“Jailed Instagram model wants to trade secrets for freedom”

For the Associated Press, any excuse to smear President Trump is a good one. Thus this story, which no doubt will appear in hundreds of newspapers tomorrow. I assume this “news” story wasn’t intended as a joke, but it definitely contains humorous elements:

A Belarusian woman jailed in Thailand for offering sex lessons without a work permit…

“Offering sex lessons without a work permit”? Several jokes come to mind, but I will keep them to myself.

…says she has a story to tell involving the Kremlin, Russian billionaires and even the president of the United States.

The whole point of the story, of course, is to associate our president with “the Kremlin” and “Russian billionaires,” no matter how flimsy the grounds may be.

Anastasia Vashukevich, whose extraordinary claims and racy selfies have propelled her to internet fame in recent weeks, told The Associated Press from a police van Wednesday that she fears for her life…

So the AP interviewed Ms. Vashukevich (and, as we later learn, a colleague of sorts) while they were in a police van. I’m guessing the AP didn’t have a reporter on board the van, and this was a telephone call. I’m also guessing the call was placed by Ms. Vashukevich, who was understandably anxious to escape the clutches of the Thai police.

…and wants to exchange information on alleged Russian ties to Donald Trump’s campaign for her own personal safety.

I’ll bet she does! How do you suppose she knew that the AP is in the market for anything that might tie the president to Russians, no matter how spurious?

But she refused for now to offer any such evidence, and it’s not clear if she has any.

Oh, I think it’s pretty clear. But the AP is on a mission. What follows is truly reprehensible:

Vashukevich’s story offers a glimpse into the shady world of Russian oligarchs. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, also had ties to that world through his consulting work for one of those oligarchs. Manafort has been indicted on money-laundering charges related to his overseas consulting work by special counsel Robert Mueller.

There is no excuse for dragging Manafort into this “news” story. He has nothing to do with Ms. Vashukevich. The word “oligarch” is enough, by the AP’s low standards, for a drive-by smear.

Russians have focused on the ties between Deripaska and Prikhodko. But now Vashukevich says — so far without proof — that she can link the Kremlin to Trump and Manafort, who worked for Deripaska a decade before Trump hired him.

Even Navalny told the AP on Wednesday he has “certain doubts” that Vashukevich has any evidence about alleged direct ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

“I think such statements are made because of fears for her own life because they have been detained in Thailand,” he said, adding he believes her fears are well-founded.

Navalny’s report made no claim that Vashukevich knew anything about a Russian campaign to influence the U.S. election, and she has produced no evidence that she does.

In other words, the AP is telling us that there is no story here. So why are they reporting on something that isn’t news?

The rest of the AP article is mostly low comedy.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for [Robert] Mueller, declined to comment Wednesday.

I’ll bet he did!

On Sunday, Vashukevich was arrested along with nine other people, including Kirillov, in the Thai resort of Pattaya while giving sex lessons to Russian tourists. Immigration Police Maj. Satawat Srirattanapong said the 10 were charged with working without a permit, and one with having an expired visa.

Vashukevich had earlier posted a video on Instagram, also apparently made while in custody in Pattaya, addressed to “Dear American media.”

“I didn’t want to tell you about many things. Now they’re trying to lock us up,” she said. “But now I’m ready to put together all the pieces of the puzzle that you have been missing, and back it up with audio and video regarding the ties of our esteemed lawmakers with Manafort, Trump and all this buzz around the U.S. election. I know a lot.”

I know a lot, too. I know that she wants to get out of jail and, not surprisingly in view of her profession, knows a sucker when she sees one. Like an AP reporter.

Kirillov, the “sex guru” known in Russia for staging high-profile sexual happenings that usually involve sending scantily clad women out in public, told AP from the police van that the Russian government was behind their arrests.

“Political reasons. We know so much. So that’s why they want us to go to Russia,” he said. “We think that in a few days, maybe even today, they will send us to Russia, very fast, and I think you will lose us, and never see us more.”

Am I the only one who finds the image of these two feeding an AP reporter a line from on board a police van hilarious? Eventually, the AP tells us what led to the police van inmates’ arrests:

They were arrested in a hotel meeting room in Pattaya, a seaside resort noted for its sex industry and popularity with Russian visitors. The lessons were attended by about 40 Russian tourists, many wearing T-shirts bearing the English words “Sex animator” with an arrow pointing to the wearer’s crotch. Thai news media cited police as saying that the meeting was raided because hotel staff reported hearing strange sounds.

No surprise there. The AP’s exercise in absurdity concludes with a paragraph that is actually true:

“I don’t know what to think,” Navalny told the AP. “Shows like ‘Homeland’ begin to look entirely realistic when you look at what is happening in Russia now. We thought the scriptwriters made the most impossible things up, but in Russia the most absurd things are possible.”

That’s been true for a long time. But the absurdities recorded by the AP have nothing to do with President Trump, and the AP’s effort to smear him with the antics of these people is–to put it in the mildest possible way–terrible journalism.

UPDATE: The AP has photos of Ms. Vashukevich inside the police van, and walking next to it. They are credited to Gemunu Amarasinghe, who I take to be an AP stringer. So maybe the AP did have a “reporter” of sorts in or near the van, which only makes the story stranger.

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