need to rely on these bit players, who are obvious eccentrics like Papadopoulos and Mifsud, to infiltrate the Trump campaign? It doesn’t really make any sense.

And then six months ago, the New York Times and its crack team of Russiagate reporters, reported that Carter Page and his trips to Moscow, were what had triggered the Russiagate investigation. So, the New York Times has basically blown its own reporting out of the water, while discrediting the Steele Dossier. So, the whole narrative is imploding. Unfortunately, it’s not being criticized or looked at in any critical fashion in mainstream American media.

And then the other kind of ricochet effect of Russiagate is that the forces that initiated this Trump-Russia collusion, are starting to experience blow-back, particularly the Clinton campaign. The latest episode is the FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Now we can say, yeah, sure, maybe it’s politicized, but there is a “there” there. Not only did Hillary Clinton refuse to disclose a 1 million dollar donation that Qatar made to the Clinton Foundation. Qatar by the way is the mecca of feminism, the absolute shatterer of the glass ceiling. She refused to report that donation to the State Department.

Tens of millions of dollars of donations rolled in from other feminist champions like the government of Saudi Arabia, and Algeria, who were then seeking arms deals through the Clinton State Department. Saudi Arabia, under Clinton’s watch, with Clinton’s authorization as Secretary of State, received a 29 billion dollar arms deal as it was making these donations. Boeing got the lion’s share of the profits in that arms deal, and Boeing was a massive donor to the Clinton Foundation as well, along with Honeywell, Hawker Beechcraft, and other arms industry affiliates.

General Electric donated a million dollars to the Clinton Foundation. General Electric owns 49% of NBC, and guess who got the big job at NBC, Chelsea Clinton. I think she made 26,000 dollars for each interview she conducted, which were these just boilerplate, puff interviews with celebrities, and she did like five of them and got paid a hefty sum.

So, there’s so many conflicts of interest here, and it deserves to be investigated. I mean, this is pay for play, influence peddling, and corruption at the highest level. And I’m happy to see it play out through this investigation. But that’s really all we’re looking at here ultimately, through Russiagate, is corruption. We haven’t seen any hard evidence yet of collusion.

AARON MATÉ: We have to leave it there. Max Blumenthal, award-winning journalist, bestselling author, co-host of the podcast Moderate Rebels, thank you.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.