“Trump Should Be Concerned”: Mueller Partners With “Elite” IRS Investigations Unit

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators are leaving no stone unturned in their crusade to find something they can use to try and turn a member of Trump’s inner circle, The Daily Beast is reporting, citing a source close to Mueller, that the special counsel’s office has teamed up with the IRS’s Criminal Investigations Unit. The “elite” IRS investigations squad will help ensure that investigators apply the maximum possible scrutiny to the finances of Trump’s inner circle in an investigation that’s nominally about election fraud.

Of course, the public has long been aware, thanks to Mueller’s collaborators in the media, that his team has no solid evidence to support a charge of election fraud against Trump or members of his circle. And while this latest “partnership” just confirms widely held suspicions that Mueller & Co. are grasping at straws, it could provide Mueller an opening to strike directly at the president, his family and closest advisers – or at least embarass Trump with a fresh batch of leaks.

First, as the Daily Beast points out, partnering with the IRS will allow Mueller’s team to access Trump’s tax returns, which we can only assume will promptly be leaked to one of the former FBI director’s favorite journalists at the Washington Post or New York Times.  

“This unit—known as CI—is one of the federal government’s most tight-knit, specialized, and secretive investigative entities. Its 2,500 agents focus exclusively on financial crime, including tax evasion and money laundering. A former colleague of Mueller’s said he always liked working with IRS’ special agents, especially when he was a U.S. Attorney.

 

And it goes without saying that the IRS has access to Trump’s tax returns—documents that the president has long resisted releasing to the public.

 

Potential financial crimes are a central part of Mueller’s probe. One of his top deputies, Andy Weissmann, formerly helmed the Justice Department’s Enron probe and has extensive experience working with investigative agents from the IRS."

Both Mueller and his deputy, Andy Weissmann, who formerly led the Justice Department’s Enron probe, have “extensive” experience working with IRS agents. So there’s little doubt they will play ball.

“’From the agents, I know everyone has the utmost respect for both Mueller and Weissmann,’ said Martin Sheil, a retired IRS Criminal Investigations agent.”

In its report, the Daily Beast shares some fresh insight into the prosecution’s case against Manafort. Naturally, we have a few questions: Can somebody explain what role Paul Manafort’s forgetting to check a box on his tax returned played in the grand conspiracy to rig the 2016 election?

“It’s been widely reported that the special counsel’s team is trying to “flip” Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign CEO, in hopes he will provide evidence against his former colleagues. Former federal prosecutors tell The Daily Beast one of Manafort’s biggest legal liabilities could be to what’s called a “check the box” prosecution. Federal law requires that people who have money in foreign bank accounts check a box on their tax returns disclosing that. And there’s speculation that Manafort may have neglected to check that box, which would be a felony. This is exactly the kind of allegation the IRS would look into.”

Even if Mueller and his team can’t find anything to justify an indictment, at least they can still punish members of Trump’s inner circle for their association with the president. Call it a consolation prize for inconsolable liberals.

“These investigations, which are often extremely complex, can take a lot of time. That means the people involved sometimes have to spend significant amounts of money on legal fees. The Daily Beast previously reported that targets of Mueller’s probe—including Manafort—are facing financial strain because of the probe, and that Manafort recently parted ways with the law firm WilmerHale in part because of his financial troubles.”

In a shocking moment of candor, the Daily Beast hints at what looks to be an ulterior motive for Mueller’s partnership with the IRS. The Trump administration never appointed an AAG to supervise the DOJ’s tax division, which would have to sign off on any charges relating to their finances. Therefore, he has “no one to keep Mueller in check,” as one former prosecutor phrased it.  

“The fact that there is not a senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division, and that the Trump people have disregarded it despite warnings as far back as December that they needed to fill the AAG’s spot… shows what a self-created mess the Trump administration has found itself in,” said the former prosecutor, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “They have no one to keep Mueller and his Brooklyn team honest. They should be concerned about that.”

To summarize, even if it has nothing to do with Donald Trump Jr.’s willingness to acquire “opposition research” on the Clinton’s, or Jared Kushner’s initial failure to disclosure meetings with certain foreign officials on his security clearance application – or any of the other leaks used to cast aspersions on Trump and his associates – Mueller may have found his opening. It may only be a matter of time before the other shoe drops.
 

Rickards: “There Are Three Things Going On With Gold Right Now”

Authored by Craig Wilson via Daily Reckoning blog,

Jim Rickards joined Kitco News and Daniela Cambone to discuss the latest news and analysis from gold markets, geopolitics and even bitcoin.  The Wall Street veteran took on the bigger picture facing metals investors and what could be just around the corner in a bubbling market.

Jim Rickards is the editor of Strategic Intelligence and is the New York Times best-selling author of The Road to Ruin. Rickards’ worked on Wall Street for decades and has advised the U.S intelligence community on international finance, trade and financial warfare.

When asked why certain geopolitical tensions have greater impacts on gold and hard assets than others Rickards remarked, “There are two things going on,

“… first is that the North Korean missile threat goes from high tension to back down again. This is a very serious threat and we are headed for war with North Korea. While I don’t know what it will take to not just get gold to go up but stocks and other sectors, ultimately markets are going to be impacted.”

 

People seem to have very short attention spans but that’s not how to think about it. It’s possible to see that Kim Jong-un is not deviating from his path to get nuclear weapons, the U.S will not allow it. There’s no middle ground there. It would be great if we could have diplomacy. I think we should also ratchet up sanctions on China. But I don’t see either of those happening.”

 

Don’t underestimate the extent to which gold is being impacted by hedge funds, leverage players, and others that are in the mix for the current high in gold. They don’t really care if it is gold, soybeans, etc. but it is simply another commodity. They receive a nice profit with tight profits, tight stops.”

 

“The bigger picture to look as here is that gold hit an interim low last December and has been grinding higher ever since.  Now gold is up over $200 an ounce and is one of the best performing assets in 2017. There’s a pattern of higher highs and shows a very positive occurrence.”

Gold and Weak Dollar Environment

The interviewer then shot back at Rickards asking whether the price and actions in the market always come back to the U.S dollar? The best-selling author and economist responded, “This all relates to currency wars. I think of gold by weight.”

When most people look at the cost of gold they relate it to the dollar. That gives the dollar a privilege to say that it is the way to count everything. It is also possible to count gold in euro, yen or even bitcoin. I think of gold as money. These are all just cross rates. When I see a higher dollar price for gold, I think of the dollar as being weaker. Likewise, if I see a lower price for gold it just shows that gold is constant and the dollar got stronger.”

 

There are three things going on right now in gold. There’s a fear trade, there’s technicals with supply shortages and ultimately a weaker dollar. If you want to know where the dollar price for gold is going, ask yourself where the dollar is headed. As the dollar gets weaker due to Federal Reserve Chair Yellen’s plan to tighten rates into weakness. We’re getting disinflation, not inflation and the desire from the Fed is a weaker dollar.”

When The Street’s Daniela Cambone prompted Rickards on the rally in gold and whether it would be rejuvenated he leveled,

I expect to see gold hit $5,000 and eventually to $10,000 an ounce. Maybe not tomorrow or a couple of years but that is the fundamental price of gold as money.

 

“In a recent conversation with legendary commodity investor Jim Rogers he indicated to me was, ‘nothing goes to that level without a 50% retracing before it resumes its path upwards.’ Moves happen very fast. The question is, what are the catalysts that could take it higher?”

Is Bitcoin Stealing Gold’s Thunder?

Speaking on catalysts and what could shake the gold market the interviewer then asked whether Bitcoin could have a significant impact. Rickards pushed back,

“Bitcoin is a very small market cap compared to gold. I don’t think it has much impact on gold and looks like a bubble right now.”

 

“As someone who has been around Wall Street a long time I’ve seen a lot of different tricks of the trade and frauds that come and go. I am seeing all of the various schemes in bitcoin right now. There’s good forensic evidence that there are people doing wash sales right now and the suckers don’t know they are getting sucked in. Gold is still the ultimate safe haven.

German Gold and ‘Weird’ Commodity Movements

Recently, Germany moved to reacquire its gold being held within the Federal Reserve system. Rickards latest analysis on the situation detailed that,

“In 2013 the central bank in Germany said it wanted its gold back from the UK, France and the US. Here’s the thing, Germany does not want all of its gold back.”

 

“As it is going through its election cycle, there are specific factions of the German government that are pushing to get German gold back to domestically being held. The German elections are in mid-September, it is not a coincidence that this happened just before that. It was to appease political dynamics as well as leasing development of gold.

Looking internally, the recent visit by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to the US Mint in Fort Knox stirred many commodity investor analysts. Rickards offered,

“I was shocked to see the visit. It is rare and only the third time that a Treasury Secretary has visited since the 1930’s.”

 

“The other thing that is strange about the visit is that the monetary elites don’t want to pay any attention to gold. Several years ago Fed Chair Bernanke was asked about gold and he replied that it is given attention because of tradition. The reason that this official visit matters now is that when gold is being given public attention by government leadership, it enhances the value of gold as a monetary asset. They don’t want the general public to pay attention to gold. The question is, why did he do it and tweet out the visit?”

Finally, speaking on the mounting complexity of issues facing the American government Rickards warned that gold could be well positioned for the remainder of Fall. Rickards sets up,

We’re coming up against a debt ceiling and budget train wreck. The US budget is at D-Day at the end of September. Separately, the Treasury is literally running out of cash. The government will have to raise the debt ceiling for the Treasury and it will need to, at the very least, pass a continuing resolution.”

 

The Treasury has a trick up its sleeve. In 1973, the gold on the books of the Treasury is officially valued at $42.22 per ounce. It would be possible to go mark it to the market just like a hedge fund does. The Treasury could raise the value to a raised price and that difference between $42.22 and the heightened amount would only require a certificate to the Fed for money.”

 

“That is all under the Gold Act of 1934. The move could open up hundreds of billions of dollars out of thin air just by remarking gold. While I am not saying this is going to happen, it is an option that they have available.”

Laurence Juber’s Latest Beatles Recording + Little Wing

This week sees the the return of Laurence Juber, musicologist and guitarist extraordinaire, on my weekly podcast. His latest acoustic guitar album, LJ Can’t Stop Playing the Beatles! is just out, and its terrific. Our prior interview from 2016 is here, along with the videos of his playing during that interview. If you listent to the podcast, you can hear this…

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The post Laurence Juber’s Latest Beatles Recording + Little Wing appeared first on The Big Picture.

Venezuela Headed For “Messiest Debt-Restructuring In History” Thanks To US Sanctions

After being effectively shut out from global financial markets – a situation that was made more precarious by US sanctions prohibiting purchases of Venezuelan debt (unless you’re buying them off Goldman Sachs, should the bank’s asset-management arm desire to liquidate its $3 billion “hunger bond” position) – Venezuela is drawing ever-nearer to what the Financial Times describes as potentially the “messiest debt restructuring in history.”

So far, Venezuela has managed to forestall a default by stripping assets from its state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, commonly referred to as PVDSA, and shaking down local institutions of spare dollars – not to mention the explicit financial support of China and Russia. Recently, Rosneft, the largest Russian oil company, helped support its troubled ally, which enjoys the largest crude reserves in the world, by offering billions of dollars in advance payments for future crude supplies. Thanks to a deal brokered by deceased former President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has for years been Rosneft’s largest foreign supplier of crude. Last year, the oil giant accepted a 49.9% stake in PVDSA’s US-based subsidiary, Citgo, as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

However, thanks to the US sanctions, which prohibit purchases of newly issued debt and existing bonds that have so far not been sold outside of Caracas, the country will once again need to innovate or risk sliding into bankruptcy. Making matters all the more urgent, the country recently suffered a loss in US courts after a judge ruled that Canadian miner Crystallex can seize Venezuelan money held in a custody account at Bank of New York Mellon to cover a $1.4 billion judgment awarded by a World Bank tribunal.

Crystallex’s victory could further embolden the country’s creditors, who collectively may be owed as much as $3.7 billion.

“Venezuela has been taken to the World Bank’s ICSID tribunal 43 times. Only Argentina has been subjected to more claims. Of these 24 are still pending, including claims from Anglo American, ConocoPhillips, Air Canada and Vestey. The Eurasia Group estimates that Venezuela owes a total of $3.7bn as a result of ICSID rulings, and Crystallex’s progress is likely to embolden other creditors.”

Adding to the country’s troubles, a major US clearing house has said it will stop settling some Venezuelan bonds, and Cantor Fitzgerald has stopped trading them altogether.

After months of rhetoric, the US – which for years maintained an uneasy business relationship with Venezuela, formerly South America’s wealthiest economy – has severed the country’s last tenuous ties to the global financial system…

“The message is that the US doesn’t want its financial system enabling the Venezuelan government in any way,” says Charles Blitzer, of Blitzer Consulting, who is a former International Monetary Fund official.  

…And with the Crystallex ruling compounding the country’s troubles, its government is being set up for a “slow burn” leading ultimately to financial insolvency as creditors root out and seize whatever foreign assets they can find.

“Crystallex is the camel’s toe under the tent,” says Mark Weidemaier, a law professor at the University of North Carolina. “It will be a slow burn, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see people use the courts to ferret out where Venezuela’s assets are . . . and break down the barriers between the government, PDVSA and other entities.”

Typically, in a sovereign bankruptcy, creditors negotiate some kind of debt relief and trade their old, defaulted bonds for less valuable new ones. However, US sanctions may preclude this as an option for Venezuela, as the FT explains.

“…such a debt exchange would fall foul of the US sanctions regime, precluding any US banks from arranging one and any US bondholders from tendering their debts. In practice, it would mean indefinite financial purgatory for Venezuela until the US administration decides to lift the prohibition.

 

“If these sanctions stay in place, then Venezuela cannot restructure and it goes into limbo,” says Edward Al-Hussainy, a senior analyst at Columbia Threadneedle."

Since Venezuela’s economic crisis began four years ago, imports have fallen precipitously, leading to dire shortages of essentials like medicine and foodstuffs as the country's currency depreciated to the point of worthlessness. Unless the country can find some way to circumvent the sanctions, it will be forced to decide between countenancing further import declines, or a disorderly default.

According to Torino Capital, a Latin American-focused investment bank, Venezuela could choose the latter.

“Torino Capital…argued that this might counter-intuitively make a restructuring less likely. ‘It is possible that, faced with this choice, Venezuelan authorities end up deciding that the negative effects of a disorderly default on PDVSA’s capacity to generate export revenue are worse than the contractionary effects of further import cuts,’ the bank wrote in a note to clients.”

To be sure, a default could still be years away. And investors, for one, aren’t worried. The country’s debt has been largely unperturbed by the recent developments: PDVSA bonds have largely traded sideways, despite the recent developments.

“In the near term the impact will probably be minimal. Given Venezuela’s messy finances, the country is in practice already shut out of the international bond market. And while Crystallex won a legal skirmish, it is far from winning the war. It is unclear how much money Venezuela holds at BNYM and it may still be protected by sovereign immunity. Underscoring the investor view that little has changed, Venezuela and PDVA’s bonds have largely traded sideways.”

Still, a default, whenever it arrives, could signal the last gasp of the country’s embattled government. The country's foreign reserves have already fallen below $10 billion (though they received a boost following the Goldman deal…).

“If they default, they will be out of government within three months,” says Federico Kaune, head of emerging market debt at UBS Asset Management. “The calculation is that they’re either in government, in exile or jail.”

With the fate of the Maduro regime hanging in the balance, we imagine Washington will do everything in its power to force Venezuela into bankruptcy, allowing the US to claim victory over yet another foreign adversary.
 

Arkema Texas Plant Explodes, “Black Smoke Fills The Air”

You can’t say they didn’t warn us: this afternoon, the VP of US manufacturing Daryl Roberts at French chemicals giant Arkema, said the company was on “high alert” as more fires could start at the doomed facility at any moment. Well, that moment took place around 6pm ET, when ABC Houston reported that the doomed Arkema plant has exploded, causing a “massive” fire and “sending dark, black smoke into the air.”

According to reports on the ground, light winds are not pushing into areas around the plant, but there is concern the smoke could injure others.

The smoke could be seen in the residential Newport area of Crosby, about 7 miles away. Harris County officials are advising residents who did not evacuate the 1.5-mile area around the plant to close their windows and turn off their air conditioning systems.

“You could call this a warning sign that more explosions or fires could
be coming soon,” Jeff Carr, a spokesman for Arkema, told the Houston
Chronicle.

Hazardous materials crews are headed to the scene.

Rachel Moreno at the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office said that the explosion was a result of the product inside the trailers reaching its combustion state, which is causing the black smoke. She said that residents should be safe if they adhere to the one-and-a-half mile evacuation zone, and advised those who are near the site to shelter in place, close all their windows and turn off their air conditioning.

Moreno said no change was made to the evacuation zone.

This is the second of nine trailers at the plant that has caught fire. The trailers each contain liquid organic peroxides, which needs to be cooled to a certain temperature, otherwise it will explode. Officials said that three of the nine trailers have lost power, according to KPRC.

At least 18 people have been injured since the first fire earlier in the week. One of the injured complained of a burning sensation in the eyes and throat and was still feeling the effects, days later.

As reported this afternoon, the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office has ordered residents within a one-and-a-half mile radius to evacuate the area. In a conference call with reporters on Friday, Arkema President and CEO Rich Rowe said he fully expects the remaining trailers to catch fire, adding the best course of action would be to let the trailers “burn out.”

“The only recourse is to let the eight containers burn out,” Rowe said, according to ABC News. “It’s 500,000 pounds of material; let that material burn out.”

As reported previously, plant officials said they expected the explosion and fire as chemicals began to heat up after the plant lost power during this week’s flood. There are nine containers with 500,000 pounds of material inside. One of the containers already burned.

Earlier this week, officials evacuated workers and residents within a 1.5-mile radius from the plant after flooding which the company says could lead to a massive fire or explosion. On Thursday morning, members of the media were not let within a 2-mile perimeter of the plant as authorities investigated the incident, while nearby residents were briefly advised to shelter-in-place.

The plant makes organic peroxides, some that need to be constantly refrigerated. When they aren’t, they become volatile.

Friday’s fire was the second fire and explosion after a much smaller one erupted Monday.

The plant’s record with state and federal regulators isn’t stellar either, something the plant’s president acknowledged in a phone conference Friday. “We’re not perfect,” said Arkema CEO Richard Rennard. “We’re doing our very best and and will continue to work to get better.”

While the company has refused to give the full breakdown of chemicals stored on location, it has warned that it has around 500,000 pounds of peroxides on the site, all of which are expected to burn.

The company also published a list of the toxic chemicals stored at the doomed facility on its web site, reposted below.

  • 2-ETHYLHEXANOYL CHLORIDE DISTILLED
  • ACETIC ACID 84%
  • ACETONE
  • AROMATIC 100
  • BENZOYL CHLORIDE
  • CAUSTIC POTASH 45%
  • CAUSTIC SODA 50%
  • CUMENE HYDROPEROXIDE
  • CUMENE HYDROPEROXIDE
  • DIMETHYL HEXADIENE
  • DIMETHYL HEXANEDIOL DH-S
  • EPSOM SALTS
  • HEXANE
  • HYDROGEN PEROXIDE 70%
  • ISOAMYLENE
  • ISOAMYLENE
  • ISOBUTYLENE     ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL
  • MINERAL OIL, WHITE
  • MINERAL SPIRITS ODORLESS
  • MONOSODIUM PHOSPHATE
  • NEODECANOYL CHLORIDE >=98.0% UNDISTILLED
  • PIVALOYL CHLORIDE 95-100%
  • PROPYLENE GLYCOL
  • SODIUM BICARBONATE
  • SODIUM CARBONATE ANHYDROUS LIGHT
  • SODIUM SULFATE ANHYDROUS
  • SODIUM SULFITE ANHYDROUS
  • SULFUR DIOXIDE
  • SULFURIC ACID 93% REAGENT ACS
  • T-BUTYL HYDROPEROXIDE 70%

All of these substances are now expected to burn down, many in volatile, explosive fashion, in the coming days.