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Adam Schiff Urges Trump’s Own Staff To Walk Out Now While They Can

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) urged Republicans working in the administration of President Donald Trump to walk away before it’s too late.

“This is a moment that I would say to any Republican of good conscience working in the administration: It is time for you to resign,” Schiff told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the November election, then attacked the voting process. 

“The ballots are a disaster,” Trump said. “Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a peaceful … there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation.”

Schiff, who is chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said it’s clear what anyone with a conscience who works or has worked for Trump must do:

“If you have been debating about whether you can continue to serve the country by serving this president, you can’t. It is time to resign. And I would say to those who have been on the sidelines maintaining a dignified silence who have served in the administration in the past, you cannot maintain your silence any longer.”   

Schiff also warned them not to wait for Trump to try to “get rid of the ballots” before they act. 

“Because if you do wait, knowing what is to come, you will share some of the burden of responsibility for that chaos that comes,” he said, adding that Trump’s “autocratic intentions are as clear as the writing on the wall.”  

We want to know what you’re hearing on the ground from the candidates. If you get any interesting ― or suspicious! ― campaign mailers, robocalls or hear anything else you think we should know about, email us at

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Singaporean Mirage Company Moved Millions Through Banks

With a website claiming more than 200 employees and an office in a business complex in the middle of Singapore, Ask Trading — “a trading and investment company focusing on the Russia/CIS market” — might appear to be a thriving midsize business.

But actually it’s a mirage. Under even the slightest scrutiny, it starts to disappear.

That office, BuzzFeed News discovered during a visit, is just a few sparsely populated cubicles. The company’s current website is only one page, and photographs on it were lifted from published materials about other firms. And public records show Ask was not doing what it claimed to do.

Yet between 2001 and 2016, it managed to move at least $671 million in transactions through Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of New York Mellon, from sources no one at those banks ascertained, for purposes it never revealed.

Shell companies like Ask Trading keep a low profile, but they play an outsize role in the dark economy, the trillions of dollars of dirty money that course through Western banks in full view of government regulators.

As documented in the FinCEN Files, thousands of secret government documents that BuzzFeed News shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and more than 100 news organizations around the globe, these so-called shell companies can be a conduit for terrorist networks, narcotraffickers, and crime syndicates to launder the proceeds of their illegal activity. The money goes into an account at a prestigious international bank, and when it emerges, cleansed of any taint, just a few more clicks can move it from one country to another to fund more mayhem and misery.

By law, banks are supposed to be on the lookout for transactions that bear hallmarks of money laundering or other financial misconduct, then report their concerns to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN. Such reports can support investigations and intelligence gathering — but by themselves they are not evidence of a crime. Banks have broad discretion to end their relationship with the customers whose accounts they find suspicious. But in the FinCEN Files they rarely do.

Dozens of banks around the globe opened their doors to Ask and the network of companies connected to it. Bankers documented their concerns, but still went on to process nearly a billion dollars’ worth of their transactions.

And not just any transactions. According to government documents, Ask used the banks to send $4 million to a United Arab Emirates–based company for what it said were construction materials. The US government later said the company was part of an organization financing drug cartels and terrorist organizations such as the Taliban. Ask received $17 million from a money laundering ring manipulating international stock trades.

The story of how a venture as elusive as Ask could gain access to some of the world’s most powerful financial institutions is the story of how the entire elaborate system of safeguards fails, over and over again.

It’s the story of banks that don’t ask too many questions about the money flowing through their accounts. And of a government oversight structure that lets banks profit off even the most suspicious transaction as long as they file the proper paperwork.

It’s also a detective story.

BuzzFeed News decided to see if we could do what was apparently too great a challenge for huge international banks: figure out what the Ask network is and who’s behind it. That could have been all the information needed to stop these suspicious transactions, if anyone were so inclined.

Quite a Lot of Lamps

John Templon / BuzzFeed News

The door to Maxim Glazov’s apartment, which was listed as an address for Ask Trading.

Banks are supposed to make sure they know their customers. The requirements are a lot lower when a customer, like Ask, comes through what’s known as a correspondent bank — a smaller, local bank that partners with a big institution in order to gain global reach.

The big institution may rely on outdated or shoddy information. That’s how Deutsche Bank came to believe that Ask Trading’s networks were run by a man named Yeo Tiam Chye, records show.

Anyone who checked the public database in which all Singapore’s corporations must register could have seen that in June 2014, the director of the company was changed to a man named Heng Boon Liang.

A little digging shows that Heng, who goes by Daniel, lives in Yishun — a residential area in the northeast of Singapore — and on LinkedIn says he works for a shipping logistics company. On his Facebook page, he has shared photos of his time spent golfing and umpiring softball games.

The internet has few traces of anyone else working at Ask Trading. The only person clearly associated with the company online is its original founder, a Russian-born entrepreneur named Maxim Glazov. On social media, he and Heng have shared photos of their activities together throughout the years, such as attending a mixed martial arts competition in 2016.

Glazov has tried to hype Ask Trading’s success to promote other ventures. On F6S, a website for startup founders, there’s a section titled Amazing Things Maxim’s Made: “A group of companies in logistics and trade finance in Singapore with $800M combined yearly turnover.”

It’s unclear exactly how bank officers conducted their due diligence. But if they had checked the various addresses they had on file for Ask, they would have found locations unlikely to be headquarters for a company moving hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of goods around the globe. One address was Glazov’s apartment. Two others were offices registered to Yeo, who goes by Henry, and who turns out to be the person who filed the government paperwork for the companies.

Without digging even this deep, banks still were aware that something seemed fishy about Ask. Suspicious activity reports, or SARs, filed by BNY Mellon, flagged hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions — in particular, 50 payments totaling $27 million, from a Russian company called LLC Inter-Trade.

Every one of those 50 payments referenced a single invoice for fluorescent lamps and included improbably neat round-dollar amounts — amounts that would almost never show up in actual invoices for products that are valued down to the last penny. In addition, a SAR noted that the payments were “frequently sent on consecutive days or only a few days apart,” rather than on regularly scheduled billing intervals, or the kind of time frame in which a company might plausibly need to reorder huge numbers of lights.

One SAR also noted that “$27.1 million over a 3 month time span seems like an excessive amount to pay for fluorescent lamps.”

Further research led the analyst at BNY Mellon to remark that “Ask Trading is also [a] shell entity” — a company set up with no assets to speak of and no transparency about the business it is conducting — “whose website was created only to make it appear legitimate.”

In response to questions, the bank sent BuzzFeed News a statement that said, “As a trusted member of the international banking community, we fully comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and assist authorities in the important work they do. By law, we cannot comment on any alleged SAR.”

Analysts at other banks, including JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank, also flagged Ask’s transactions. An April 2017 SAR from JPMorgan said the bank filed at least 13 prior reports that included Ask between 2013 and 2015. Any of the three banks could have cut the company off and refused to conduct its business any longer. But as with so many other cases documented in the FinCEN Files, the banks kept accommodating their suspicious customer, and profiting off its transactions.

JPMorgan and Deutsche told BuzzFeed News that the banks have invested heavily in efforts to thwart money laundering. The Deutsche spokesperson said the bank could not comment on SAR-related information, but that it had “learnt from past mistakes.’’

About those fluorescent fixtures: The Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a nonprofit foundation that tracks transnational security issues, keeps a database of all public Russian customs data. In the time period that Ask told the bank it was shipping all those lamps, C4ADS has no records of Ask making any shipments, let alone $27.1 million worth. (They do appear to have made other shipments before and after, but nothing at that scale.)

So if it wasn’t shipping fluorescent lighting fixtures, what was Ask being paid all that money for? And what were they doing with it?

BuzzFeed News contacted Glazov, Ask’s founder. First reached by email in October 2019, he said it had been a while since he was involved in any of the Ask network companies, but that he would try his best to answer any questions sent to him in writing. A number of detailed questions were sent. Glazov never wrote back.

It was time to go to Singapore to ask him in person.

A Knock on the Door

John Templon / BuzzFeed News

The office where Ask Trading is registered in corporate documents.

Far from the glittering towers of Singapore’s downtown core, Ask Trading’s headquarters are located in a 30-story high-rise of stark white concrete. Offices are arranged in a ring facing in toward the open space at the center of the building. Ask Trading is registered to office #03-76.

None of the names next to the solid metal door belong to companies in the Ask network. Inside, there is just a receptionist desk, a tiny conference room, and a few cubicles. It is not the home of a busy global import-export conglomerate, but instead the offices of Yeo Tiam Chye — the man the banks once believed was Ask’s owner.

Yeo is not the owner of Ask. He is an accountant who helps companies file the registrations, annual reports, and other paperwork required by Singapore’s business regulations. That’s why his address is listed as the home to Ask Trading — and to more than 30 other companies. Yeo was fined nearly $60,000 by the Singapore government in June 2019 for helping a different client avoid paying taxes.

“Due to pressing family matters, I decided to plead guilty to the charges so that I can move on with my life,” Yeo said in a written response to BuzzFeed News. He said that he “did no wrong.”

Yeo initially declined to comment for this article, so the next stop was Heng, the current owner of Ask Trading. Answering the door at his sixth-floor apartment, his daughter took a business card and letter, but said her father was unavailable. He did not respond to multiple further inquiries.

US authorities were no more helpful.

A 2016 report from BNY Mellon had noted that the bank fielded “government inquiries” seeking information on Ask. Lots of government entities can make inquiries, but this seemed likely to involve one of the handful of agencies that investigate financial crimes.

The Office of Foreign Asset Control said it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of records. The Department of Justice said talk to the FBI. Finally, the FBI said it wouldn’t turn over any documents because doing so “would be expected to interfere with a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding.”

That was interesting.

Ask Trading also turns up in the case of an epic Russian money laundering scheme, known as the mirror trades, conducted through Deutsche Bank accounts. During the bank’s internal investigation, in 2016, officials found that Ask had received $17 million as part of those trades.

Separately, a search of court records uncovered an FBI agent’s August 2016 affidavit — from a case about the illegal exportation of night vision goggles — that named two companies related to Ask as potential money launderers.

Robert Mazur, who spent 27 years investigating financial crimes with three different federal agencies, agreed to look through BuzzFeed News’ files about Ask and see what he could make of them.

Mazur’s career has been colorful enough that it led to a book and a movie. For the feds, he worked undercover as a money launderer. He knows how money launderers operate, and he knows how to read a SAR and glean insights.

His analysis wouldn’t be definitive, but it would — at long last — put enough of the puzzle pieces together for a picture to emerge.

Reviewing more than 200 pages of the suspicious activity reports from the FinCEN Files, he said that, in his opinion, the flags waved vivid red from almost every one of those pages.

“The transactions had no apparent economic, business or lawful purpose,” the report he compiled for BuzzFeed News noted.

“In nearly every instance, the reported transactions involved shell companies from many corners of the tax haven world.”

He continued, “The addresses of the company that maintained the account used the same address as hundreds of other shell-like companies.”

And on and on he went, 13 bullet points in all, leading to what he said was one clear conclusion: Ask’s transactions had all the hallmarks of a classic money laundering operation.

“In my opinion, the U.S. dollar transactions reported in the 14 SARs appear to have been conducted for the purpose of moving funds connected to illicit activity from Russia, or on behalf of Russian or Ukrainian residents, to places outside of Russia,” Mazur wrote in his report to BuzzFeed News.

Mazur’s conclusions called to mind the Russian national who was Ask Trading’s original founder, Maxim Glazov. The guy who wanted a list of questions and then didn’t respond.

John Templon / BuzzFeed News

The atrium of the building where Ask Trading is registered in corporate documents.

A balding entrepreneur, Glazov lives in a third-floor walk-up apartment — the address that banks had listed as one of Ask’s corporate offices — at the end of a quiet street in an affluent Singapore neighborhood.

While in Singapore, BuzzFeed News visited his doorstep three times before he finally opened the door.

Standing a bit under 6 feet tall, with a toned build and a red shirt, Glazov declined to answer any questions about Ask Trading’s business, about the FBI investigation, about how a company can get three powerful banks to conduct its financial transactions when they had been repeatedly flagged as suspicious, about why Ask wired millions of dollars to accused terror financiers.

He said, simply and definitively, “I don’t want to talk.”

He confirmed he had received our questions and politely closed the door.

Months later, Glazov responded by email to some of the questions asked by BuzzFeed News about Ask Trading’s activity.

“I have not been involved in ASK for a few years, and do not have records of the so-called transactions that you describe in your email,” Glazov wrote. “Regardless, when I was involved with ASK, none of its transactions involved any criminal wrongdoing to the best of my knowledge.”

Glazov said that it was not uncommon in Singapore for businesses to be registered at personal addresses for the sake of correspondence. Despite internet records saying that he registered the website that claimed Ask Trading had more than 200 employees, Glazov said he didn’t know who created the website or why.

The research on Glazov turned up something else about him. He had been trying to start a new company, SafeChats, that provides “military-grade security” for business and private communications. Glazov said that SafeChats is no longer in operation.

The tagline of its website reads: “No one needs to know.” ●

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Argentina Spied on Families of Lost Submarine Crew, Officials Say

BUENOS AIRES — In the tense months after a submarine carrying 44 crew members ​went missing in 2017, Argentina’s intelligence service illegally spied on ​their​ families​​, ​ the ​current head of the agency said on Wednesday.

Intelligence officials said the agency uncovered three hard drives that show that family members’ activities and communications had been monitored in the coastal city of Mar del Plata, where the submarine was based.

The spying was not “ordered nor authorized by any judge” and that is why it was “illegal,” said Cristina Caamaño, the head of the Federal Intelligence Agency.

“We aren’t talking about terrorists or organized criminals but rather a group of family members who were trying to locate their family members trapped in the submarine,” Ms. Caamaño said at a news conference.

“This espionage is perverse,” Ms. Caamaño said. “The state should have been giving them answers, not spying on the family members.”

Ms. Caamaño said she submitted the findings to a prosecutor who will decide whether to recommend criminal charges to a judge. Some family members said they would demand that officials be held accountable.

“People need to go to jail for this” said Andrea Mereles, whose husband, Ricardo Gabriel Alfaro Rodríguez, was aboard the submarine. “It is unforgivable.”

The accusations came as part of an investigation into the intelligence agency’s role during the previous government. President Alberto Fernández tasked Ms. Caamaño with overhauling the agency, known as the A.F.I., claiming it had long been used to keep tabs on domestic political opponents.

Members of the former administration, led by President Mauricio Macri, have broadly denied allegations that the intelligence agency was used for political ends. Neither Mr. Macri nor the former head of the agency commented on the specific accusations of spying on the families of crew members.

Acrimony between family members of the crew of the submarine, the San Juan, and Mr. Macri’s government grew as weeks and then months passed without news of the vessel’s fate. At one point several family members set up a makeshift camp outside Government House in Buenos Aires to try to get answers.

Family members had long said they suspected they were being spied on because their phones acted strangely and officials somehow were always one step ahead of them, seemingly knowing when they were going to carry out protests and which questions they were going to pose to officials.

Isabel Polo, the sister of Daniel Alejandro Polo, 32, one of the sailors aboard the San Juan, said she had thought someone had gained access to her phone, which would restart on its own, losing messages and images.

“We were demanding answers and their answer was to follow us and spy on us,” she said. “It’s so infuriating.”

Those suspicions were warranted, Ms. Caamaño said, saying that the agency had photos of agents following family members and evidence of them investigating relatives’ activity on social networks.

The documents dated from 2018 and 2019, meaning that the spying continued even after the submarine’s wreckage was found.

“Besides being absolutely illegal, this is profoundly inhumane,” Defense Secretary Agustín Rossi said at Wednesday’s news conference.

The submarine disappeared while on a routine security patrol off the coast of Patagonia on Nov. 15, 2017.

From its earliest days, the search drew attention not only in Argentina but also worldwide. The loss of life was considered the largest involving a submarine in almost two decades.

The effort to find the San Juan involved military personnel from 18 nations and was one of the largest maritime search missions in recent history, drawing about 4,000 military personnel, 28 ships and nine aircraft.

As tense days stretched into a week with little news, the family members of the sailors on board hoped for a miracle.

When the first inkling of news about the submarine’s fate finally came later that month, it was not from the Argentine Navy, but from U.S. government analysts and an international nuclear weapons monitor, which recognized that an explosion had been recorded deep in the Atlantic Ocean near where the submarine was traveling just hours after its last communication.

At the time, many family members expressed frustration and anger at the Argentine government — for delaying the search operation, by giving them what turned out to be false hope and, broadly, for deploying submarines in commission since the 1980s.

That anger continued to simmer as the families pressured the Argentine government to find the San Juan. Once a private company, the Houston-based Ocean Infinity, located the wreckage in November 2018, the families began to push for a salvage operation that would allow them to recover the bodies of their family members for burial.

But the San Juan has not been salvaged. Experts warned that even if the costly operation were taken on, there would be no guarantees that all bodies would be recovered and that it was unlikely to help the investigation.

Some family members have continued to press for the wreckage to be brought to shore. The revelations on Wednesday renewed their anger at how they have been treated by the government.

“They treated us like troublemakers when all we wanted was the truth,” Ms. Mereles said. “Why were they spying on us? What were they afraid of?”

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Sasha Lane is Perfection in ‘Utopia’

Happy Fall, everyone! As the temperature grows cooler and lattes grow spicier and more pumpkiny, your weekly Woman Crush Wednesday continues to stay as fresh as ever. This week we’re celebrating an actress who is poised and accomplished beyond her 24 (but as of next week, 25 — Happy Early Birthday!!) years. She’s an extremely talented actress whose star will only continue to rise so make sure you remember her name. Without further ado, everybody give it up for this week’s WCW, the stupendous Sasha Lane!

WHO’S THAT GAL: Sasha Lane

WHY WE’RE CRUSHING: Lane stars as Jessica Hyde in highly anticipated series Utopia, which has been adapted by Gillian Flynn for Amazon Prime Video from the 2013 British original of the same name, and premieres on Prime this Friday, September 25th. Utopia revolves around a group of young adults who meet online and get a hold of a cult underground graphic novel, which not only pins them as a target of a shadowy deep state organization, but also burdens them with the dangerous task of saving the world. In addition to Lane, this conspiracy-thriller features John Cusack,  Rainn Wilson, Dan Byrd, Desmin Borges, and Jessica Rothe.

Utopia is already receiving plenty of buzz from publications like TV Guide, CNETThe Chicago Sun-Times, and more, so make sure you see what all of the hype is about and watch Lane and the rest of the cast’s wonderful work in this Prime Original series.

WHERE YOU’VE SEEN HER BEFORE: Lane’s professional on-screen career began in 2016, when she starred alongside Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough in epic road comedy-drama American Honey, and she hasn’t slowed down since, accruing an impressive and steady list of credits for both film and television throughout the following years. Fresh off American Honey, Lane saw immediate success in film work, appearing in short films like drama Born in the Maelstrom in 2017 and comedy-drama Shrimp in 2018, as well as feature lengths like 2018 drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post, 2018 music comedy-drama Hearts Beat Loud, 2018 comedy-drama After Everything, 2019 psychological horror Daniel Isn’t Real, and 2019 action adventure fantasy Hellboy. More recently Lane has branched out into other mediums, with appearances in the music videos for Lewis Capaldi’s “Before You Go” and Alicia Keys (feat Khalid)’s “So Done” both in 2020, and in television, with a one episode appearance in Apple TV+ anthology series Amazing Stories in 2020, in addition to Lane’s upcoming starring role in Utopia. There’s no question that this young actress is on the fast Lane (see what I did there? Please hold your applause) to success, and we can’t wait to see all of the fantastic work she will do in the future.

WHERE YOU’LL SEE HER AGAIN: I’ve got good news: you don’t have to wait too long to see more from Lane (woohoo)! She will be in 2020 drama film Weetzie Bat, which is based on the 1989 Francesca Lia Block novel of the same name, and follows the adventures of the eponymous character Weetzie, who discovers that there are unexpected ramifications after being granted three wishes by a genie. You can also look forward to seeing Lane in the highly anticipated 2021 sci-fi superhero series Loki, which takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame, and revolves around Loki (Tom Hiddleston) using the Tesseract to travel through time and alter human history. For even more from Lane, you can keep up with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Watch Utopia on Amazon Prime Video

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Left collects wins on Biden transition

In 2016, Russia and China attacked American democracy by muddying the political discourse online. The virtual strikes marked one of the most direct interferences into American democracy by foreign actors in history.

The left-wing’s cri de coeur — “personnel is policy” — takes a page from the Reaganites of the early 1980s, who pushed aside more moderate Rockefeller Republicans in favor of conservative firebrands. “Those who truly want Washington to change must look beyond the rhetoric to the Rolodex,” Scot Faulkner, director of personnel for Reagan’s 1980 campaign, later wrote.

In addition to Hauser, the progressive effort is being led by David Segal of the left-wing group Demand Progress and the Roosevelt Institute — a think tank with close ties to Sen. Warren that is dedicated to pushing the party left on economic policy — along with its 501c4 advocacy group, Roosevelt Forward.

The tactics include doing opposition research on potential nominees with more moderate politics, which they are then circulating via left-wing publications like The American Prospect. They are also vetting more progressive voices to put forward for consideration — like former Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Raskin and Raphael Bostic, the current president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta — and lobbying the Biden transition team publicly and privately.

The Biden transition so far has been trying to give all elements of the party a seat at the table. Left-wing allies like Julie Margetta Morgan and Joelle Gamble, two former top Roosevelt Institute officials, are on the transition’s full-time domestic economic team, which reviews the alphabet soup of executive branch agencies to see how they can be used to implement the Biden policy agenda.

Felicia Wong, the president of the Roosevelt Institute, sits on the transition’s just-created advisory board. Former aides to Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal — Gautam Raghavan and Julie Siegel — are also on the full-time staff.

The transition also includes moderate elements, however, including technocrats from the Obama administration and more business-friendly Democrats who recently lobbied or worked for places like Apple, Facebook, and Twitter. Some Biden advisers are pushing him to adopt the Green New Deal, while others think it’s a political nonstarter. The team, much like the broader Democratic party, is currently united in their desire to defeat Trump but could become unwieldy after November.

Biden aides have sought to reassure the progressives still disappointed about his primary victory by promising that he would be more liberal on economic policy than Obama or any other recent Democratic president.

“I think the Biden agenda is kind of Exhibit A in terms of the positive influence of the shift in the role that progressives have played in party and platform politics,” said longtime Biden economic adviser Jared Bernstein. “This is the most progressive policy agenda I’ve been part of and it’s one that was consistently guided by Biden, himself.”

Some progressives remain skeptical that the Biden efforts will lead to meaningful appointments after November and fear a Biden administration will ultimately closely resemble the Obama administration.

But transition and Biden allies said they are sincere in their commitment to collaborate with the left wing of the party. “I think that the Obama restoration concern is misguided,” said Bernstein.

Wong echoed that point in an interview. “I have every expectation that you’re going to see bold solutions when it comes to both the people who are appointed and the kinds of policies that ultimately are adopted in governance,” she said. “There’s a lot that we now understand based on the lessons of 2008 about the dangers of austerity and not doing enough at the federal level to forestall recessions.”

Many progressives also count Ted Kaufman, Biden’s longtime aide who is heading the transition, as an ally. During the financial crisis, Kaufman succeeded Biden in the Senate and was a surprisingly tough critic of Geithner and the Obama team’s economic policy. He ultimately took over for Warren on the panel overseeing the bank bailout package, TARP.

The Biden transition’s embrace of some of these progressive figures lends credence to Republicans’ argument that a Biden presidency would be further to the left than his more moderate track record would suggest.

The progressive organizers, however, are pushing for more — the appointment of people like Raskin or Bostic for the Federal Reserve or Treasury secretary and former longtime Warren aide Bharat Ramamurti for the SEC or FDIC. The progressive group Data For Progress even released a “Progressive Cabinet Project” with their ideal choices for cabinet posts.

They have simultaneously been firing warning shots toward some more moderate officials who could have high positions in a Biden administration. “How Biden’s Foreign Policy Team Got Rich,” read one recent headline in the American Prospect — which partners with the Revolving Door Project. The article took aim at Michèle Flournoy, a possible secretary of Defense, and Tony Blinken, a potential secretary of State, and their private sector work. This past week, the Prospect published another piece that dug into the past work of Steve Ricchetti, Biden’s chief of staff as vice president from 2013 to 2017, arguing he should not become chief of staff in a Biden White House.

Some on the left acknowledge that their lists are aspirational. There is also the risk of being so aggressive that the Biden team tunes them out, entirely. But they hope the more organized roster of people will pay dividends and prohibit an Obama redux.

While Obama remains largely popular with Democrats, many of the activists dedicated to transition work believe many in his administration were too cozy with the finance industry and too concerned with Republican attacks about the ballooning deficit at a time of economic crisis. They believe those decisions led to insufficient urgency in dealing with the foreclosure crisis and not spending enough on the recovery.

Progressive frustration built through the Obama years and exploded into the open when Obama weighed keeping his promise to Summers to nominate him to be chairman of the Federal Reserve and then again as he tried to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In many ways, these left-wing groups are picking up where they left off in 2016. The Revolving Door Project and many of The Roosevelt Institute’s efforts were made in anticipation of a Hillary Clinton administration. Warren was also heavily involved with a barrage of personal appeals to the Clinton transition team and campaign chairman John Podesta.

They were successful in getting appointments to the obscure but consequential agency landing teams and the transition hiring Warren ally Rohit Chopra, who is now an FTC commissioner. Asked if she was directly lobbying Biden’s transition as well, a Warren spokesperson did not respond.

“There was a lot of this in 2016 and so this is just an extension of that,” said David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect. “There is now an infrastructure around personnel.”

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Breaking New

Huawei says Qualcomm has applied for a license to sell it chips

The logo of Chinese company Huawei at their main U.K. offices in Reading, west of London, on January 28, 2020.

Daniel Leal-Olivas | AFP via Getty Images

Huawei said that Qualcomm has applied for a license to sell it chips and will use them in smartphones if permission is granted by the U.S. government. 

China’s Huawei was put on a U.S. blacklist last year that restricted American businesses from selling products to the Chinese phonemaker. U.S. companies, including Qualcomm, were required to get a license from the government to export goods to companies on that list. 

Then in May this year, Washington amended a rule to require foreign manufacturers using U.S. chipmaking equipment to get a license before being able to sell semiconductors to Huawei. The U.S. government tightened this rule in August, a move which could lead to a “near-total” cut-off for Huawei from key semiconductor. 

Huawei designs its own smartphones chips called Kirin, via its HiSilicon subsidiary. But Kirin is manufactured by Taiwanese contract chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. From Sept. 15, TSMC was no longer able to supply chips to Huawei. 

“The U.S. has been continuously attacking us … and that has posed great challenges to our production and our operation,” Guo Ping, rotating chairman at Huawei, said on Wednesday. “We got the last batch of chipsets in middle of September, we are still evaluating more details.”

Guo said that the company has “sufficient stock” of chips for its business to business divisions, which would include its networking equipment. He did not comment on how much stock is left for its smartphones.

Due to the U.S. sanctions, Huawei has very few options when it comes to procuring the chips it needs now. 

Qualcomm has been lobbying the U.S. government to allow it to export chips to Huawei, according to a Wall Street Journal report in August. The U.S. chip giant argued in a presentation seen by the WSJ that the export restrictions will hand billions of sales to Qualcomm’s competitors. 

I’ve noticed Qualcomm has applied for a license to export products to Huawei from the U.S. government and if they get the license we are willing to continue to procure from them and use their chipsets in our smartphones

Guo Ping

rotating chairman of Huawei

During the company’s second quarter earnings results last year, CEO Steve Mollenkopf blamed the export restrictions on Huawei for weakness in its numbers at the time. 

Huawei has more recently used its own Kirin chip in its smartphones. But now that it cannot get those semiconductors, Qualcomm could fill the gap if it gets an export license. That would be a big boost for Qualcomm’s business. 

“Qualcomm has always been a very important partner of Huawei. Over the past decade and more, Huawei has been procuring chipsets from Qualcomm. I’ve noticed Qualcomm has applied for a license to export products to Huawei from the U.S. government and if they get the license we are willing to continue to procure from them and use their chipsets in our smartphones,” Guo said. 

Qualcomm was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC. 

Meanwhile Intel has been granted a license by the U.S. to sell certain products to Huawei, according to Reuters

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Breaking New

Cindy McCain, Widow Of GOP Sen. John McCain, Endorses Joe Biden

Cindy McCain, widow of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), has officially endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for president. 

“My husband John lived by a code: country first,” she wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “We are Republicans, yes, but Americans foremost.” 

Biden, she added, is the only candidate in the presidential race who “stands up for our values as a nation.”

Though McCain’s statement represents the first time she’s explicitly endorsed the former vice president, she has gone to bat for Biden before. 

During the Democratic National Convention, McCain was featured in a clip that celebrated Biden’s friendship with her late husband, who died in 2018 of brain cancer.

“They would just sit and joke,” McCain said in the video of the two men, who developed a close friendship after meeting in the 1970s, when Biden was a young senator and John McCain served as his military aide during an overseas trip. 

“It was like a comedy show, sometimes, to watch the two of them,” Cindy McCain said at the DNC.

Like her husband, who’d been described as a “critic in chief” of the Trump administration, Cindy McCain has been similarly vocal in her criticism of President Donald Trump. The couple’s daughter, Meghan McCain, has also been an outspoken critic of the president, who has often expressed his dislike for the late senator, once exclaiming that he didn’t consider the former Vietnam prisoner of war a hero. 

“I feel like right now the president doesn’t have my back, he doesn’t take a stand on things that are really important and we have a time of crisis,” Cindy McCain told the Arizona Republic this week of her decision to back Biden. “I’m worried that this could go further than it should. My point in getting on board with Joe is that he’s proven — he’s been there. I’ve known him for 40 years. I know his character and his leadership and his honor and his integrity and those things are very important to me.”

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Breaking New

VEB Russian Bank Linked To Spy Ring

Google Maps

The gate to “Rezidentura,” the Russian Diplomatic Compound, in the Bronx.

In 2014, the FBI was in the late stages of an elaborate sting. An undercover agent posing as an energy analyst leaked binders with fake commercial secrets to two Russian spies operating in New York.

The spies took the binders back to the “Rezidentura,” the New York base of operations for the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency.

Microphones hidden inside the leaked material relayed the spies’ every word back to American counterintelligence agents. The pair of SVR officers were caught gabbing about their secret roles, from the difficulties of recruiting prospective agents to the disappointment that their day-to-day work was not even close to “movies about James Bond.”

In their free-flowing conversations, they discussed an SVR agent working for them under deep cover in New York: Evgeny Buryakov.

Ostensibly, Buryakov was a representative of a Russian bank called VEB. But in reality he worked for the SVR, collecting economic intelligence.

FBI transcripts show the two spymasters discussed how Buryakov had traveled the world as a bank employee, spying while he went, and how they wanted him to take on an important task: find out how the US planned to bar Russian firms from its financial system.

They didn’t need to worry. American authorities allowed the Russian bank — whose board used to be chaired by Vladimir Putin — to operate in the US despite a paper trail that outlined concerns it was a threat to national security.

The FinCEN Files, a collaboration between BuzzFeed News and more than 100 newsrooms associated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, shows that the US Treasury Department received at least 86 warnings from 2007 to 2016 discussing the bank, its clients, or Buryakov.

These warnings are known as suspicious activity reports, or SARs. By law, banks act as crucial sentinels for the US government, looking for signs of financial crimes. When they spot transactions that bear the hallmarks of money laundering or other financial misconduct, they must file SARs with the Treasury Department. Such reports are not by themselves evidence of a crime but can support investigations and intelligence gathering.

Banks are barred from discussing or even acknowledging the existence of SARs, but in a statement to BuzzFeed News, VEB said it has “never been involved in any illegal activities” or been approached by authorities in relation to the matters raised in this story.

The bank said that disclosure of SARs was illegal and that as it “cannot verify the authenticity” of the documents received by BuzzFeed News, it did not wish to comment further.

The SARs filed by other banks relating to VEB and its clients document suspected national security risks. One warned that Buryakov had sent cash to an address linked to a company providing gear that could be of great use to an intelligence agent: video surveillance tools. Others raised the possibility that a VEB subsidiary helped bankroll Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and facilitated an arms deal to a sanctioned country.

But the recurring warnings didn’t seem to hurt VEB. It still was allowed to process its dollars through the US, using some of the world’s most prestigious banks.

The Spy and His Supervisor

Eugene Odinokov / Sputnik via AP

The Vnesheconombank (VEB) logo

Established as a not-for-profit, state-financed bank to boost the Russian economy, VEB is controlled by President Putin’s innermost circle. Igor Shuvalov, former Russian deputy prime minister, oversees the bank as its chair. Its former CEO was Sergey Gorkov, a graduate of Russia’s intelligence academy.

In 2014, responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US forbade companies to lend to VEB.

Still, that was the only major restriction that VEB faced. It was allowed to continue to bank in the United States and gain access to the dollar, the world’s most important currency.

In January 2015, Buryakov was arrested for espionage. The indictment rang alarm bells at the New York banking giant JPMorgan Chase, where VEB held cash accounts, controlled by Buryakov’s supervisor at VEB.

A SAR from JPMorgan Chase noted a lawsuit filed by Buryakov’s landlord. That suit said that after Buryakov was indicted for spying by US authorities, his family left without paying rent for his apartment in Riverdale, New York. (Buryakov could not be reached for comment for this story.)

Afterward, the lawsuit alleges, Buryakov’s supervisor at VEB turned up at the property. He allegedly caused “structural damage” to the apartment, including breaking furniture, and cleared it out.

Chase’s compliance officers, employees whose job is to keep an eye out for any financial transactions that might be linked to criminal activity, examined the records of Buryakov’s supervisor. They found that he had been removing cash from VEB’s accounts in a highly unusual manner.

According to Chase’s SAR, in 2015 Buryakov’s supervisor visited Chase branches across New York and New Jersey, withdrawing $30,000 over three days. Each transaction was for $10,000.

Alex Fradkin for BuzzFeed News

A Chase bank in New York City

The Chase compliance officials sounded the alarm. They warned the US government that the supervisor “worked in close proximity” to Buryakov, who they noted had been accused of “economic espionage.”

They said that the supervisor’s unusual cash withdrawals looked like “structuring of funds” designed to circumvent the automated alert that occurs when more than $10,000 in cash is withdrawn — in essence, that Buryakov’s supervisor might be trying to avoid government monitoring. The supervisor has since left VEB and runs his own company. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Despite one VEB employee being charged with espionage and another being involved in suspicious transactions, the government took no public action against the bank.

The Syrian Connection

Amer Almohibany / AFP / Getty Images

A family walks through a street covered with rubble in Syria in 2018.

Chase was not the only major bank to worry about how VEB was moving cash around.

In 2012, the Federal Reserve of New York found “deficiencies” in the way that Commerzbank sold banknotes and ordered it to review all of its former sales. In the process of doing that, the bank’s compliance officers investigated its dealings with a VEB subsidiary bank. It seemed that between 2010 and 2013, the small bank, which has no offices outside of Russia, had been purchasing vast sums of US dollars — $497 million worth — from Commerzbank.

Over that time, the Syrian conflict had erupted from a small rebellion to a full-blown civil war pitting various factions against the Assad regime, which sparked international outrage for deploying chemical weapons on civilians but was supported by Russia.

In a SAR that Commerzbank later filed to the US government, it noted that VEB was “publicly tied to Syrian commercial and arms deals” and that Russia was supporting the Assad regime by “loans of foreign currencies.” Commerzbank was concerned that the VEB subsidiary was helping the Syrian regime fund its war.

Yet Commerzbank staff in Germany assured their New York counterparts that the sales were simply “ordinary competitive business practices.”

Members of the New York team disagreed. The Americans launched an investigation that showed “spikes in activity” in the dollar purchases that “appear to correspond” to sanctions being imposed on Syria, according to the bank’s SAR.

Commerzbank stopped providing it with banknotes in September 2013. It notified the US government of its suspicions in a SAR the following year.

Responding to questions from BuzzFeed News, Commerzbank said it was unable to comment on clients due to bank secrecy laws. A spokesperson said the bank has invested heavily in compliance since 2015 and successfully completed audits ordered by US regulators.

In 2013 a group of US senators wrote to then–Treasury secretary Jack Lew, warning that Russian banks, including VEB, acted as a “financial lifeline” to the Assad regime. The banks at the time denied helping Assad.

Declaring that there was “clear and compelling evidence” Assad had used chemical weapons against the Syrian population, the senators urged the government to sanction VEB. The Treasury didn’t act.

“The Payment Appeared Unusual”

Olga Maltseva / Getty Images

A Russian helicopter flies over the outskirts of St. Petersburg in July.

Another VEB subsidiary, Genetechma Finance Limited, came under scrutiny for its links to possible arms sales.

Genetechma had told Barclays Bank that it was buying $34.6 million worth of helicopters from a Russian state-owned defense contractor and intended to sell them to a leasing firm based in Moscow.

But in September 2013, it told Barclays that the deal had fallen through at the last minute and the helicopters would instead be sold to a UAE-based aviation company.

When Barclays compliance officers later investigated, they found that the UAE company was the “general agent” for an aviation manufacturing and repair complex in Sudan. That complex was a joint venture between the then-sanctioned North Sudanese government and Russian Helicopters, a defense firm that produces aircraft for both civilian and military use.

The Sudanese government was considered a state sponsor of terrorism by the US, and Russia was known to be supporting the Sudanese government in the bloody civil war in South Sudan.

In its SAR to the US government, compliance officers at Barclays noted that Genetechma “was identified to have sold four (4) dual purpose helicopters” that were “adaptable for the military” to a business with ties to a sanctioned country. Experts told BuzzFeed News that the model of helicopter identified in the SAR was a type used heavily in the South Sudanese War.

Barclays was also concerned about signs of money laundering that accompanied the deal. After the deal was done, Genetechma sent a payment of $10.2 million to a Cypriot shell company, telling Barclays that the payment was part of the helicopter leasing contract.

Soon after, the company in Cyprus paid the exact same amount, $10.2 million, to yet another shell company, saying that it was a payment for scrap metal. The compliance officers at Barclays believed that “the payment appeared unusual;” they couldn’t identify who owned the second shell company or even where it was based. They were concerned that the deal might be linked to North Sudan.

Louise Shelley, an academic who has studied money laundering, said deals this complex should raise red flags. Legitimate supply chains are “straight and direct for efficiency purposes,” she told BuzzFeed News. “Illicit supply chains have to be convoluted so they’re not transparent.”

Barclays, responding to questions for this story, said that under law it could not comment about clients or transactions detailed in SARs, and that the bank believed it had complied with all of its legal and regulatory obligations.

Genetechma did not respond to requests for comment.

The Spy Pleads Guilty

Handout / Reuters

Buryakov on a commercial flight to Russia in April 2017. He was escorted by deportation officers and then turned over to Russian authorities.

Buryakov, the spy employed by VEB, found the US government less forgiving.

In 2016, he pleaded guilty to covertly working as a Russian agent and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He was granted an early release after a year.

US immigration officers accompanied him to Moscow on a commercial flight. A picture from the plane shows the spy slumped back into his economy-class seat, gazing thoughtfully ahead with his chin in his hand.

It was the last known sighting of the spy. His former employer, VEB, continues to operate in the United States. ●

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Vatican Reiterates Its Opposition to Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

The Vatican on Tuesday reiterated the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia, which it called “intrinsically evil” acts, “in every situation or circumstance.”

The Vatican’s condemnation did not break new ground but came as legislation in favor of allowing the ending of lives to relieve suffering has been in discussion or adopted by a growing number of governments around the world, including in traditionally Catholic countries.

“Euthanasia is a crime,” stated the document — titled “Samaritanus bonus” (the Good Samaritan): “On the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life” — and written by the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with Pope Francis’ explicit endorsement. The document accuses lawmakers who approve legislation allowing euthanasia or assisted suicide of being “accomplices of a grave sin that others will execute.”

The new document cited past writings by the church on end-of-life issues. But it also takes into account the fresh challenges of contemporary society posed by what Francis has called a “throwaway culture” seeking easy solutions to alleviate suffering instead of supporting families and health care workers caring for people with terminally illnesses.

“Incurable cannot mean that care” has come to an end, states the letter, which calls for a “wider notion of care” for terminally ill people. Citing Pope John Paul II, the letter urges health workers “to cure if possible, always to care,” until the very end of life.

The document also offers specific instructions to Catholic hospitals, calling on them to “abstain from plainly immoral conduct,” including referrals to other hospitals for patients requesting euthanasia.

In Europe, euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg and is being debated in Spain and Portugal. Switzerland allows physician-assisted suicide in some cases, and Italy and France allow terminally ill patients to stop treatment in some cases.

In Italy, the country’s top court ruled last year that assisted suicide should not be considered illegal in some circumstances. New Zealand is expected to hold a referendum on the issue next month.

Though issued on Tuesday, the Vatican letter was approved by the pope in June, and published internally on July 14, the feast day of St. Camillus de Lellis, the patron saint of the sick, hospitals, nurses and physicians.

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Cardi B faces defamation suit for blasting ‘racist MAGA supporters’

Cardi B defamed a group of Long Island beachgoers, who she called “racist MAGA supporters,” by posting edited video and commentary of an altercation between them, her sister and her sister’s partner, a new lawsuit reportedly alleges.

Cardi’s sister, Hennessy Carolina, and her girlfriend, model Michelle Diaz, got into a heated argument with the group on Sept. 6 at Smith Point Beach, Fox News reported at the time. One of the men they were arguing with was wearing a red, “Make America Great Again” hat during the altercation, according to the report.

In social media posts after the beef, Cardi wrote Carolina and Diaz were harassed over where they parked their car, “all because they are a Afro/Hispanic gay couple.”

But in the suit, which also names Carolina and Diaz as defendants, the beachgoers allege the two women harassed them — and then defamed them by posting edited video and commentary about the altercation on social media, ABC 7 New York reported.

“These peaceful Suffolk County residents were quietly enjoying a Sunday at the Smith Point beach with their families, when rap celebrity Hennessy Carolina suddenly approached them, raging, spitting, insulting, assaulting, defaming and threatening them, all the while videotaping them because one of them wore a MAGA hat,”  the plaintiffs’ attorney, John Ray, told the news outlet.

“Then Hennessy, Cardi B and celebrity model Michelle Diaz deviously edited the videotape and published the edited version all over social media, across the world for all to see, and maliciously falsely labeled these residents and their families as ‘N…s’ and as racists,” Ray said.

Hennessy, in an audio recording explaining the fight, claimed two men told her and her girlfriend to “go to your f—king country.”

The men targeted them, Hennessy said, because they “saw us parking here and we were speaking Spanish and we’re mixed,” according to the recording, which was also shared on Twitter by Cardi B.

An attorney for the Bronx-born rapper didn’t respond to request for comment.

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