Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dropping dimes in real time

I get up early in the morning so I have time to look at what's happening and write a blog post about it, if possible. As it happens, Donald Trump is simultaneously engaging in a Twitter storm in real time. As always, read 'em from the bottom up:

Naming names
So if you are reading this correctly, you see the Leader of the Free World dropping a dime on two of the most important officials in the Justice Department. So if you want a hot take, here ya go:

  • It's blindingly obvious Trump has had enough of Sessions and wants him out. It's a horrible idea to turn the Attorney General into an attack dog, but it's also been done in the past. Eric Holder, who was Barack Obama's AG, was always on the attack. Based on the available evidence, Sessions is either unable or unwilling to serve in this role.
  • It's not been widely reported, but it is a matter of public record that Andrew McCabe, who is still at the helm of the FBI, has a problem with his own financial disclosures. McCabe's wife, who ran for office in Virginia in 2015, received a total of $760,000 for her campaign from political action committees controlled by the Democrats, which Andrew McCabe did not initially disclose. To the extent that Hillary Clinton controlled the Democratic Party, Trump is correct.
  • Some executives send out memoranda. Trump seems to Tweet. Not how I would do things, but I'm not the Leader of the Free World.
And while I've been writing this, three more Trump Tweets appear:

Carrots, sticks, and a pen
Dang. I thought Trump told us McCain wasn't so good last year. That was then, this is now. Oops, one more!

Are you not entertained?
It may not be the way to run a government, but it's a hell of a show.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Signs, signs, everywhere signs

Someone put up signs worth heeding over the weekend:
Joe Morino brought an incredulous friend to see the orange street sign he just spotted in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The official-looking metal sign read: “WARNING: TWIN CITIES POLICE EASILY STARTLED.” It featured a graphic silhouette of a police officer, a gun in each raised hand, shooting in both directions.

“There’s a side of truth to the sign,” Morino said after snapping a picture of it. “That tells you there is something wrong with the system.”
I saw multiple pictures of the second sign, which was at Snelling and University in St. Paul:

I love a man in a uniform
Apparently this one has been taken down, but it's spot-on. And it speaks to a real problem we have in the Twin Cities. If you look at what happened to Justine Damond, will you now think twice before you call 911? The motto of police departments everywhere is to serve and protect? That notion has taken a big hit lately, especially here. And ashcanning Janeé Harteau doesn't change the larger problems we're seeing throughout the metro. I have no reason to believe ashcanning Betsy Hodges will make a difference, either, at least in the short term.

OPEC may not matter any more

Some of my friends first got their drivers licenses in 1979, although I didn't get mine until later on. If you're old enough to remember 1979, you might remember seeing this:

Get it while you could
OPEC per se didn't cause this line -- it was mostly unrest in Iran -- but it did cause gas lines in 1973:

Good luck with that
These days, the chances you'll see a gas line are just about nil. And if the events chronicled in the Wall Street Journal are any indication, you aren't likely to see one again any time soon:
OPEC is worried that its plan to drain a global oil glut—and thereby raise crude prices—isn’t working.

A long-planned meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Monday to discuss the oil market with big producers outside the cartel has turned into a critical gathering. Over the weekend, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said, its ministers have held a series of “intensive consultations” about the challenges for an output-cutting deal the 14-nation cartel struck last year with Russia and other big producers.

The agreement was supposed to take almost 1.8 million barrels of crude oil off the global market and drain an oversupply that has weighed prices down for three years and sent a shock through the economies of oil-producing economies. But prices have remained stubbornly low as the glut persists. Brent, the international benchmark, fell 2.5%, to $48.06 on Friday because of doubts about OPEC’s ability to turn around the market.
If you want to know why, ask the frackers:
Another reason to expect little action on Monday is that OPEC is still weighing how to deal with U.S. producers, which remain largely outside of the cartel’s control.

Shale drillers—which work on shorter-term projects than traditional oil producers—took advantage quickly when oil prices briefly rose last year after the OPEC deal, sending more crude into global supply. They also have learned to drill at lower prices, and U.S. production has maintained its upward swing even as prices have been depressed this year.
As recently as last year, we were told fracking couldn't be profitable if oil was less than $65 a gallon. Oil production in the U.S. continues to grow, even at $48.06. Much of that production is fracking, as the domestic oil industry demonstrates its ability to adapt.

The implications are enormous. The geopolitical implications of the Middle East have been a huge part of life for all of us for nearly half a century. And $48/gallon oil cramps Vladimir Putin's style. Not ten years ago we were told we were reaching Peak Oil. I haven't heard much of that theory lately.

OPEC soldiers on, confident its machinations will make a difference later in the year. OPEC honcho Mohammad Barkindo says so:
Mr. Barkindo said Monday’s meeting could result in recommendations for OPEC and its allies to consider in the future. He said overall compliance with the deal since January had been “excellent.”

“The rebalancing process may be going at a slower pace than we earlier projected but it’s on course. It’s bound to accelerate in the second half,” he said.
Or the frackers will gobble up the market share. Place your bets.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Just a thought

If I were Trump, and I hasten to add I am glad I'm not, I'd do the following:

  • Pardon everyone potentially connected to the Russian thing
  • Pardon everyone potentially connected to Hillary Clinton's serial malfeasance
  • Tell Robert Mueller he can write his report any time he'd like, but the show is over
  • Tell everyone else to get back to work
The historians can sort it out.

Under the bus

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau came back to town yesterday. We're not sure how she arrived, but I suspect it might have been by bus, because she threw Mohamed Noor under it:
Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau on Thursday called the shooting death of Justine Damond “unnecessary” and bluntly said it contradicted the mission and training given to her officers.

“Justine didn’t have to die,” Harteau said.

In her first public appearance since the Saturday shooting, Harteau said that based on what is publicly known about the case, there is no justification for officer Mohamed Noor’s decision to shoot Damond.
Nope. Don't look at us fine folks at the MPD. Harteau was just getting warmed up:
“Based on the publicly released information from the BCA, this should not have happened,” Harteau said, referring to a preliminary investigative report released earlier in the week. “On our squad cars, you will find the words ‘To protect with courage and serve with compassion.’ This did not happen.

“I believe the actions in question go against who we are as a department, how we train and the expectations we have for our officers. These were the actions and judgments of one individual,” she said.
So I guess Noor is on his own. Watch carefully, though:
Harteau’s news conference, attended by several members of the Australian media, ranged over topics from Noor’s training to Harteau’s absence from Minneapolis since the shooting. Harteau said she did not know Noor well, and had spoken to him only in passing, but that he “absolutely” performed well during training. She dismissed claims from critics such as former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who on Wednesday called Noor, who is Somali-American, “an affirmative-action hire.”

“This is about an individual officer’s actions. It is not about race or ethnicity,” Harteau said. “We have a very robust training and hiring process. This officer completed that training very well, just like every officer. He was very suited to be on the street.”
Hmmm. The message, none too subtle, is Noor screwed up. Yet "he was very suited to be on the street?" How does that work?

Sometimes the body cameras are operating. In those cases, we see the MPD shooting dogs:
Body camera video from a Minneapolis police officer who shot and seriously wounded two dogs in a residential backyard not only shows the best view yet of the animals’ temperament and movements during the encounter, but the officer is heard moments later apologizing to a sobbing resident while declaring his love for dogs.

The shootings on the night of July 8 behind the home in the 3800 block of Queen Avenue N. also were captured nearly in their entirety on residential surveillance video, which Jennifer LeMay, the dogs’ owner, posted on Facebook, quickly leading to hundreds of thousands of views.
You can watch the video at the link if you're so inclined.

Do we have any conclusions? Not yet, although it's possible to surmise MPD officers have their fingers on the triggers quite a lot. Around here, we shoot first. The asking questions later bit drags on for a while.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

No answers

The transcript of the 911 call that Justine Damond made provides no insight into why she would be killed only moments later:

Operator: 911, what's the address of the emergency?

Caller: Hi, I'm, I can hear someone out the back and I, I'm not sure if she's having sex or being raped.

Operator: Give me the address.

Caller: 5024 Washburn Avenue South.

Operator: Washburn Avenue South. You said it's behind (inaudible)?

Caller: And there's a (inaudible) out the back, yup, yup. And I think she just yelled out "help," but it's difficult, the sound has been going on for a while, but I think, I don't think she's enjoying it. I think it's, I don't know.

Operator: OK, well I already got a call started and help on the way. Uh, you can't see anything, you're just hearing a female screaming then, is that what you're saying?

Caller: Yeah. It sounds like sex noises, but it's been going on for a while and I think she tried to say help and it sounds distressed.

Operator: OK, I've already got an officer on the way. What is your name?

Caller: Justine.

Operator: Justine, what's your last name?

Caller: Justine.

Operator: Justine.

Caller: Yeah.

Operator: And a phone number?

Caller: (This information has been redacted for privacy reasons)

Operator: Okay, we've already got help on the way. If anything changes before we get there just give us a call right back, but officers should be there soon.

Caller: Thanks.

Operator: OK, not a problem.

Damond called again a few minutes later, to confirm the police were on the way:

Operator: 911, what is the address of the emergency?

Caller: Hi, I just reported one, but no one's here and was wondering if they got the address wrong.

Operator: What's the address?

Caller: 5024 Washburn Avenue South. It supposed to be Washburn Avenue South.

Operator: Are you Justine?

Caller: Yeah, (inaudible).

Operator: You're hearing a female screaming?

Caller: Yes, along behind the house.

Operator: Yup, officers are on the way there.

Caller: Thank you.

Operator: You're welcome, bye.

And only a few minutes later, Justine Damond would be dead.

We're not getting many answers from anyone. And I would guess we won't, at least none that explain what happened. Officer Mohamed Noor is taking full advantage of the right to remain silent. The Minneapolis Police Department doesn't have much to say, either, nor does the police union. That's interesting, because in the past the police union has given full-throated support to any officer who shoots someone. The Star Tribune noticed that, too:
In the days since the shooting on the city’s southwest side, Minneapolis Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll has repeatedly declined requests for comment on the shooting of the 40-year-old woman by officer Mohamed Noor.

The normally outspoken Kroll said he would wait until the completion of the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s investigation into the incident.
Kroll has a reason to keep quiet, too -- he had plenty to say in the aftermath of the shooting of Jamar Clark, and he got plenty of blowback. But it's still interesting, because he could still have provided a general statement of support for the difficult work police officers do, what you usually get in such cases. But there's been nothing. I'm expecting that trend to continue.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What and why

It's one thing to know what happened. It's quite another to know why. As we learn more about the circumstances of the death of Justine Damond at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, the why will matter greatly:
Police officers Matthew Harrity and Mohamed Noor eased their patrol vehicle into the alley of the quiet south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday, the squad’s lights off as they responded to a report of a possible assault.

Near the end of the alley, a “loud sound” startled Harrity. A moment later, Justine Damond, the woman who had called 911, approached the driver’s side of the squad car. Suddenly a surprise burst of gunfire blasted past Harrity as Noor fired through the squad’s open window, striking Damond in the abdomen.

The two officers began lifesaving efforts, but within 20 minutes Damond was dead.
For his part, Noor isn't talking, at least yet:
That rudimentary account of her death, released Tuesday by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is based on an interview that Harrity, 25, a one-year veteran of the force, gave to BCA investigators about a case that has become a focus of national and international attention. Noor so far has refused to talk to investigators and there is no indication when or if he might tell his side of the story.
Cops understand Miranda rights, at least for themselves. And a right is a right, so Noor's decision to stay silent and not answer questions is understandable, although it's likely to frustrate people looking for an explanation.

So what was Noor thinking? Well, maybe about this incident, as reported in the New York Times:
On a corner in the Bronx strained by steady rancor over unsolved crimes, and distrust of the police, Officer Miosotis Familia was a balm.

She had earned a reputation as “a good policewoman” in the short time she was assigned to an R.V.-style police command post at East 183rd Street and Morris Avenue, two miles north of Yankee Stadium, a longtime resident, Roma Martinez, said. She waved hello; she spoke Spanish.

But long before she arrived, a hostility toward law enforcement personnel was building in Alexander Bonds, who had been in and out of prisons and jails for 15 years and was slipping into severe mental illness. Last year he warned in a Facebook video that he would not back down if he encountered police officers on the streets: “I got broken ribs for a reason, son. We gonna shake.”

His girlfriend called 911 on Tuesday night and told the police that Mr. Bonds “was acting in a manic, depressed state — paranoid,” a law enforcement official said. When officers arrived, he had gone.

About three hours later, with Fourth of July fireworks still going off, Mr. Bonds strode up to Officer Familia’s command post and fired a .38-caliber revolver through a window, killing her with a bullet to the head. She was the first female New York Police Department officer killed in the line of duty since the Sept. 11 attacks, and only the third female officer killed in a combat-type encounter in the department’s history.
Let's be clear. The genteel Fulton neighborhood is hardly the south Bronx. And an unarmed 40-year-old woman in her pajamas was no threat to Mohamed Noor that night. I assume Damond would have had no reason to think about something that happened two weeks earlier, about 1000 miles away from the alley where she was killed. Almost certainly she approached the squad car to tell the officers what she had heard, not to kill the officers in an ambush. Back to the Star Tribune report:
The responding officers had not been on the force long. Harrity was hired a year ago; Noor two years ago. Asked by the media about partnering two relatively inexperienced officers, Arradondo said: “These were two fully trained police officers.”

They drove south through the alley between Washburn and Xerxes avenues S., toward 51st Street West, with the squad lights turned off. As they reached the street, “Harrity indicated that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad,” according to the preliminary BCA investigation. Damon approached the driver’s side window of the squad car “immediately afterward,” according to the statement.

After Noor shot Damond, the officers quickly exited the car and started performing CPR until medical responders arrived. Damond was pronounced dead at the scene.
Was Mohamed Noor thinking about Miosotis Familia? We don't know, because he isn't talking. We can speculate, but we cannot know unless Noor decides to tell his story. Would a more veteran team of police officers have responded differently? Perhaps, but we don't know. I have not been through training for police officers. I don't know what Noor was taught. Perhaps his instructors could tell us.

We have an idea of what happened. We're not going to get to why for a while. We'll continue to watch the story.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Standing in the Shadows

There really aren't many mean streets in Fulton, but when the authorities arrive, things can happen, as we are learning:
The death of Justine Damond, who called 911 to report a possible crime only to be killed by a responding Minneapolis police officer, has left her grieving family, neighborhood and nation demanding answers in the latest police-involved shooting to thrust Minnesota into the international spotlight.

While many of the details about what happened Saturday night in the city's southwest corner have not been disclosed, this much was: She called to report a possible assault in the alley behind her house in one of the city's safest neighborhoods and was unarmed when officer Mohamed Noor shot her.
From what we're able to gather thus far, Noor shot Damond through the open window of the vehicle he was riding in with another officer, Matthew Harrity. If the details widely reported are true, Damond was talking with Harrity, who would have been driving the vehicle, when Noor shot Damond. Noor was apparently sitting in the passenger seat.

I don't know what happened, really. Three people know and one of them is dead. What I do know is incentives matter. This case played out quite differently than the shooting of Philando Castile, but because it happened not long after the verdict in that case, there's a tendency to look for parallels. The only parallel I can see is this: we give our police the power to use deadly force and officers are, not surprisingly, inclined to use that power.

Our founders were concerned about standing armies. A police force should not be a standing army, but on an operational level it's become increasingly difficult to discern the difference between a standing army and most police forces in this country. Police forces are, in the main, agents of the government and depending on the government in question, they can be a force of oppression. That's the sense many people in minority communities have about the police. While I'd like to say that sense is misguided, it's difficult to make that argument in the face of the evidence before us. Too often, the incentives are not directed at keeping the peace, but rather in getting a piece of the action. Incentives matter.

We have not yet heard the 911 call Justine Damond apparently made, but I imagine we will eventually. It may shed light on the assumptions Officers Noor and Harrity might have made as they arrived on the scene. We also don't know why anyone would consider a woman wearing pajamas to be a threat, but in a dark alley it's difficult to see what you think you see. We'll keep watching.

Monday, July 17, 2017

St. Anthony and Fulton

Alternatively, Philando and Justine:
A 40-year-old woman who family members said called 911 to report a possible assault in the alley behind her home Saturday night was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer.

The shooting happened at the end of the alley on W. 51st Street between Washburn and Xerxes avenues S. in the city’s Fulton neighborhood.

The woman, Justine Damond, from Sydney, Australia, and her fiancé lived in the 5000 block of Washburn.

Three sources with knowledge of the incident said Sunday that two officers in one squad car, responding to the 911 call, pulled into the alley. Damond, in her pajamas, went to the driver’s side door and was talking to the driver. The officer in the passenger seat pulled his gun and shot Damond through the driver’s side door, sources said. No weapon was found at the scene.
Well, it's bizarre. A few thoughts:

  • I've written about St. Anthony, the community that employed the police officer who killed Philando Castile, and I will be writing more about it in the coming days. St. Anthony is a sleepy enclave, largely well-to-do, and my property borders on it. Fulton, the south Minneapolis neighborhood where the latest incident took place, is livelier than St. Anthony, but also largely well-to-do. 50th Street, one block to the north of where the shooting took place, is a busy but largely genteel thoroughfare with plenty of gentry retail to be found, with the commercial mecca of 50th and France about a half-mile to the west. It's a place where the violence of the city just doesn't happen much.
  • My sister-in-law and her family lived in the area for years. Their house was in Linden Hills, about a half-mile to the north, in between Lake Harriet and Southwest High School. It's a high-demand area and houses that go on the market there are often sold before the sign goes up in the front yard. It's not a place where you would expect much violence.
  • Fulton is the neighborhood that Betsy Hodges, the embattled mayor of Minneapolis, represented in the city council. Fulton, Linden Hills, Lynnhurst and the other neighborhoods in the area are among the nicest places in Minneapolis. They are illusions, places where wealth and privilege insulate people from the realities that obtain elsewhere. Much of what we'll see in the coming days will represent an effort to maintain the illusion. I'll be watching this case, too.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

As seen elsewhere

Spot-on:

Fredo shoulda worn pearls, I guess

Friday, July 14, 2017

Boomtown

The best reporting on the latest Trump scandalette has been coming from John Solomon and Jonathan Easley of The Hill. They bring the story forward here:
Two months before Donald Trump Jr.’s encounter with a Russian figure, a key House subcommittee chairman received a similar overture in Moscow offering derogatory information about a U.S. policy that was upsetting Vladimir Putin.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican with a reputation as a Moscow ally in Congress, told The Hill the information he received in April 2016 came from the chief prosecutor in Moscow and painted an alternative picture of the Russian fraud case that led to the passage of anti-Russia legislation in Congress known as the Magnitsky Act.

“I had a meeting with some people, government officials, and they were saying, ‘Would you be willing to accept material on the Magnitsky case from the prosecutors in Moscow? ‘And I said, ‘Sure, I’d be willing to look at it,’” Rohrabacher recalled in an interview.

The congressman’s account provides the latest evidence that the overture to President Trump’s eldest son in June 2016 by a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya was part of a larger campaign by Moscow that predated the Trump Tower encounter and continued afterwards.
I don't think anyone is calling for Rohrabacher to be prosecuted for meeting with Russian operatives, at least not yet. There's more:
The focus was to sow distrust among American leaders about the Magnitsky Act, and influence far more than Trump’s inner circle. It included lobbying overtures to journalists, State Department officials and lawmakers and congressional staff from both parties, according to interviews with participants and recipients of the campaign.

Congress passed the law and President Barack Obama signed it in 2012, punishing Russia with sanctions for alleged human rights violations in connection with the prison death of a lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky who claimed to have uncovered a massive money laundering scheme based in Moscow.

U.S. officials argued the fraud was perpetrated by Russian government leaders and hurt American companies. But Russians have countered the fraud was actually committed by Magnitsky and his clients. Prosecutors in Russia eventually won a posthumous conviction against the dead lawyer, and retaliated against the U.S. for passing the law by suspending Americans’ ability to adopt Russian children.
So let's think about this. Knowing your audience is key to getting your message across. If you are a Russian and you want to get Team Trump's attention about an issue, how best to get the attention of Fredo Trump, who is thinking about how he can help his father beat Hillary Clinton? Pull a bait and switch, of course. Would Hillary's campaign take similar meetings or get help from a foreign nation? Of course:
Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found.

A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The Ukrainian efforts had an impact in the race, helping to force Manafort’s resignation and advancing the narrative that Trump’s campaign was deeply connected to Ukraine’s foe to the east, Russia. But they were far less concerted or centrally directed than Russia’s alleged hacking and dissemination of Democratic emails.
You may have heard this, but in case you were unaware, Russia and Ukraine tend to have an, ahem, problematic relationship. Also, Manafort was in the room with Fredo when they met the Russians, by the way.

So What Does It All Mean? Less than we think, as usual. Remember this?
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.

And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.
That's from the New York Times, back in 2015. The bleating about corruption in the Trump campaign is coming from the same people who didn't say a word about what Team Clinton was doing.

One of my favorite songs from the 80s is "Welcome to the Boomtown" by David & David. The chorus sticks in my head:

So I say 
I say welcome, welcome to the boomtown
Pick a habit 
We got plenty to go around
Welcome, welcome to the boomtown
All that money makes such a succulent sound
Welcome to the boomtown

In the 80s, the boomtown in question was Los Angeles. It's been D.C. for a lot longer, though. People are going to fight for their prerogatives and there are a lot of people in D.C. who enjoy their prerogatives. At bottom, that's what this scandal is really about -- protecting the ol' rice bowl. And the ugliness and hypocrisy we're seeing at the moment are just the surface.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Cherchez la femme

The Hill has an extraordinary piece up about the woman at the center of the Fredo Trump crisis. So help me understand how this works:
The Russian lawyer who penetrated Donald Trump’s inner circle was initially cleared into the United States by the Justice Department under “extraordinary circumstances” before she embarked on a lobbying campaign last year that ensnared the president’s eldest son, members of Congress, journalists and State Department officials, according to court and Justice Department documents and interviews.

This revelation means it was the Obama Justice Department that enabled the newest and most intriguing figure in the Russia-Trump investigation to enter the country without a visa.

Later, a series of events between an intermediary for the attorney and the Trump campaign ultimately led to the controversy surrounding the president's eldest son.
So what were the extraordinary circumstances?
[I]in an interview with NBC News earlier this week, Veselnitskaya acknowledged her contacts with Donald Trump Jr. and in Washington were part of a lobbying campaign to get members of Congress and American political figures to see "the real circumstances behind the Magnitsky Act.”

That work was a far cry from the narrow reason the U.S. government initially gave for allowing Veselnitskaya into the U.S. in late 2015, according to federal court records.

The Moscow lawyer had been turned down for a visa to enter the U.S. lawfully but then was granted special immigration parole by then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch for the limited purpose of helping a company owned by Russian businessman Denis Katsyv, her client, defend itself against a Justice Department asset forfeiture case in federal court in New York City.

During a court hearing in early January 2016 as Veselnitskaya’s permission to stay in the country was about to expire, federal prosecutors described how rare the grant of parole immigration was as Veselnitskaya pleaded for more time to remain in the United States.
That was January. We go back to the picture of Veselnitskaya, sitting front and center behind the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, in a congressional hearing in June, 2016.

Image result for Natalia Veselnitskaya michael mcfaul
Why is she there?
There's more:
Sources close to the lobbying effort to rename the Magnisky Act, conducted over the summer of 2016, said it fizzled after only a month or two. They described Veselnitskaya, who does not speak English, as a mysterious and shadowy figure. They said they were confused as to whether she had an official role in the lobbying campaign, although she was present for several meetings.

The sources also described their interactions with Veselnitskaya in the same way that Trump Jr. did. They claimed not to know who she worked for or what her motives were.

“Natalia didn’t speak a word of English,” said one source. “Don’t let anyone tell you this was a sophisticated lobbying effort. It was the least professional campaign I’ve ever seen. If she’s the cream of the Moscow intelligence community then we have nothing to worry about.”
Now think back -- the reason Veselnitskaya was in the country in the first place was to help someone at trial. Does a lawyer who doesn't speak English seem like an individual who would be useful in a judicial proceeding?

To sum up -- Natalia Veselnitskaya was lobbying Fredo Trump six months after she should have been back to Moscow. Days later, she's sitting in on a congressional hearing. Someone wanted this woman here. Much, much more at the link, including the role of a former Congressman from California named Ron Dellums.

The proper thought experiment

Writing for WaPo, Eugene Volokh comes up with the right hypothetical regarding this week's scandal to end all scandals:
Say that, in Summer 2016, a top Hillary Clinton staffer gets a message: “A Miss Universe contestant — Miss Slovakia — says that Donald Trump had sexually harassed her. Would you like to get her story?” The staffer says, “I’d love to,” and indeed gets the information, which he then uses in the campaign.

Did the staffer and the Miss Universe contestant just commit a crime? Yes, under the analysis set forth in the past couple of days by some analysts, such as my University of California colleague and leading election law scholar Rick Hasen (UC Irvine School of Law) and by Common Cause; Hasen was cited by the Wall Street Journal and CNN; similar arguments were quoted by Dahlia Lithwick (Slate).
If this theory is true, why have a First Amendment? Volokh makes the salient point:
If a Slovakian college student who is studying in the United States called the Clinton campaign with such information, that would be a crime. If the Clinton campaign heard that Mar-a-Lago was employing illegal immigrants in Florida and staffers went down to interview the workers, that would be a crime.

And it would make opposition research on much possible foreign misconduct virtually impossible. Say that Clinton’s campaign heard rumors that the construction of a Trump resort in Turkey might have involved some shenanigans. It’s likely impossible to effectively follow up on that without soliciting some valuable information from foreign nationals, such as foreign government officials who were (hypothetically and allegedly) bribed, or rivals who may have a motive to provide information (recognizing, of course, that any such information may be untrustworthy unless it’s otherwise corroborated). Or say that Bernie Sanders’s campaign heard rumors of some misconduct by Clinton on her trips abroad — it wouldn’t be allowed to ask any foreigners about that.
Volokh has the answer:
 First, noncitizens, and likely even non-permanent-residents, in the United States have broad First Amendment rights. See Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135 (1945) (“freedom of speech and of press is accorded aliens residing in this country”); Underwager v. Channel 9 Australia, 69 F.3d 361 (9th Cir. 1995) (“We conclude that the speech protections of the First Amendment at a minimum apply to all persons legally within our borders,” including ones who are not permanent residents).

Second, Americans have the right to receive information even from speakers who are entirely abroad. See Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965). Can Americans — whether political candidates or anyone else — really be barred from asking questions of foreigners, just because the answers might be especially important to voters?

The Supreme Court did affirm (without opinion) a federal court decision in Bluman v. FEC, 800 F. Supp. 2d 281 (D.D.C. 2011), that upheld a ban on contributions and independent expenditures by non-citizen non-permanent-residents, on the theory that the government can use such a ban to limit foreign influence on American elections. But the panel decision expressly stressed that it was limited to the restriction on spending money. And it seems to me that restrictions on providing information to the campaigns — or on campaigns seeking such information — can’t be constitutional. Can it really be that the Clinton campaign could be legally required to just ignore credible allegations of misconduct by Trump, just because those allegations were levied by foreigners?
More to the point; if Fredo Trump cannot talk to Russian lawyers, then how could anyone at all have talked to anyone about the infamous Steele dossier, which also included (purportedly) foreign sources? It's nonsense.

Much, much more at the link, including the dissembling response from Hasen as he defends his nonsensical interpretation of the law.