Will Hurd

Will Hurd’s Sparkle Pony Approach to the Solemn Duty of Upholding the Constitution

There was yet another stunning impeachment hearing, with Fiona Hill and David Holmes laying out yet more evidence that Trump subordinated the national security of the United States to his own personal needs.

But that didn’t sway Will Hurd, who used his minutes at the end not to ask the question he has asked of many other witnesses, for a list of Ukrainians close to Volodymyr Zelensky with whom Rudy was interacting (Holmes had already made clear the list is much longer than the list Hurd had previously used to dismiss the inquiry).

Instead, he used his time to:

  • Grossly misrepresent the totality of the inquiry to two words in Trump’s call
  • Admit that this is a terrible precedent (one that Trump has already repeated with other countries)
  • Affirm that Trump’s actions harmed national security
  • Grossly misrepresent crystal clear messages to Ukraine, pretending they were unclear to the Ukrainians
  • Call willful actions for personal benefit a “bungling” foreign policy
  • Accuse Democrats (and nonpartisan witnesses) of undermining Ukraine for observing its reliance on us
  • Falsely claim there were differences of opinion about the call: no witness expressed having no concern about it
  • Call an investigation in which not a single witness was a partisan Democrat (just Tim Morrison, as a Congressional staffer, and Jennifer Williams, as a George W Bush campaign worker expressed any partisan affiliation) an extremely partisan process
  • Completely ignore Trump’s violation of the Budget Impoundment Act to create his extortion, effectively blessing the usurpation of his own power as a Congressman
  • Remain silent about the Administration’s refusal to cooperate at all in the inquiry, withholding every senior official’s testimony

Most cynically, though, Hurd blamed the focus on the President’s crimes for the distraction from Ukraine, not the President’s crimes itself. He blamed Democrats for the shift of focus, not the Administration’s refusal to respond to very simple, bipartisan requests about Ukraine, most notably on funding.

Then he suggested this investigation was rushed.

The delay is hurting Ukraine (and our own national security), but the inquiry has been rushed, said the former CIA officer.

And then, he laid out what he needed to assess whether this was really a crime: more testimony. Not from Mike Pompeo, Rick Perry, Mick Mulvaney, or John Eisenberg, all of whom can answer key questions that remain unanswered.

But from three people who should not testify:

  • Rudy Giuliani (because he is being criminally investigated for this activity and it’d be insane for him to do so–which is probably why he refused Lindsey Graham’s request for testimony)
  • Hunter Biden (because there has been no credible claim he did anything that Trump’s children aren’t currently doing)
  • The whistleblower (because every other witness has corroborated the whistleblower’s complaint and the President has already been retaliating against him for a month)

In short, Hurd offered up these three impossible witnesses, knowing that neither Democrats nor Republicans would agree to the request, as his condition to consider the matter further.

Hurd admitted in his statement that this is a gravely serious duty under the Constitution. And, having admitted that seriousness, he asked for a Sparkle Pony — something he knew he would not get — to excuse his own cowardice for refusing to do anything about Trump’s abuse of office.

Paul Manafort Knew of His Inclusion in the Black Ledger Two Months before NYT Story

In spite of Fiona Hill’s warnings not to peddle in Russian backed disinformation, the seemingly single frothy right talking point today is to embrace the claim that Ukraine, like Russia, tried to tamper in the 2016 election.

None of them have noted the fact that Paul Manafort confessed that he discussed carving up Ukraine and how to win Michigan in a meeting where he talked about how to get back on the gravy train of Ukrainian oligarchs  Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov (as well as Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska).

Instead, they’ve tried to pitch Ukrainians standing up for the territorial integrity of Ukraine as anti-Trump, in contradiction to Trump’s sworn answers to Robert Mueller. They’ve also accused Republican-paid experts doing open source research on Russian and Ukrainian corruption of being Democratic operatives. In particular, they’ve misrepresented sworn testimony to launch a claim that Sergii Leshchenko was a source for the Steele dossier and/or he said something mean about Paul Manafort, the aforementioned confessed recipient of Ukrainian influence peddling during the 2016 election.

The other day, Leshchenko debunked such claims, in part by noting that the version of the Black Ledger he released had had the Manafort related entries stripped from it.

I published the first portion of the “black ledger” on May 31, 2016. I published 22 pages from the secret manuscript of the Party of Regions, which was sent anonymously to my official email address at the parliament’s domain. The document listed under-the-table cash payments to Ukrainian politicians, lawmakers, judges and members of the Central Election Commission. However, Manafort was not mentioned there. His name was not in the 22 pages I obtained.

I did not have any other pages except for these ones, although I now know it was an excerpt from more than 800 pages that the black ledger contained. Believe me, had Manafort’s name been in the pages I obtained, I would have published it, because I think Manafort helped establish one of the most outrageously corrupt regimes in the world, headed by Yanukovych.

I learned that Manafort was featured in the full version of the black ledger only on Aug. 14, 2016 when the New York Times reported it. The day before, I was contacted by a Times’ journalist and asked if I knew anything about Manafort in Yanukovych’s records. I said I didn’t, and it was true. If I had that information, I would have been the first to publish it.

Four days after the New York Times article, on Aug. 18, 2016, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, or NABU, officially confirmed that Manafort’s name appeared in the black ledger. According to it, he received cash payments of more than $12.7 million.

That raises the significance of something else Leshchenko notes (but which has largely escaped notice of the press here).

In a February 14, 2018 interview, member of the far right in good standing Steve Bannon told Robert Mueller that Manafort knew the story of his inclusion in the Black Ledger was coming two months before it came out in the NYT. (PDF 112-113)

Bannon told Trump he would take the position as Campaign Chief Executive.

At the time Trump was 16 points down, the campaign had no organization, no money, 75 % of the population thought the country was in decline, they were working with the “deplorables,” and Bannon had a 100% certitude that they would win . Bannon believed the big task was to give people permission to vote for Trump as commander in chief.

The next day Bannon met with Manafort, which was the same time that the news about the “Black Ledger” was breaking. Bannon was at campaign headquarters when Manafort told Bannon to come up to Trump Tower. When Bannon arrived, Manafort showed him something about a NY Times story about the ”Black Ledger” and $15 million dollars from the Ukraine. Bannon asked when t his story was coming out. Manafort replied that he had known about the story coming out for approximately 2 months and had not gotten involved in it. Bannon subsequently told Trump to keep Manafort, to not fire him, and to keep him around for a couple of weeks. Bannon called Kushner, and asked him to get back in order to do something publicity wise to counteract the negative press surrounding the story. Trump had asked Bannon at one time about “what was this thing with Manafort out of the Ukraine,” and they talked for approximately 15 minutes on it . Trump was never linked with other Russian news stories at the time, and he believed Manafort was a promoter . Trump was more worried about how they story made them look . Bannon believed that Trump talked with Manafort about the story.

There are several implications about this story, starting with the fact that Bannon didn’t think the story required Manafort to resign. Importantly, this means Manafort recognized that he would be implicated by the Black Ledger even though his name was not published in what Leshchenko released.

Significantly: If there was an impact by the story breaking in August 2016 — if it did damage to the Trump campaign — Trump has one person to blame for that. Paul Manafort, both because of his real corruption, but also because he didn’t warn the candidate.

Not Sergii Leshchenko. But Paul Manafort.

The same guy who Russian-backed Ukrainians had targeted for influence just 12 days before the story broke.

Devin Nunes Billed Taxpayers $63,000 for a Jaunt to Europe Chasing Accused Fraudster Lev Parnas’ Disinformation

Betsy Woodruff Swan just put the maraschino cherry on the impeachment sundae with this story describing how Lev Parnas served as tour guide for a trip Devin Nunes, failed NSC staffer Derek Harvey, and two other House Intelligence staffers took to Europe last year.

Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for Rep. Devin Nunes in 2018, Parnas’  lawyer Ed MacMahon told The Daily Beast.

Nunes aide Derek Harvey participated in the meetings, the lawyer said, which were arranged to help Nunes’ investigative work. MacMahon didn’t specify what those investigations entailed.

Nunes is the top Republican on the House committee handling the impeachment hearings—hearings where Parnas’s name has repeatedly come up.

Congressional records show Nunes traveled to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2018. Three of his aides—Harvey, Scott Glabe, and George Pappas—traveled with him, per the records. U.S. government funds paid for the group’s four-day trip, which cost just over $63,000.

The travel came as Nunes, in his role on the House Intelligence Committee, was working to investigate the origins of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling.

There’s much that’s crazy about the story: The inclusion of Harvey, a Mike Flynn loyalist who got fired from NSC; the role of Parnas’ lawyer, Ed MacMahon (who seems to be aiming to discomfort as many of the powerful people Parnas interacted with as possible); and the release of this story at the end of a week during which Nunes offered debunked conspiracy after debunked conspiracy in a bid to defend Trump.

But it’s the timing of the trip I find most interesting. While I’m sure Swan has a reason to invoke Nunes’ efforts to undercut Mueller, the trip actually comes long after HPSCI had moved on from trying to confuse about the Russian investigation. The effort had been picked up by a joint House Judiciary/Oversight effort; and even that was largely over by December 2018. Just as interestingly, the trip came after Republicans got shellacked in mid-term elections but before Democrats took over in the House. That is, this seems like a last ditch effort to chase down something that accused fraudster Lev Parnas was dangling in front of easy marks, while Nunes still had unfettered ability to squander taxpayer funds.

Devin Nunes has spent 2.5 years squealing that a respected Russian expert, Christopher Steele, shared information with DOJ with our own experts on organized crime, because that information was paid for by DNC. But he’s now billing taxpayers to chase after disinformation from an obvious grifter.

Volker

Kurt Volker Makes the Case that Ukraine Tampered in 2016 Election — for Trump

Kurt Volker has spent the last two hours trying to back himself out of the corner he previously put himself in by pretending that Trump didn’t demand improper investigations before he’d meet with Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House or release security assistance.

Effectively, he said that his concern was that Ukrainians would spend money to try to influence US politics.

In fact, we know that occurred.

On August 2, 2016, Trump’s campaign manager had a clandestine meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik where they discussed how Trump planned to win Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, they discussed how Manafort might help Russia carve up Ukraine to his liking, and how he might get back in the employ of two of his former Ukrainian clients — Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov — a well as Oleg Deripaska.

Eight days after that meeting, he told his bookkeeper that he expected a $2.4 million payment, from those Ukrainians, after November.

This is precisely the kind of thing Volker said might justifiably be investigated. Only, it happened on the Trump campaign, not the Hillary campaign.

Effectively, Kurt Volker just made the case that the Mueller investigation was legitimate and justified.

Elise Stefanik Makes Case that Don Jr and Eric Trump Must Resign from Trump Organization

The first of today’s two impeachment hearings just finished up. While Adam Schiff and Dan Goldman remained sharp, Steve Castor remained lackadaisical, and Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan remained disgusting, much of the rest of the committee, on both sides, seemed less engaged than in last week’s hearings. Bizarrely, Republicans spent much of the hearing asking witnesses Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams — both of whom were direct witnesses to the call to which Republicans want to limit the impeachment inquiry — to provide hearsay testimony about Burisma and Hunter Biden.

The highlight of the hearing came when Vindman, who had been smeared with questionable loyalties leading up and during the hearing, explained that he told his father not to worry about him testifying because, “This is the country I’ve served and defended. That all of my brothers have served. And here, right matters.”

Because of her stunt in last Friday’s hearing, I’m interested in what Elise Stefanik did.

First, she got demoted. Her male colleagues treated her like the junior committee member she is, rather than giving her top billing. That, by itself, made it clear she was used last week as a token.

When it finally came around to her turn three and a half hours into the hearing, she then focused on talking points she has adopted — that under Trump (in part forced by Congress) Ukraine has gotten assistance and continued to work on corruption, no investigation into Joe Biden got started, and the aid ultimately got released.

But as part of that, she walked Vindman through an attack on Burisma, first misquoting him saying that in Ukraine, generally, tax evasion and money laundering are a problem, to apply that to Burisma. She then said,

I know that my constituents in NY-21 have many concerns about the fact that Hunter Biden, the son of the Vice President, sat on the board of a corrupt company like Burisma.

It’s a wonderful sentiment, really, that Congress should dictate what the family members of top officials should do to make money.

But since she has expressed this concern, I assume she feels the same about two other children who occupy top positions in a company with a documented history of facilitating money laundering and credible allegations of tax evasion, particularly given that her own state, New York State, found that these children, Don Jr and Eric Trump, as well as their sister, must be barred from running any charities in the state.

Since Elise Stefanik has stated, in front of the nation, that the children of top government officials must not have leadership positions in corrupt companies with money laundering and tax evasion problems, surely she’ll call for the President’s sons to step down from the family business?

The Persistence of Jared in the WikiLeaks Operation

As I noted repeatedly (one, two), there were a number of provocative loose threads left in Roger Stone’s trial. I want to look at one more: Roger Stone’s effort to involve Kushner in WikiLeaks related stuff.

Rick Gates testified that in the weeks before WikiLeaks dropped the DNC emails in July 2016, a group including Stephen Miller, Jason Miller, Paul Manafort, and him brainstormed how they would respond to emails that — according to Roger Stone (as well as other public reporting) — would soon be released.

Jared Kushner was pointedly not named as participating in that group.

That’s interesting because, just before 10PM on June 14, 2016 — the day that the DNC first announced it had been hacked — Stone had two phone calls with Trump on his home line, lasting a total of 4:18 minutes. The government admits they don’t know what happened on those calls, but for some reason they seem to be certain it had to do with the DNC emails. Late afternoon the next day, after Guccifer 2.0 first released documents billed as DNC documents, Stone wrote Gates asking first for Jared Kushner’s contact info, then his email. There were also a number of texts that day (the trial exhibit doesn’t clarify whether these are ET or UTC, so it’s unclear whether they happen around 4 and 12 PM, which is most likely, or 8PM and 4AM the next day).

Stone: Call me. Important

Gates: On con call but will call right after. Thanks.

Stone: Please

Stone: Awake ?

Gates: Yep.

Stone: Call me?

Gates said that Stone wanted Jared’s contact info to debrief him on the hacked materials. Which is one reason it’s weird that Kushner was not named in the group that prepared for new emails to drop.

Especially since, late in the campaign, Kushner is the one Paul Manafort advised on how to capitalize on WikiLeaks’ releases. On October 21, for example, Manafort told him to use WikiLeaks to demonstrate Hillary’s alleged corruption.

For example, on October 21, 2016, Manafort sent Kushner an email and attached a strategy memorandum proposing that the Campaign make the case against Clinton “as the failed and corrupt champion of the establishment” and that “Wikileaks provides the Trump campaign the ability to make the case in a very credible way – by using the words of Clinton, its campaign officials and DNC members.”936

When, on November 5, Manafort sent Kushner an email warning that Hillary would blame any win on hacked voting machines, Steve Bannon responded by linking Manafort, Russia, and the WikiLeaks releases. (PDF 258)

We need to avoid this guy like the plague

They are going to try and say the Russian worked with wiki leaks to give this victory to us

Paul is nice guy but can’t let word out he is advising us

That suggests that Bannon was a lot warier of continuing to accept Manafort’s counsel than Kushner was — and Bannon was wary because it linked a campaign win to Russia’s help.

When Bannon was asked about this in an early, not entirely truthful, interview, he in turn linked Manafort to someone else who, given the name length and redaction purpose, is likely Stone.

Candidate Trump never said to Bannon that he was in contact with [5 letter name redacted for ongoing proceeding] or Manafort. Bannon knew they were going to win, and in this email he wanted to avoid Manafort because Bannon believed that if people could link them to Manafort, they could then try to link them to Russia.

Now go back to something else introduced in the trial. On August 18, the day after Bannon was first hired onto the campaign (but the day before Manafort would resign), Stone emailed him and explained, “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty.”

That appears to be the “other investigation” that Paul Manafort was supposed to, but reneged, on helping DOJ investigate last year, one where Manafort first implicated (to get his plea deal), then tried to exonerate (after he got it) someone with a seven-letter name. Even at the time, a different part of DOJ was investigating it.

Finally, consider one other detail. Back in March 2018, when Sean Hannity was grilling Paul Manafort about whether he might flip, Manafort explained that he would be expected to give up Kushner.

These are just data points.

But they are consistent with there being two strands of WikiLeaks discussions on the campaign. One — involving Gates, Stephen Miller, and Jason Miller — doing little more than optimizing the releases. And another — involving Manafort and Kushner, one that Bannon didn’t want any tie to — involving something more.

The Gaping Hole in the Impeachment Investigation Where Bruce Swartz Should Be

In her testimony Friday, Marie Yovanovitch repeatedly said that, if Trump believed that Burisma needed to be investigated, there were official channels to do so.

That’s a part of the impeachment inquiry that hasn’t received enough attention — but is likely to receive a lot more starting tomorrow, when Kurt Volker testifies.

That’s because his story seems to have a big gaping hole where Bruce Swartz, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for International Affairs, should be.

There’s a subtle detail about the efforts to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens that needs more attention — and elucidation: a purported effort by Kurt Volker to get Bruce Swartz to officially ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. He would have been in the loop in any normal requests between the US and Ukraine.

As Trump’s people were pressuring Ukraine to open up an investigations for Trump, Andriy Yermak deferred by asking for an official request from the US government to open such an investigation. As an experienced diplomat, Kurt Volker proposed doing what should happen next, calling Bruce Swartz to put such investigations into formal channels. But according to him, this inexplicably never happened.

A Hi, did you connect with Andriy? Yeah.

Q And then what did You say?

A Not yet. Will talk with Bill and then call him later today. Want to know our status on asking them to investigate.

Q Okay. What did you mean by “our status on asking them to investigate”?

A Whether we had ever made an official request from the Department of Justice.

Q And then skipping down later, you say: Hi — this is August 17th, 2019, at 3:02 — Hi, I’ve got nothing. Bill — meaning Bill Taylor, correct?

A Yes.

Q Had no info on requesting an investigation. Calling a friend at DOJ, Bruce Schwartz (ph). Who is Bruce Schwartz (ph) ?

A Bruce Schwartz is a senior official in the Department of Justice responsible for international affairs, someone I’ve known for many years.

Q Did you reach out to Mr. Schwartz (ph) about mentioning these investigations or whether — I’m sorry, strike that. Did you reach out to Mr. Schwartz (ph) about whether the U.S. had ever requested an official investigation in Ukraine about these two issues that we’ve been talking about?

A I reached out to him and we did not connect.

Q So you never spoke with Bruce Schwartz (ph) ?

A At this — not at this — not in — well

Q Not in this context?

A Not in this context and not since then.

Q Did you speak with anyone at DOJ about whether the U.S. had requested an official investigation?

A No, I did not. I did ask I did ask our Charge to also check. And I later understood that we never had. And because of that was another factor in my advising the Ukrainians then don’t put it in now.

Q You told the Ukrainians don’t put it in the specific investigation?

A Yes, yes.

Q Did you speak with the Ukrainians about whether or not the U.S. had ever requested an official investigation?

A It came up in this conversation with Andriy about the statement, and he asked whether we ever had. I didn’t know the answer. That’s why I wanted to go back and find out. As I found out the answer that we had not, I said, well, let’s just not go there.

Q So Mr. Yermak wanted to know whether the U.S. DOJ

A Yes.

Q had ever made an official request?

A Yes. He said, I think quite appropriately, that if they are responding to an official request, that’s one thing. If there’s no official request, that’s different. And I agree with that.

Q And then Ambassador Sondland then asked: Do we still want Zelensky to give us an unequivocal draft with 2016 and Burisma?

A Yes.

Q And you responded how?

A I said: That’s the clear message so far.

Q That’s the clear message from whom?

A From Giuliani and what we had discussed with Gordon. That’s the clear message so far .

[snip]

Q And, to your knowledge, there never was an official United States Department of Justice request?

A To my knowledge, there never was. And about this time, I stopped pursuing it as well, because I was becoming now here convinced this is going down the wrong road.

For his part, Bill Taylor opposed even calling Swartz, because it was so improper to ask Ukraine to investigate an American in the first place.

Q There was a reference to reaching out Department. You mentioned Deputy Assistant Attorney General, which I assume is Bruce Swartz.

A It is.

Q Did you ask Ambassador Volker to reach out to Bruce Swartz?

A He volunteered to do that.

Q Okay. And what was the feedback from Swartz?

A I don’t know that they ever connected.

Q Okay. And was there any followup effort to close the loop with the Justice Department?

A No. I thought the whole thing was a bad idea.

Q You thought it was a bad idea to reach out to Bruce Swartz?

A No. I thought the idea of the Americans asking the Ukrainians to investigate a violation of Ukrainian law was a bad idea.

Q Okay

A But Kurt, for some reason, wanted to pursue that. And when he volunteered to take that question to Bruce Swartz, that was fine with me.

Q Okay. I mean, is it possible that Swartz’s feedback on that issue would have been compelling to the group? Like, why didn’t anyone fo1low up with Swartz?

A No idea.

State’s Special Adviser for Ukraine Catherine Croft, in attempt to distance herself from any role in pushing investigations, seems to have filled in a key detail here. Or perhaps created a huge void. She says she did reach out to Swartz. She doesn’t know whether he and Volker connected, but doesn’t think so.

But she thinks that Volker didn’t really want to talk to Swartz.

He wanted to speak with Bill Barr.

A No. No. I had no involvement in anything related to — the one exception is, I did send one email to Bruce Swartz at DOJ relaying Ambassador Volker’s request for a meeting with the Attorney General.

Q Okay.

A And when asked what the topic was, I said 2016 elections.

Q Okay.

A But that’s where my involvement in that ended. I just related that, and then I understood those two to be in contact.

Q Do you know if Ambassador Volker had tried to call Bruce Swartz?

A I believe he did.

Q And do you know if Bruce Swartz replied?

A I don’t know.

Q And he instructed you to email Bruce Swartz to see about the viability of Ambassador Volker meeting with the Attorney General?

A He just sort of gave me a vague direction to get him a meeting with the Attorney General, so that was my job.

Q 0kay. So you emailed Bruce Swartz?

A Yes.

Q Did you call Bruce Swartz?

A No, I don’t think so. I think I just — I think I just emailed him.

Q Did he email you back?

A Yes. And then I put him in touch with Kurt and then I was out of the —

Q You put him in touch with who?

A With Ambassador Volker.

Q And did they having a meeting?

A I don’t know.

Q So you don’t know —

A I don’t think so. I don’t think. But not that I’m aware of. [my emphasis]

This should raise all sorts of questions. Because if Volker — by whatever means — bypassed Swartz and instead made the request of Barr, then it would make Barr (yet again) more central to this story. And it might explain how all his narrow denials (he never spoke to Ukraine directly, he never made a request of Ukraine directly, but nevertheless some Ukrainian “volunteers” bearing “evidence” did get to John Durham can be true.

Moreover, it would be consistent with what Barr was doing in the same time period, flying around the world asking foreign countries to invent dirt on Democrats.

There’s a reason this request never got to Bruce Swartz. And that goes to the core of the impropriety of this ask.

And there’s an enormous irony (or one might say, a hypocrisy) about this.

Along the frothy right’s complaints about the contacts that Russian organized crime expert Christopher Steele had with organized crime experts at DOJ like Bruce Ohr, they’ve also complained that Ohr passed Steele’s information (almost certainly pertaining to Paul Manafort) onto other organized crime experts.

Including Bruce Swartz. Here’s John Solomon’s version. Kimberley Strassel’s. Sara Carter’s. Mollie Hemingway’s. And Fox News.

In short, a key complaint about Christopher Steele’s sharing of information is that the ways it got shared at DOJ include the experts and official channels who should handle such things.

Precisely the opposite has occurred with Bill Barr’s witch hunt. And yet none of the frothy right are complaining that Bill Barr’s investigation doesn’t meet the standards that Christopher Steele’s did.

The Trump-Mueller Answer the Stone Trial Really Implicates: Pardoning Assange

A bunch of media outlets responded to Rick Gates’ testimony in the Roger Stone trial — describing how Donald Trump got off a call with Roger Stone on August 31, 2016 and told him WikiLeaks would release more emails — by arguing that Gates’ testimony is proof that Trump lied to Robert Mueller about the subject.

I recall that in the months leading up to the election there was considerable media reporting about the possible hacking and release of campaign-related information and there was a lot of talk about this matter. At the time, I was generally aware of these media reports and may have discussed these issues with my campaign staff or others, but at this point in time – more than two years later – I have no recollection of any particular conversation, when it occurred, or who the participants were.

I do not recall being aware during the campaign of any communications between the individuals named in Question II (c) [Roger Stone, Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, or Rick Gates] and anyone I understood to be a representative of WikiLeaks or any of the other individuals or entities referred to in the question.

[snip]

I was in Trump Tower in New York City on October 7, 2016. I have no recollection of being told that WikiLeaks possessed or might possess emails related to John Podesta before the release of Mr. Podesta’s emails was reported by the media. Likewise, I have no recollection of being told that Roger Stone, anyone acting as an intermediary for Roger Stone, or anyone associated with my campaign had communicated with WikiLeaks on October 7, 2016.

I do not recall being told during the campaign that Roger Stone or anyone associated with my campaign had discussions with any of the entities named in the question regarding the content or timing of release of hacked emails.

I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign. I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1.2016 and November 8, 2016. I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.

But these are very carefully crafted answers, as they disclaim any memory of the requested details rather than — ever — claiming they didn’t happen. Unlike Trump’s answers on Trump Tower Moscow, he did not subsequently make clear he has distinct memories of Roger Stone’s boasts about having advance knowledge of WikiLeaks releases, both publicly and in private calls with Trump.

So I don’t really think that’s the most important Trump response given evidence presented at the Stone trial. Rather, a more potentially damning one pertains to the way a shared support for Julian Assange lurks behind the relationship between Randy Credico, Margaret Ratner Kunstler, and Roger Stone.

Credico wanted — and still wants — to rebut any “collusion” claims

Credico had long been hostile to any investigation of Stone’s ties to Assange. When Jerry Nadler started asking questions (of Jim Comey) about Stone’s ties to Assange in September 2016, Credico accused Nadler of McCarthyism.

In early January, 2018, Credico texted to Stone that he would do an interview with Michael Isikoff to make it clear that Assange was “not colluding.”

Much later — indeed, to this day — Credico would go to great lengths to try to rebut claims that Assange was “colluding.”

Credico’s WikiLeaks focus in responding to the subpoena

When HPSCI asked for first voluntary then compelled testimony. Credico responded by sharing the subpoena with a network of people — including Craig Murray, Ray McGovern, Jess Radack, Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, Stefania Maurizi, Colleen Rowley, and Noam Chomsky — with an affinity and in many cases close ties to WikiLeaks. Stone was, at that point, just one of 18 people Credico thought to alert, and the defense made much of the other recipients of Credico’s email releasing the subpoena.

Credico would go on to do as Stone had requested in response to the subpoena, plead the Fifth to avoid testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. On the stand at trial, Credico explained that a “lot of people” had a role in that decision, “amongst them, Mr. Stone.”

The defense, however, tried to suggest that Kunstler (who testified she represented WikiLeaks as an organization and had represented Sarah Harrison for four years) had a role in this decision. They got Credico to admit that Kunstler gave him legal advice, but was not his lawyer. And they got Kunstler to admit that she said she was at a meeting with several lawyers when Credico got a subpoena. That falls far short of saying she advised him to dodge the subpoena, but that’s certainly what the defense tried to insinuate.

Even if she had suggested that Credico, who is a friend of hers, should avoid testifying, none of that is untoward (it’d be the equivalent of bmaz telling me to shut the fuck up about any of my own legal issues, which he does constantly). It just suggests that Credico’s immediate focus in 2017 was on protecting Assange, not necessarily protecting Stone.

The shared interest in pardoning Assange

But this whole relationship was intertwined with an apparent shared interest in pardoning Assange. Right in the middle of Credico’s claims about what WikiLeaks was up to in early October 2016, for example, on October 3, he pushed Stone to get Trump to back asylum for Assange.

Then there are the exchanges on the topic that MoJo reported on a year ago from early January 2018.

In the wake of Stone’s successful effort to get Credico to plead the Fifth, the President’s rat-fucker suggested that if Credico publicly revealed that he couldn’t be Stone’s back channel, it might screw up efforts he claimed he was making to get Assange a pardon.

They resumed the discussion about a pardon several days later, when Stone sent Credico Jerome Corsi’s story on Ecuador’s grant of a diplomatic passport to Assange.

Remarkably, given what has transpired since, Credico informed Stone that the British government was not honoring the diplomatic passport, observed that “Infowars ” — which in this case would be Corsi — “doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” then taunted, ‘Maybe your back Channel knows more than I do.”

The current operative story, of course, is that Corsi was the backchannel, though Credico wouldn’t have known that at the time.

It’s certainly possible that Stone was blowing smoke, raising something he knew Credico cared deeply about, pardoning Assange, to get him to toe the line. It’s likely, too, he was just taking reporting on efforts made in late 2017 to liberate Assange and claiming credit for it.

But at the very least, it shows that Stone used a pardon for Assange — something Credico still spends a lot of time pushing — as leverage to try to get Credico to sustain his cover story.

Kunstler was a key point of pressure for Stone

Which is one of the reasons I find the new details about how Stone’s threatened Kunstler to be interesting.

Per evidence submitted at trial, Stone used several different tactics to pressure Credico to testify (or not) in certain ways, including:

  • Telling him to take the Fifth
  • Telling him to pull a Frank Pentangeli (meaning, to testify falsely)
  • Offering to pay for his lawyer in late 2017
  • Sending him some work in early 2018
  • Threatening Bianca (a threat Credico said he didn’t take very seriously)
  • Making threats of violence of exposure
  • Threatening Margaret Kunstler

Ultimately, per his testimony, Credico changed his stance on testifying so as not to be Stone’s fall-guy (and because he didn’t want to be blamed for Trump’s election). But according to (live texts of) his testimony, a really big part of that change was that Stone threatened Kunstler. Credico testified he, “didn’t want to drag her name though this.”

On March 10, 2018, Stone responded to Credico alerting him that he was going to go on Chris Hayes’ show by forwarding the September 2016 email chain in which Credico feigned helping Stone figure out if WikiLeaks had certain Libya-related emails and threatening, “If you go on with Chris Hayes be sure to mention this,” which would have exposed that Credico did at least appear to respond to Stone’s request for help. On May 21, 2018, Stone responded to a Credico email saying “you should have just been honest with the house intel committee” by threatening, “Keep running your mouth and I’ll file a bar complaint against your friend Margaret.”

Mostly, raising Kunstler would invoke two details Stone knew about. First, some time on or before August 25, 2016, Kunstler passed on Credico’s request to have Assange on his drive time show. She was the person who got WikiLeaks to consider the August 25, 2016 interview that lay a the core of Credico and Stone’s wavering claims that Credico might have inside knowledge. On the stand, Kunstler said that was the first and only time she passed on a request to WikiLeaks on Credico’s behalf.

Then, after some badgering from Stone, on September 2016, Credico sent her the package of information Stone had shared on what he claims was an effort by Hillary to prevent Moammar Qaddafi from stepping down to avoid the Libyan war, BCCing Stone. Significantly, Stone’s lawyers made a point of getting Kunstler to clarify that she did not learn that email had been BCCed with Stone until prosecutors showed it to her in an interview. And it’s true that nothing about the package would have identified it as a Roger Stone smear.

Kunstler testified that she ignored the email and got pretty pissed about it, because that’s not the kind of thing she would do with clients.

Those two details made it clear that Kunstler was Credico’s link to Assange, that she had succeeded in sharing a request from Credico when it served Assange’s interest, but that she wouldn’t consider serving as a source of information about Assange and upcoming leaks.

But in a little noticed response, Credico revealed that he put Stone in touch with Kunstler after the election to talk about a pardon for Julian Assange. I double checked. That happened in late 2016.

Again, there’s absolutely nothing untoward about this. Kunstler represented WikiLeaks and any smart lawyer would push for a pardon for her client. Credico’s relationship with Stone was already public (though it’s unclear whether Kunstler knew of the whole back channel stuff yet, given that she may not  have known the Libya request came from Stone). But it adds an important wrinkle to the year-long Trump flunkie effort to get Assange a pardon.

We know that sometime after the October 2016 WikiLeaks dump, Mike Flynn was part of a conversation where Trump’s team discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks (something that didn’t get mentioned at all at Stone’s trial). Credico’s introduction of Kunstler to Stone would have come around the same time that Assange himself DMed Don Jr asking to become an Ambassador of sorts.

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. 12/16/16 12:38PM

Assange renewed that request as part of his Vault 8-based extortion in November 2017.

All of which is to say there’s one more instance where someone in Trump’s orbit discussed a pardon for Assange. Because it involved Kunstler, it tied the discussion even more closely to Stone’s claims to have optimized WikiLeaks’ releases.

That may be one explanation for Stone’s lawyers’ efforts to make it clear that Kunstler couldn’t have known that Stone had made a request that got presented to her, because that would make it look like a quid pro quo, a request for Stone to return the favor.

Trump may have told the truth — but that doesn’t rule out a quid pro quo with WikiLeaks

Which leads me to the Mueller question that I think most enticingly ties to details revealed at trial.

Trump was asked whether he had ever discussed a pardon for Julian Assange before his inauguration, and he offered the same kind of non-responsive answer he offered to all the other Mueller questions.

Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s) with, when, and the content of the discussion(s).

I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange.

Notably, however, because Trump adhered to a practice he inconsistently used (in answering questions only as they applied to the campaign, but not the transition), his answer doesn’t actually deny a key possibility: that he and Stone (and Don Jr) discussed a pardon for Assange during the transition period.

This doesn’t even have to be an instance where Trump did not recall something that happened during the election. If Trump entertained a Stone brokered pardon request in the months after Assange helped him win the election, it would be easily the most damning of Trump’s many abuses of clemency, because it would appear to be a clear quid pro quo for election assistance.

As I disclosed last year, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The Conflict between the GOP’s “Hearsay” and “Whistleblower” Defenses

Sometimes Byron York is useful because he clarifies just how stupid and contradictory right wing talking points are.

Today, he claims that, for both the Russian investigation and impeachment, Democrats don’t want anyone to know how the investigation started.

Should the whistleblower have connections to prominent Democrats, exposure of his identity could be embarrassing to the party. And perhaps most of all, reading through the impeachment inquiry depositions that have been released so far, it’s clear that cutting off questions that could possibly relate to the whistleblower has also allowed Democrats to shut off any look at how the Trump-Ukraine investigation started. Who was involved? What actions did they take? Why did some government employees think President Trump’s July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky represented a lost opportunity, or poor judgment, while others thought it represented wrongdoing requiring congressional investigation?

Democrats do not want the public to know. And in that, their position is familiar to anyone who has watched Washington for the last two years: The Democrats’ determination to cut off questions about the origins of the Trump-Ukraine investigation is strikingly similar to their determination to cut off questions about the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. In both cases, they fought hard to keep secret the origins of investigations that have shaken the nation, deeply divided the electorate, and affected the future of the presidency.

Regarding the Russian investigation, Byron (like most denialists) can’t seem to get his head around the fact that a crime happened — a hostile foreign government hacked political targets — and the FBI started to investigate. They honestly appear to believe the FBI should not investigate hacks, generally, or maybe just not those attributed in real time to hostile foreign actors.

But the claim is even stupider with regards to the impeachment inquiry for reasons laid out right there in the middle of his argument.

It’s not the whistleblower who responded to the July 25 call with shaking anger. It’s not the whistleblower who recognized it was so incriminating, the call record had to be censored and hidden on a Top Secret server.

The people who started the investigation that led to impeachment were all on the July 25 call. Republicans suspect that Alexander Vindman was one of them; they suspect that he was the person who went, “visibly shaken,” and shared details about a ‘crazy,’ ‘frightening’ and ‘completely lacking in substance related to national security'” call with  a colleague who then wrote up his concerns rather than just sharing them with John Eisenberg, who was finding several ways to bury the damning report. But the whistleblower complaint itself describes that “multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call” shared their impression of it with the whistleblower. We know, for example, that Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams agreed with Vindman.

Even Tim Morrison, a fire-breathing Republican who claims he doesn’t think Trump committed a crime, recognized the call was problematic.

Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, responded to publicity about the call by lying about being on it, then refusing to testify about it, which isn’t exactly a sign that he thinks it’s a “perfect” call.

This investigation could not have been “started” by the whistleblower, contrary to what dullards like Byron claim, for the same reason they complain that George Kent and Bill Taylor and Marie Yovanovtich weren’t appropriate witnesses because they weren’t on that call. That’s because the whistleblower wasn’t on the call. Someone — multiple people, as it turned out — had to share details of the call with him before he put all the other dots together in his complaint.

Mind you, the claim of hearsay is false, as all the witnesses have direct knowledge of the wider operation to extort Ukraine. In the case of the whistleblower, for example, Republicans continue to falsely claim he had no direct knowledge of these matters; his description of the July 18 call where OMB announced a hold on aid is not cited to other people.

Still, it’s the larger point that Byron helpfully demonstrates is so stupid. It cannot be true that we need to learn about the whistleblower to understand how all this started and also be true that the whistleblower’s view is meaningless because he was operating exclusively from hearsay. The claim itself underscores that multiple people on the call itself objected when they heard the president extort a foreign leader.

But something more basic is true: This investigation started because the president extorted a foreign leader while a dozen witnesses were listening.

Jim Jordan Accuses Trump of Lying to Mueller in Latest Defense against Impeachment

Among the efforts Republicans employed to excuse the President’s inexcusable behavior in yesterday’s impeachment hearing, they tried to lay out reasons why Trump could legitimately think Ukraine was out to get him. Among the things Steve Castor laid out includes an op-ed Ukraine’s then Ambassador to the US Valeriy Chaly placed in the Hill in early August 2016, laying out how outrageous it was that Trump had recently suggested he would entertain recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“Can you see how the simple fact of writing an op-ed, the Ukrainian Ambassador to the US might create a perception that there are elements of the Ukrainian establishment were advocating against then-candidate Trump,” GOP counsel Steve Castor asked about an op-ed in which Ukraine’s Ambassador defended the territorial integrity of his country and invoked resolutions where the US had committed to do so too. “That’s a tremendously sensitive issue in Ukraine,” Marie Yovanovitch explained, as if it weren’t evident.

In spite of how obvious that explanation for the op-ed is, Jim Jordan nevertheless returned to this attack, claiming that the op-ed was an example of an Ambassador trying to influence a host country election and suggesting Yovanovitch was negligent in not telling Ukraine to stop defending its territorial integrity. (Jordan also lobbed the Nellie Ohr attack that even Devin Nunes seems to have recognized constituted an attack on an experienced organized crime researcher being paid by GOP billionaire Paul Singer.)

Republicans are not outraged by John Solomon’s hit job in the Hill targeting an Ambassador who has served presidents of both parties, they’re not outraged that Mike Flynn was writing an op-ed to be placed in the Hill that was paid for by the Turkish state even while getting Top Secret briefings with Trump as candidate.

They are, however, outraged that a Hill op-ed by Ukraine’s Ambassador to the US points out that America has made past commitments to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

But there’s something still crazier about this line of defense.

Chaly’s op-ed could only be viewed as an attack on Trump if he did, in fact, advocate recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Otherwise, the op-ed would simply be a matter of policy, as Yovanovitch patiently explained to Castor.

And it turns out that Trump has represented, in an answer submitted under oath to Robert Mueller, that he had no policy stance on Crimea. Mueller asked whether the very comments that the Chaly op-ed addressed represented an intention to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

On July 27, 2016, in response to a question about whether you would recognize Crimea as Russian territory and lift sanctions on Russia, you said: “We’ ll be looking at that. Yeah, we’ll be looking.” Did you intend to communicate by that statement or at any other time during the campaign a willingness to lift sanctions and/or recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea if you were elected?

1. What consideration did you give to lifting sanctions and/or recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea if you were elected? Describe who you spoke with about this topic, when, the substance of the discussion(s).

And while this answer was the most unresponsive among a slew of unresponsive answers, Trump nevertheless stated, under oath, that his statement did not amount to a policy position.

My statement did not communicate any position.

Republicans can’t have this both ways. The only way this op-ed could be an attack on Trump is if Trump really was supporting annexation of Crimea. He may well have been — except he has stated, under oath, that he was not.

Treating this op-ed as an attack on Trump, then, is also an accusation that Trump lied in his sworn answers to Mueller.

Why is Jim Jordan defending President Trump against impeachment by accusing him of lying under oath?

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