Abbe Lowell’s “No Apparent Evidence” of Jared Kushner Involvement Defense

The other day I examined how Abbe Lowell’s non-responsive answer to Senate Judiciary Committee concerns about the disclosure of his client Jared Kushner revealed that the Intelligence Committees are conducting thoroughly inadequate investigations. He claimed the disclosures to SJC matched those to the ICs, yet he totally blew off the request for documents “about” people and topics of interest. That means the ICs didn’t get Jared’s documents pertaining to people and topics of interest — which is a pretty good way of hiding what Jared knew about Russian tampering.

[C]heck out Lowell’s more general excuse for not turning over such documents:

With respect to the substance of your letter, let me start with the so-called “Missing Documents.” They are not missing at all. As you will note, after I spoke to your staff, I wrote a cover letter with our production. In that letter, I wrote: “We believe that our prior production [to the intelligence committees] contains the most pertinent documents to your inquiry into the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, and related matters, and undercut any notion that there was collusion (or even any extensive interaction) between Mr. Kushner and Russia concerning the 2016 election.” The documents provided to those committees fully responded to their requests. That was why we said we would provide those documents to you first to see if anything else was relevant or new, and try to determine whether those documents satisfy your inquiry as well.

This production, which doesn’t include any documents about designated topics (including the June 9 meeting), satisfied the intelligence committees. That means the intelligence committees could not have asked for “about” documents (which is particularly ironic given that they’re both trying to find a way to help NSA turn “about” 702 collection back on). Which in turn means the intelligence committees likely have huge gaps in their understanding of Jared’s awareness of the Russian discussions.

And in addition to all his other contemptuous non-answers to Feinstein’s letter, Lowell says Jared shouldn’t have to sit for an interview with SJC because he already sat for 6 hours with the other committees, the committees that didn’t ask for “about” documents and therefore don’t have a complete picture of Jared’s involvement.

It turns out Adam Schiff now agrees that they didn’t have the documents necessary to provide adequate preparation to question Jared.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview that Mr. Kushner had been interviewed “prematurely,” when the committee was “not ready.”

“We didn’t have the advantage of documents that we would have wanted to ask [him] about,” he said.

A failure to obtain and review the documents necessary to understand Jared’s action seems to be a trend.

Which is why I’m so interested in this comment, from Lowell, about whether Jared — widely reported to have been a key player in convincing Trump to fire Comey —

At the Oval Office meeting on Monday, May 8, Trump described his draft termination letter to top aides who wandered in and out of the room, including then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, White House Counsel Donald McGahn and senior adviser Hope Hicks. Pence arrived late, after the meeting had begun. They were also joined by Miller and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, both of whom had been with Trump over the weekend in Bedminster. Kushner supported the president’s decision.

— Seems to have not heard of such thing. (See also this post.)

Mr. Lowell said in an interview, “When the president made the decision to fire FBI Director Comey, Mr. Kushner supported it.” A White House attorney added that Mr. Kushner had “no meaningful role” in the decision: “There’s no apparent evidence of Jared’s involvement in any decision-making process having to do with Mr. Comey’s firing.”

“No apparent evidence” sounds like the line of a lawyer that’s not budging beyond what he has seen in document review. But if he has designed all his document review — even to the point of ignoring the instructions from Congress — to avoid turning over any communications that reflect Kushner’s thinking about events he wasn’t personally involved in, then he’s not going to have stumbled across the most pertinent documents.

Which is to say, there may well be a good deal of evidence. But it does’t seem like Lowell’s working very hard to find out if there is.

In any case, while you’re reading this, about Mueller’s interest in Jared’s contacts, even beyond those with Russian bankers, this post on Jared’s so-called peace plan is on point.

The Continued “Oh, Trump Will Just Pardon Them” Meme Is Stupid

I have constantly, and still do, think the fear of “pardons” from Trump is overblown.

First off, this thought is almost undoubtedly part of why Mueller has Michael Dreeben on his team. A point noted both here indirectly and numerous other places more directly.

Secondly, a pardon places any potential witness in the very untenable position of having to testify honestly (whether to a Grand Jury or trial jury) or face perjury charges. I really do not think most commentators have thought through this conundrum enough. The second Trump pardons, all 5th Amendment protections as to federal offenses are removed. That would be catnip for Bob Mueller.

Lastly, remember where Mueller started off. Obstruction of justice. Just because any particular act (like a pardon) is putatively “legal” does not mean it cannot be an element in a larger crime.

The brutal reality is far different than the “oh Trump will just pardon them” narrative. Trump cannot wave the magic pardon wand and make it all go away and stop affecting him. But, hey, surely Donald Trump is in better shape than John Dowd’s last huge political criminal defense case.

Scott Balber Coordinates the June 9 Meeting Story a Fourth Time

This morning, I did a post showing how Rob Goldstone’s story about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting that he plans to tell the Mueller inquiry compared with the three times one-time Trump lawyer and current Aras Agalarov lawyer telegraphed testimony through public stories.

  1. A meeting between Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze (the latter of whom Balber represents as an employee of Agalarov) in Moscow in June 2017, just as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were both belatedly disclosing the meeting to various authorities; this story appears to have been an attempt to pre-empt the damage that would be done when Akhmetshin’s involvement became public
  2. A Balber trip sometime before October to Russia to coordinate a story with and get documents from Natalia Veselnitskaya to back her version of the talking points she reportedly shared with Trump’s people
  3. Another October story, this “revealing” that Veselnitskaya’s research came from (or actually was shared with) Russian prosecutor Yuri Chaika, but insisting (per Balber) that Agalarov had no ties with the prosecutor

No sooner did Goldstone air his story in public than Balber filled in a hole in the story for Goldstone: he told the Daily Beast that after his client Ike Kaveladze saw an email (from whom he doesn’t describe) indicating that Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Don Jr would be at the meeting, he called a close associate of Goldstone’s (and a former employee of Balber’s client), Roman Beniaminov, to find out what the meeting was about. That’s the first he learned — at least as far as he told congressional investigators — that the meeting was about dealing “dirt” on Hillary.

Scott Balber, Kaveladze’s attorney, told The Daily Beast that before Kaveladze headed from Los Angeles to New York for the meeting, he saw an email noting that Kushner, Manafort, and Trump Jr. would all be involved. He thought it would be odd for them to attend the meeting, so he called Beniaminov before heading to New York. Both Beniaminov and Kaveladze have worked with the Agalarov’s real estate development company, the Crocus Group.

Balber said that Beniaminov told Kaveladze that he heard Rob Goldstone— Emin Agalarov’s music manager— discuss “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. It’s never become completely clear what kind of “dirt” the Russians were talking about.

According to Balber, Beniaminov was the only person to give Kaveladze any information about the meeting’s purpose.

“That was the only data point Ike had, which was inconsistent with everything else he had heard, which was that the meeting was about the Magnitsky Act,” Balber said.

I guess this answers my earlier question on whether Balber went to Thailand to coach Goldstone on his testimony: Nope! That’s why he’s doing it through the press again.

I eagerly await Goldstone’s revised story and Balber’s response, to see if they can finally settle on a story that coheres.

“I Hate the Word Guilty” Says the Self-Described “Conduit” between the Agalarovs and Trump

As you read Rob Goldstone’s efforts to telegraph what his potential testimony to Robert Mueller will be, keep the lesson of this post in mind: there is evidence that one-time Trump attorney and current Agalarov attorney Scott Balber has, on three occasions, attempted to orchestrate a cover story for the June 9 meeting that Goldstone set up. Those three are:

  1. A meeting between Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze (the latter of whom Balber represents as an employee of Agalarov) in Moscow in June 2017, just as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were both belatedly disclosing the meeting to various authorities; this story appears to have been an attempt to pre-empt the damage that would be done when Akhmetshin’s involvement became public
  2. A Balber trip sometime before October to Russia to coordinate a story with and get documents from Natalia Veselnitskaya to back her version of the talking points she reportedly shared with Trump’s people
  3. Another October story, this “revealing” that Veselnitskaya’s research came from (or actually was shared with) Russian prosecutor Yuri Chaika, but insisting (per Balber) that Agalarov had no ties with the prosecutor

In fact, it has been recently confirmed that Veselnitskaya’s research was originally done by Fusion GPS, the same firm that was doing oppo research for Clinton and would almost simultaneously with the June 9 meeting hire Christopher Steele to dig up dirt on Trump.

With that in mind, consider what Goldstone is now saying in advance of a reported trip to the US to voluntarily meet with Mueller.

First, Goldstone conflates interviewing with Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee with making his story public. But of course, this interview is what will make his story public (SSCI has gotten cranky of late when people release their testimony publicly before interviewing with the committee, so I guess this interview will substitute).

Although no date has yet been set, he has accepted invitations — unlike some others involved, he has not received a subpoena — to meet the team investigating the alleged Trump links with Russia, headed by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, as well as Senate investigative committees in Washington.

“I’m keen to talk to them and put my recollection of events in the public record,” Goldstone says. So why is he choosing to do this interview now? “After the story initially broke, it seemed to quieten down for a while. But now it’s back in the news with such force, I feel it’s time for me to explain what happened.”

That’s really not much of an explanation for why he’s talking now, suggesting it has everything to do with this planned testimony.

The dual US-British citizen claims both that he was distracted from the proceedings of the Trump Tower meeting because of a concern he’d get stuck in Lincoln Tunnel traffic on his way home, but also that his months-long absence from the US is just about wandering Asia rather than hiding out from these events.

He had not even planned to attend, but was encouraged to stay by Trump Jr. His biggest concern, he says, was that if the meeting dragged on, he would be caught in the notorious Lincoln Tunnel traffic on his journey home.

[snip]

We meet not in Manhattan, however, but in southeast Asia, where he has been travelling in recent months. One of his conditions of meeting me is that I do not disclose the precise whereabouts, because he does not want to be besieged by media, as he was when the controversy erupted in July.

“There are people saying that I’ve run away or I’m some sort of fugitive,” he tells me. “But the simple thing is that I decided to keep quiet, and the best way to do that was to go off the radar and disappear for a while. But I want to share what I know.”

[snip]

He knows his travels will be met with renewed suspicion that he went on the run to hide what he really knows. But there is no evasion, he insists.

When Goldstone claimed the trip was all coincidental I guess he didn’t yet know that the AP would have already published news of the advance coordination of Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze’s stories, the kind of advanced planning that might also explain this trip.

Goldstone explains that, several months before the scandal broke, he told friends — and The Sunday Times has separately confirmed this with them — that he was putting his business on hold and renting out his US apartment to travel the world, including a lengthy stay in Asia. The purpose, he told them, was to have the “gap year” that he never took after leaving school at 16 to start work as a reporter in Manchester.

And he denies any worry that Russian intelligence will knock him off to keep him silent.

“First of all, if Russian intelligence had used me in some way, as people perceive, but which I don’t believe, then they’ll know I don’t know anything. If Russian intelligence hasn’t used me, but are intelligent, they will equally know I don’t know anything and this is all nonsense.”

In spite of emphasizing how little he knows, Goldstone describes himself as the “conduit” — on matters that include business deals in Russia!!! — between the Agalarovs and Trump, but then pretends to be squeamish about a little politics.

“So when people ask why some music publicist was involved in all this, well, I was always the conduit, the Mr Go-To, between the Agalarovs and the Trumps,” Goldstone says.

[snip]

“I remember specifically saying to Emin, you know, we probably shouldn’t get involved in this. It’s politics, it’s Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither of us have any experience in this world. It’s not our forte. I deal with music. You’re a singer and a businessman.”

However, Emin was insistent that Goldstone contact the Trumps. “His mantra was always ‘Rob can do it’. All I had to do was facilitate a meeting, he said, after which I walk away from it and whatever comes of it, thank you very much.

[snip]

“I can apologise in some way for having sent the email in the first place. It went against everything my gut instinct was telling me.”

Yet, he couples that claimed squeamishness about politics and gut instinct — and his claim he warned Emin they should stay out of it — with the claim that had this been offered months later, as the Russian scandal broke out, he’d be … squeamish about the politics involved.

It never crossed his mind, he adds, that there would be any fallout about election rules or foreign influence.

“I didn’t understand anything about that, nothing at all. This meeting happened months before Russia became the hot topic. If this had happened later, sure, I would’ve been aware because it’s all people were talking about — Russia, and Russian interference. Hindsight is great, but it just wasn’t being talked about at the time.”

This makes no sense: either he recognized it was wrong and told Emin they shouldn’t do it or he only recognized it was wrong long after the fact. It can’t be both.

Which brings us to his telegraphed description of his email and the meeting it set up. Goldstone describes being “guilty” only of puffing up the language around the meeting, not of facilitating election tampering that he admits may have otherwise occurred.

“If I’m guilty of anything, and I hate the word guilty, it’s hyping the message and going the extra mile for my clients. Using hot-button language to puff up the information I had been given. I didn’t make up the details, I just made them sound more interesting.”

[snip]

So was he part of a Russian plot to influence the election? Goldstone rolls his eyes. “When people said that, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. That doesn’t mean that maybe there wasn’t any Russian interference or Trump campaign collusion in other ways. I don’t know. But I’m sure I wasn’t part of it.”

And he claims that he thought Veselnitskaya — not Chaika — was the “crown prosecutor” he mentioned in the email he sent Don Jr.

Much has also been made of how Goldstone said Aras Agalarov had met Russia’s “crown prosecutor”. Given that Russia has not had a crown since the 1917 revolution, there was a widespread presumption that Goldstone was referring to Vladimir Putin’s prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika. It has since been reported that the lawyer Veselnitskaya met Chaika in Moscow in the run-up to her trip to New York, sharing with him the talking points that she delivered at Trump Tower. But Goldstone insists Veselnitskaya was the one described to him by Emin as a “well-connected prosecutor” and that in his haste, he had said “crown prosecutor” as that was a British term he used to use as a young reporter.

Here’s Goldstone’s email, which describes something far more sensitive than he’s now describing.

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Best

Rob Goldstone

Hmm. Folks seem awfully anxious about lining up their stories with the known documentation of this meeting. Yet even with Balber flying all over the world (has he perhaps been to Thailand to visit Goldstone, who after all is just another Agalarov employee, of sorts?) the stories don’t seem to be cohering.

Which may be why Goldstone provides an alternative version to Veselnitskaya’s recent claim that Paul Manafort appeared to be asleep in the meeting, claiming that he was distracted by his messages.

Goldstone described Kushner as “furious” and said that Manafort did not seem to look up from checking his messages.

Funny how people on two continents want to claim that Manafort wasn’t playing close attention.

Remember: there are at least four documents these players are trying to account for, even assuming the communications between people in Russia weren’t picked up:

  • Goldstone’s emails with Don Jr
  • The talking points Veselnitskaya claims to have shared at the meeting (but which Akhmetshin claims he only saw the Russian version of)
  • Paul Manafort’s own notes from the meeting
  • Text messages between Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze before their cover-up meeting

And for some reason, Goldstone needs to claim he believed the prosecutor in question was Veselnitskaya and not Chaika, which is what the others claim.

Abbe Lowell Reveals the Complete Inadequacy of the Intelligence Committee Russian Investigations

As noted, the press has been focused on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s revelation that Jared Kushner failed to turn over several documents known to exist, which has led to more details about efforts by Aleksander Torshin to meet with people associated with the campaign.

Here are the things identified to be missing from Jared’s production to SJC.

In addition, there are several documents that are known to exist but were not included in your production. For example, other parties have produced September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks, which Mr. Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official. Such documents should have been produced in response to the third request but were not. Likewise, other parties have produced documents concerning a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” which Mr. Kushner also forwarded. And still others have produced communications with Sergei Millian, copied to Mr. Kushner.

In response to the Feinstein letter revealing these details, Jared’s lawyer, the very capable Abbe Lowell, wrote back, scolding Feinstein (though the letter is also addressed to Chuck Grassley) for releasing her letter to the press. But in fact, Lowell’s letter is not responsive to four of the items laid out in Feinstein’s letter. And the way in which Lowell doesn’t respond reveals the complete inadequacy of the Intelligence Committee Russian investigations.

The four things (I noticed that) Lowell doesn’t address are:

  • A request for a copy of Jared’s own copy of his SF-86 applications
  • A privilege log
  • Call records pertaining to some of the requests
  • Communications “about” certain individuals

A request for a copy of Jared’s own copy of his SF-86 applications

Feinstein’s letter notes that Jared should have a copy of his SF-86 applications and asks for them.

However, if Mr. Kushner or his counsel retained copies of the forms, you should produce them. The SF-86 instructions explicitly advise the applicant to “retain a copy of the completed form for your records.” Moreover, with regard to your claim that the documents are confidential, while the Privacy Act limits the government’s authority to release the information provided to it, there is no restriction on your client’s ability to provide that information to Congress.

Lowell simply notes that SJC is pursuing this, and scoffs that Jared’s serially incomplete SF-86 forms might be relevant to the inquiry.

I explained to your staff that documents concerning the SF-86 are deemed government personnel records, and I know the Committee is pursuing these (again with whatever relevance they could possibly have to any real inquiry) from the proper channels.

A privilege log

Feinstein also asked that Jared work with the White House so he could release “certain documents” that might implicate executive privilege, with an eye towards providing a privilege log.

You also raised concerns that certain documents might implicate the President’s Executive Privilege and declined to produce those documents. We ask that you work with White House counsel to resolve any questions of privilege so that you can produce the documents that have been requested or provide a privilege log that describes the documents over which the President is asserting executive privilege.

While Lowell addresses documents that post-date the inauguration, he makes no comment about executive privilege at all.

Call records pertaining to some of the requests

Feinstein’s letter also notes that Jared included no phone records pertaining to some of the requests (she doesn’t say which ones).

You also have not produced any phone records that we presume exist and would relate to Mr. Kushner’s communications regarding several requests.

Lowell does not address that request at all.

Communications “about” certain individuals

Finally, and most interesting to me, even before Feinstein listed the known documents that Jared had failed to turn over, she noted that he had failed to search for communications about certain things.

For example, you limited your production in response to our second request in a manner that eliminates communications about the individuals identified in that request.[1] If, as you suggest, Mr. Kushner was unaware of, for example, any attempts at Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, then presumably there would be few communications concerning many of the persons identified in our second request, and the corresponding burden of searching would be small.

[1] The Committee requested “[a]ll communications to, form, or copied to you relating to” certain individuals, but you stated that you “found no communications in which these individuals also appear in the to, from, or copy to lines of the communications.”

In fact, the three missing documents all might be considered such “about” communications, as they consist of forwarded emails adding further commentary.

Here’s where Lowell’s response gets really interesting. As with the request for call records, he doesn’t address the failure to search on communications “about” people at all. He doesn’t mention that he has failed to search for documents in the manner directed by the committee.

But for each of the missing documents, he explains why they wouldn’t be relevant in such a way that completely dodges the fact that, as communications “about” the persons in question, they definitely are.

A communication in which he was a copied recipient and was not about Russia contacts by him (or apparently by anyone else) was not responsive to any request about Mr. Kushner’s own contacts.

[snip]

The “Millian” email between Mr. Millian and a reporter, in which Mr. Millian is actually conferring with Michael Cohen and confirming that Mr. Millian has no relationship with the President, is also not one about contacts that Mr. Kushner, or really anyone, had that would be responsive to any relevant request.

[snip]

[of the Torshin email] Again, this was not any contact, call or meeting in which Mr. Kushner was involved.

[snip]

You can see there would be no reason for us not to provide such a clear expression that Mr. Kushner had no contacts with, nor was in collusion with, nor was pursuing any such relationship with Russia except that it was not responsive.

So not only does he offer disingenuous explanations for each of the missing documents — one after another he explains that these emails don’t involve any contact between Jared and the designated person — but he completely ignores that under the terms of the request, they were obviously responsive.

Of course, the only reason SJC learned of these emails is because the other participants in the email chains turned them over. But there are undoubtedly other emails or documents that are “about” these and presumably other requested individuals that others wouldn’t have been party to. And by ignoring the request for “about” documents, Lowell is basically completely blowing off providing those other documents, which would likely be even more interesting.

Just as an example, Jared could very well have had 100 other discussions “about” Wikileaks or Julian Assange with some unknown person, and Lowell’s incomplete search would have hidden it.

Now check out Lowell’s more general excuse for not turning over such documents:

With respect to the substance of your letter, let me start with the so-called “Missing Documents.” They are not missing at all. As you will note, after I spoke to your staff, I wrote a cover letter with our production. In that letter, I wrote: “We believe that our prior production [to the intelligence committees] contains the most pertinent documents to your inquiry into the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, and related matters, and undercut any notion that there was collusion (or even any extensive interaction) between Mr. Kushner and Russia concerning the 2016 election.” The documents provided to those committees fully responded to their requests. That was why we said we would provide those documents to you first to see if anything else was relevant or new, and try to determine whether those documents satisfy your inquiry as well.

This production, which doesn’t include any documents about designated topics (including the June 9 meeting), satisfied the intelligence committees. That means the intelligence committees could not have asked for “about” documents (which is particularly ironic given that they’re both trying to find a way to help NSA turn “about” 702 collection back on). Which in turn means the intelligence committees likely have huge gaps in their understanding of Jared’s awareness of the Russian discussions.

And in addition to all his other contemptuous non-answers to Feinstein’s letter, Lowell says Jared shouldn’t have to sit for an interview with SJC because he already sat for 6 hours with the other committees, the committees that didn’t ask for “about” documents and therefore don’t have a complete picture of Jared’s involvement.

This is the scam that’s been going on for almost a year (which is probably why Michael Cohen has been dodging an interview with SJC too).

While his letter is otherwise totally unhelpful, it’s nice of Lowell to so clearly make evidence the inadequacies of the other congressional investigations.

Update: Perhaps Mueller is facing the same problem, because he just subpoenaed the Trump campaign for more documents, by keyword.

The subpoena, which requested documents and emails from the listed campaign officials that reference a set of Russia-related keywords, marked Mr. Mueller’s first official order for information from the campaign, according to the person. The subpoena didn’t compel any officials to testify before Mr. Mueller’s grand jury, the person said.

The subpoena caught the campaign by surprise, the person said. The campaign had previously been voluntarily complying with the special counsel’s requests for information, and had been sharing with Mr. Mueller’s team the documents it provided to congressional committees as part of their probes of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.

Did Akhmetshin and Kaveladze Coordinate Before or After Jared Disclosed the June 9 Meeting

Following Dianne Feinstein’s release of a letter revealing the things Jared Kushner didn’t turn over to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the press has honed in on the things Kushner failed to disclose or lied about. Most interesting is an email chain involving a back channel meeting sought by mobbed up Russian, Aleksander Torshin. While that particular meeting didn’t happen, Don Jr did sit next to Torshin at the NRA convention held in Mitch McConnell’s home town, Louisville (he took the picture above).

An email chain described Aleksander Torshin, a former senator and deputy head of Russia’s central bank who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as wanting Trump to attend an event on the sidelines of a National Rifle Association convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in May 2016, the sources said. The email also suggests Torshin was seeking to meet with a high-level Trump campaign official during the convention, and that he may have had a message for Trump from Putin, the sources said.

Kushner rebuffed the request after receiving a lengthy email exchange about it between a West Virginia man and Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn, the sources said.

[snip]

While Kushner told Dearborn and other campaign officials on the email not to accept Torshin’s offer, Torshin was seated with the candidate’s son, Donald Trump Jr., during a private dinner on the sidelines of an NRA event during the convention in Louisville, according to an account Torshin gave to Bloomberg. Congressional investigators have no clear explanation for how that came to be, according to sources familiar with the matter.

But I’m at least as interested in an AP story that may relate to other Kushner disclosures to Congress. It reports that in June of this year, two participants in the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze met in Moscow.

Akhmetshin told congressional investigators that he asked for the Moscow meeting with Kaveladze to argue that they should go public with the details of the Trump Tower meeting before they were caught up in a media maelstrom. Akhmetshin also told the investigators that Kaveladze said people in Trump’s orbit were asking about Akhmetshin’s background, the person said.

Akhmetshin’s lawyer, Michael Tremonte, declined to comment.

Scott Balber, a lawyer for Kaveladze, confirmed that his client and Akhmetshin met over coffee and that the Trump Tower meeting a year earlier was “obviously discussed.”

Investigators wonder whether they met to orchestrate a limited hangout before the meeting otherwise came out.

Balber denied his client had been contacted by associates of Trump before he took the meeting with Akhmetshin, or had been aware of plans to disclose the Trump Tower gathering to the U.S. government.

Balber said the men did not discuss strategy or how to line up their stories, and did not meet in anticipation of the Trump Tower meeting becoming public and attracting a barrage of news media attention.

He said Akhmetshin did convey during coffee the possibility that his name could come out in connection with the Trump Tower meeting and cause additional, unwanted scrutiny given that he had been linked in earlier news reports to Russian military intelligence, coverage that Akhmetshin considered unfair. Akhmetshin has denied ongoing ties with Russian intelligence, but acknowledged that he served in the Soviet military in the late 1980s as part of a counterintelligence unit.

“That was the impetus,” Balber said of the men’s get-together. “It had absolutely nothing to do with anticipation of the meeting coming out in the press.”

There are three things the AP story doesn’t mention, however.

Previously, the leak of the June 9 meeting had been tied to document submission — by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort — to Congress.

The Trump Tower meeting was not disclosed to government officials until recently, when Mr. Kushner, who is also a senior White House aide, filed a revised version of a form required to obtain a security clearance.

[snip]

Mr. Manafort, the former campaign chairman, also recently disclosed the meeting, and Donald Trump Jr.’s role in organizing it, to congressional investigators who had questions about his foreign contacts, according to people familiar with the events.

That might explain why investigators would suspect the meeting was designed to arrange testimony: because it roughly coincided with the admission to the meeting by Kushner and Manafort.

The AP also doesn’t note that Scott Balber, Kaveladze’s (and the Agalarov’s) lawyer, represented Trump in a lawsuit in 2013 (the same year that Agalarov brought Trump’s Miss Universe contest to Moscow).

Nor does it mention that Balber has orchestrated at least two other stories about this meeting: First, an October blitz performing a limited hangout of the emails and oppo research that Natalia Veselnitskaya purportedly brought to the meeting (which, as I noted should have focused on Balber’s role in massaging Veselnitskaya’s story).

But here’s the bigger question. Why would an American lawyer who has previously represented Trump need to fly to Russia to meet with Veselnitskaya personally? This email chain and the talking points could very easily be sent — but weren’t. So why did Balber need to solidify stories with Veselnitskaya in person? And what is the provenance of the emails as presented, stripped of any forensic information?

So while it’s clear Trump’s former lawyer wants to change the spin around this story, it seems to me the takeaway should be,

BREAKING: LAWYER WITH PAST TIES TO TRUMP FLEW TO RUSSIA TO COORDINATE STORIES WITH NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA

And, more recently, performing a new limited hangout, suggesting Veselitskaya got her oppo research from Russia’s prosecutor Yuri Chaika.

 Stories that note Veselnitskaya crafted the talking points on Browder and Ziff, which were then picked up by Russia’s prosecutor general Yuri Chaika, are used to suggest that that means Veselnitskaya got the talking points she wrote from Chaika. In conjunction, several iterations of the talking points are released (but not the ones she originally wrote). Also, Balber again weighs in to distance Agalarov.

Donald Trump Jr. has dismissed Mr. Goldstone’s emails as “goosed-up.” Mr. Balber blamed miscommunication among those arranging the meeting. “Mr. Agalarov unequivocally, absolutely, never spoke to Mr. Chaika or his office about these issues,” he said.

So orchestrating a meeting between Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze would make three attempts, on sometime Trump and current Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber’s part, to craft a story about the June 9 meeting.

There are other reasons I know of to suspect that Balber’s story is total crap, but they’ll have to wait.

One more data point.

Remember that in his telegraphed testimony, Don Jr claimed he couldn’t recall the presence of Akhmetshin.

I’m more interesting in the things the forgetful 39 year old could not recall. While his phone records show he spoke to Emin Agalarov, the rock star son of Aras Agalarov, who has been dangling real estate deals in Russia for the Trumps for some time, for example, he doesn’t recall what was discussed.

Three days later, on June 6th, Rob contacted me again about scheduling a time for a call with Emin. My phone records show three very short phone calls between Emin and me between June 6th and 7th. I do not recall speaking to Emin. It is possible that we left each other voice mail messages. I simply do not remember.

This is important, because those conversations probably explained precisely what was going to happen at that meeting (and how it might benefit real estate developer Aras Agalarov), but Jr simply can’t recall even having a conversation (or how long those conversations were).

He also doesn’t recall whether he discussed the meeting, after the fact, with Jared, Manafort, or (the unspoken “anyone else” here is pregnant) Pops.

The meeting lasted 20-30 minutes and Rob, Emin and I never discussed the meeting again. I do not recall ever discussing it with Jared, Paul or anyone else. In short, I gave it no further thought

Once we find out he did discuss it with Pops and others, he can say he’s stupid and we’ll all believe him.

Most interesting, to me, is his claim to only recall seven participants in the meeting.

As I recall, at or around 4 pm, Rob Goldstone came up to our offices and entered our conference room with a lawyer who I now know to be Natalia Veselnitskaya. Joining them was a translator and a man who was introduced to me as Irakli Kaveladze. After a few minutes, Jared and Paul joined. While numerous press outlets have reported that there were a total of eight people present at the meeting, I only recall seven. Because Rob was able to bring the entire group up by only giving his name to the security guard in the lobby, I had no advance warning regarding who or how many people would be attending. There is no attendance log to refer back to and I did not take notes.

The unstated subtext here is even more pregnant. Don Jr accounts for seven of the participants in this meeting:

(3) Himself, Paul Manafort, Jared Kusher

(4) Natalia Veselnitskaya, her translator, the Agalarov’s real estate invstment executive Irakli Kaveladze, and Rob Goldstone

So what he really means to say is he doesn’t recall the presence of Rinat Akhmetshin, who has ties to Russian intelligence and a history of fending off accusations of hacking.

Finally, remember that Veselnitskaya was in touch with Agalarov in advance of the meeting, at the same time that Trump Jr was having phone calls — the substance of which he simply can’t remember — with the younger Agalarov.

Me, 11 days ago.

THIS FEELS LIKE A LIMITED HANGOUT

All of which is to say that the efforts of the last month feel like a limited hangout — an attempt to avoid potentially more damaging revelations with new admissions about Magnitsky. That’s not to say the Magnitsky discussion didn’t happen. It’s to say the potential admissions — down to Veselnitskaya’s claim that, “I definitely don’t have!” information on Russian hacking and interference — have gotten far more damaging since when, in July, she claimed the election didn’t come up.

At the very least, it seems the players — particularly the Trump sponsor Agalarovs  are concerned about what Rob Goldstone has had to say to whatever investigative body — and are now trying to cement a different more damning one, yet one that still stops short of what they might admit to.

In either case, another thing seems clear: Veselnitskaya attempted to come to the country, using the same method she did when she actually used her presence to pitch Don Jr. After that meeting was denied, Trump went from suggesting he might meet with Putin to confirming that he plans to.

Earlier today, NBC reported that Rob Goldstone is preparing to come to the US (bizarrely showing willingness to come here rather than remain in Thailand where extraditions are possible but challenging) to meet with Mueller’s team.

From all this, I suspect that Jared’s delayed disclosures may hide other, far more damning ones.

The Don Jr – WikiLeaks Emails Are Underwhelming

Julia Ioffe has a big scoop on the content of DMs between Don Jr and WikiLeaks turned over to Congress (unless it came indirectly from Don Jr, as it may have, it’s another inappropriate leak that will discredit whatever source turned them over).

And I have to say, the DMs are more telling for what they don’t include than what they do. Most notably, Ioffe cites no DM showing Julian Assange explaining to Don Jr that his source wasn’t Russia, which given more recent efforts to pitch that story, you might have expected.

Just as notable, when Don Jr asks Assange what emails will be coming out the week of October 7 — one of the moments when, Democrats have speculated, some coordination between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign may have occurred — Assange doesn’t answer.

On October 3, 2016, Wikileaks wrote again. “Hiya, it’d be great if you guys could comment on/push this story,” Wikileaks suggested, attaching a quote from then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton about wanting to “just drone” Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

“Already did that earlier today,” Trump Jr. responded an hour-and-a-half later. “It’s amazing what she can get away with.”

Two minutes later, Trump Jr. wrote again, asking, “What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?” The day before, Roger Stone, an informal advisor to Donald Trump, had tweeted, “[email protected] is done. #Wikileaks.”

Wikileaks didn’t respond to that message, but on October 12, 2016, the account again messaged Trump Jr. “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications,” Wikileaks wrote. (At a rally on October 10, Donald Trump had proclaimed, “I love Wikileaks!”)

The exchange is interesting for a number of reasons: given my questions about uncertainty over whether these would be Clinton Foundation emails or something else, there’s no discussion from either side about content. Don Jr seems to have gone to Assange rather than Roger Stone to find out about the impending dump. And there’s no talk about other impending dumps — not the Access Hollywood tape, not the Intelligence Community report blaming Russian for the hack.

All in all more exonerating than inculpating, particularly given the expectations around that week.

The other thing that doesn’t appear in these DMs is any hint that Don Jr knew of Peter Smith’s efforts to find and send to Wikileaks hacked copies of emails from Hillary’s server.

It is definitely the case that Assange was trying to gain some value from Trump, but Don Jr, at least, didn’t comply (indeed, as Ioffe notes, with just a few exceptions Don Jr didn’t respond). But (unless Don Jr withheld DMs that Twitter would have already turned over to Mueller) this in no way backs the narrative that Democrats suggested might have happened.

Here are the DMs Ioffe describes:

September 20: Wikileaks warns about PutinTrump (Don Jr promises to ask around, and emailed four people on the campaign telling them WikiLeaks had made contact)

October 3: Wikileaks asks for pushback on Hillary’s threat to drone Wikileaks (Don Jr says he had already done so)

October 3: Don Jr asks about the impending dump (Wikileaks doesn’t respond)

October 7: IC statement tying Wikileaks to the Russian operation

October 12: Wikileaks thanks Don Jr for his dad talking up Wikileaks, provides a preferred link (Don Jr tweets out the link two days later); Shortly after the original tweet, Don Sr tweeted out praise for Wikileaks, but didn’t use the link Assange wanted him to use. [Update: Some caution is due on this last point. While it indeed looks like Don Sr’s tweet closely follows the exchange, the DMs we have are printouts, meaning we can’t check the actual timestamps of the exchanges to verify what time zone they were set to.]

October 21: Wikileaks asks for a tax return to publish, trying to establish impartiality

November 8: Wikileaks suggests Trump not concede and challenge media corruption

November 9: Wikileaks tweets “wow”

December 16: Assange asks to be appointed Australian Ambassador to DC

July 11: Wikileaks offers to publish Don Jr’s Veselnitskaya email (Don Jr posts them himself)

Maybe Stephen Miller’s Discussions with George Papadopoulos Are Why Jeff Sessions Can’t Recall Any Email Discussions?

Over the weekend, the NYT published the best reported piece yet on the George Papadopoulos plea. I’m most intrigued by the description of how a young Russian intern turned Joseph Mifsud into a Russian expert in 2014. But the most important detail in the story is that the loathsome Stephen Miller is the Senior Policy Adviser described in the plea.

The day before he learned about the hacked emails, Mr. Papadopoulos emailed Mr. Miller, then a senior policy adviser to the campaign, saying Mr. Trump had an “open invitation” from Mr. Putin to visit Russia. The day after, he wrote Mr. Miller that he had “some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

Those emails were described in court papers unsealed Oct. 30 disclosing that Mr. Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts to the F.B.I. But the documents did not identify Mr. Miller by name, citing only a “senior policy adviser.” Neither he nor his lawyer responded on Friday to requests for comment.

During interviews with Mr. Mueller’s investigators, former campaign officials now working at the White House have denied having advance knowledge of the stolen emails, according to an official familiar with those discussions. Mr. Miller was among those recently interviewed.

The NYT hints at what I laid out explicitly: FBI charged Papadopoulos for his lies because they were designed to hide whether he told the campaign about the emails Mifsud told him about. And given the timing, it seems highly likely Papadopoulos’ reference in his April 27 email (the government cites just one line from the email, so it may not be the most exciting detail) to “interesting messages coming in from Moscow,” those interesting messages included discussion about the “dirt” Russia had on Hillary in the form of emails.

That is, it seems highly likely that on April 27 (or whenever Papadopoulos was next in DC), Miller learned that Russia had some kind of emails from Hillary.

Miller, recall, is Jeff Sessions’ close aide, his installment in the Administration. The NYT makes clear that Miller was interviewed by Mueller’s team recently, which means he was one of the people the government planned to interview just after locking in Papadopoulos’ plea.

Which makes this exchange from Jeff Sessions’ most recent congressional appearance, on October 18, all the more interesting. First, Patrick Leahy got the Attorney General to admit that there was a difference between not recalling something and affirmatively denying something. Leahy then pointed out that, once the meetings he had denied were disclosed, Sessions started not recalling certain things about the meetings that he had previous affirmatively denied.

Leahy: Later in March, when you did disclose such meetings, you said you could not recall what was said at the meetings. Your answer to my question was an emphatic no. It wasn’t, “I don’t recall.” You are a lawyer, I am a lawyer. You are, in fact, our nation’s top lawyer. Is there a difference between responding “no” and “I do not recall”?

Sessions: Yes.

Leahy: Thank you.

Sessions: Certainly it is, Senator Leahy.

Leahy: So if you could not recall, then you could not answer have answered my first question, yes or no, if later you said that you don’t recall what was discussed. The reason I ask is that, US intelligence intercepts reported in July that it would appear you did in fact discuss campaign issues with the Russian Ambassador.

Leahy then asked Sessions whether he had, since the election, had conversations with Russian officials about a slew of things, starting with emails. Sessions got even squirrelier than he normally is, and first attempted to answer a question Leahy didn’t ask.

Sessions: I have never had a meeting with any Russian officials to discuss any kind of coordinating campaign efforts.

So then Leahy asked about each item in turn.

Leahy: Let’s take this piece by piece. Did you discuss any of the following: Emails?

Sessions: Repeat the question again about emails.

Leahy: Since the 2016 campaign, have you discussed with any Russian connected official anything about emails?

Sessions: Discuss with them. I don’t recall having done any such thing.

Right after this exchange, Sessions totally balks when Leahy asks him if he has been interviewed or asked for an interview by Mueller, saying he should clear it with the Special Counsel.

Now, there was some imprecision in this questioning. It’s clear that Sessions believed he was answering the question about during the campaign, not since it.

But of the things Leahy asked about — emails, Russian interference, sanctions, or any policies or positions of the Trump campaign or presidency — Sessions ultimately not-recalled in response to just one question: the emails.

Based on the past practice Leahy had just laid out, Sessions claimed to not recall issues that he had actually done. Which would suggest Sessions is worried that there’s evidence he has discussed emails — with someone. It’s just not clear how he interpreted that question.

Luckily, he’s due in the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow, when Democrats can try to get him to recall whether he spoke to his top aide, Stephen Miller, about emails the Russians were promising.

Mueller’s Watergate Prosecutor Is Liaising with the White House Lawyers, and Other Tidbits on Mueller’s Org Chart

Earlier this month, I explored what the organization exposed by the first court filings in the Mueller investigation showed. Politico has a version of the same analysis today that adds some more interesting details.

What ought to be the headline details is that the prosecutor on Mueller’s team who worked on Watergate, James Quarles, is the one liaising with White House lawyers.

Mueller’s liaison to the White House is James Quarles, a former Watergate prosecutor who has helped arrange an ongoing series of interviews with current and former Trump aides. Quarles was involved in the questioning of former press secretary Sean Spicer during a daylong interview last month, according to a person with knowledge of the interview, and he’s a primary point of contact for Trump’s personal attorney, John Dowd, as well as Ty Cobb, the lead White House lawyer handling the Russia investigation.

That seems like worthwhile symbolism.

The article describes who is leading the investigation into Mike Flynn.

And at the center of the investigation into Flynn is Jeannie Rhee, a former Obama-era deputy assistant attorney general who most recently worked with Mueller at the WilmerHale law firm — and whose name has so far appeared only on publicly available court documents relating to the guilty plea of former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Assisting Rhee on the Flynn case is Zainab Ahmad, an assistant U.S. attorney from New York with a specialty in prosecuting and collecting evidence in international criminal and terrorism cases — and whose name hasn’t yet appeared in Russia-related court filings at all.

I find it curious that Rhee has been involved in the Papadopoulos plea, given that there’s no sign that links up to Flynn. And I’m just as curious that Ahmad (who, as I noted, is a specialist in trying foreigners brought into the US) is on that team. Are there more Turks that will be brought in on the Flynn investigation? This passage doesn’t mention Brandon Van Grack (it later describes Van Grack’s role in Papadopoulos’ arraignment back in July, without explaining that that’s pretty clearly because he’s used to the court house in Alexandria, where Papadopoulos was arraigned), though I assume he’s still on that team.

Finally, the piece notes that Mueller added another prosecutor (it says there are currently 17 prosecutors, which may mean he has added two). Though unlike with all the other prosecutors on the team, Mueller’s not telling who this one is.

Mueller’s work isn’t just confined to his team of prosecutors, which special counsel spokesman Peter Carr said grew last week to 17 with the addition of an unnamed lawyer.

That may mean some other case just got deemed related to Mueller’s, but it’s one that he doesn’t want to reveal has been connected yet.

At Some Point Trump’s Denials Are about Criminal Defense, Not Just Denial

After hanging out with Vladimir Putin informally in Da Nang, Donald Trump again said he believes Putin’s denials that he interfered with the election.

“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he flew from Da Nang to Hanoi in Vietnam. Trump spoke to Putin three times on the sidelines of summit here, where the Russia meddling issue arose.

“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,'” Trump said. “And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”

“I think he is very insulted by it,” Trump added.

This has the chattering class horrified, again, about what this does for the intelligence community.

That’s all true, but I think this is about more than Trump preferring the analysis of an old KGB spy.

As this NYT story released last night makes clear, the Mueller investigation is closing in on Trump’s close aides, including Stephen Miller and (as I’ll point out later) Jeff Sessions. I have reason to believe something will be announced in the very near future that will blow the investigation wide open, in ways that may directly implicate the President.

But, as I’ve said repeatedly, the Russian operation built in multiple levels of deniability, not just the WikiLeaks cut-out. So it may be that whatever actions personally implicate Trump involve enough deniability he will be able to claim — or try to — that he didn’t know the actions he took involved working directly with the Russians.

In other words, at some point these repeated public claims aren’t about trusting Putin over his intelligence community. They’re about mounting a criminal defense.

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