Reason Roundup

Putin's Potential Penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow Launches Investigation: Reason Roundup

Plus: CNN fires Marc Lamont Hill for Palestine comments and the link between life expectancy declines, opioid pills, and prohibition.


Wes Bruer/ZUMA Press/Newscom

While Donald Trump was running for president in 2016, lawyer Michael Cohen was negotiating not just for a massive Trump-branded hotel in Moscow but also for Vladimir Putin to get a $50 million penthouse there, reports Buzzfeed.

Now the newly Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is itching to investigate. "We're way beyond bribery," says Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee. "If a candidate for president is offering a foreign adversary a $50 million gift while that adversary through his own backchannels is offering support of the campaign, that's betrayal at the highest level; that's conspiracy."

Swalwell and other members of the House Intelligence Committee say they will investigate beginning in January.

According to Buzzfeed, Cohen and Felix Sater "worked furiously behind the scenes into the summer of 2016 to get the Moscow deal finished—despite public claims that the development was canned in January, before Trump won the Republican nomination." The idea behind giving Putin the penthouse was to attract other wealthy and important Russians there, Sater says.

Trump insists the deal was all "very legal and very cool."

"….Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia," Trump tweeted at 4:59 a.m. Friday morning. "Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn't do the project. Witch Hunt!"

On Thursday, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the project. This comes on the heels of his August plea to tax evasion, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations related to his work paying off Trump's former lovers. Now, Cohen admits that he and others in the Trump organization were still negotiating with Russia through at least June of 2016 and that Cohen regularly briefed Trump and his family on the matter.

When asked shortly after inauguration, Trump had said he had "nothing to do with Russia. Haven't made a phone call to Russia in years. Don't speak to people from Russia. … I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does."

Conor Friedersdorf suggests why this may be so damning: it means Russia had leverage over Trump since then. "That he lied has long been clear—all sorts of people with whom he dealt had extensive, well-documented dealings with Russia and Russians," writes Friedersdorf.

But additional evidence that he lied was revealed Thursday [by Cohen], who admitted that he negotiated on Trump's behalf to build a skyscraper in Moscow; that his efforts lasted until at least June 2016; that he briefed Trump and members of Trump's family about the matter; and that he later lied to Congress, to avoid contradicting Trump's political message.

Consider the implications. At the very beginning of Trump's presidency, as soon as he lied in that press conference, Vladimir Putin and Russian intelligence possessed the ability to unmask Trump as a liar to the American public, revealing damaging information to Congress and the public about which they had previously been ignorant.

[…] As it would turn out, that was merely the beginning of their leverage. In September 2017, Donald Trump Jr. gave sworn Senate testimony that may be contradicted by Thursday's revelations, raising the prospect that the Russians have been in possession of evidence suggesting that the president's son may have committed a felony. And once Cohen lied to Congress about the matter, the Russians were in a position to expose the unlawful behavior of Trump's personal attorney.

Lawyer Ken White (aka Popehat) writes that once again, we're faced with "developments that would, under normal circumstances, end a presidency," and there's a chance that "they still might."


CNN is taking some heat for firing Marc Lamont Hill, a regular contributor who on Wednesday advocated for a boycott of Israel and a "free Palestine from the river to the sea." From Mediaite:

His comments sparked an immediate backlash, with many noting "from the river to the sea" is a phrase used by Hamas and other anti-Israel terror groups. The phrase implies the replacement of Israel by a Palestine stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea—though Hill disputes this characterization of his comments.

Hill responded:


Links between life expectancy decline, opioid pills, and prohibition. Life expectancy in the U.S. is down again, for the third year in a row, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "After peaking at 78.9 years in 2014, it has dropping to 78.6 years in 2017," notes Ron Bailey. "This follows decades of increases." What gives?

While a fiercer than usual outbreak of influenza contributed to the decline last year, the main causes are rising suicides rates and the increasing number of deaths from drug overdoses associated with opioids. Overdose deaths in 2017 rose to 70,237, up from 63,632 the year before. But overdose deaths associated with legal opioids did not significantly change from 2016. The increase came almost entirely from street drugs. And why was there a rise in the use of black market fentanyl and heroin? The biggest reason is most likely the drug war.

People in government have been keen to blame—and sanction—prescription pill makers and sellers, when it's their own prohibition policies driving this opioid-related death trend.

"Of the 47,600 opioid-related deaths the CDC counted in 2017," writes Jacob Sullum, "60 percent involved the drug category that consists mainly of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and its analogs" while just "30 percent involved the category that includes the most commonly prescribed pain medications…and some of those deaths also involved fentanyl or heroin." A dramatic rise in opioid deaths last year can be attributed almost entirely to to fentanyl and its analogs. Sullum:

The Trump administration nevertheless wants to reduce opioid prescriptions by a third during the next three years. But opioid prescriptions, measured by total morphine milligram equivalents (MME) sold, have already fallen by a third since 2010, as indicated by the green area in the chart (with units, in billions of MME, on the right axis). During that period, opioid-related deaths more than doubled. Does this seem like a winning strategy? Far from reducing deaths involving opioids, the crackdown on pain pills has pushed nonmedical users into the black market, where the drugs are much more dangerous because their potency is highly variable and unpredictable.


• Clive and Ammon Bundy are condemning Trump's immigration policies and rhetoric:

• Illegal immigration is at a 10-year low.

• An effort to rechristen the street in front of the Saudi embassy as Jamal Khashoggi Way just got approval from a neighborhood commission in D.C. It must now be approved by the city council, mayor, and Congress.

• Happy holidays from Jacobin magazine!

• In case you want a refresher: "Everyone Who's Been Charged as a Result of the Mueller Investigation."

• The latest G-20 summit kicks off in Buenos Aires toady:

• A New York City Councilman wants to fight racism by banning cash-free restaurants.

• A good thread on Section 230:

• Conservative Twitter personality Laura Loomer chained herself to the company's New York City headquarters door yesterday to protest the decision to ban her from the site. The cops showed up but Twitter is declining to press charges.

• College majors are shifting:

• Huh.