Tales of Plea Deals: Part 4 – Maria Butina

On Thursday, December 13, 2018, 30-year-old Russian national and alleged spy Maria Butina admitted in federal court that she made contacts with the NRA and top Republican officials in an attempt to secretly influence US politics at Russia’s behest. A so-called “gun rights activist,” she pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent as part of a cooperation agreement with prosecutors. In addition, she admitted to acting under the direction of Alexander Torshin, another Russian fixture and gun rights supporter. She also worked with another individual to infiltrate conservative circles, who’s identified in documents as ”US Person 1” and is believed to be Paul Erickson, a longtime GOP operative with NRA connections. Also, he and Butina dated and lived together. The case against Maria Butina is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Yet, her activities fit into a broader Russian effort to influence US politics.

Allegedly from Siberia, Maria Butina claimed she moved to Moscow in 2010 in hopes of starting a furniture business and then an advertising agency once she realized the former venture was too expensive. Though the exact sequence of events is unclear, we know that 2 things happened soon afterward. First, Butina founded a Russian gun rights group called Right to Bear Arms though that may have been a front. Since Russia is known to have very strict gun laws, anyway. Second, she began working as Alexander Torshin’s special assistant. Citing a shared interest in gun rights, the two were introduced to top NRA officials, began regularly attending NRA conventions in the United States, and became NRA “life members.” They also began to reciprocate with their own invitations to NRA bigwigs to visit Moscow for Right to Bear Arms events. The first of which took place on November 2013 and featured “a concealed carry fashion show.” It is there she met GOP operative Paul Erickson whom she got very close to at some point. Eventually, they dated and lived together. By 2015, the were close enough for Butina to email Erickson her proposed plan to influence American politics.

So what was this plan to influence US politics? The Justice Department claims that around March 24, 2015, Maria Butina emailed Paul Erickson a proposal project called “Diplomacy” apparently looking for his input. The email itself had the subject line “The Second Pozner.” An FBI agent’s affidavit suggests this refers to “Vladimir Pozner, a propagandist who served in the disinformation department of the Soviet KGB and who often appeared on Western television.” The project proposal makes several assertions:

  • Republicans will likely win control of the US government in the 2016 elections.
  • The GOP is “traditionally associated with negative and aggressive foreign policy” toward Russia. But now can be a good time to improve relations.
  • The NRA has a “central place and influence” in the Republican Party since it helps fund political candidates and sponsors events.
  • Butina and Torshin already have NRA ties to the NRA’s leadership and she’s visited the US once.
  • Therefore, Butina requested a $125,000 budget so she could participate in “all upcoming major conferences” related to the Republican Party before the 2016 elections.

Now you’d think Paul Erickson would get suspicious here. But he soon wrote back to Maria Butina with advice on her “special project,” including a list of potential media, business, and political contacts she could meet with “off the record.” He wrote, “If you were to sit down with your special friends and make a list of ALL the most important contacts you could find in America for a time when the political situation between the U.S. and Russia will change, you could NOT do better than the list that I just emailed you. All that is needed is for your friends to provide you with the financial resources to spend the time in America to TAKE ALL OF THESE MEETINGS.”

So what we have here is a plan to influence the Republican Party to be friendlier with Russia, based on the perceptive and accurate insight that the GOP is extremely beholden to the NRA, which is why it’s almost impossible. Keep in mind this was months before Donald Trump entered the presidential race, and when most believed the Republican Party would choose a more hawkish and traditional nominee. As for who was ultimately behind it? A more recent government filing mentions that Maria Butina refers to a particular “funder” who has “deep ties to the Russian Presidential Administration.” This isn’t Alexander Torshin but an unidentified Russian oligarch with a $1.2 billion net worth.

But even before Maria Butina wrote this plan, she had made some inroads in conservative activist circles. In 2013, she got Trump future National Security Adviser John Bolton to record a video message on gun rights for her group. In 2014 the conservative TownHall website ran an interview with her under the headline, “Meet the woman working with the NRA and fighting for gun rights in Russia.”

Yet, when Republican presidential candidates began traveling the country to campaign in 2015, Maria Butina, too, started popping up at events and even posed for photos with candidates like Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, and Bobby Jindal. Soon after Donald Trump entered the race and skyrocketed to the top of the polls, Butina attended an event with him, too. This was the Freedom Fest at Las Vegas in July 2015. In fact, Trump called on her to answer a question. Saying she was from Russia, Butina asked, “If you would be elected as the president, what would be your foreign politics, especially in the relationships with my country? And do you want to continue the policy of sanctions that are damaging to both economies, or do you have other ideas?” Trump answered by talking about how “the whole world hates us” under Obama, and then said, “I know Putin, and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think that we would get along very, very well. I really believe that.”

In their book, Russian Roulette, Michael Isikoff and David Corn reported that Donald Trump’s own advisers would look back on the exchange and find it strange:

“Steve Bannon raised it with RNC chair Reince Priebus. How was it that this Russian woman happened to be in Las Vegas for that event? And how was it that Trump happened to call on her? And Trump’s response? It was odd, Bannon thought, that Trump had a fully developed answer.

“Priebus agreed there was something strange about Butina. Whenever there were events held by conservative groups, she was always around, he told Bannon.”

Maria Butina’s work continued in late 2015 and early 2016, as she went back and forth between the US and Russia:

  • She talked with Alexander Torshin about his plans to meet California Representative Dana Rohrbacher, the most pro-Russian member of Congress in Russia in August 2015.
  • In December 2015, Butina’s group helped pay for another NRA bigwig trip to Moscow. The delegation included Paul Erickson, former NRA president David Keene, then-Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke, and top NRA donors.
  • She and Torshin attended the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2016.
  • She and Erickson incorporated a shell company Bridges LLC, in South Dakota that same month, for unclear reasons.
  • She and Erickson also began planning a series of “friendship and dialogue dinners” with various American political players in Washington DC and New York.

However, around March 2016, references about a communications channel between the Russian government and the Republican Party began to pop up. By this point, the first round of primaries have already taken place and Donald Trump was the clear favorite to win the nomination. That month, Butina emailed an American that “Putin’s side” had given them a “yes.” She wrote that a “representative of the Russian Presidential administration” had given approval for “building this communication channel,” according to the FBI agent’s affidavit.

In May 2016, Paul Erickson sent an email to Trump campaign (and Jeff Sessions) staffer Rick Dearborn, with the subject “Kremlin connection.” He wrote: “Happenstance and the (sometimes) international reach of the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin. The Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true reset in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House.” He said that Vladimir Putin is “deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” and wanted Trump to visit Moscow before the election. So, he said, the NRA’s convention in Louisville, Kentucky, would be a good place for “first contact” because “President Putin’s emissary on this front” would be there. Another conservative activist Richard Clay sent a similar email to Dearborn soon afterward, and specified that Alexander Torshin as the emissary. The email was reportedly forwarded to Jared Kushner who wrote back that they shouldn’t accept, which is ironic since he attended the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort.

Later that month when the NRA held its convention in Louisville, Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin attended yet met Donald Trump Jr. at the dinner. According to Trump Jr.’s lawyer, they only made “gun-related small talk.” Two weeks later, Trump Jr. received an email offer of information that would incriminate Hillary Clinton as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Though there’s no clear indication that the 2 incidents are connected.

As the 2016 election drew nearer, Maria Butina moved to the United States on a student visa in order to receive a graduate degree from American University. At some point, she began living with Paul Erickson who’s twice her age. Yet, a government filing claims that she “appears to treat” this relationship “as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.” In other words, Butina was simply just using Erickson for her work with the Russians. But given how Erickson is twice her age and resembles Dilbert’s boss, you probably knew already. In October 2016, Erickson emailed an acquaintance that he’d help secure “a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [Republican] leaders through, of all conduits, the [NRA].” But Donald Trump’s prospects looked grim that month since he was down and the polls while Hillary Clinton was generally believed to win. On October 5, Butina and Alexander Torshin exchanged the following direct messages, according to the FBI agent’s affidavit:

Butina: “Time will tell. We made our bet. I am following our game.” …

Torshin: “This is hard to teach. Patience and cold blood + faith in yourself. And everything will definitely turn out” …

Butina: “Yesterday’s dinner showed that American society is broken in relation to Russia. This is now the dividing line of opinions, the crucial one in the election race. [Republicans] are for us, [Democrats] against — 50/50. Our move here is very important.”

A week later, they exchanged more messages with Maria Butina writing, “Important things are ahead of us. Right now everything has to be quiet and careful.”

Unfortunately, we all know that Donald Trump won the 2016 election. After the race was called, Maria Butina wrote to Alexander Torshin, “I’m going to sleep. It’s 3 am here. I am ready for further orders.” 4 days later, Butina hosted a costume party for her birthday at a Washington restaurant. She dressed as the Russian empress Alexandra while Erickson came as Rasputin. There, Butina “brazenly claimed that she had been part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia,” according to 2 witnesses who talked to The Daily Beast.

Paul Erickson worked his GOP connections to influence Donald Trump’s transition team and the new administration’s staffing. Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin discussed who might be appointed secretary of state, with Butina asking about how “our people” felt about one name. She and Paul Erickson attended one of the inaugural balls together, and hosted guests at the Dupont Circle restaurant Russia House. Meanwhile, Butina planned another visit by Torshin and other Russians for the National Prayer Breakfast, set to be held shortly after Trump was sworn in “to establish a back channel communication,” as she emailed Erickson. She then set up a meeting between Trump and the Russians on the morning of the prayer breakfast, February 2, 2017. But at the last minute, the administration officially flagged Torshin’s name on the attendees list due to his suspected ties to organized crime. So the meeting didn’t happen.

After that, there’s been less published in reports and government filings about what Maria Butina has been up to. She allegedly asked a DC civil rights group about its cyber vulnerabilities for a supposed school project, according to the Washington Post. She dined with a Russian diplomat who the government suspects is an intelligence officer. At some point, the government obtained a note mentioning, “Maria’s ‘Russian Patriots In-Waiting’ Organization” and an “FSB offer of employment.” In April 2018, she testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee while she received her master’s degree in May. Then in July 2018, Butina and Paul Erickson ended their DC lease and began preparing for a trip. That is, until the FBI swooped in and arrested Butina. Since the bureau had its eyes on her since she moved to the US two years ago. But this arrest was rushed out of fear she’d leave the country and slip away from them.

Maria Butina initially pleaded not guilty to the charges against her, which at the time included as acting as an agent to a foreign government and conspiring to do so. However, that December, Butina pled guilty to the lesser charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent. She still faces a maximum of 5 years in prison, though she’s unlikely to be sentenced to that amount given her deal with prosecutors. Nonetheless, by pleading guilty, Butina admitted that she tried to “establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence in US politics.” She sought those “unofficial lines” of communication for the “benefit of the Russian Federation,” acting through a Russian official.

Through it all, Maria Butina communicated regularly with the Russian official believed as Alexander Torshin, reporting to him about her efforts and observations. Though the two met Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA dinner. In Russia, Torshin is a major figure in its politics, serving in its parliament’s upper house for years. Since 2015, he’s been a deputy director at the central Russian bank. Torshin is also a gun enthusiast and longtime supporter of gun rights. Nonetheless, Spanish authorities have linked Torshin to money laundering and a Russian organized crime syndicate called the Taganskaya. In fact, they planned to arrest him when he was scheduled to fly into the Mallorca airport in 2013, but he didn’t show up. While the FBI is investigating whether he “illegally funneled money” into the NRA that was then spent to help Trump win. If true, this would be a major scandal implicating the NRA. But the group denies it. And this year, the US Treasury Department put Torshin on a list of sanctioned Russian officials and oligarchs.

Maria Butina also sought advice and helped plan events with the person believed as Paul Erickson, whose role in this and potential legal exposure, is still unclear. Erickson has a colorful history. He’s worked for conservative activist Richard Viguerie, for Pat Buchanan’s 1992 campaign, for Lorena Bobbit’s husband/victim, and for Zairean dictator Mobuto Sese Seko. More recently, he’s been on the American Conservative Union’s board and has close ties to NRA leadership since he fundraised for them. A Forbes columnist called him, “a sort of ‘secret master of the political universe’ known almost exclusively to the cognoscenti.”

Nonetheless, the exact nature and breadth on what’s being investigated on Maria Butina remains vague, making it unclear on how much legal jeopardy Donald Trump’s camp and the NRA is in. If the NRA really was tricked by a Russian spy, the whole group can be victim in all of this. Yet, a series of McClatchy reports dating from January, asserting that the FBI is investigating the NRA’s finances and specifically when Alexander Torshin “illegally funneled money” to the group “to help Donald Trump win the presidency.” Anyway, the NRA isn’t legally obligated to publicly reveal its donors and doesn’t do so. But we know it spent tens of millions of dollars in the 2016 to get Trump elected. Oregon US Senator Ron Wyden’s aide told McClatchy that the NRA had dodged questions on whether it accepted money from shell companies that could’ve been routed to the Russians.

As for Donald Trump’s associates, well, the government filings on Maria Butina are conspicuously light on references to her outreach to Trump’s team despite it being widely reported in the media. However, in May 2018, a Spanish organized crime prosecutor said that his government had given wiretaps on Alexander Torshin’s conversations to the FBI “just a few months ago” before adding, “Mr. Trump’s son should be concerned.”

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Tales of Plea Deals: Part 3 – Michael Flynn

On Tuesday, December 4, 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller dropped a highly anticipated sentencing memo for former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last year. Now the memo has large sections redacted since they described Flynn’s assistance with still ongoing investigations. But that still leaves a lot of text between the lines, amounting to 4 key findings.

First, Robert Mueller thinks Michael Flynn is doing such a good job cooperating with the investigation, that he’s happy to recommend Flynn serve no prison time. In fact, the special counsel praises Flynn’s input as “substantial,” writing that a “sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration” for him would be “appropriate and warranted.” Mueller continues, “His early cooperation was particularly valuable “because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events and issues under investigation by the SCO” (special counsel’s office). He then adds that Flynn’s decision to cooperate “likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate”— and redacts the sentence that follows. As for the specifics on Flynn’s cooperation, Mueller writes that the former National Security Adviser has “participated in 19 interviews” with either the special counsel’s office or other Justice Department office lawyers, as well as provided “documents and communications.” This stands contrast to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort who lied to federal investigators and gave the Trump White House advice on how to attack the Feds. You can guess Mueller’s sentencing memo on him will not be kind at all. And former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos who Mueller’s team claimed didn’t provide “substantial assistance” and complained that he talked to the press.

Second, Michael Flynn is currently cooperating with 3 different investigations, including Robert Mueller’s probe into Donald Trump’s campaign ties to Russia, a separate criminal investigation, and a third probe of some kind. But most of the other investigations’ details are redacted. And we don’t even know what type of investigation the third one is. For the criminal investigation, Mueller wrote that Flynn “provided substantial assistance.” But how? Well, figure that out yourself since the special counsel has redacted the 3-paragraph section explaining how. The third investigation just consists of a brief paragraph that’s all blacked out.

Third, Michael Flynn’s cooperation with Robert Mueller’s investigation apparently breaks down into 2 main areas. One focuses on contacts between Donald Trump’s transition team and Russia. As for the other area, well, we don’t know about that yet. Though the former section is heavily redacted, it’s not entirely. According to Mueller, Flynn helped his investigation “on a range of issues, including interactions between individuals in the Presidential Transition Team and Russia.” Anyway, Mueller starts off with the conduct to which Flynn pleaded guilty to like his own interactions with then-Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak about sanctions and a United Nations Security Council vote on Israeli settlement policy. In addition, the memo also mentioned that other transition team members “publicly repeated false information conveyed to them” by Flynn about his Kislyak contacts. This apparently refers to 2 people: Sean Spicer and then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence. At the time, both publicly claimed that Flynn and Kislyak didn’t discuss sanctions. But this section on the transition contacts ends with a few more redacted lines. We don’t know what they say. But one obvious question has long been just what Donald Trump new about Flynn’s Kislyak contacts and the false information Flynn gave to Spicer and Pence. Flynn could clearly explain this to Mueller. A second section appears to follow, signifying a subject change, but it’s redacted. Mueller begins that Flynn “also provided useful information concerning” ….. whatever, but we can only speculate.

Finally, the many redactions indicate that there’s still a lot going on behind the scenes that Robert Mueller doesn’t want the public to know about yet. Although there’s a round of reports and rumors that Mueller is ready to wrap up his investigation, the Flynn sentencing memo makes it clear that he’s not ready to show us all his cards just yet. Not only did Mueller’s team redact significant parts of the Trump-Russia section, but also entire sections on 2 other separate investigations. These redactions remind us of how little we know about what’s going on behind the scenes at the Justice Department and how much remains unsolved, or so it seems.

Nonetheless, though Robert Mueller gave a favorable assessment on Michael Flynn, the relationship isn’t a harmonious one. On Tuesday, December 11, 2018, Flynn submitted a filing containing details that seemingly implied how the FBI improperly questioned him over his contacts with Sergei Kislyak. The filing mentioned that agents hadn’t warned him that lying to the FBI was a crime and that then-FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe suggested that the questioning could be done more quickly if Flynn didn’t have a lawyer present. But that Friday, Mueller’s team fired back arguing that Flynn’s lies were premeditated and that he now attempted to “minimize the seriousness” of his crime. The special counsel emphasized that in lying to the FBI, Flynn had stuck to a false story he told others for weeks. Besides, Mueller wrote that Flynn would have to be idiot not to know that lying to the FBI was a crime (though he puts it more eloquently).

Some conservative media outlets have gone even further, suggesting that perhaps Michael Flynn didn’t really lie to the FBI, perhaps “misremembered” according to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. But considering the timeline of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak, this doesn’t make sense. Moreover, Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI under oath.

When the FBI questioned Michael Flynn on January 24, 2017, Flynn repeated his false story about his Kislyak contacts. He claimed he hadn’t urged Russia not to retaliate on sanctions (he did) and that he didn’t remember Kislyak calling him back to assure that Russia honored his request not to lash out. He also lied about a UN Security Council vote on Israeli settlements policy. Since he admitted to this under sworn testimony as part of a plea deal, Flynn doesn’t dispute this.

But in their sentencing memo, Michael Flynn’s lawyers seemed to make certain innuendos about the FBI’s behavior in setting up and conducting the interview. They called these “additional facts” that they deemed “relevant to the Court’s consideration”:

  • Then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe called Michael Flynn to tell him that the FBI wanted to interview him about his Kislyak contacts and had asked not to bring a lawyer because it would slow the process. Flynn agreed. (What?)
  • Peter Strzok and another agent showed up to interview Michael Flynn. Beforehand, the agents decided they wouldn’t warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie to the FBI. (Considering the career he’s had in military and the federal government, Flynn should’ve obviously known that lying to the FBI is a crime.)
  • Peter Strzok and the other agent also decided not to confront Michael Flynn if he lied. Instead, they’d try to refresh his memory by using “the exact words Flynn said” during his calls with Kislyak. (Was the FBI wiretapping Flynn’s calls to Russia? Seriously, Flynn had deliberately lied to the FBI and had made up his story at least 2 weeks in advance.)
  • One agent later said that Michael Flynn seemed “unguarded” during the interview, and that he appeared to see the agents as “allies.” (There is no way Flynn was unguarded for he had repeated his false story on more than one occasion. Besides, there’s no way he saw the FBI agents as allies.)

This memo is meant to obviously imply that Michael Flynn was railroaded, his interview was unfair, and that Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe were in on the fix. Keep in mind that Strzok and McCabe have been subjected to frequent conservative attacks and have both been since fired from the FBI. The Wall Street Journal editorial page soon wrote about “The Flynn Entrapment” portraying him as a “tragic” Mueller target. Furthermore, the publication claimed it wasn’t “believable” that “a highly decorated officer would lie to FBI officers he agreed to see without counsel.” Instead, the Journal claimed that perhaps Flynn simply “misremembered.” But whatever happened, the FBI’s behavior “reeks of entrapment.”

However, this hypothesis that Michael Flynn “misremembered” makes absolutely no sense. In fact, Flynn started lying about his Kislyak contacts 2 weeks before the FBI interviewed him, and 2 weeks after the contacts themselves. Furthermore, Robert Mueller’s team made this a point in their filing, arguing that Flynn’s “decision to make false statements was voluntary and intentional.” They also emphasized that Andrew McCabe told Flynn exactly what he’d be questioned about before the FBI agents went over. Finally, they write:

“A sitting National Security Advisor, former head of an intelligence agency, retired Lieutenant General, and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents. He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents to know the importance of telling them the truth. The defendant undoubtedly was aware, in light of his “many years” working with the FBI, that lying to the FBI carries serious consequences…

“The defendant agreed to meet with the FBI agents, without counsel, and answer their questions. His obligation to provide truthful information came with that agreement; it did not turn on the presence of counsel.”

Other conservative critics have mentioned that the FBI agents who interviewed Michael Flynn didn’t originally leave with the impression that he outright lied to them. Some have questioned whether Flynn lied at all. Though they acknowledge that Flynn admitted to making false statements to the FBI as part of his plea. But they think Robert Mueller strong-armed him into making that admission.

Indeed, the document describing Peter Strzok’s account of Michael Flynn’s interview, states that he had a “sure” demeanor that he “did not give any indicators of deception,” and that both agents had “the impression” that Flynn “was not lying or did not think he was lying.” But we remember that just because it may not seem that someone’s lying doesn’t mean they’re telling the truth. Though the document poses the question of how and why the government changed its mind. Or why the agents who interviewed him found Flynn’s denials at least plausible. Nonetheless, we don’t know what happened next because much of the document is redacted.

In any case, Robert Mueller’s team claims that the 2 agents were “misled by the defendant’s false denials” like Trump’s transition team members (Mike Pence, Sean Spicer, and Reince Priebus) were. So they write, “Those misimpressions do not change the fact,” that Flynn “was indeed lying, and knowingly made false statements to FBI agents in a national security investigation.” They remind that Flynn has already admitted making these false statements ”in sworn testimony” to the court. Furthermore, we shouldn’t forget about Flynn’s work with the Turkish government during the 2016 presidential campaign in which he received $530,000 for it from a Dutch shell company. Oh, and he extensively praised the Turkish government in an op-ed for The Hill. So the FBI interview wasn’t the first time Flynn had been deceptive about his foreign government contacts. Since such deception isn’t that unusual for him. Anyway, Flynn’s sentencing hearing didn’t go well so it’s been delayed as of December 2018.

Tales of Plea Deals: Part 2 – Michael Cohen

Meanwhile on Thursday, November 29, 2018, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen entered another guilty plea for lying to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. First, Cohen told Congress that negotiations to build the tower ceased in January 2016 and wasn’t extensively discussed with others in the Trump Organization. But he now admits these talks continued into to at least June 2016, well into the presidential campaign and after Donald Trump became the Republican Party’s nominee. He also admitted to speaking with Trump about the project more than 3 times. Second, Cohen said “never agreed” to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow project and “never considered” asking Trump to travel for it. In reality, he considered a Russia trip and taking Trump with him. He also asked a senior campaign official about the possibility of Trump going to Russia. Third, Cohen told Congress “did not recall any Russian government response or contact about the Moscow Project.” However, Russian officials did call back. In fact, around January 14, 2016, Cohen sent an email seeking help on the tower deal to Putin press secretary and trusted adviser, Dimitri Peskov. Later, Cohen and Peskov’s assistant had a 20-minute chat on the phone. There were also plans to give the building’s $50 million penthouse to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The news that Michael Cohen is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is significant but not exactly surprising. Since he’s been signaling that he’s planned to do so for months. While he’s already pleaded guilty to separate charges in August. The big surprise is that Mueller’s new charge against Cohen focuses so heavily on his lying to Congress about a project to build Trump Tower in Moscow. Now Donald Trump has wanted to build or at least put his own name on a luxury tower in Russia since 1987. His latest effort came in 2015, when he and Russia-born businessman Felix Sater worked their Russian contacts in attempts to make a deal happen. On October 28 of that year (the same day as the third GOP primary debate), Trump signed a letter of intent allowing Michael Cohen to negotiate the licensing deal with the Russians. Ultimately, the deal fell through and the project never broke ground. Trump Tower Moscow has been the focus of several news reports about the Russia scandal. But it hasn’t been mentioned in any of Mueller’s charges so far. Now Cohen has admitted to lying to conceal how serious the Trump Tower Moscow project was. In fact, it reveals that Trump’s business tried to work with the Russian government on a major real estate deal while he was running for president. In addition, Trump knew of it while hiding it from the public eye.

Specifically, Michael Cohen now admits that the Moscow Trump Tower project was still active late into the presidential campaign. And that he often briefed Donald Trump and the Trump family about it. For the first time, Cohen revealed he had a detailed phone conversation with an assistant for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, in which he asked the Russian government’s help moving the project forward. He tried to conceal all this from Congress. Not that revealing it would’ve mattered since the whole Congressional investigation into the Russia and the Trump campaign was a sham since it was headed by a member of Trump’s transition team. Nonetheless, whether there’s more to the story isn’t yet clear. While the Cohen plea deal reveals new information, it raises more questions whether more charges will come on Trump Tower Moscow and whether Cohen will provide damaging information on other matters as well.

Nevertheless, Michael Cohen’s plea deal for lying to Congress doesn’t just indicate that he lied about the Trump Organization’s attempt to get a real estate project off the ground in Russia. It also shows that the Kremlin helped in the cover-up. In August 2017, Dimitri Peskov confirmed ton receiving an email from Cohen in January 2016. Cohen’s email asked for help with a development project in Russia. Peskov denied responding to Cohen’s query, saying “This email said that a certain Russian company together with certain individuals is pursuing the goal of building a skyscraper in the ‘Moscow City’ district, but things aren’t going well and they asked for help with some advice on moving this project forward. But since, I repeat again, we do not react to such business topics — this is not our work — we left it unanswered.” At the time, Peskov’s account seemed to match Cohen’s. After all, Cohen told CNN his message to Pesokv was “an email that went unanswered that was solely regarding a real estate deal and nothing more.” He told the same story to Congress during his sworn testimony.

But according to a new plea agreement Michael Cohen agreed to, it turns out that Cohen and Dimitri Peskov lied. In reality, Cohen received an email from Peskov’s personal assistant, which led to a string of phone calls. But as Donald Trump’s Russian contacts came under increased scrutiny, Cohen and the Kremlin decided to lie about it, pretending they never successfully connected. Nonetheless, this episode illustrates one way the Kremlin has blackmail material on Donald Trump. Lying to Congress is a criminal offense. While the Kremlin knew for over a year that what Trump’s lawyer and personal fixer told Congress wasn’t true. Cohen also knew that Russia knew this and could’ve exposed lies if it wanted to. Still, we’re not sure why the Russian government covered up this lie.

Michael Cohen has also implicated Donald Trump directly in the campaign finance violations he pleaded guilty to back in August. As New York prosecutors’ documents reveal, “Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump. Recently, Cohen’s lawyers told the judge his case that much of the former fixer’s misconduct stemmed from a “fierce loyalty” to his boss. Since August, Cohen sat for several interviews for Robert Mueller.

However, according to sentencing memos Mueller and the Southern District of New York filed, Cohen wasn’t as initially cooperative or forthcoming as his legal team has led us to believe. According to Mueller, Cohen “repeated many of his prior false statements” about pursuing a Trump Tower in Moscow when he first met with the special counsel. It was only after Southern District of New York prosecutors charged him and made him face a prison sentence that Cohen decided to cooperate and admit that he previously lied to the special counsel. As Mueller writes, “Starting with his second meeting, the defendant has accepted responsibility not only for his false statements concerning the Moscow Project, but also his broader efforts through public statements and testimony before Congress to minimize his role in, and what he knew about, contacts between the Company and Russian interests during the course of the campaign.” From then onward, he went to “significant lengths to assist the Special Counsel’s investigation.” This included several meetings in the special counsel’s office, some of which were, “lengthy.”

In the meantime, New York prosecutors are unimpressed with Michael Cohen’s cooperation so far. They requested Judge William Pauley to “impose a substantial term of imprisonment” for Cohen, despite his previous requests for “extraordinary leniency.” Prosecutors claimed that “the crimes committed by Cohen were more serious than his submission allows and were marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” They characterized Cohen as motivated by greed and “a desire to build his own power.” Taken alone, the prosecutors concluded, “these are each serious crimes worthy of meaningful punishment. Taken together, these offenses reveal a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.” Robert Mueller’s team agreed so Cohen received a 3-year prison sentence. New York prosecutors were particularly pissed at Michael Cohen’s efforts to silence at least 2 women about their alleged affairs with Donald Trump just before the 2016 election. As they wrote, “Cohen’s commission of two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 election for President of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs” with Trump. “In the process,” they wrote, “Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the Election.”

But why would Robert Mueller trust Michael Cohen? After all, Cohen has a history of deception. Not to mention, he already lied to Mueller before. Yet, the special counsel writes that the former Trump attorney’s information, “has been credible and consistent with other evidence obtained in the SCO’s ongoing investigation.” He then added that Cohen “has taken care not to overstate his knowledge or the role of others in the conduct under investigation.” So he doesn’t think that Cohen is trying to throw anyone under the bus without any good reason. More specifically, Mueller claims that Cohen’s assistance has been “useful” about the following 4 subjects:

  • Cohen’s own contacts with “Russian interests” in the Trump campaign, including on Trump Tower Moscow.
  • “Certain discrete Russia-related matters” that are “core” to the Mueller investigation. Mueller is tantalizingly vague here, but he claims that Cohen knew about these things due to “his regular contact” with Trump Organization executives during the 2016 campaign.
  • His contacts with “persons connected to the White House” in 2017 and 2018. (This could be about Mueller’s investigation into obstruction of justice. But he remains vague.)
  • The “circumstances” around how Cohen prepared and circulated his “response to the congressional inquiries.” (This seems to refer to how Cohen made up his false story to Congress and who else was involved or at least knew about it.)

Thus, Michael Cohen talked about Russia, the Trump Organization, the Trump White House, and how he dealt with congressional Republican investigations. Robert Mueller found all of this “useful.” But we don’t know further details.

But now that Michael Cohen is cooperating with Robert Mueller, it’s not just Donald Trump who may currently be in legal danger. It’s also his family members whom Cohen admitted to briefing on the Trump Tower Moscow deal in 2016. According to Mueller, Cohen discussed the Moscow deal with Trump’s family members “within” the Trump Organization. Last year, Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was “peripherally aware” of the Moscow deal in 2016 (yeah right). Trump recently claimed that he was free to pursue business deals while running for president. But he never publicly disclosed the deal. While Cohen’s guilty plea shows how he lied in a written statement to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to conceal the Trump Organization’s ongoing involvement in in the Moscow project from January through June 2016, with the Trump campaign well underway.

The Moscow project wasn’t revealed until August 2017, when the New York Times obtained emails between Michael Cohen and Felix Sater. Sater had previously scooped up deals between 2005 and 2006. In the 2015 emails to Cohen, he boasted about his ties to Vladimir Putin and told the fixer that he could get “all of Putins team to buy in” on the Moscow deal. He wrote, “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.” Now that Robert Mueller’s sentencing memo is out, we know that Trump Tower Moscow could’ve made “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” for the Trump Organization. So this was a very serious project and a very big deal. And according to Mueller, Cohen also “explained financial aspects of the deal that would have made it highly lucrative for the Company and himself.” Not to mention, Donald Trump was very much involved with the deal while he was running for president.

Another interesting disclosure is that Donald Trump and Michael Cohen supposedly talked about meeting Vladimir Putin quite soon after the former started running for president. In September 2015, Cohen appeared on Sean Hannity’s radio show, claiming that “there’s a better than likely chance Trump may even meet with Putin when he comes here” for the UN General Assembly. Cohen later stated that this was a spontaneous idea he had. Except it wasn’t according to Robert Mueller’s memo. In fact, Cohen had discussed a Putin meeting with Trump beforehand. As Mueller writes, “He had in fact conferred with [Trump] about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting.” Thankfully, the UN meeting didn’t come to fruition.

Furthermore, Robert Mueller writes that Michael Cohen provided “information about attempts by other Russian nationals to reach the campaign.” Illustrating this, Mueller describes how “a Russian national” reached out to Cohen in November 2015, and claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation who can offer the Trump campaign, “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.” This person also kept proposing that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet, which could help the Trump Tower Moscow project greatly. According to Buzzfeed, this refers to former Olympic weightlifter Dmitry Klokov who was also in contact with Ivanka. According to Mueller, Cohen didn’t end up working through Klokov. Since he was already working on Trump Tower Moscow with “a different individual” who he thought had “his own connections to the Russian government.” Most likely that would be Felix Sater. Still, what Cohen has to reveal remains to be seen.

Tales of Plea Deals: Part 1 – Paul Manafort

On Monday, November 26, 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted a court filing accusing former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort of breaching their September plea agreement. According to Mueller’s team, “After signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters, which constitute breaches of the agreement.” Manafort was supposed to cooperate with the investigation as a plea deal condition. The special counsel didn’t provide specifics on what Manafort lied about or what evidence they have on it. But the fact the filing specifically mentioned lying among those crimes suggests that Mueller’s team will hit Manafort with more charges. Nonetheless, these lies concerned Manafort’s contacts with Trump administration officials, a suspected Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik, a separate Justice Department investigation, and a wire transfer. While most of the document is redacted, the report states, “A review of documents recovered from a search of Manafort’s electronic documents demonstrates additional contacts with Administration officials” well into 2018. Mueller doesn’t hint who.

After his trial conviction, Paul Manafort’s flip seemed like a major turning point in the Trump-Russia investigation. For a time, it seemed that Robert Mueller had a cooperator with close ties to Donald Trump and Russia. However, that cooperation didn’t pan out. Though Wired states that he did testify to a grand jury weeks before the plea deal fell apart. So Mueller’s team is using his testimony as part of a criminal case against someone else.

But is this worse news for Robert Mueller or Paul Manafort? On one hand, it’s possible Mueller badly needed Manafort’s testimony or other information to make a larger case. But now that possibility has gone up in flames. Yet, maybe Mueller didn’t need Manafort much after all. Since he might’ve got much of the information he wanted elsewhere.
On the other hand, considering the consequences Paul Manafort will face for breaching his plea deal, you have to wonder why he’d lie to investigators. Is he still banking on a presidential pardon from Donald Trump as his best chance of a Get Out of Jail Free Card? After all, Trump has refused to rule that out and even praised him after his conviction for his Ukranian shenanigans. However, keep in mind that just because Trump expects loyalty from his associates doesn’t mean he’ll reward it. This is especially if that person is in trouble and makes him look bad.

Nonetheless, on Friday December 14, 2018, Vox reported that Paul Manafort provided advice to Donald Trump and several senior White House officials on the FBI’s Russia investigation during the Trump administration’s earliest days. According to government records and interviews, Manafort gave guidance on how to undermine and discredit the FBI’s inquiry into whether Trump, his campaign aides, and his family members conspired with the Russian government and its intelligence services to covertly defeat Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. While the White House knew about him being under investigation. In addition, Manafort gave advice on how to discredit witnesses against him and Trump.

First, Paul Manafort advised Donald Trump and his allies to move aggressively and attack the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies investigating the Trump administration. The former campaign chairman wanted nothing less than to “declare a public relations war on the FBI,” according to one of Vox’s anonymous sources as well as “delegitimize” the investigation itself. He also wanted to discredit then-FBI director James Comey and other senior FBI officials since they had become increasingly likely witnesses against Trump. Trump did just that though it’s unclear what role Manafort’s advice played into his attacks. Because Trump isn’t a man who takes advice. Besides, other more influential advisers recommended him to do the same thing. Not to mention, Trump didn’t really need to hear any guidance from Manafort or anyone else.

Through an intermediary, Paul Manafort advised a senior Trump administration official to attack the Justice Department, the FBI, and Obama administration officials for seeking court-authorized FISA warrants to eavesdrop on him and campaign aide Carter Page, as part of investigations and criminal investigations into whether they or others conspired with Russia to help Donald Trump win the 2016 election. Know that FISA warrants are granted when the court is presented with sufficient evidence that the potential target may be acting on behalf of a foreign power and there’s a high legal threshold in obtaining it. The Foreign Intelligence Service Court allowed for an electronic surveillance on Manafort before, during, and after his role in the Trump campaign. Donald Trump then alleged that then-President Barack Obama authorized wiretapping him and his campaign aides as part of an “illegal” espionage scheme. These allegations have since become central to Trump’s attacks to the Justice Department, FBI, and the Mueller investigation. Though Trump and his allies haven’t produced any evidence to show that any of this is true.

As part of these efforts, Donald Trump and his Capitol Hill allies made publicly sensitive classified information that endangered intelligence sources’ lives and interfered with ongoing criminal investigations. In May 2018, the Justice Department wrote to then House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, warning him that information he was about to make public would, “risk severe consequences, including potential loss of human lives, damage to relationships with valued international partners, compromise of ongoing criminal investigations and interference with intelligence activities.” But Nunes released much of the information, anyway. While Trump ordered the declassification of other intelligence information that law enforcement and intelligence officials warned would do similar damage. Attacking the FISA warrants’ use didn’t affect the Manafort criminal case’s outcome. But by discrediting the FISA process and the federal investigation into him and other campaign aides, it’s politically more feasible for Trump to pardon him.

Second, for distraction and scapegoat purposes, Paul Manafort counseled the White House to allege that the pro-western Ukranian government had colluded with the Democratic National Committee to try to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election. Despite total lack of evidence to back up said charges, the White House adopted Manafort’s recommendation in the summer of 2017 to specifically target DNC strategist and consultant Alexandra Chalupa for allegedly working with Ukranian officials to hurt Donald Trump’s candidacy. Despite the torrent of allegations, no evidence has surfaced that the DNC or Chalupa did anything wrong. Acting on Manafort’s advice, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders encouraged reporters to investigate, “the Democrat National Committee coordinated opposition research directly with the Ukrainian Embassy.” That same week, conspiracy propagandist, professional Trump asskisser, and Fox News host Sean Hannity intensified the allegations evening after evening on his show. Likewise, Republicans on Capitol Hill called for investigations into the “Ukranian matter.” That late July, Trump tweeted: “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – ‘quietly working to boost Clinton.’ So where is the investigation A.G.” In August 2017, Matthew Whitaker and a conservative advocacy group he then headed, the ironically named Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) formally asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate the DNC’s dealings with Chalupa. The FEC hasn’t given any indication that it’ll investigate the matter further. Mainly because they saw right through the ploy.

Even though the allegations were total bullshit, they were effective whatabout propaganda to the white conservative Fox News audience. The White House made claims shortly after the public disclosures that Donald Trump Jr. had hosted the infamous Trump Tower meeting between a self-described intermediary for the Russian government and himself, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, where the Russians promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The White House tried drawing a parallel between its meetings with foreigners and the DNC’s via Alexandra Chalupa. But the comparison has always been a flimsy one. Since the White House and its surrogates couldn’t prove their counterparts did anything wrong. Not that lack of evidence didn’t stop them from pushing baseless conspiracy theories anyway. But Russia, a US enemy, engaged in a covert intelligence effort to influence the 2016 election’s outcome. Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort agreed to meet with individuals they knew were associated with the Russian government to get “dirt” on Clinton. Trump Jr. particularly acted on his dad and the Trump campaign’s behalf. Remember that it’s illegal for a campaign to accept help from a foreign individual, entity, or government. And it’s illegal not to disclose it. No wonder the meeting’s a focus in the Mueller investigation.

Fortunately, Alexandra Chalupa looked into Paul Manafort’s role as adviser to former Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych, an authoritarian strongman who wanted to cut ties with the European Union and become more closely aligned with Russia. She then set out to sound the alarm. At one point, she even organized a protest in Manafort’s hometown of New Britain, Connecticut, with protestors holding signs saying, “Putin, hands off the US election.” But these endeavors had nothing to do with her work at the DNC, where she co-chaired DNC affiliate the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Counci during the 2016 presidential election. When Chalupa brought up Manafort with anyone at the DNC, they were uninterested. In July 2016, she left her DNC part-time consulting role to work full time in human rights advocacy. The DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign claimed they weren’t involved in Chalupa’s efforts, while no evidence has surfaced to contradict it.

Third, in early 2017, Paul Manafort provided the White House specific information on how Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign had sponsored research ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Particularly, Manafort provided information to the White House on how to discredit the so-called Steele dossier, written by a former MI6 Russia desk head named Christopher Steele, about alleged ties that Donald Trump and his associates had to Russia. In fact, Manafort provided the background to the White House lawyers about specific allegations and information in the document that he claimed was suspect. Manafort recommended that Trump play up that the Clinton campaign had commissioned the work by a private investigation firm that they hired. In reality, the work on the Steele Dossier had been commissioned by a right-wing entity during the GOP primaries.

Paul Manafort’s contacts with the White House continued even after his cooperation with Robert Mueller. Without telling prosecutors, Manafort’s defense attorneys secretly provided details of their client’s cooperation with the special prosecutor to Donald Trump’s legal team, in another apparent effort Manafort engineered to undermine the investigation and/or win a Trump pardon. In the process, Manafort may have helped Trump tailor his answers to questions the special counsel’s office recently provided.

Former US attorney and deputy assistant attorney general told Vox: “The open pipeline between cooperator and suspect Trump may have been not on only extraordinary but also criminal. … What purpose other than an attempt to ‘influence, obstruct, or impede’ the investigation of the president can be discerned from Manafort’s service as a double agent? And on the Trump side, the communications emit a strong scent of illegal witness tampering.” In other words, in trying to cover up and obtain a presidential pardon Get-Out-of-Jail Free Card, Paul Manafort and others committed more crimes. Each “discernable lie” Manafort told is a potential new felony charge of lying to federal investigators, perjury, or obstruction of justice. Now what’s an obvious interest to Robert Mueller is whether others, most notably White House officials, conspired with Manafort to lie, mislead investigators, or commit obstruction of justice and what Donald Trump knew of all this.

The Enchanting Winter Wonderland of Ice Sculpture (Fourth Edition)

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Finally, I get to the last of my annual snow and ice posts with ice sculptures. Unlike the snow sculptures that you might see at a winter carnival, you see these frozen creations during all kinds of occasions. You see them at weddings, dinners, and other extravagant events due to their limited lifetime. Though the ice sculptures you normally see may only be carved from a single ice block. But the ones you can see at winter festivals can range from your single block ice creations to massive ice palaces. During the winter, you’ll find plenty of them on display for festivals and competitions all over the world. So for your reading pleasure, I give you another assortment of artistic ice creations. Enjoy.

  1. There are many ways to carve a drop.
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This one uses a number of ice blocks. Yet, it results in an amazing display under the lights.

2. An angel always looks graceful within the ice.

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Yet, the angel appears rather transparent. So she’s rather hard to see.

3. A princess will always join her prince.

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This is for a wedding. But notice neither wear crowns.

4. A harp plays sweet music.

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But you won’t get a sound from this one. Since it’s made from ice. Though it’s so pretty.

5. An icy nativity scene is perfect for the Christmas season.

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This one just consists of Mary and Joseph with Jesus. But you have to love the star on top.

6. Frozen butterflies look resplendent in the snow.

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Their wings may be transparent. Buy their grace and beauty are undeniable.

7. Care to sit at a fancy piano?

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This one has a rather intricate design. Even comes with its own frozen candelabra.

8. A musician can always play to the moon at night.

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This one place the flute. Yet, this ice sculpture is among the more abstract variety.

9. Nothing exudes more might than the majestic eagle.

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This eagle has a fish in its hand. So it can feed itself and its family, if it has one.

10. Bet you can’t walk in this shoe.

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Actually you can probably walk in an Adidas shoe just fine. But this one is certifiably frozen.

11. A frozen mermaid is an uncommon sight.

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Well, mermaids are often a common motif in ice sculpture. But when it comes to winter, they don’t come to mind.

12. A fox must pass its knowledge to the cub.

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I mean foxes have fluffy tails. Though I’m not sure if they swim.

13. If you like Beauty and the Beast, you might like this icy display.

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Though it’s not exactly what you’d see in the Disney movie. Then again, it may not be a perfect rendition of it.

14. Nobody could resist a frozen ducky.

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The ducky even rests on the waves. Guess this might be for a baby’s first birthday.

15. A diamond ring shimmers in the ice.

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Now this is definitely for a wedding. While it rests on a pillow that’s obviously too small.

16. 2 doves always meet at the heart.

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Yes, this is another wedding ice sculpture. But you have to love the heart on this.

17. “As shepherds watch their flocks by night…”

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This may be part of a nativity display. Yet, the shepherd holds a lamb in his arms.

18. A fish jumps out of the frozen water.

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Wonder if the fish will bite on a hook, If so, its days are over.

19. Would you like to come in?

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Sorry, but this is just an icy doorway. The kind you’d see on Elsa’s castle.

20. The cougar always crouches in the winter snow.

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Well, cougars go by a lot of different names if you know anything about sports mascots. Still, it looks amazing in ice.

21. This icy elephant is of mammoth proportions.

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Though elephant doesn’t seem like it would do well in snowy weather. Still, it’s really cool.

22. Hope you can brave yourself against the dreaded dragon.

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This one even has weapons. So you better watch out and hope you get out alive.

23. An icy goalie isn’t one to be messed with.

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The goalie even has his own net behind him. Though he’s frozen as he catches the puck.

24. A serpent dragon can wreak a fiery blaze.

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This is a Chinese style dragon. Though frozen, it’s an iconic image in Chinese lore.

25. Would you want to ride on a frozen motorcycle?

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This is from an exhibition in Hamburg, Germany. And no, you can’t ride it. Since it’s made from ice.

26. Perhaps this frozen Buddha would enlighten you.

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I’m sure this was featured at the Harbin Snow and Ice Festival in China. Though he wears a rather elaborate hat.

27. This ice sculpture appears licensed to kill.

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You can guess this was for a James Bond themed New Year’s party. So someone wanted to welcome the new year with a bang.

28. In love, 2 hearts beat as one.

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These interlocking hearts are for weddings. Yet, it sends such a touching statement, doesn’t it?

29. With his sword, the king exudes his power.

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Wonder if he’s supposed to be King Arthur or any other legendary figure. While he stands in front of an ice castle.

30. You’ll find a small table under an elaborate arch.

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Seems like something straight out of a fantasy. There are even flowers and leaves on top.

31. You’d think an ice like this was from prehistoric times.

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This is a T-Rex ice sculpture. Perfect for any party at Jurassic Park, which I wouldn’t recommend for obvious reasons.

32. Didn’t know a boat can sail in frozen waters.

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This is a lateen-rigged ship which is easier to navigate. Though this seems more like a yacht than a wooden ship.

33. A boy shares some ice cream with his dog.

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Let’s just hope that it’s not chocolate ice cream. Because chocolate is poison to dogs.

34. Harry Potter flies away from three-headed dog.

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Of course, this scene wasn’t in the first Harry Potter book. But it’s a rather iconic image.

35. At weddings, two rings interlock.

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Yes, this is another wedding ice sculpture. You can guess the one with the diamond belongs to the bride.

36. A Inuit has come across some creatures.

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Though I’d leave once I’d see a bear. And yes, it’s intended to be an Arctic scene.

37. The bear stands on an icy ledge.

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Here the grizzly tries to catch a salmon. While a bare tree stands behind.

38. The merman always tends to the fish.

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You can see he’s supposed to be under the sea. Yet, he’s frozen in ice.

39. An icy phoenix rises out of the ashes.

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And like a rose, it exists only temporary. But instead of wilting, it melts.

40. Have you heard the call of  frozen elk?

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It’s even lit in blue to show emphasis. Still, you have to love the antlers.

41. Want anything from McDonald’s?

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Seems healthier than what McDonald’s actually makes. Mostly because it’s made out of ice.

42. That’s no moon. It’s a space station.

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Best you hope this isn’t operational. But it’s capable of blowing up Alderaan.

43. A centaur joins woodland creatures for tea.

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Here he pours for the rabbit and squirrel. Though he might aim wrong.

44. All aboard on the Ice Train Express.

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This train engine chugs through the snow. While it’s lit with pink and blue from below.

45. Are you in the mood for comedy or tragedy?

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This must be massive since it takes up many ice blocks. All to salute the theater.

46. Perhaps you’d like to see Africa on ice.

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This one has ice renditions of animals from the African savannah. While you won’t find much ice in Africa.

47. Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams.

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This one has a Native American running towards a dream catcher. While an eagle stands proud on top.

48. Inside this bottle, you’ll find a huge ship.

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This looks quite clever. Though you have to wonder how they got the boat in the bottle.

49. You’d be pressed to go west.

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This won 1st prize at the St. Paul Winter Carnival. And yes, it’s a tribute to westward expansion in the United States.

50. “It is your destiny.”

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Here we have Luke Skywalker confronting Darth Vader. Though I’m not sure which Star Wars movie this is from.

51. Didn’t know they had Batman on ice.

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Well, an ice sculpture of Batman, anyway. But unlike the Dark Knight of Gotham, he will melt.

52. Queen Elsa assumes her icy glory.

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I had to include at least one ice sculpture from Frozen. Since Queen Elsa has ice powers.

53. The horse moves wood up the hill.

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This is from a winter festival in Japan. But that horse is surely sturdy.

54. This little penguin has taken to alpine skiing.

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Though I’m not sure where it could ski in the Antarctic. But it’s quite cute.

55. You’d swear this was a celebration of love.

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In a way, it kind of is. But it’s too intricate for a wedding as you can see.

56. Would you like anything from the bar?

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It’s a barrel bar on ice. And yes, it seems you can actually gets drinks from there.

57. You know this rose is under a spell.

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This is the ice rendition of the rose from Beauty and the Beast. Thankfully, the flower is fake.

58. Should he follow the eagle or the deer?

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This one seems to have a Native American on some sort of vision quest. And he’s not sure what animal he should go with.

59. Perhaps you might want to listen to some music.

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This is an ice phonograph. But don’t play any records on it since you can see it doesn’t have much inside.

60. The nutcracker always stands at attention.

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Though you’re more familiar with the ballet by this guy’s name. Yet, you can’t actually crack nuts with it since it’s made of ice.

The Enchanting Winter Wonderland of Snow Sculpture (Fourth Edition)

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Next in my snow and ice posts this year is snow sculpture. While snowmen may technically count, it’s quite a specialized designation. Besides, the snow sculptures I usually put on are way more intricate. Nonetheless, in the winter months, some places have winter festivals where artists carve these snowy wonders. Carved from a single block of snow weighing as much as 20-30 tons, these snow creations grace these winter carnivals where they’re cold enough to stand. Some can be rather small. While some can be as tall as a building. So for your reading pleasure, I give you another assortment of enchanted winter wonders. Enjoy.

  1. It’s perfect weather for horseback riding.
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Okay, it’s not. But this guy on a horse is utterly amazing.

2. X-wing always beats TIE.

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These are craft from Star Wars. And you guess the TIE has been blasted apart.\

3. Hope you feel at home near these stately homes.

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You’d almost think it’s a whole neighborhood. And in a way, it kind of is.

4. Wonder what’s inside this ball.

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It has other balls inside. Not sure how that could be pulled off.

5. Try to marvel at 3 deer passing you by.

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Wonder if this is a scene from mythology. If so, I wouldn’t be surprise. Nonetheless, the deer look so majestic.

6. You can’t separate these 2 bears.

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Almost seems like they’re reflecting each other. Let’s hope they’re not doing anything too inappropriate here.

7. There’s always time to see the world.

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This one has a globe on a watch with wings. Not sure what it means.

8. Mounted horsemen always look dashing.

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You can see they’re mounted archers. Because bows and arrows are range weapons that can kill people at great distances.

9. The hollow sun shines between 2 trees.

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Kind of resembles vortex. While a giant bird flies from one tree to another.

10. You’ll feel sweet serenity at any Asian temple or shrine.

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You can’t go in it. But you can see it night thanks to the lights which emphasize its architectural features.

11. Moai be singing on this street.

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They’re the big statues on Easter Island. Yet, here they have the makings of a barbershop quartet.

12. What does that bird have in its beak?

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Looks like a metal button or something. Still, you have to love the detail on the bird’s beak.

13. You never know what you’ll find in the forest at night.

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This more stylized than the other sculptures so far. Yet, the woman sits on the moon while the wind blows through her hair.

14. The tree branches were all bare.

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This is from Lithuania. Yet, all the branches seem to fit together.

15. Who’s burning in the snowy fire?

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Because it surely seems like a few people are. For I can see their faces.

16. Ever see a dolphin on the snow?

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Indeed, dolphins are marine mammals. But it’s nonetheless cute.

17. Anyone would love this snow sculpture of Charlie Brown.

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Unlike some of the other sculptures, this Charlie Brown is spray painted. Perfect for the holidays.

18. Winter wildlife is always amazing to look at.

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This one consists of an elk and a baby. But you got to love those antlers.

19. Best you stay away from the traffic light.

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He just had to lick the pole didn’t he. Meanwhile his dog is trying to get him away.

20. Here we find a dog and her pups.

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This one has the dog strung out on the log. While her pups are underneath.

21. Snoopy passes the puck.

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Yet, Snoopy doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about the game. While Woodstock drives a Zamboni.

22. There’s always time for fun in the winter.

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Someone is even doing a one hand stand. While their friend holds them for support.

23. Make way for the train.

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You can see it loading right now. Though you wouldn’t want to come aboard.

24. Is that an octopus in the snow?

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Yes, it’s a snow octopus. But you won’t find it underwater.

25. The snow whales are quite majestic, aren’t they?

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There’s even a seal at the front. But these whales glide over the coral wreath.

26. The yeti must be rising.

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Though I’m sure one wouldn’t be that big. If it existed in the Himalayas.

27. This giant fish has a wide mouth.

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Yet, I’m not sure if its features are in proportion. Yet, the detail is amazing.

28. These dolphins always swim together.

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Actually they seem to dive into the waves. Still, you can’t help but admire it.

29. A child always rises on the parents’ shoulders.

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I think this might be a Chinese farming family. You can even see the animals behind the people.

30. Are those fingers or trees?

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Guess it must be one of those abstract pieces. Nonetheless, it looks quite strange.

31. Here we come to a prehistoric struggle.

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You’d think it’s a scene straight out of Jurassic Park. Now in the likeness of snow.

32. Beware of the faceless figures.

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That has to be kind freaky. Wonder if they’re Dementors or wraiths.

33. This bear hugs a wooden pole.

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I know it’s white like a polar bear. But its features resemble a grizzly.

34. An intimidating bear stands on the large rock.

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Seems like it’s meant to denote a 40th anniversary. Not sure for what.

35. A lizard rides the waves.

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Sure it’s not quite wintry. But nonetheless, it’s rather charming and awe inspiring.

36. You’d swear you’d find hoplite snowmen in this horse.

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Since it’s a snowy Trojan Horse. So beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

37. Never thought I’d see elephants in the snow.

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This is an elephant mother and baby. They’re African. But they’re adorable.

38. Care to come in?

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Seems to resemble a hobbit hole from the Shire. But it could just as easily be a very cozy igloo.

39. The Arctic tundra can be a treacherous place.

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This one has Inuit rescuing their companions on the ice. While the ice has broken.

40. That’s an interesting way to arrange books.

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These books are squished together on a shelf. I know it kind of resembles an accordion. But it’s not.

41. Don’t want to step on this Lego brick.

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Though I’m not sure how it’s possible. Because the brick is undeniably massively.

42. Perhaps you might want to help one of these topless women.

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Yet, you have to wonder why they’re not wearing coats. Also, two have bowls on their heads and they aren’t using their hands to support them.

43. The boat is just right outside.

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The house is in an Asian style. While the boat may be used for fishing. So pretty.

44. The Calaca stands out in the winter snow.

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This is a skull you see around Dia de los Muertos. Sure it’s not the time for it. But it works.

45. A small child plays with his little toy.

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Though the kid looks incredibly large. While the toy resembles a boat on wheels.

46. Nothing beats playing under the flowers.

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The flowers appear quite large. While the kids and animals look rather small.

47. Satan rises from his fiery lair in Hell.

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You can see the skull and flames. While the Devil has horns on his head. Then again, this might be from a different mythology since it’s in China.

48. A majestic owl dominates the night.

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Yet, you find a family of bears and other creatures underneath the owl’s wings. Wonder if this is a tribute to North American wildlife. But I could be wrong.

49. You’ll find a Viking ship on the north seas.

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Though I wouldn’t want to be on the long boat. No wonder they raid villages once they land.

50. Wonder where those snow horses came from.

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These horses appeared to jump from the wall. Hope they don’t cause too much damage.

51. Are you in the mood for a frozen treat?

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Since it resembles a rather tasty ice cream dessert on top. Though the bottom doesn’t look like a cone or bowl.

52. Kids always look forward to the festivities.

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I guess this is for Chinese New Year. For I see a large Chinese lantern in the background.

53. A warrior woman always looks badass from a tree.

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Kind of reminds me of an Amazon. Though she could certainly put a shirt on. Since it’s cold outside.

54. An eagle warrior captivates at the campfire.

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Then again, that looks more like a bird. Wonder if this is from Native American mythology.

55. A burning torch lights up the world.

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You can see it’s held by 2 hands. Though the flame will melt if near a real fire.

56. An eagle flies triumphant into a ring.

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You have to admire its spectacular wings. while its talons perch onto the ring and into the snow.

57. A cowboy naps against a cactus.

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I know this is a desert scene where you don’t see any snow. But it’s quite spectacular for a winter carnival.

58. Feel free to make yourself at this hobbit home.

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Well, it’s not as cozy as the real thing. But it’s close enough.

59. These polar bears are just taking it easy.

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Despite that climate changes threatens their very existence. While a penguin serves them. Wait a minute, polar bears and penguins don’t live in the same area.

60. Now here’s a nativity scene you can get inside.

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Well, I see the wise men and the animals. So I guess the stable is quite crowded for Christmas.

Frosty the Snowman and All His Friends (Fourth Edition)

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Now that I have my Christmas posts out of the way, I get into the snow and ice posts. Mostly since they don’t have to apply to Christmas specifically but winter in general. Though the pictures for these posts are usually in my Christmas folder in my pic files. Anyway, despite that today is the first day of winter, there’s not a lot of snow outside my window. Rain, yes. But not snow. Though if it gets cold enough the water on the ground will turn to ice and make driving quite dangerous. Anyway, if the snow has been around for awhile, kids and many adults might want to build snowmen. The standard version usually has 3 snowballs of various sides put together with stick arms, coal buttons and eyes, and a button or carrot nose. While the figure may wear a scarf and hat. So for your reading pleasure, I give you another assortment of unique snowmen to lighten your cold winter day.

  1. So what if you can’t watch TV outside?
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Here he is watching from his deck. I’m sure the TV is a piece of junk since we know what precipitation can have on electronics.

2. Quick, there’s a snowman with a gun! Run for your life!

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And the snowman has had a few rounds fired into him. While he’s holding a beer. Guess he’s been drunk.

3. “I now pronounce you snowman and wife.”

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I mean they’re a snowman wedding couple. Bride even has a veil and towel on her head.

4. This snowman hails straight from Appalachia.

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Appalachia is supposed to be a college by the way. Though you have to love that hat.

5. Guess we have a hit and run on Oak Street.

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This is supposed to be a snowman run over by a car. And yes, he’s decapitated in front of a parent and child.

6. What the hell is he eating?

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I think he’s devouring a raccoon. And yes, it’s utterly disgusting.

7. You’d swear their eyes glow in the snow.

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Not sure what they use in those yes. But the effect is quite eerie.

8. Never thought I’d see a snow camel before.

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Because camels are desert animals. Yet, the camel dons a scarf around its neck.

9. Seems like we got quite a crowd.

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Some even wear pails as hats. Others use branches from evergreen trees for hair.

10. Apparently, it’s supposed to rain today.

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Though I wouldn’t be in the middle of the street if I were him. Though he always comes prepared.

11. This guy seems unusually fruity.

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Since they use fruit for the facial features. Still, the tie is quite tacky.

12. The roads can use a good sweeping.

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Here’s a mother and daughter with leaves in their hair. The mom carries a broom.

13. This babushka wishes you stay awhile.

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She’s wearing a fancy skirt and carries a broom in hand. But please don’t mess with her.

14. Perhaps you’d like to wish this Indian snow bride well on her wedding day.

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Since Indian women usually wear red when they get married. Though she doesn’t even have henna on her hands.

15. Look out! It’s the big bad wolf!

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He’s killed a couple of snowmen already Get inside before he gets you.

16. These snowmen have come out to protest.

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They’re calling for the troops in Iraq to come home. So it’s from about a decade ago.

17. Didn’t know you could build a snowman on the beach.

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Actually he’s more of a sandman than a snowman. Because there’s no snow where he’s at.

18. He’s just relaxing during a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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He’s got his drink and lying on his lawn chair. So don’t mind him.

19. Is that a pole sticking from his chest?

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It’s kind of gruesome snowman picture. Like he had something stabbed through his chest.

20. There are a couple of Arabs in the truck bed.

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The snowman is a sheik. While you can barely see his wife’s face due to her veil.

21. She’s just in town on a shopping trip.

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She has grass on her head near her beret. Though her shopping bag is quite small.

22. You’d think this snowy fox is off the wagon.

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Since the fox is carrying a bottle of booze. So it’s best you stay away from him.

23. There’s a polar bear in the tree.

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This seems to more likely resemble a clump of snow with eyes and nose. But it’s quite adorable.

24. Want to see a couple of handstands.

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You can see the snow kids standing upside down with their boots in the air. While the snow dad looks on.

25. There’s been a murder. Death by snow shovel.

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There’s even a chalk outline of a snowman on the ground. While the snow cop has a snow star badge.

26. Want to sit near this huge teddy bear?

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Yes, this is a giant snow bear. Though I think it should have a thicker scarf.

27. “Hey, why did you go through Charlie?”

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Well, the kid was sledding. Still, it’s quite a gruesome scene for winter.

28. Would you stop by to see this bear?

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It has a present in its arms and a bucket to put money in. Still, it’s quite cute.

29. Seems like this guy has his nose in something.

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He seems like he’s lounging around with a drink. Still, his fedora is incredibly tacky.

30. This snow woman is looking forward to spring.

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Yet, she should want winter to last as long as possible. Mostly because when spring comes, she’s gone.

31. You need not disturb a snow lady in the shower.

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Her arms consist of a shower head and bathing brush. Also, is the snow below supposed to be bubbles?

32. You’d swear it’s getting hot for these 2.

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Since the snow woman is wearing a bikini. While the snowman lies around to gaze at her figure.

33. Could you spare some change for a poor snowman?

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He even has a cup out for the money. Every little bit helps.

34. Anyone would want to pet this snow cat.

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This one Seems quite simple. But the cat has dark, soulless eyes.

35. Jesus, that snowman eats people!

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I’m sure that’s actually a dummy. But certainly looks scary from this angle.

36. Bet you’ve never seen a snow panda before.

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This is from Japan after a snowfall, by the way. Nonetheless, it’s quite adorable.

37. You’d swear this snow lady was a work of art.

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She’s supposed to be a mermaid. Like the Copenhagen mermaid statue in Denmark.

38. This snowman always enjoys a day in the park.

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Here the snowman goes down on the slide. Wheee!

39. This snowman thinks it’s snowed too soon.

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Yes, that snowman isn’t quite happy. Neither is that kid beside him.

40. Oh my God, it’s Harry Potter!

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Indeed, he’s the Snowboy who lived. While his wand is just a regular stick.

41. This fellow prefers to ride on the roof.

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Since this snowman was made on the roof of this car. Not sure if it’ll survive the trip though.

42. BB8 is at your service.

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He’s that cute little droid from the new Star Wars series. And since he’s round, he makes a rather cute snowman.

43. This snow person dreams of Hawaiian sun.

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This one even has coconut shells, leis, and a hula skirt. Too bad Hawaii doesn’t have good weather for snow.

44. Seems like this snow caterpillar is worming its way through.

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Took a lot of snowballs to make this one. While it’s spray painted green with glowing antennas.

45. Someone is in a melting mood today.

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This one even has an umbrella in the snow. But it will soon melt someday.

46. This rustic couple always stays together.

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They’re wearing straw hats and old clothes. But while he has a stick she has an umbrella.

47. This snowman has his own digs.

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Well, he has a rather simple home. Though the price looks quite steep.

48. Perhaps it’s best to sit down for awhile.

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This snowman sits on the bench. Too bad he can’t smell the flowers. Since it’s winter.

49. This little dog loves to play in the snow.

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Okay, the little dog is made out of snow. But it should delight anyone on a cold wintry day.

50. “You seek Snoda.”

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Skilled with fighting stick, he is. But do or do not. There is no try.

51. This snowman acts as if he’s at the beach.

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Here he’s lounging on his lawn chair. Like the bucket and shovel.

52. “Oppa Snowman Style.”

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It’s from that “Gangnam Style” video. And yes, the guy’s dressed up like the snowman next to him.

53. This snow person is totally lovestruck.

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Guess this is for Valentine’s Day. Now that’s a long way away.

54. This snowman would like to make a collect call.

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Still, nobody uses phone booths anymore. Since we all use smart phones that we keep in our pockets or bags.

55. Want to go bowling?

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Though these snowmen use their heads as the ball. Kind of freaky if you ask me.

56. Snowmen have to wait in line just like the rest of us.

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Here he is sitting on the bench reading the paper. Just like a normal guy on his way to the office.

57. “Repent! Spring is Nigh!”

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This one makes fun of religious fanatics obsessed with the coming apocalypse. But for snowfolk, spring is very much the end.

58. You’d be blessed to have this snow couple around.

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I think the snowman is supposed to be an Orthodox priest. And yes, they can get married, by the way.

59. Bet you’ve never seen a snow tiger before.

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It’s even taller than the snowman. While it’s covered in spray paint.

60. Some guys will gawk at this snow woman.

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Since she’s supposed to be a bombshell bathing beauty. Guaranteed to stop traffic.