The Republican Closing Argument against Impeachment Is Personally Implicated in the Scandal

I’m waiting on the procedural votes to authorize the House impeachment inquiry. There were some nice speeches, with Speaker Pelosi lecturing the Republicans about American history, Republicans repeating the same quote from Alexander Hamilton over and over, Steve Scalise posing next to an image of the Kremlin [Correction: This is St. Basil’s Cathedral], and Eric Swalwell accusing the President of using taxpayer dollars to lead an “an extortion shakedown scheme.”

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the debate is that the Republican closing argument — yet another recital of that same Hamilton quote — came from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Kevin McCarthy is implicated in the scandal he doesn’t want investigated.

McCarthy received money both personally and in the guise of his Protect the House PAC from Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, the grifters at the core of the influence operation that led to Trump’s quid pro quo conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky. He also keynoted an event with the grifters. While he has said he’d donate the money to charity (though has not yet, as far as I know, shown that he did that), there is no way to unring the bell of their support. He became Majority Leader with the support of men who have since been indicted for that support.

That is the face that is leading opposition to impeachment.

Update: Here’s the roll call.

  • Impeachment curious Republicans Will Hurd and Francis Rooney both voted against the inquiry
  • Democrats Collin Peterson and Jeff Van Drew also voted against
  • Justin Amash voted for the inquiry
  • Republicans Jody Hice, John Rose, and William Timmons, and Democrat Donald McEachin did not vote

So 98.5% of the Republican caucus voted to do nothing after another branch of government usurped Congress’ power of the purse.

Crowdsource: Updated Trump-Ukraine Timeline, with Giuliani [UPDATE-5]

[NB: Note the byline, thanks! Updates will appear within the timeline or at the bottom of the text. /~Rayne]

I noted this past week that Trump’s attempt to extort performance from Ukraine had been in the works for three years.

18/21-JUL-2016 The Republican National Committee debates the party’s platform at the RNC convention, including its position on aid to Ukraine.

25-JUL-2019 — Trump talked with Ukraine’s Zelensky on the phone to congratulate him on his party’s parliamentary win on July 21 and to make a quid pro quo offer of aid for dirt on Trump’s re-election opponent, Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter.

This is all of the same, long story, in which:

• Long-time political consultant Paul Manafort rehabilitated pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych’s image and helped him win the presidency in 2010;
• Manafort went on to become campaign manager for pro-Russian political candidate Donald Trump and helped him “win” the presidency in 2016 using some of the same techniques employed in Ukraine for Yanukovych;
• Trump’s pro-Russian policies manifested as resistance to bipartisan sanctions on Russia, pressure on NATO member states and threatened U.S. withdrawal from treaty obligations;
• Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine as part of a quid pro quo, asking for Ukraine’s assistance to help his personal re-election campaign.

But entwined in the years-long story arc is Rudy Giuliani, who shows up at key times and places having personal interests woven together with pro-Russian characters.

When the whistleblower timeline first began and events were crowdsourced from the emptywheel community, much of the timeline was focused on current events related to the middle east. Like the commercial media reporting on the whistleblower complaint, we didn’t make the connection to Ukraine initially. Nor did we make a direct connection to Russia.

The crowdsourced timeline didn’t make a connection to Giuliani, either. But as I continued to work on pulling together the events that led up to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s president Zelensky as well as the events afterward, Giuliani’s name popped up ever more frequently. He also deliberately inserted himself, too; he’s incapable of shutting the fuck up and has now pointedly implicated himself by admitting to seeking damaging information on Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

One of Giuliani’s companies has been doing business in Ukraine related to Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Pavel Fuchs. Fuchs has slowly acquired many of the assets which once belonged to Yanukovych, like some weird body-snatcher assuming Yanukovych’s identity. And Giuliani has a vested interest in whatever is shaking out of this in Fuchs’ native city, Kharkiv.

The more I pulled on the Giuliani thread, the more it became clear he is as tightly interleaved into Trump-Ukraine-Russia as is Paul Manafort. The association between Manafort ending up at Rudy’s favorite cigar bar the Grand Havana Room at 666 Fifth Avenue, in a building owned by Jared Kushner, located a third of a mile from Trump Tower to meet with Konstantin Kilimnik wasn’t a fluke.

It’s a very small world and the same players repeat over and over again.

So here’s the crowdsourcing assignment:

In comments add any Ukraine, Russia, Giuliani-related event which shaped the quid pro quo made on July 25, or heightened the urgency of Ukraine’s national security, or affected the Special Counsel’s investigation related to Trump-Russia. Please provide citations easily validated by community members.

— If an additional person and related events should be added to this timeline, make the case in comments along with supporting citations.

This will NOT be an open thread; it will be dedicated to this project.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Timeline of Trump-Ukraine (I am leaving other non-Ukraine foreign policy matters in the timeline for now. Often what appears unrelated at present appears connected in the future.)

Legend: Indigo blue – Ukraine-related item; indented – older item in previous timeline.

__________

19-AUG-2016 — Ukrainian journalist and member of parliament Serhiy Leshchenko revealed secret payments outlined in the ‘black ledger of the Party of Regions’ showing payments made by the former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych to Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

24-AUG-2016 — Rudy Giuliani alleges the Clinton Foundation is a “pay-for-play operation” which was “going to be bigger than Watergate.” [UPDATE-4]

26-OCT-2016 — In an interview on Fox network, Rudy Giuliani said, “I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprises,” with regard to insider FBI information. In another Fox network program later that same day, Giuliani said, “I do think that all of these revelations about Hillary Clinton finally are beginning to have an impact. He’s got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next two days.” These remarks caused then-FBI director James Comey to launch an investigation into possible leaks. [UPDATE-4]

________

12-JAN-2017 — Rudy Giuliani named an informal security adviser for president-elect Donald Trump. (As an informal adviser Giuliani may not have been paid and may not have been required to comply with the same ethics standards as paid advisers, but may also have violated 31 U.S. Code § 1342 Limitation on voluntary services.)

24-JAN-2017 — Nikki Haley confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. [UPDATE-4]

25-JAN-2017 — Trump tweeted, referencing then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions [UPDATE-4]:

03-MAR-2017 — Recruited by K.T. McFarland and Michael Flynn, “Russia hawk” Fiona Hill appointed Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs on his National Security Council staff. [UPDATE-4]

10-MAY-2017 — Trump met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office.

15-MAY-2017 — Washington Post reported Trump revealed code word level classified information to Lavrov and Kislyak during Oval Office meeting. The information covered ISIL’s bomb-making capabilities and may have exposed allies’ intelligence gathering means and methods.

XX-MAY-2017 — Date TBD. Giuliani met with officials for the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine and signed a deal for his firm Giuliani Security and Safety to review the city’s security services.

XX-MAY-2017 — Decision made to exfiltrate key Russian asset. Unclear exactly when decision made or when exfiltration occurred, only that it happened after the Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak, and before the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

08-JUN-2017 — At a conference in Kyiv organized by Ukrainian metals magnate Victor Pinchuk, Giuliani met and spoke with then-President Petro Poroshenko, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, and other government officials. Pinchuk had made a $150,000 donation to Trump’s charity in 2016, drawing Special Counsel’s attention. [UPDATE-2]

07-JUL-2017 — Kurt Volker was named U.S. Special Representative to Ukraine. At the time he was a senior international adviser to the BGR Group, a lobbying firm founded by GOP operative Haley Barbour; BGR had been hired by Ukraine to lobby the U.S. [UPDATE-1]

7/8-JUL-2017 — Trump meets Putin at G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

11-JUL-2017 — European Union’s 28 member states formally endorsed the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, effective September 1.

30-OCT-2017 — Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign manager, indicted.

14-NOV-2017 — National Security Council approved the sale of lethal aid to Ukraine, including Javelin missiles.

20-NOV-2017 — Giuliani met with officials for the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine this week as well as investor/developer Pavel Fuchs. Giuliani also met with then-president Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv. [UPDATE-1]

21-DEC-2017 — Trump authorized the sale of lethal aid to Ukraine, including Javelin missiles.

________

XX-JAN-2018 — Date, location TBD. Giuliani met with Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko, according to Lutsenko. [UPDATE-4]

01-MAR-2018 — U.S. Defense Department approved the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles and launch units to Ukraine.

04-MAR-2018 — former Russian military intelligence officer and UK double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned outside their UK home by a Russian-made nerve agent. [UPDATE-1]

26-MAR-2018 — U.S. expelled 60 Russian diplomatic personnel, the ‘heaviest’ response of three options posed by advisers to Trump in response to the nerve agent poisoning of Skripal and his daughter in UK. [UPDATE-1]

27-MAR-2018 — Giuliani met with officials from city of Kharkiv, Ukraine in New York City. The list of Ukrainian visitors is not known.

09-APR-2018 — John Bolton begins as National Security Adviser.

09-APR-2018 — Office of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen raided by FBI.

30-APR-2018 — U.S. State Department confirmed that Washington delivered thirty-five Javelin anti-tank launchers to Ukraine.

02-MAY-2018 — NYT reported Lutsenko’s office froze investigations into four open cases in April, limiting or eliminating cooperation with Special Counsel’s investigation; “‘In every possible way, we will avoid irritating the top American officials,’ one Ukrainian lawmaker says. ‘We shouldn’t spoil relations with the administration.'” Ukraine had also halted its money laundering investigation into former President Viktor Yanukovych, who may have used stolen Ukrainian taxpayer funds to pay convicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to aid him in winning in Ukraine. The four cases were deemed “too politically sensitive” putting U.S. financial and military aid at risk. 

04-MAY-2018 — Senators Bob Menendez, Dick Durbin, and Pat Leahy wrote a letter to Lutsenko asking if his office had ceased cooperation with the Special Counsel’s investigation, if the Trump administration had asked them not to cooperate, and if the Special Counsel’s investigation had been discussed during a meeting between Trump and then-president Petro Poroshenko in New York 2017.

15-MAY-2018 — Russia’s President Putin opened a new bridge linking southern Russia to Crimea; Ukraine’s president Poroshenko said it was an attempt to legitimize the occupation of Crimea while Ukrainian critics said the bridge project violates international law. The bridge was built following the illegal 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia.

08-JUN-2018Jonathan Cohen became deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. [UPDATE-4]

16-JUL-2018 — U.S.-Russia Summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland; Trump meets with Putin.

XX-JUL-2018 — Coats expressed opinion differing from Trump’s after Helsinki summit. Rumors began about Trump replacing Coats.

24-JUL-2018 — Trump suspends practice of notifying public his calls with foreign leaders; public readouts will no longer be furnished. [UPDATE-5]

13-AUG-2018 — Congress approved military aid to Ukraine as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act which Trump signed this date. Trump, however, added a 15-page signing statement in which he reserved the right to refuse to recognize items related to Russia in this bill.

31-AUG-2018 — Manafort associate Sam Patten pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent under FARA; he agreed to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s investigation. Patten, while representing the Ukrainian political party the Opposition Bloc, laundered a $50,000 contribution from Russian/Ukrainian political consultant Konstantin Kilimnik to the Trump inauguration committee. [UPDATE-2]

02-OCT-2018 — Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi assassinated in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. [UPDATE-4]

09-OCT-2018 — Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced her resignation; effective date 31-DEC-2018.

11-OCT-2018 — Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, praised by Ukraine but protested by Russia. The move by the patriarchate heightened tensions between the two nation-states.

22/24-OCT-2018 — Giuliani was a guest speaker at the third International Forum of Eurasian Partnership (IFEP) in Yerevan, Armenia; one of two speakers with whom Giuliani appeared on a panel was Sergey Glazyev, who is sanctioned by the U.S. The forum was funded by the Russian Government. [UPDATE-2]

25-NOV-2018 — Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships, injuring six crew after firing on them in the Kerch Straits of the Black Sea near Crimea. The attack violated a 2003 treaty which designated the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters. US representative Nikki Haley called the incident an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting.

26-NOV-2018 — Ukraine implemented martial law for 30 days in response to the Kerch Straits event, due to concerns over a Russian invasion.

26-DEC-2018 — Martial law in Ukraine ended, to allow adequate time before the country’s elections.

31-DEC-2018 — Volodymyr Zelensky, a TV producer who starred in a series playing the role of President of Ukraine, announced his candidacy for Ukraine’s presidency.

31-DEC-2018 — Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley leaves as previously announced. [UPDATE-2019]

________

01-JAN-2019Jonathan Cohen became acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. [UPDATE-4]

XX-JAN-2019 — Date, TBD. Rudy Giuliani (member of Trump’s personal legal team) met with Lutsenko in New York City, venue unknown. [UPDATE-4]

29-JAN-2019 — Coats testified before Senate Intelligence Committee; he said North Korea “is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” in contrast to Trump’s claims that Kim Jong-un has committed to denuclearization.

XX-FEB-2019 — Trump discussed replacements for DNI.

~13-FEB-2019 — Date, TBD. Rudy Giuliani met with Lutsenko in Warsaw, Poland, venue unknown. Giuliani had been speaking at a middle east conference delivering anti-Iran remarks. [UPDATE-4]

28-FEB-2019 — Congress was notified of military aid tranches to be released to Ukraine.

05-MAR-2019 — U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch criticized Ukraine’s record on corruption; she noted the country’s high court’s decision weakens Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau.

06-MAR-2019 — Trump made remarks about aid to Ukraine [To be confirmed, details needed].

XX-MAR-2019 — Date TBD. Lutsenko relaunches an investigation into Burisma, the oil and gas company for which Joe Biden’s son had served as a board member. Per NYT (reported in May 2019):

… The decision to reopen the investigation into Burisma was made in March by the current Ukrainian prosecutor general, who had cleared Hunter Biden’s employer more than two years ago. The announcement came in the midst of Ukraine’s contentious presidential election, and was seen in some quarters as an effort by the prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, to curry favor from the Trump administration for his boss and ally, the incumbent president, Petro O. Poroshenko. …

20-MAR-2019 — The Hill’s John Solomon interviewed Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko for Hill.TV; Lutsenko claimed Amb. Yovanovitch gave him a do-not-prosecute list during their first meeting. State Department denied this claim in an email to Radio Free Europe.  [To be confirmed: Lutsenko also said there was an investigation launched into the Democratic National Committee.]

21-MAR-2019 — Attorney Victoria Toensing of law firm of diGenova & Toensing piles on with right-wing media in attacks on Yovanovitch, via Twitter [UPDATE-4]:

24-MAR-2019 — Donnie Trump Jr. made indirect, disparaging remarks about diplomat Yovanovitch via Twitter.

~28-MAR-2019 —  In ‘early 2019’, Giuliani met with Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko in New York (exact date TBD).

31-MAR-2019 — Ukraine’s first run-off presidential election narrowed down the field to the incumbent Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky.

31-MAR-2019 — Attorney Toensing continues with promotion of content against Ambassador Yovanovitch. [UPDATE-4]

12-APR-2019 — Patten sentenced to three years probation, after assisting the government in a number of other investigations. It’s not known what investigations he may have aided. [UPDATE-4]

21-APR-2019 — Volodymyr Zelensky won Ukraine’s presidential election over Petro Poroshenko, 73.22% to 24.45% of the vote. 12% of the population were unable to vote due to the conflict with Russia in Donbass region.

21-APR-2019 Trump called and congratulated Zelensky; the call was noted in a late evening/early morning tweet by Volker:

25-APR-2019 — After two years of indecision, former VP Joe Biden formally launched his campaign for POTUS.

25-APR-2019 — In an interview with Fox host Sean Hannity, Trump said, “I would imagine [Barr] would want to see this,” alleging Ukraine was conducting an investigation into collusion between Ukrainian officials and the Clinton campaign in 2016. “I would certainly defer to the attorney general, and we’ll see what he says about it,” Trump said. “He calls ’em straight…It sounds like big stuff, very interesting with Ukraine. I just spoke with the new president a while ago, and congratulated him. … But that sounds like big, big stuff, and I’m not surprised.” [UPDATE-4]

07-MAY-2019 — Amb. Yovanovitch was recalledremoved from her position.

09-MAY-2019 — Giuliani said he intended to meet with President-elect Zelensky in Ukraine to push for an investigation into the release of negative information about Paul Manafort as well as former VP Joe Biden’s efforts to remove Ukraine’s general prosecutor. 

10-MAY-2019 — Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) made an official request of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to investigate Giuliani’s influence operation in Ukraine. 

11-MAY-2019 — Giuliani reversed his decision and said he won’t go to Ukraine to meet with Zelensky. Zelensky’s adviser Serhiy Leschenko said Zelensky 

14-MAY-2019 — According to the whistleblower complaint, Trump “instructed Vice President Pence to cancel his planned travel to Ukraine to attend President Zelenskyy’s inauguration.” [UPDATE-4]

20-MAY-2019 — Date Zelensky assumes office of presidency.

21-MAY-2019 — Lawyer and film producer Andriy Yermak appointed aide to Ukraine’s Zelensky.

23-MAY-2019 — Congress was notified of military aid tranches to be released to Ukraine. John Rood, defense undersecretary for policy, advised Congress that DOD found Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts adequate. [UPDATE-4]

24-MAY-2019 — Trump issued a directive allowing Attorney General William Barr to declassify any intelligence that sparked the opening of the Russia investigation.

11-JUN-2019 — Ukraine’s president Zelensky signed a motion for Ukraine’s parliament to dismiss prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko, an ally of former president Poroshenko. The MPs rejected the motion; Lutsenko also resisted, saying he would step down after the July 21 parlimentary elections.

11-JUN-2019 In an interview released on Thursday, June 13, Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos,

“I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump continued. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”

18-JUN-2019 — Fiona Hill announced her departure from administration effective August 2019. She will be succeeded by Tim Morrison, NSC adviser on weapons of mass destruction and biodefense. Morrison’s move was seen as a Bolton recommendation. [UPDATE-4]

20-JUN-2019 — In retaliation for downing a U.S. drone, Trump approved strikes on Iran which were abruptly aborted.

02-JUL-2019 — US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker met with Zelensky in Toronto; he discussed Ukraine’s “weak judicial system” and its affect on reform while weighing Zelensky’s political acumen given his lack of experience in governance. Zelensky joked about Giuliani during the meeting; the Bidens were not discussed.

~11-JUL-2019 — Date TBD. In mid-July, Giuliani had a phone meeting with Zelensky’s adviser, Andriy Yermak.

18-JUL-2019 — Trump ordered his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to put the brakes on aid to Ukraine. Officials were instructed to tell lawmakers that the delay was due to “interagency process.” Mulvaney is also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

19-JUL-2019 — Text exchange between Kurt Volker and Rudy Giuliani: [UPDATE-5]

[7/19/19, 4:48 PM] Kurt Volker: Mr Mayor — really enjoyed breakfast this morning. As discussed, connecting you jere with Andrey Yermak, who is very close to President Zelensky. I suggest we schedule a call together on Monday — maybe 10am or 11am Washington time? Kurt

19-JUL-2019 — Text exchange between Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland: [UPDATE-5]

[7/19/19, 4:49:42 PM] Kurt Volker: Can we three do a call tomorrow—say noon WASHINGTON?
[7/19/19, 6:50:29 PM] Gordon Sondland: Looks like Potus call tomorrow. I spike [sic] directly to Zelensky and gave him a full briefing. He’s got it.
[7/19/19, 6:52:57 PM] Gordon Sondland: Sure!
[7/19/19, 7:01:22 PM] Kurt Volker: Good. Had breakfast with Rudy this morning—teeing up call w Yermak Monday. Must have helped. Most impt is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation—and address any specific personnel issues—if there are any

20-JUL-2019 — Attorney Lanny Davis and his firm, Davis, Goldberg & Galper, ended their arrangement with Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who had been charged with international racketeering by the U.S. in 2014. The law firm of diGenova & Toensing assumed representation for Firtash. [UPDATE-4]

22-JUL-2019 — Zelensky’s Servant of the People wins Ukraine’s parliamentary elections.

23-JUL-2019 — 

24-JUL-2019 – Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears before House Judiciary Committee. The same day that GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe (TX-4) used his time to question Mueller to accuse Mueller of breaking DOJ regulations; CNN reported that “Ratcliffe has been under consideration for a job within the Trump administration, sources told CNN, including an intelligence or national security role.”

24-JUL-2019 — Toensing on Twitter the afternoon before key phone call [UPDATE-4]:

25-JUL-2019Trump talked with Ukraine’s Zelensky on the phone “to congratulate him on his recent election.” Ukraine’s English-language readout of this call said Trump discussed “investigations into corruption cases that have hampered interaction between Ukraine and the U.S.A.” (This call is the subject of whistleblower complaint.)

28-JUL-2019 — Coats’ departure and John Ratcliffe nominated as replacement announced by Trump via Twitter.

31-JUL-2019 — Trump spoke with Putin on the phone; they discussed fires in Siberia. [UPDATE-5]

31-JUL-2019 — Former U.S. ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft confirmed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. [UPDATE-4]

02-AUG-2019 — Ratcliffe withdraws from consideration.

~02-AUG-2019 — Trump administration asked ODNI for a list of all ODNI employees at the federal government’s top pay scale who have worked there for 90 days or more. This was believed to be a search for a new Director of ODNI; others speculated there was an impending personnel shakeup.

06-AUG-2019 — John Huntsman, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, submitted his resignation letter effective 03-OCT-2019, two years to the date he assume office. [UPDATE-5]

08-AUG-2019 — Primary Deputy Director DNI Sue Gordon resigned effective 15-AUG-2019, without additional prior notice, as ordered. Resignation letter without handwritten note.

Copy of former PDDNI’s resignation letter with handwritten cover: ODNI_LTR_08AUG2019

11-AUG-2019 — Giuliani debriefing with two State Department diplomats about his meeting with Ukraine’s Zelensky aide in Madrid, Spain.

12-AUG-2019IC IG received the whistleblower compaint, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter.

15-AUG-2019 — Coats’ last day as DNI.

XX-AUG-2019 — Date TBD. In mid-August, lawmakers learned the Office of Management and Budget had taken over Defense and State Departments’ budgetary decisions, delaying aid distribution including aid to Ukraine. It’s not clear OMB had legal authority to restrain aid already authorized nearly a year earlier by Congress.

22-AUG-2019 — Giuliani said the U.S. State Department helped set up his meeting(s) with Zelensky’s aide Yermak, assisting “his efforts to press the Ukrainian government to probe two prominent Democratic opponents of the president: former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.”

26-AUG-2019 — ICIG transmitted the whistleblower complaint to the Acting DNI, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter.

26-AUG-2019 — GOP appointee Matthew Peterson resigned from Federal Election Commission; effective date of resignation 31-AUG-2019. FEC no longer has a quorum with his departure.

27-AUG-2019 — Russia barred a visa for entry to Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) for a trip planned in early September. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) received clearance and a visa, however. Johnson, Murphy and Lee are all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Johnson is the subcommittee chair for Europe & Regional Security Cooperation. The three senators voted in favor of the Russia sanctions bill.

28-AUG-2019 — John Bolton met with Ukraine’s Zelensky (video).

28-AUG-2019 — Bolton met his counterpart, Oleksandr Danyliuk, Ukraine’s head of the National Defense and Security Council; Bolton told Danyliuk that the U.S. support for Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists in contested eastern Ukraine would ‘intensify’. 

29-AUG-2019 — Trump stalled the $250M military assistance provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative by asking Bolton and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to review the package. Defense Department had already reviewed the aid and supported it.

29-AUG-2019 — Lutsenko submitted his resignation on the first day of work for the new parliament.

30-AUG-2019 — Trump tweeted a high-resolution satellite image of Iran’s failed Safir SLV launch while claiming the U.S. was not involved. The image may have been classified and ‘insta-declassified’ by Trump.

30-AUG-2019 — Fiona Hill departs  administration. Not clear if she left before/after Trump’s tweeted image of Safir SLV launch site.

01-SEP-2019 — VP Mike Pence flew to Poland and met with Poland’s president Andrzej Duda and Ukraine’s Zelensky, discussing security and energy issues (remarks issued by White House). Per pool reporter, the meeting included National Security Adviser John Bolton and Energy Secretary Rick Perry; Pence avoided answering media questions whether the Trump administration would still allocate $250M for security aid.

01/02-SEP-2019 — US Special Rep. for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalizad met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in Kabul where the Taliban, Afghan government and the U.S. had “reached an agreement in principle” toward an eventual “total and permanent cease-fire.”

02-SEP-2019 — During news conference after the meeting with Duda and Zelensky in response to a question by AP’s Jill Colvin, Pence denied speaking about Joe Biden with Zelensky:

“Well, on the first question [about Biden], the answer is no. But we — with President Zelensky yesterday, we discussed — we discussed America’s support for Ukraine and the upcoming decision the President will make on the latest tranche of financial support in great detail.”

02-SEP-2019 — Deadline for ADNI to forward the complaint to Intelligence committees of Congress passes without a referral, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter.

03-SEP-2019 — Russian media outlet Tass reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said the U.S. and Taliban “insist that Russia must be present in one capacity or another at the possible signing of the agreements that the parties are working on now.”

03-SEP-2019 — Sen. Murphy and Johnson began a 5-day trip to Serbia, Kosovo, Ukraine, and Germany. Several officials in Zelensky’s administration told Murphy during this visit that U.S. aid had been withheld; the delay was attributed to a resistance to investigating Joe and Hunter Biden though Zelensky himself did not communicate this.

04-SEP-2019 — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sign the agreement with the Taliban.

07-SEP-2019 — Russia and Ukraine completed a major prisoner swap; some of the prisoners included Ukrainian sailors seized during the Kerch straits incident.

09-SEP-2019 — CNN broke story of a CIA asset extracted from Russia in 2017; followed by NYT on the 9th (and then NBC’s Ken Dilanian appears at the asset’s house…)

09-SEP-2019 — Trump asked for Bolton’s resignation and tweeted about it the next morning.

09-SEP-2019 — Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) sent a letter to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, notifying it of a whistleblower complaint which it had determined to be credible and a matter of “urgent concern.”

09-SEP-2019 — Three House committees launch investigation(s) to look into whether Trump and Giuliani asked Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.

10-SEP-2019 — Bolton tells Fox’s Brian Kilmeade by text that he’d quit.

10-SEP-2019 — HPSCI Rep. Adam Schiff requested the full, unredacted complaint, the IC IG’s determination about the complaint, and all documentation of ODNI’s action regarding this complaint, including correspondence with the White House.

11-SEP-2019 — Delayed aid to Ukraine finally released.

11-SEP-2019 — Bloomberg reported Bolton pushed back Monday-Tuesday at Trump over Iran sanctions; Bolton wanted maximum pressure while Trump wanted to encourage a meeting with Iran’s Rouhani later in September.

12-SEP-2019 — Schiff and ADNI “discussed at length” the need to protect the whistleblower from any retaliation, including if the whistleblower subsequently comes forward to the committee with his/her concerns, via Schiff’s 13-SEP letter.

12-SEP-2019 — Republican senators said aid to Ukraine had been delayed while Trump assessed whether Ukraine’s Zelensky was pro-West/pro-Russia, and that Sen. Dick Durbin threatened to hold up appropriations until the aid was released. There were concerns about finalizing defense appropriations before the end of the federal fiscal year on September 30.

13-SEP-2019 — Zelensky said in a press conference that not only was the U.S. going to send $250M in military aid but an additional $140M.

13-SEP-2019 — ODNI declined the request, claiming the request as “it involves confidentially and potentially privileged communications by persons outside the Intelligence Community.”

13-SEP-2019 — HPSCI subpoenaed acting DNI Joseph Maguire for materials declined by ODNI.

17-SEP-2019 — Deadline, materials responsive to subpoena must be turned over by this date; Maguire failed to do so.

18-SEP-2019 — Pence and Zelensky met by phone and discussed future aid for Ukraine’s security.

19-SEP-2019 — Date Maguire was compelled to appear before Congress in a public hearing. The Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson appeared before the House Intel Committee in a closed door session.

19-SEP-2019 — Giuliani denied asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden moments before admitting that he had done just that.

20-SEP-2019 — Senator Murphy published a press release about the whistleblower complaint, renewing his call for a Senate Foreign Services Committee investigation into Giuliani’s efforts to influence Ukraine.

20-SEP-2019 — Russian armed forces bombarded front along  western edge of contested Donbas territory.

22-SEP-2019 — During an interview on Meet the Press, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin can’t explain where the additional $140M in aid for Ukraine came from.

22-SEP-2019 — In front of press on the White House lawn, Trump said he had spoken with Zelensky about Biden on July 25 in a congratulatory call. Later in the day he indicated he might allow a transcript of the call to be published.

 

26-SEP-2019 — Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee in a public hearing.

26-SEP-2019 — Toensing via Twitter, this time targeting HPSCI chair Rep. Schiff [UPDATE-4]:

27-SEP-2019 — Volker resigns as US Special Representative for Ukraine [UPDATE-1]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Future dates:

30-SEP-2019 — Federal fiscal year ends on September 30.

Scheduled House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence hearings:

02-OCT-2019 — former ambassador Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch
03-OCT-2019 — former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker
07-OCT-2019 — Deputy Assistant Secretary in the European and Eurasian Bureau George Kent
08-OCT-2019 — Counselor of the U.S. Department of State T. Ulrich Brechbuhl
10-OCT-2019 — Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Again,  this will NOT be an open thread; it will be dedicated to this project.

_____

UPDATE-3 — 4:25 P.M. EDT —

The HPSCI, House Oversight, and House Foreign Affairs Committees subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani today. Keep digging, people! I’ll add the content accumulated since 1:00 a.m. EDT later this evening. Thanks!

The chairs of these committees also subpoenaed Giuliani associates, noticing deposition for:

October 10, 2019: Lev Parnas
October 11, 2019: Igor Fruman
October 14, 2019: Semyon “Sam” Kislin

More details at the HPSCI website. These next two weeks are going to be busy!

ADDER: I can’t find any other outlet has covered this yet, very sorry — the article will be behind a paywall so most of us can’t read it.


“Among the administration officials” suggests we don’t yet have the full list of folks who were supposed to be in attendance on the call, on site physically or remotely.

Wondering how long before Pompeo is subpoenaed?

ADDER-2: Whoops, looks like Pompeo was prevaricating with the media before today.

UPDATE-4 — 11:39 P.M. EDT 01-OCT-2019 —

This update is still rolling, will continue to add items as I get through them from here forward. Thank you for all you contributions in thread; it’s taking me longer than I expected to read them and cross-match against other resources.

I expect to have a refreshed timeline completed by the end of the week though at the rate new reporting on the Trump-Russia-Giuliani relationship is crazy making. Like playing “Where’s Waldo?” with a loudmouthed, be-suited weasel in a crowd of weasels.

“Where’s Rudy?” More like where hasn’t he been?

UPDATE-5 — 11:45 P.M. EDT 03-OCT-2019 —

Documents from Kurt Volker’s deposition before the HPSCI, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight Committees have been released. Volker appears to be taking his lumps but it’s not a good look to appear to be supporting Trump’s abuse of power, holding promised aid hostage in exchange for a commitment to investigate Trump’s political rival.

The addition of the text messages from the deposition into the timeline will be the last update to this post.

Crap’s going to hit the oscillator in the morning.

Hidden until Now: Trump Admitted 2016 Russian Interference in Lavrov-Kislyak Meeting

[NB: Note the byline, thanks!]

If you though the dam was beginning to crack after House Speaker Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry would begin on Tuesday, or after the release of the July 25 memo on Wednesday, or the release of the whistleblower complaint followed by acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire’s testimony yesterday, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The Washington Post published this article at 8:26 p.m.:

Trump told Russian officials in 2017 he wasn’t concerned about Moscow’s interference in U.S. election

Here’s the first two grafs:

President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries, an assertion that prompted alarmed White House officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people, according to three former officials with knowledge of the matter.

The comments, which have not been previously reported, were part of a now-infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which Trump revealed highly classified information that exposed a source of intelligence on the Islamic State. He also said during the meeting that firing FBI Director James B. Comey the previous day had relieved “great pressure” on him.

Emphasis mine.

We’ve known about this particular conversation Trump had with Lavrov and Kislyak. We’ve known he damaged a source in the process while admitting to obstruction of justice.

But we didn’t know there was more to this conversation — like admitting he knew the Russians ‘aided’ his election, or airing out our dirty foreign policy to a country with which we have not had good relations. “Unconcerned,” WaPo’s team said; sure, why would Trump be worried at all about the contributions that ensured his occupation of the White House? It’s simply a matter of fact, right?

And we didn’t know Trump’s lack of concern about election interference in front of Lavrov and Kislyak, which offered an implicit permission slip to continue interference here and elsewhere.

Nor did we know that White House officials hid the rest of this Oval Office conversation, limiting its access to a very small need-to-know circle. It’s not clear whether this meant the contents of this highly-sensitive conversation were retroactively classified and squirreled away in the code-word classified system set aside for sensitive intelligence information where the July 25 Trump-Zelensky conversation transcript had been stored.

We don’t know now whether Special Counsel’s Office had any inkling the content of this particular conversation may have been hidden, or that other transcripts responsive to its investigation may have been locked away in that code-word classified system.

If Trump knew about this at all, and any of this hidden content was responsive to Mueller’s investigation, it’s yet another obstructive act.

Any of the White House officials who enabled this content sequestration process may also have obstructed justice if the hidden material was responsive to requests or subpoenas. Who knew about these material, when they learned about it, and why they didn’t come forward sooner will be a subject of the impeachment inquiry.

We also need to know what other exposures are contained within and without the code-word classified system and whatever other ad hoc retention system was employed by a small cadre of White House staff.

What else has been used as leverage against the U.S. that we the people and our representatives know nothing about?

What’s additionally worrisome: we’re learning in a rather slapdash fashion as the proverbial rats flee the sinking S.S. Trump — like the ‘three former officials with knowledge of the matter’ cited as sources for this story. How many of them have already been monitored by foreign intelligence, marked as potential assets, witting or unwitting, because they are known to have participated in this secret content sequestration process?

How many of these ‘former officials with knowledge of the matter’ have been silent because of Trump’s obsessive use of nondisclosure agreements?

How many of them have talked among themselves — neaning others under Trump’s NDAs — about this secret content sequestration process and its contents?

How many of this circle of need-to-know or in-the-know are also GOP leadership like Senator Mitch McConnell or Senator Lindsey Graham? How many of them have already been compromised because of this knowledge?

It’d certainly explain a few things like McConnell’s refusal to do anything substantive about election security. Or Graham’s about-face after a round of golf with Trump.

If you’re reading this, Speaker Pelosi, ramp up the impeachment team. Get that full House vote organized to authorize the inquiry and the necessary personnel. It’s past time.

A Less Obvious Question about NYT’s Reporting on Trump-Russia

[NB: As always, check the byline. /~R.]

Over the last several years, one thing has bothered me about The New York Times, something not immediately obvious in these related pieces of what may be the most important work the paper published since the early 2000s and the Iraq War. By “important” I don’t mean effective, nor do I mean constructive.

October 31, 2016

Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia
POLITICS By Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers

WASHINGTON — For much of the summer, the F.B.I. pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign. Agents scrutinized advisers close to Donald J. Trump, looked for financial connections with Russian financial figures, searched for those involved in hacking the computers of Democrats, and even chased a lead — which they ultimately came to doubt — about a possible secret channel of email communication from the Trump Organization to a Russian bank.

Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump. …

January 20, 2017

Trump, Russia, and the News Story That Wasn’t
PUBLIC EDITOR By Liz Spayd

LATE September was a frantic period for New York Times reporters covering the country’s secretive national security apparatus. Working sources at the F.B.I., the C.I.A., Capitol Hill and various intelligence agencies, the team chased several bizarre but provocative leads that, if true, could upend the presidential race. The most serious question raised by the material was this: Did a covert connection exist between Donald Trump and Russian officials trying to influence an American election?

One vein of reporting centered on a possible channel of communication between a Trump organization computer server and a Russian bank with ties to Vladimir Putin. Another source was offering The Times salacious material describing an odd cross-continental dance between Trump and Moscow. The most damning claim was that Trump was aware of Russia’s efforts to hack Democratic computers, an allegation with implications of treason. Reporters Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers led the effort, aided by others. …

May 16, 2018

Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Secret Origins of the Trump Investigation
POLITICS By Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Nicholas Fandos

WASHINGTON — Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.

Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald J. Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an F.B.I. interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.

The agents summarized their highly unusual interview and sent word to Washington on Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the investigation was opened. Their report helped provide the foundation for a case that, a year ago Thursday, became the special counsel investigation. But at the time, a small group of F.B.I. officials knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane. …

January 11, 2019

F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia
POLITICS By Adam Goldman, Michael S. Schmidt and Nicholas Fandos

WASHINGTON — In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice. …

I can’t help wondering what NYT’s former former executive editor Jill Abramson would have done in 2016 when presented with a draft of what would become the October 31st article.

I can’t help wondering yet again, a handful of years later, what the real reasons were that Abramson was fired in May 2014 — during a mid-term election year — after a mere 32 months in that role. Her predecessor Bill Keller had been in that same role for eight years.

Admittedly, I don’t think much of current executive editor Dean Baquet‘s decisions, and not just about this particular story arc. But it’s this arc which really gives me pause about NYT’s editorial management, as does the irrational amount of coverage the NYT focused during the 2016 campaign season on Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Did we end up with this mess because a traditional media company had difficulty with a woman’s editorial management style? Or because she might be sympathetic to women running for public office?

You’ve got a lot to say about the NYT’s reporting on this topic. Go for it.

Birds of a Feather: Comparing ‘Sparrows’ Chapman and Butina

Name: Anna Vasilyevna Kushchyenko Chapman Maria Valeryevna Butina
Born:

Place:

23 February 1982

Volgograd, Volgograd Oblast, Soviet Union

November 10, 1988

Barnaul, Siberia, Soviet Union

Education Economics (Masters)

Moscow University or RUDN University (unclear)

Moscow, Russia

Political Science, teaching

Altai State University

Barnaul, Siberia, Russia

Marital Status: Divorced (2006) Single
First Entered U.S.: 2009 2011
Visa Y/N: Unclear Yes
Visa Type: Unclear – Acquired residency in U.S. as British citizen by marriage Initially traveled to/from U.S. with Russian official Aleksandr Torshin; applied for F-1 student visa in 2016
Work in U.S.: CEO, PropertyFinder LLC (real estate sales) Special assistant to Aleksandr Torshin; gun rights activist; student
Arrested: 06/27/10 07/15/18
Charged with: 18 USC 371 Conspiracy,

18 USC 951 Agents of Foreign Governments

18 USC 371 Conspiracy,

18 USC 951 Agents of Foreign Governments

Though Marcy has already discussed Maria Butina’s recent attempt to avoid prosecution as a Russian spy under 18 USC 951, it’s worth comparing two Russian women charged on different occasions with violating the same act.

There are some similarities including the hair color, and some key differences — Chapman and Butina aren’t clones. Their behavior and achievements in the U.S. on behalf of Russia suggest a change in methodology over time.

The indictment charging Chapman included her mission, decrypted from a 2009 message sent to Chapman and a co-conspirator:

Butina’s mission appears to be similar, but there’s no decrypted message included in the Department of Justice’s Arrest Affidavit to compare with that in Chapman’s indictment. We must rely on Butina’s translation of another document she shared by email with ‘US Person-1,” believed to be Paul Erickson.

Both Chapman and Butina had missions or assignments; Butina’s appears to be worded more loosely but a full text of the email is not publicly available to make a more accurate assessment. Both women were expected to get close to and develop relationships with U.S. policy makers.

What may explain why Butina’s mission is worded a little differently: between the time Chapman receives her assignment and Butina shares her mission with U.S. Person-1, the policymakers have changed from Democrats to Republicans.

The Democrats were also much more difficult and distant; we can see in other interactions between Illegals Program spies including Chapman that targets weren’t as readily engaged as U.S Person-1. Though Americans who interacted with Illegals Program spies were amazingly credulous, the spies still didn’t get very close to their intended target, Hillary Clinton.

By the time Butina began her work in 2011, methods had changed. Instead of tradecraft seen in the Buryakov case circa 2013-2015 and the earlier Illegals Program circa 2010, Butina is initially accompanied by a Russian official – no need for Butina to implement additional traditional tradecraft to report intelligence when they are their own channel, subordinate spy to superior and minder. Once a relationship between Butina and US Person-1 had been well established, tradecraft was even more nominal – we don’t see in the Arrest Affidavit anything more complicated than a commercially available laptop computer and cellphone.

The descriptive name of the assignment on which Butina worked also indicated a shift — “Project Description ‘Diplomacy'” —  to building constructive (konstrucktivnyh) relations with an organization central to influence over the Republican Party, with an understanding that they (Russia in concert with Political Party 1 and Gun Rights Organization) had some ‘right to negotiate’. This is far more substantive than Chapman’s assignment to seek and develop ties with key contacts.

Spying operations changed along the arrest and deportation of the Illegals Program spies and in sync with a transition in U.S. Politics:

— The shift in Congress from Democratic Party to GOP with the 2010 election may have been a trigger for a new approach once the 112th Congress was sworn in;
— The transition happened in sync with the embrace of Torshin by the National Rifle Association (NRA);
— Change from Clinton to Kerry as Secretary of State likely played a role given the expectation Clinton would be the front runner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

But one key factor may have changed the tack Torshin and Butina took compared to Chapman and the Illegals: the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, Appellant v. Federal Election Commission on January 21, 2010.

Now there was a means to funnel money to meet Torshin’s and Butina’s efforts without the level of difficulty other methods might have had before 2010. They could identify, meet, target, influence, and point to a candidate the NRA could fund using Russian money — in effect, developing and recruiting unwitting (or witting) agents.

They collected Republican members of Congress to exploit as useful idiots, in other words.

No wonder Butina had to hide behind a seemingly innocuous student status. Besides masking the reason why she was in the U.S., she needed to appear lower on the cultural status scale than the GOP’s easy marks on which she worked. In contrast, Chapman only needed the appearance of a real estate gig to enable her to poke around.

Note again in the excerpt from the DOJ’s Arrest Affidavit the ‘right to negotiate’ — does this suggest that Citizens United, combined with NRA’s welcome, that Russia felt it had an alternative (read: illegitimate) path to diplomacy, circumventing a Democratic White House between 2011 and 2017?

It’s clear something changed after 2010 at the NRA with regard to allocation of money between lobbying and campaigning.

Never mind that gun control advocacy group the Brady Foundation was outspent by an overwhelming amount. The NRA shifted its practice dramatically in 2012 from spending on lobbying instead to campaigning, just about the time Torshin had fully integrated Butina into a gun rights advocate as his “special assistant.”

In 2012 the NRA also transitioned away from relying as heavily on the  American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), doing more of its policy work and outreach directly through GOP candidates. ALEC executed a PR feint — backing away publicly from gun rights issues and the Stand Your Ground laws it helped promote — but in reality it was ceding to the NRA these efforts because ALEC was no longer needed after Citizens United as a legislative front. The NRA could handle their issues directly with candidates under the guise of campaign support.

The rest is history, with Butina taking selfies with NRA’s president David Keene and various GOP candidates to document her benchmarks along the way through Trump’s 2016 campaign.

(Conveniently, Trump trademarked his tagline, Make America Great Again, in November 2012.)

Butina’s legal team may argue against a charge of violating 18 USC 951 as a negotiating chip, claiming she didn’t spy. If either of these red-capped sparrows could have claimed they weren’t a spy, it wasn’t Butina. Her mission was successful in a way Anna Chapman could only have dreamed.

Big Dick Toilets and Sasquatch Dolls: Matt Whitaker’s Qualifications To Be Dog-Catcher

I’ve followed the burgeoning scandal that the guy Trump appointed to play hatchet man to Mueller’s investigation is totally unqualified to be Acting Attorney General. But I’ve already lost track of all the reasons why. So I’m going to try to keep a running list here.

This will be updated as new issues are identified.

Legal problems with the appointment

While Steve Vladeck says it’s legal, and Marty Lederman and Walter Dellinger find OLC’s analysis, concluding that Matt Whitaker’s appointment is legal, to be plausible, a number of commentators disagree. Those include:

These arguments include a mix of constitutional (Appointments Clause) and legal (Vacancies Reform Act and the purpose of DOJ).

Numerous people are already challenging his appointment, including the state of Maryland, three Democratic Senators, and a number of criminal defendants. Quinta Jurecic is collecting all the litigation documents for those challenges here.

Other legal problems

In addition to the Constitutional and legal problems he raises, Neal Katyal also argues that Whitaker cannot legally supervise Mueller’s investigation.

David Kris points out that because of the legal questions surrounding Whitaker’s appointment and the certainty that defendants will challenge it, his appointment will create a whole bunch of downstream problems for DOJ.

A company for which Whitaker served on the board is under investigation by the FBI and FTC. Though Whitaker was subpoenaed by the FTC, he blew off that subpoena. FOIAed records show that Whitaker kept pitching the company even after receiving complaints.

One report on Trump’s efforts to get DOJ to prosecute Hillary Clinton and Jim Comey describes Whitaker prepping discussions about what it was doing in response; he reportedly “did not seem to cross any line,” but it remains to be seen whether that’s true.

Whitaker got four donations amounting to $8,800 to his 2014 Senate run in 2018, after he had started as Sessions’ Chief of Staff, which may amount to a violation of the Hatch Act. Following a complaint from watchdog group American Oversight, the Office of Special Counsel (the DOJ office in charge of reviewing such violations, among other things) opened an investigation into this.

Bureaucratic problems

There may be problems with the way that Whitaker was appointed.

As numerous people have noted, Jeff Sessions did not date his resignation, raising questions about when his authority really passed to Whitaker. (OLC says Sessions resigned on November 7.) Democrats in the House are also suggesting they believe Sessions’ forced resignation counts as a firing, which changes the options Trump would have to replace him under the Vacancies Reform Act.

Chris Geidner has reported that the White House won’t say when Whitaker was formally appointed.

Because Mueller has sought an interview with John Kelly (indeed, he’s a leading candidate to be the Mystery Appellant challenging a subpoena or something else from Mueller), it may be problematic that he played a key role in firing Jeff Sessions.

Conflict problems

Whitaker has a potential conflict with regards to the Mueller investigation tied to his relationship with Sam Clovis, who was in charge of crafting Trump’s outreach to Russia. Whitaker served as Clovis’ campaign manager in 2014.

Then, in a series of appearances Whitaker used to draw Trump’s attention, he commented on the Mueller investigation or the underlying conflict.

In a USAT column on July 5, 2016 and then multiple appearances on July 6, Whitaker suggested Hillary should have been prosecuted, partly by criticizing Jim Comey for making the decision.

On September 30, 2016, Whitaker suggested that if Trump won, he should restart the investigation into Hillary.

On May 19, 2017, Whitaker dismissed the possibility that Trump had committed obstruction of justice by firing Comey.

In July 2017, Whitaker interviewed with Don McGahn to take on the role of legal attack dog discrediting the Mueller investigation.

On July 13, 2017, Whitaker defended Donald Trump Jr taking the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

In a CNN interview on July 26, 2017, Whitaker described how you could defund the Special Counsel and thereby end his work.

I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced, it would recess appointment and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.

On July 27, 2017, Whitaker said it would be a mistake to provide Mueller any further protection.

On August 4, 2017, Whitaker recommended an article that describes, “with a little planning he could install a true believer to a political position at DOJ—as a sleeper agent—and then (after easing out Sessions) elevate him or her to attorney general.”

On August 6, 2017, Whitaker used the Red Line comment Maggie and Mike teed up to describe Mueller pursuing Trump’s finances as improper.

On August 11, 2017, Whitaker suggested the investigation into Paul Manafort was outside the scope of Mueller’s appointment. In that same appearance, he suggested Mueller had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct.

On August 15, 2017, Whitaker said Mueller’s appointment was a little fishy.

On August 25, 2017, Whitaker suggested searching Manafort’s condo with a dozen agents was designed to intimidate him.

On August 30, 2017, Whitaker suggested Mueller’s investigation was politically motivated and was misusing resources that should be used elsewhere.

In spite of the fact that many of these would seem to pose conflicts that DOJ normally concludes would ethically prohibit Whitaker’s involvement in the Mueller investigation, both Trump and Whitaker appear to have known he would not recuse from the Mueller investigation even before he was appointed, though Trump has claimed (evidence to the contrary) that he didn’t talk to Whitaker about such things before he appointed him.

Financial problems

As noted by CREW when they released Whitaker’s financial disclosures, his disclosures got doctored (or “Kushnered,” as I’m now referring to serial attempts to belatedly fix glaring problems in official disclosures) four times after the time he was appointed AAG.

CREW has already filed a FOIA for those revisions.

What the records show is just as alarming.

The non-profit Whitaker worked at to, first, beat up Hillary Clinton and then audition to kill the Mueller investigation, Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, has obscure funding and genesis. It keeps changing its name. Whitaker’s salary, which went from $63,000 for part time work to $660,000 a year, made up most of its expenditures in the period before he became Sessions’ Chief of Staff. One of the guys listed as a director, James Crumley, claimed not to remember its existence. Another, Noah Wall, didn’t know he was listed as Director. While claiming to be non-partisan, it overwhelmingly attacked Democrats (and Hillary specifically), a possible violation of IRS regulations. As OpenSecrets notes, its funding comes from a black hole pass through, but the organization seems to have ties to other judiciary-related dark money groups.

The 14 companies in Iowa Whitaker worked for (reportedly, past tense) have never filed paperwork noting that, so on paper he still works for them.

In 2016, Whitaker abandoned a taxpayer-funded apartment rehabilitation project, defaulting on loans and hiding from creditors.

World Patent Marketing — the company the FBI is investigating — was totally fraudulent, pretending to help review patents without doing so. Among those the company defrauded are veterans. Among the things it marketed were Big Dick Toilets, Sasquatch dolls, and time travel.

Abuse as (or invoking past history as) US Attorney

Whitaker has already abused his position as a government prosecutor, both while serving and since.

In 2006, he prosecuted a Democratic politico, Matt McCoy and even paid an informant to incriminate him. The jury acquitted McCoy after deliberating for just 25 minutes.

Then, when serving on the advisory board for a World Patent Marketing, he threatened people who complained, including threatening them with legal retribution.

Temperament

Both on his legal views and his other beliefs, Whitaker has a temperament far outside the mainstream.

When running for Senate, Whitaker argued that judges should have a biblical view and said that Marbury v. Madison — the foundation of judicial review in this country — was among the worst Supreme Court decisions.

He was among the US Attorneys who imposed the harshest sentences in drug prosecutions.

Update: Since it has attracted a lot of attention, I owe this title in part to HowdyQuicksell, but the Dog Catcher accusation (which will probably ensure no DOJ spox will ever again return my calls) is my own.

The Psy-Group Presentation Suggests Online Trolls Swung Richard Burr’s State of North Carolina

The WSJ reports that Mueller’s team has obtained an analytical document from Psy-Group, the company of Joel Zamel, that was offering to help the Trump campaign both before and after the election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have obtained a presentation prepared by an Israel-based private intelligence firm that outlines ways in which Donald Trump’s 2016 election was helped by fake news and fake social-media accounts, according to people familiar with the presentation and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

[snip]

Psy-Group’s founder, Joel Zamel, is under scrutiny from U.S. investigators because of his close relationship with the government of the United Arab Emirates and his involvement in a meeting with Mr. Trump’s eldest son shortly before election day, the Journal has reported.

Mr. Zamel met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in the weeks before the 2016 election along with George Nader, a top adviser to the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, to discuss an offer to help boost the campaign, according to people familiar with the matter. Erik Prince, a U.S. defense contractor who specializes in the Middle East and had close ties to the campaign, attended the meeting, the Journal previously reported. People involved in the meeting say nothing came of it and the Psy-Group didn’t perform any work for the Trump campaign.

The presentation the Special Counsel is apparently scrutinizing is 9 pages; most pages describe generically how to seed bots to later swing opinion. But there’s one page that purports to show how this works in a swing state. That swing state in North Carolina.

While we can’t measure Psy-Group’s claims without a script, it seems that the group claims social media helped Trump turn a 7 point deficit in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape to a 4 point win on election day.

NC is an interesting choice because Trump also benefitted from the most aggressive voter suppression drive in the state. And because it’s the state for which Russian hacking — of VR Systems and, possibly, of poll books in disproportionately democratic precincts — may have actually affected the election.

It’s interesting for one more reason: it’s the state of Senate Intelligence Committee Chair (and Trump NatSec advisor, during the election) Richard Burr. Burr won his race by more than Trump did, but still within the scope of the swing mapped out by Psy-Group.

As I noted, the election tampering report generated by Burr’s committee, largely failed to address the vulnerability and importance of vendors like VR Systems.

Obviously, if trolls made the difference in NC, they also made the difference in PA, MI, and WI.

But we might not find that out, because the guy in charge of the purportedly responsible investigation of such things has scoped the investigation in such a way that his own re-election could not be questioned.

Yet More Proof Facebook’s Surveillance Capitalism Is Good at Surveilling — Even Russian Hackers

I’ve long tracked Facebook’s serial admission to having SIGINT visibility that nearly rivals the NSA: knowing that Facebook had intelligence corroborating NSA’s judgment that GRU was behind the DNC hack was one reason I was ultimately convinced of the IC’s claims, in spite of initial questions.

Among all his evasions and questionably correct answers in Senate testimony yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg provided another tidbit about the visibility Facebook had on the 2016 attacks.

One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016. We expected them to do a number of more traditional cyberattacks, which we did identify, and notified the campaigns, that they were trying to hack into them. But we were slow to identifying [sic] the type of new information operations.

Not only did Facebook see GRU’s operations in real time, but they notified “the campaigns” about them.

Note, Zuck didn’t describe the targets in any more detail than “campaigns.” That led Robby Mook to dispute Zuck, eliciting more details from Facebook CISO Alex Stamos.

Aside from illustrating how routinely those involved in and covering the 2016 hacks confuse the possible affected targets (resulting in some real misunderstanding of what happened), Stamos’ clarification provides important new details: these hacks affected both the DNC and RNC’s key employees, and Facebook alerted the FBI (something we’ve previously heard).

The DNC likes to claim they never got any warning they were being hacked. But apparently, in addition to the FBI’s serial attempts to lead them to discover Russia was hacking them, Facebook let them know too.

Elsewhere in his testimony, Zuck got coy about the degree to which Facebook remains involved in the Mueller investigation, a fact that should have been obvious to anyone who has read the Internet Research Agency indictment, but which numerous news outlets treated as news anyway.

Facebook has a lot to answer for (this David Dayen piece on yesterday’s testimony is superb).

But one thing that has continued to trickle out is that Facebook’s surveillance capitalism is good at what it’s designed for: surveillance, including of Russian hackers.

What Did Wikileaks Do with the DCCC Emails It Monopolized?

Yesterday Buzzfeed did a story that adds important details to this report from the New Yorker last year.

In mid-August, Guccifer 2.0 expressed interest in offering a trove of Democratic e-mails to Emma Best, a journalist and a specialist in archival research, who is known for acquiring and publishing millions of declassified government documents. Assange, I was told, urged Best to decline, intimating that he was in contact with the persona’s handlers, and that the material would have greater impact if he released it first.

First, Buzzfeed describes the emails clearly as the DCCC documents (though elsewhere this article remains unreliable on some facts about what documents were what).

As Best describes, she had reached out to Guccifer 2.0 when he had asked for assistance from journalists, and ultimately then reached out to Wikileaks.

Best told BuzzFeed News she first reached out to Guccifer 2.0 in August 2016 after it posted on its WordPress account a call for journalists who wanted its files. “I sent them a Direct Message and referred to that, asking what they had in mind,” Best told BuzzFeed News over Signal. Best has experience posting large data sets, and wondered if she could host the files on archive.org, a nonprofit digital library.

But Guccifer 2.0 had another idea. “[I] gonna send a large trove to wikileaks,” it said. Best, who had DMed with WikiLeaks before, relayed that message to WikiLeaks in a direct message on Twitter. Neither party conveyed to her whether they had interacted together before.

“I told them that Guccifer 2.0 was considering giving me at least part of the cache, which is when they asked me to be their ‘agent,’ which they said I would get ‘credit’ for,” Best said. She didn’t agree to act as Assange’s agent, she said, but stopped messaging with Guccifer 2.0.

Note, this exchange shortly follows the release by Best and Wikileaks of some Turkish emails under some interesting circumstances.

Best’s outreach led to the conversation with Wikileaks, the Wikileaks side of which Buzzfeed includes.

The following is the entirety of WikiLeaks’s messages to Best that night, according to the emails she provided. All times are ET. (Twitter does not send a user copies of their own messages, so the contents Best provided are one-sided.)

8:43 p.m.: please “leave” their conversation with them and us

8:43 p.m.: we would appreciate it if you did not dump the docs and obviously archive.org will delete them anyway

9:12 p.m.: Impact is very substantially reduced if the “news” of a release doesn’t co-incide with the ability to respond to the news by searching

9:13 p.m.: non-searchable dumps are just channeled into a few orgs with technical resources. then others won’t touch them because they perceive that the cherries have all been picked by techdirt or whatever.

9:14 p.m.: and these other media groups are very likely to take a stupid initial angle

9:15 p.m.: “We don’t know if its true. Possibly russians who knows blah blah blah” because they don’t properly verify prior to publication and are scared because they’re not us, contaminating the entire release

9:18 p.m.: in that regretable event, from our perspective, please just act as our agent we can ensure you get the right credit, cross promotion etc.

As Buzzfeed notes, at 10:16 PM ET that day, Guccifer 2.0 tweeted that he would give the documents to Wikileaks (though Buzzfeed incorrectly says Guccifer 2.0 said “it had handed those documents over” to Wikileaks; the tweet in fact describes doing so prospectively).

Buzzfeed emphasizes that this proves Wikileaks knew that it obtained documents from Guccifer 2.0, and not Seth Rich (though this is one reason why Buzzfeed’s conflation of the email sets is problematic, as the Rich conspiracy pertains necessarily to the DNC documents, not the DCCC ones). Showing Wikileaks in direct coordination with Guccifer 2.0 is important.

Equally important, however, is that Wikileaks never released the DCCC documents. Having laid out reasons why it, rather than Best, should release them (because they could make them searchable, because other media outlets would take a stupid initial angle, because other outlets would emphasize the Russian source), Wikileaks then sat on them, if indeed they ever obtained them.

Meanwhile, five minutes after saying he’d dump the DCCC documents to Wikileaks, at 10:23 PM, Guccifer 2.0 sent the first tweet in what would become an exchange via DMs with Roger Stone.

Among the things Guccifer 2.0 did in that exchange was twice try to get Stone interested in the DCCC documents he was posting (though Stone did not respond).

Similarly, also on August 12, Guccifer 2.0 started discussing sharing the emails with a Republican operative named James Bambanek who says, in a recently published report that probably misunderstands one goal of Guccifer 2.0’s actions, he was conducting infosec research.

Elsewhere, Bambanek says he turned over every message immediately to the FBI, but as he notes, they would have been monitoring all this in any case.

Every [direct message] I sent, every [one] I received was turned over to the FBI immediately. I assumed they would have been monitoring the account to begin with,” Bambenek said.

Publicly, we know that Guccifer was also sharing the DCCC documents with other Republican operatives around the country. While some of these documents were unexciting, others provided the Democrats’ oppo research for congressional races. Florida was one of the states where the documents might be said to have helped Republicans (which is not coincidentally where Mueller’s focus on the Internet Research Agency seems to be).

What seems to have happened, then, is that by getting Best to agree not to publish the emails, Guccifer 2.0 then offered them up to a series of Republicans who would (whatever value the actual documents did or didn’t have) then be implicated in obtaining campaign documents from a presumed Russian source.

Contrary to what Wikileaks said, there’d be no way Republican operatives would let actually useful documents go unused, regardless of how much work they had to do to search for them. But by convincing Best not to publish them in bulk (and by not publishing them themselves!), Wikileaks created the opportunity for Guccifer 2.0 to implicate at least a handful of Republican operatives around the country.

Yes, in Bambanek’s case that happened with the knowledge of the FBI. But how many other Republicans didn’t think to admit to the FBI what they were doing?

Update: When the New Yorker story came out last August, Best said she did not know what she was being offered. I’m assuming they were the DCCC docs from the context, timing, and related actions with state based Republicans, but that may not be the case.

The Embarrass Mitch McConnell Provision of the Intel Authorization

I’ve got a piece coming out on all the Russian-related provisions in the Intelligence Authorization bill for next year, which are for the most part really laudable policy proposals. But I wanted to look more closely at this one.

SEC. 606. REPORT ON CYBER ATTACKS BY FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS AGAINST UNITED STATES ELECTION INFRASTRUCTURE.
(a) Report Required.—Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis shall submit to congressional leadership and the congressional intelligence committees a report on cyber attacks and attempted cyber attacks by foreign governments on United States election infrastructure in States and localities in connection with the 2016 presidential election in the United States and such cyber attacks or attempted cyber attacks as the Under Secretary anticipates against such infrastructure. Such report shall identify the States and localities affected and shall include cyber attacks and attempted cyber attacks against voter registration databases, voting machines, voting-related computer networks, and the networks of secretaries of State and other election officials.

(b) Form.—The report submitted under subsection (a) shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex.

(c) Definitions.—In this section:

(1) CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP.—The term “congressional leadership” includes the following:

(A) The majority leader of the Senate.

(B) The minority leader of the Senate.

(C) The Speaker of the House of Representatives.

(D) The minority leader of the House of Representatives.

(2) STATE.—The term “State” means any State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and any territory or possession of the United States.

It requires the Department of Homeland Security to submit an unclassified report on all the hacking attempts on election infrastructure last year. It will involve declassifying information that Reality Winner is facing prison time for liberating, which seems like a concession that such information has public value. 

But I’m particularly interested in the emphasis on the distribution of this report: both to the intelligence committees and to Congressional leadership, spelled out by job title. Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Paul Ryan, and Nancy Pelosi.

That’s interesting because — as part of their investigation into last year’s hack — the Senate Intelligence Committee has already been briefed on this information. Indeed, the day after that testimony, Bloomberg reported — relying on three sources briefed on the investigation — that the hacks were much more severe than publicly known.

Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

So ultimately, if this bill becomes law, it will require an unclassified report on stuff SSCI has been getting briefing on to be submitted to both SSCI and Congressional leadership.

The move comes in the wake of complaints from Democrats that Mitch McConnell refused to back a stronger statement about such attempted attacks in fall 2016. Now, I think some of the complaints about McConnell’s inaction last year are overblown, a demand that McConnell get ahead of where the Intelligence Community was willing to go publicly. And I think they largely obscure the more pressing question of what Trump advisors Devin Nunes and Richard Burr did. 

But I am cognizant of the fact that in a matter of months, we may get a better sense of the kinds of threats to our voting system that McConnell fought against publicizing.

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