Background Briefing with Ian Masters Russia Files

May 8, 2018

Trump’s Monumentally Stupid Gift to Iran’s Hardliners
The Legal, Moral and Ethical Gap Between Private Behavior and Public Policy
New Extensive Evidence of Trump’s Long-Standing Ties to Russian Gangsters
Program Notes

We begin with the expected withdrawal from the JCPOA Iran agreement by President Trump today which America’s allies tried to warn against because the only winners will be the hardliners in Iran who will be drawn closer into a strategic embrace with Russia and China in spite of the yearning of the Iranian people to join the West and be free of the corrupt theocratic regime which has wrecked and looted their economy but has now been given a new lease on life by Donald TrumpAbbas Milanithe Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University who taught at Tehran University’s Faculty of Law and Political Science, joins us to discuss today’s tragic betrayal of hope for reform in Iran and a dangerous step away from diplomacy towards war. Given the volatile mix of proxies, surrogates and Erik Prince’s mercenary army in the Emirates, it would not take much to spark another war in the Gulf and the wider Middle East that neither the U.S. or Iran wants, but one that Israel’s Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and America’s new National Security Advisor John Bolton would love to see happen.

Then we explore the roiling legal, moral and ethical landscape between private behavior and public policy with the sudden downfall of New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman following revelations in The New Yorker of his violent private sexual behavior which four women have come forward to report. Tiziana Dearing, a professor of social work and co-director of the Center for Social Innovation at Boston College joins us to discuss how this latest expose of a prominent liberal politician, who was seen by many as the Plan B of the Russia investigation if Trump fires Mueller, fits in this era of the #metoo movement in the context of the U.S. having a leader who boasts about being a sexual predator and is increasingly mired in tacky sexual scandal, yet his approval is going up in the polls.

Then finally we speak with Seth Hettena the author of a new book just out today “Trump/Russia: A Definitive History”. An award-winning journalist who was a long-time investigative reporter for the Associated Press, he joins us to discuss the enormous amount of evidence he has complied on Trump’s dealing with Russia that go back to 1984 and reveal a long-standing relationship Trump has had with mobsters and organized crime bosses which makes the case that Trump’s business plan is based on laundering money for Russian and Ukrainian gangsters.

Abbas Milani | Tiziana Dearing | Seth Hettena


May 7, 2018

The Disgraced Coal Baron and Felon Who Could Win Tomorrow’s W.Va. Primary
Trump is Planning For Regime Change in Iran
What is Behind the Rise in the Price of Oil?
Program Notes

We begin with tomorrow’s primary race for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia which has already emerged as an ugly feud between the disgraced coal baron Don Blankenship who is responsible for the deaths of 29 miners and Mitch McConnell who Blankenship has attacked in racist TV ads as “cocaine Mitch” and because of McConnell’s marriage to Elaine Chao, accused him of having a “China family” which has “created millions of jobs for China-people”.  Russell Mokhiber, the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter and author of “On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy”, who is currently working with the West Virginia local activist organization Morgan County USA.org, joins us. With the president who won the West Virginia by 40 points, likening a win by the recently-jailed felon to Roy Moore’s fate in Alabama, we will discuss whether Trump’s tweets today discouraging Republicans from voting for Blankenship will work, since Blankenship clearly won the recent debate on Fox against the other two leading candidates who came across as bickering politicians while Blankenship presented himself as a regular guy. We will also speculate whether the Democrats are falling into the trap Hillary Clinton set for herself hoping Trump would win the Republican presidential primary, given their assumption that Blankenship is the most beatable candidate for the Democratic incumbent Senator Joe Manchin to run against.

Then with Trump’s new lawyer Rudolph Giuliani signaling to an Iranian opposition front group for the MEK, which was formerly designated by the U.S. as a terrorist group, that the U.S. is about to pull out of the P5+1 deal with Iran, we will speak with Nader Hashimi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. He joins us to discuss dire warnings coming from Iran’s President Rouhani and, after the failures of the French and German leaders to talk sense into Trump, today’s last-ditch effort by the U.K. Foreign Minister Boris Johnson which appears to be equally futile since Trump will likely announce tomorrow that he will be tearing up the deal Obama made with Iran, China, Russia, France, the U.K. and Germany.

Then finally we get an analysis of what is behind the rise in the price of oil now up to $70 a barrel for the first time since 2014. Amy Myers Jaffe, the senior fellow for energy and the environment and Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations, joins us to discuss how Russia and Saudi Arabia are cutting production to drive up prices while the global growth in demand from China, India and U.S. where Detroit is making gas-guzzlers again, has reached the point where the world will soon be consuming 100 million barrels of oil a day.

Russell Mokhiber | Nader Hashemi | Amy Myers Jaffe


May 6, 2018

Revelations About Mob Ties to Trumps’ Lawyers
Could we Have Peace on the Korean Peninsula?
Could Democratic Fratricide Hurt Their Chances in Tuesday’s Ohio Primaries?
Program Notes

We begin with the bombshell revelations in The New York Times into the background of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen who was the target of a recent FBI raid. An expert on money laundering and offshore banking James Henry, the author of “Blood Bankers” and co-founder with David Cay Johnston of the new investigative reporting news service DCReport.org. He joins us to discuss how Cohen came to Trump’s attention because he was buying condos in Trump Tower for Russian and Ukrainian gangsters and what role Cohen played after Trump was blackballed by U.S. banks after taking them down and the Trump Organization moved from debt to cash. Given Cohen’s mob ties revealed by The New York Times that go back to his favorite uncle Morty who was the doctor for the Lucchese crime family and owner of a catering hall frequented by mobsters, then deeper connection with Cohen’s Ukrainian father-in-law who runs a catering hall frequented by Ukrainian and Russian mobsters. Little wonder that Cohen was on the FBI’s radar and we will speculate how much the extent of evidence seized by the FBI will implicate Trump in ties to organized crime.

Then we will get an assessment of whether the upcoming Trump-Kim Jong-un summit and the recent meetings between the leaders of North and South Korea could bring an end to the Korean War and peace on the Korean peninsula and even a reunification of the two Koreas. Graham Fuller, the former Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, joins us to discuss the competing centers of power in the Trump Administration over the direction of U.S. foreign policy with the Koch brothers-backed Mike Pompeo who laid the groundwork for the summit with Kim representing a more libertarian realpolitik approach, competing with the neoconservative wing championed by the new national security advisor John Bolton who is itching to go to war with Iran

Then finally we look into Tuesday’s important primary races in the important swing state Ohio and speak with Robert Alexander, the Chair of the Department of History, Politics and Justice and a professor of political science at Ohio Northern University. Because the Ohio governorship is key to the Democrat’s chance to remake the electoral map in the 2020 census which is now in doubt, he joins us to discuss the weird, wacky and bitter battle for the governorship in Ohio which the Democrats were hoping to pick up with Richard Cordray who is now being challenged by Dennis Kucinich who ironically was gerrymandered out of office.

James Henry | Graham Fuller | Robert Alexander


May 3, 2018

Are Trump, Giuliani Signalling Cohen Not to Flip?
The Defining Battle Between Truth and Power Facing America
Elon Musk Insults Investors Then Tesla’s Stock Plunges
Program Notes

We will begin with yesterday’s extraordinary display of prominent people spouting damaging and damning statements, starting with Rudolph Giuliani on Fox admitting Trump paid a porn star to gag her just before the election. Then in Arizona yesterday Vice President Pence praised someone the GOP does not want as their senate candidate, the convicted criminal Joe Arpaio who Pence called “a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law”.  And finally the wackiest self-inflicted wound came from Elon Musk who in a Tesla earnings call, insulted his investors with the dismissal that “Boring boneheaded questions are not cool”, resulting in Tesla stock plunging 8%. Lisa Graves, the co-founder of Documented, a watchdog group which investigates corporate manipulation of public policy who was formerly Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department, Chief Counsel for nominations on the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Deputy Chief for the U.S. Courts, joins us to discuss Trump’s escalating war on the Mueller investigation.  We examine whether Giuliani was sending a signal to Michael Cohen not to flip, and since the FBI already has the evidence of the $130,000 “funneled” to Stormy Daniels from their raid on Cohen and their prior wiretaps of him, are Trump and Giuliani trying to get out in front of an impending bad news nightmare?

Then we look further into the aggressive stance being taken by Trump’s new legal team and speak with Andy Wrighta Professor at Savannah Law School who served in the White House as Associate Counsel to President Barack Obama. He joins us to discuss whether as America faces a defining battle between truth and power, Trump will drag the country through a protracted constitutional crisis and fight a Mueller subpoena all the way to the Supreme Court, something that previous presidents Jefferson, Nixon and Clinton declined to do.  We will assess whether short of coming clean, which Trump could have done the day after he was elected, Trump’s only strategy now is to try to run out the clock until after the elections.

Then finally we examine the most bizarre behavior in terms of biting the hand that feeds you, with the CEO and founder of Tesla going out of his way to insult investors who wanted to know how he burnt through a billion dollars in cash in the last quarter and is still way behind in delivering cars on order and meeting earlier manufacturing goals.Michael Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist at the Los Angeles Times whose column “Golden State” covers business and economic issues in California, joins us to discuss his latest article at The Los Angeles Times “Elon Musk’s performance on Tesla’s earnings call could make people afraid to buy his stock – or his cars”.

Lisa Graves | Andy Wright | Michael Hiltzik


May 2, 2018

The Escalating War Between Trump and Mueller
Pompeo Promises to Get the State Department’s Swagger Back
The Symbiosis Between the White House and Its Press Corps
Program Notes

We begin with the escalating war between the White House and the Special Counsel with Trump tweeting a warning today that “At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the presidency and get involved”, this following news of an apparent threat by Robert Mueller to subpoena President Trump and force him to testify before a grand jury. Since Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd had tried to avoid his client testifying and quit last month, now the White House Special Counsel Ty Cobb who has been urging the president to cooperate with Mueller, is also quitting, indicating a less conciliatory and more aggressive approach is underway. A former prosecutor with the International Criminal Court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, Alex Whiting, a Professor at Harvard Law School who is Editor of Just Security where he has an article “What Mueller’s Questions to Trump Reveal About the Future of the Russia Investigation”, joins us. We discuss the latest shake-up of Trump’s legal team and whether, now that Mueller’s questions have been made public, it would be worse for Trump to contest having to testify before Mueller all the way to the Supreme Court and in doing so, appear even to his supporters to be hiding something.

Then we assess Mike Pompeo’s first trip abroad as Secretary of State and Trump’s visit to the State Department today to show his support for Pompeo who told the department’s dispirited employees that he wants the State Department to get its “swagger’ back. Stephen Walt, a Professor of International Relations at Harvard University and author of “Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy” and “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”, joins us to discuss the extent to which Trump and Israel’s Netanyahu appear to be laying the groundwork for the U.S. to pull out of the P5+1 deal with Iran on May 12.

Then finally we speak with Ryan Cooper, a national correspondent for The Week where he has an article “The worthless Washington media”. He joins us to discuss how the indignant reactions to Michelle Wolf’s biting comedy at the White House Correspondent’s dinner by the elite of the Washington Press corps represents the reversal of the muckraking tradition of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable”. With the latest revelation of Mueller’s questions to Trump emerging as a deliberate leak by the White House, we will examine the symbiosis between those in power and those covering them.

Alex Whiting | Stephen Walt | Ryan Cooper


May 1, 2018

Mueller’s Questions For Trump Point to Collusion
Teacher Pay Gaps and Why They Are Fighting Back
Tacking a Cue From Teachers and Demanding Better Wages and Fairer America
Program Notes

We begin with the revelation in The New York Times of 49 questions Robert Mueller wants to ask President Trump which has Trump tweeting indignantly that the leak is “so disgraceful” even though there is a very real possibility the leak of these questions came from the White House since they did not come from the Special Counsel’s office.  Steven Harper, a lawyer and professor at Northwestern University who has compiled a comprehensive timeline of the Trump-Russia story at billmoyers.com and at investigaterussia.org, joins us to discuss whether the leak is part of a determined strategy on the part of the White House and the Republicans to shut down the Mueller probe. With Rudolf Giuliani now supposedly negotiating with Robert Mueller to bring the inquiry to a swift end, the suspicion arises that this may be a setup to close it down by claiming Mueller is uncooperative and is dragging out what Trump calls a “witch hunt”.  If indeed the White House leaked these questions, while it may feed the “deep state” hysteria in the Fox News bubble, it may also backfire with the broader public who can easily see from the questions which Trump is being asked to answer, that Mueller know a lot more and he is looking at real collusion between Trump’s family and his top officials and the Russians.

Then on this May Day we discuss the growing number of teacher’s strikes in Red States in which teachers are not just demanding living wages since from 1996 to 2015 teacher’s payactually fell by $30 per week on a national average, but they are striking on behalf of their students for more investments in schools, pupils and school supplies. Sylvia Allegretto,the co-chair of the Center for Wage and Employment Dynamics at the University of California, Berkeley who has co-authored several editions of The State of Working America, joins us to discuss the teacher pay gaps and why teachers are fighting back.

Then finally we examine further the erosion of America’s middle class with 63% of Americans one paycheck away from the street and unable to deal with a $500 emergency, while over one third are running out of food, not being able to afford a place to live or have money to pay for medical treatment. Sarah Jaffe, a Nation Institute fellow and an independent journalist covering labor and economic justice and author of “Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt”, joins us to discuss how working and middle class Americans should take a cue from the teachers and mobilize to demand better pay and a fairer country.

Stephen Harper | Sylvia Allegretto | Sarah Jaffe


April 30, 2018

Netanyahu Reveals Iran’s Secret Nuclear Weapons Program
Trump Threatens to “Close Down the Country” Unless He Gets His Border Wall
Trump Force-Feeds the “Deep State” While Claiming It Is Out To Get Him
Program Notes

We will begin with the announcement today by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu that he was exposing Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program contained in 55,000 documents secretly obtained by Israeli intelligence. With President Trump quickly claiming Netanyahu’s revelations prove him 100% right, and with the new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling Iran “the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world”, we will analyze what appears to be an orchestrated campaign ahead of an expected U.S. pullout of the P5+1 Iran agreement by Trump on May 12.  Mansour Farhang, a professor of international relations at Bennington College who resigned as revolutionary Iran’s fist ambassador to the United Nations and is the author of “The U.S. Press and Iran: Foreign Policy and the Journalism of Deference”, joins us. We will discuss what appears to be an impending collision between Iran and Israel over Syria where a number of bases were struck by missiles and Iranian personnel were killed on Sunday night. We will assess the extent to which both the right wing government of Israel and the theocratic regime in Iran feed off each other’s propaganda and the possibility that they could stumble into a war that neither wants which could engulf the region.

Then, with Vice President Pence visiting the southern border today and President Trump calling our immigration laws a “total disaster”, we will examine the plight of immigrants from a caravan of 1,500 mostly El Salvadoran refugees who have crossed through Mexico and have now dwindled to about 300 and are now arriving in Tijuana showing up at the San Ysidro port of entry claiming political asylum. Mae Ngai, a Professor of History at Columbia University and author of “Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America”, joins us to discuss how Trump has threatened to “close down the country” if he did not get his border wall and that shutting the door on those claiming political asylum is a form of cruel theater meant to rile up Trump’s nativist base and distract Americans from his ruinous presidency.

Then finally we speak with a 28-year veteran of Congress, Mike Lofgren, who was a senior analyst on the House and Senate Budget Committees and is the author of “The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government”. He joins us to discuss his article at The Washington Monthly “The Deep State Strikes Back – Against Torture: Why generals oppose the nomination of Gina Haspel as CIA director” and how Trump is force-feeding the “deep state” while conning his followers into believing the “deep state” is out to get him.

Mansour Farhang | Mae Ngai | Mike Lofgren


April 29, 2018

Could Trump Win the Nobel Prize and a Second Term?
Kim Jong-Un’s Charm Offensive Undercuts Trump’s Leverage
Is Kim Jong-Un Playing Trump?
Program Notes

We begin with President Trump’s premature boasts about a successful summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un which has yet to take place and his tweet “KOREAN WAR TO END” which has prompted Senator Lindsey Graham to gush on Fox News “if this happens, President Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.” Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, the best-selling author of ‘The Making of Donald Trump” and his latest “It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America”, joins us to discuss whether Trump could get a second term. We will assess the state of the Democratic opposition which in large part is depending on Trump to either melt down and be dragged out of the Oval Office in a straightjacket or be dragged out of the Oval Office in an orange jumpsuit by Robert Mueller. With the crowd shouting “Nobel, Nobel” last night at a Trump rally in Michigan, at the same time a comedian was trashing the president at the annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner which Trump boycotted for a second time, we will explore the separate universes in American politics with Trump-haters disgusted at Republicans on one side and Trump-lovers who hate Democrats on the other.

Then we look into the extent that Donald Trump is being played by Kim Jong-un whose charm offensive with the South Koreans appears to be undercutting the leverage Trump has in terms of pressuring North Korea with sanctions and maintaining military threats when the two Koreas are talking peace. Gilbert Rozman, a Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and author of “International Relations and Asia’s Northern Tier: Sino-Russian Relations and North Korea, and Mongolia”, joins us to discuss what kind of a deal is likely to emerge from the forthcoming Trump-Kim summit.

Then finally we get an assessment of what denuclearization of the Korean peninsula could mean and whether greater engagement between the two Koreas could lead to the opening of North Korea to the outside world and speak with Sung Yoon Lee, a Professor of International Affairs at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tuft’s University. He joins us to discuss whether either of the summits will lead to the North demobilizing its outsized standing army and the firing of thousands of be-meddled generals and the removal of hundreds of thousands rockets and artillery tubes targeting Seoul.

David Cay Johnston | Gilbert Rozman | Sung Yoon Lee


April 26, 2018

What Changed Between the First and Second Trials of Bill Cosby?
A Psychiatrist Assesses Trump’s Unhinged Rant on Fox and Friends
How the DCCC Does Triage Revealed in a Secret Tape
Program Notes

We begin with the three guilty verdicts in the second trial of Bill Cosby who has fallen from grace as the beloved “America’s dad” to facing the rest of his life in jail for drugging and sexually assaulting womenDeborah Tuerkheimer, a professor of Law at Northwestern University’s School of Law and author of numerous articles on rape and domestic violence, joins us to discuss what has changed in the intervening time between the last trial which ended in a hung jury and this one. We will assess the extent to which the #metoo movement has influenced the broader culture and thus the jury pool out of which the jury of 7 men and 5 women who convicted the 80 year-old Cosby came. And we will also look into whether the new evidence presented was the factor in overcoming the defense who attacked Cosby’s main accuser Andrea Constand for having received $3.38 million in 2006 as part of a confidential financial settlement with Cosby.

Then with President Trump calling in to his favorite program “Fox and Friends” this morning, ostensibly to wish Melania happy birthday, we will examine the unhinged paranoid rant that ensued in which there was a fragmented and psychotic tirade against the press, James Comey and Senator Tester mixed with praise for Kanye West and the pro-Trump African-American social media “personalities”, Diamond and Silk. Dr. Bandy Lee, a forensic psychiatrist on the faculty of Yale School of Medicine and editor of the bestselling book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrist and Mental Health Experts Assess a President”, joins us. We assess the extent to which Trump is acting like a trapped animal lashing out and how as investigations close in on him and his chaotic incompetence becomes more apparent, our dangerous president is likely to become more dangerous.

Then finally we speak with Lee Fang, an investigative journalist with The Intercept where his latest article is “Secretly Taped Audio Reveals Democratic Leadership Pressuring Progressive to Leave Race”. We explore how the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee does triage in deciding which of the many Democratic hopefuls running for congress to back, and whether in trying to change red districts blue, by choosing conservative over progressive candidates, grassroots activists will be alienated and the candidates elected will end up voting with the Republicans.

Deborah Tuerkheimer | Bandy Lee | Lee Fang


April 25, 2018

Assessing the Revolution Underway in Armenia
HUD Punishes the Poor While Rewarding the Rich
Mulvaney’s Brazen Admission Makes a Lie of Draining the Swamp
Program Notes

We begin with a resumption of large-scale demonstrations in Armenia’s capitol Yerevan against Serzh Sargsyan the long-serving president who, like Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan, appointed himself prime minister but provoked so much outrage he was forced to step down because of people power.  Grigor Atanesian, a political commentator and journalist covering Armenia who has an op-ed in the Moscow Times “What Does Turmoil in Armenia Spell for Russia?”, joins us to discuss Putin’s growing alarm at the possibility of a youth-led colored revolution breaking out in Armenia.  With a new round of popular unrest erupting, sparked by the break- off of talks with the opposition by the deputy prime minister Karapetyan who was appointed by the ousted leader and was is a former executive with Russia’s Gazprom, we assess the situation.

Then we examine the proposal by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson to triple the rents that low-income families will be expected to pay for subsidized housing at the same time we are learning that the Fox News host Sean Hannity, who is so close to the president he has been described at Trump’s shadow Chief of Staff, has received sweetheart loans from HUD that have boosted Hannity’s $100 million real estate portfolio. Robert Silverman, a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, joins us to discuss efforts underway to privatize HUD so that instead of providing housing for low-income families, the priority will be making real estate developers and speculators rich.

Then finally we look into the most brazen example of what a cynical lie Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” was with Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s head of the OMB and acting head of the CFPB, speaking yesterday before the American Bankers Association who have donated $32,000 to Mulvaney’s political campaigns, making the extraordinarily honest admission of his corruption telling the bankers that, “If you are a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you are a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you”.  Lisa Gilbert, the Vice President of Legislative Affairs at Public Citizen join us to discuss how Trump and his cabinet are filling the swamp while lining their own pockets.

Grigor Atanesian | Robert Silverman | Lisa Gilbert



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