On the Breadcrumbs Suggesting Feds Flipped Reza Zarrab

In response to last week’s WSJ story on Mike Flynn’s sustained discussions about helping Turkey kidnap Fethullah Gulen, I suggested the far more interesting detail was his involvement in brokering a deal for Reza Zarrab, a Turk accused of laundering gold to benefit Iran. That’s because, in addition to any taint of a quid pro quo, it also implicated Trump’s decision to fire Preet Bharara.

Mostly, the focus has been on the kidnapping part of the story (perhaps, in part, because Republicans tried to attack James Woolsey for his involvement in it a few weeks back). But, because of the timeline, I think the far more interesting side of it is the inclusion of a deal on the Reza Zarrab prosecution — because that implicates Trump’s decision to fire Preet Bharara, substantiating a parallel case to his firing of Jim Comey.

[snip]

Here’s what the timeline looks like:

November 30: Trump tells Preet he can stay

Mid-December: Flynn has meeting discussing $15 million payoff for doing Turkey’s bidding

March 7: Flynn submits delated FARA registration ending in November

March 11: Trump fires Preet

Given Sessions’ confusion about whether he was really involved in that decision, I would bet there’s a paper trail showing he provided, as he did for the Comey firing, cover for a decision that had already been made.

Today, the Daily Beast has a piece suggesting (albeit backed by a long series of no comments from lawyers) that the Feds may have flipped Zarrab.

Mueller is reportedly looking at a December meeting blocks from Trump Tower where Michael Flynn—shortly before Trump became president and named him national security adviser—was reportedly offered upward of $15 million if he could help Turkey win the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gülen as well as the release of gold trader Reza Zarrab.

Now it appears Zarrab, whose trial for allegedly cheating U.S. sanctions by facilitating gold-for-gas deals between Turkey and Iran is scheduled to begin in just days, may be working with federal prosecutors.

Last month, lawyers for his co-defendant, bank manager Mehmet Atilla, remarked sardonically in court filings that Zarrab, the man at the root of the charges facing their client, had all but vanished, and it seemed “likely that Mr. Atilla will be the only defendant appearing at trial.”

It’s a reasonable suggestion. And one other bread crumb might support it: the tidbit that Mueller’s team added a prosecutor last week, who remains unnamed.

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.

Zarrab was removed from BOP custody on Wednesday November 8, so the same week that this unnamed additional prosecutor was added to the team.

Mind you, it’s not clear how much Zarrab — who was in jail for the period of the alleged meetings — would know about Flynn’s involvement in any proposed deals. He would, however, know what his lawyers Rudy 9/11 and Michael Mukasey had claimed about such deals.

Of course, it’s also possible he was flipped on someone else, like other officials in the Turkish government, or that something else explains the move.

That said, the prosecutors from SDNY would surely be quite interested in exacting some kind of price for Preet’s abrupt removal, and Zarrab might provide the way to do that.

Update: There has always been confusion about whether Michael (the former AG) or Marc (his son) was the lawyer who weighed in for Zarrab, which continues (as Jim notes). It was Michael, not Marc. I’ve corrected this post accordingly.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

22 replies
  1. harpie says:

    Preet Bharara‏Verified account @PreetBharara  just retweeted this [from 53 minutes ago]:

    Erdoğan regime’s police, detain wives of police chiefs who led 2013 corruption and Zarrab operations; […] The wives of former police chiefs including Ömer Köse, Nazmi Ardıç and Mustafa Demirhan, who led corruption operations against the government in 2013 and an operation into the Iran-backed Tevhid-Selam network in Turkey in 2010, have been detained, the TR724 news website reported on Thursday. […]

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Interesting.  Is this a novel form of Islamic divorce?  Is it meant to deter their husbands from doing something unwelcome by the president?  Or is it simply pour encourager les autres from even thinking about moving in directions not approved from on high?

      On the other hand, the US president has the power to remove US Attorneys without cause; he cannot remove them, however, for an illegal purpose, such as to obstruct justice.

  2. orionATL says:

    reza zarrab

    this guy has “papeles” that a smuggler would kill – strike that – die for.

    from wikipedia:

    “… Reza Zarrab…  born 12 September 1983 in Tabriz, Iran is a Turkey-based businessman. He has triple Iranian,… Azerbaijani…  and Turkish citizenship,… while also holding a Macedonian passport….

    On 19 March 2016 he was arrested in the United States and accused of..  being a member of international criminal organization. He was charged with evading the US sanctions on Iran and money laundering… in an alleged racket scheme to help Iran bypass the sanctions, involving ministers of the Turkish government of then prime minister and now president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan…. ”

    if turkey were a lynchpin in drug (from afghanistan to europe) and arms smuggling…

  3. Jim White says:

    Okay, maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention, but has anyone suggested that the new unnamed prosecutor is Preet?

    But then you’d think he wouldn’t be tweeting today, so maybe not…

  4. Rugger9 says:

    Would Zarrab’s peddling of Iranian gold also violate at least one of the sanctions on Iran that were in place?

    If so, there’s the federal hook to put it on Bharara’s radar and if the Kaiser or his minions did anything to pull strings (like firing Preet Bharara) it would be a pretty clear case of obstruction.

    I’ll agree with Jim White, it’s quite possible that Preet is the new guy, because he (or she) has not been announced and there does not seem to be a good reason to do that now after all of the other team members were named publicly.  On the other hand, adding Preet to the team would be trumpeted as proof of Mueller’s bias against the Kaiser by the RW Wurlitzer for hiring someone who has a bone to pick with Disgustus.  Mueller knows this and I suspect he will have named someone else (I still think it is a high-profile name, because why keep it under wraps otherwise?), maybe Boies?

    • Rugger9 says:

      Here’s why Preet was interested and a linkage to Flynn.  If Mueller is able to connect the dots some serious stuff is going to start, perhaps Mueller gets fired.  Watch the twitter feed and what is put out there in the news. **

      https://www.rawstory.com/2017/11/turkish-gold-trader-mysteriously-vanishes-from-prison-which-may-mean-he-is-now-helping-mueller-nail-flynn/

      ** OT but a distraction nonetheless, the Franken response to the charges is (for now, until more facts come out since he disputes some of the story) appropriate to let the ethics committee loose on his case, as well as acknowledging his own errors in judgment in unambiguous terms (no “if anyone was offended …” no-pology here) that makes it clear his conduct was wrong.  I would also note that (perhaps from shame) Franken is the one who pushed for the anti-harassment amendment in the 2010 defense authorization that would prevented government contracts from going to companies that closed the courtroom door for women who were harassed (inspired by Jamie Leigh Jones) so it’s clear that he does walk the walk better than most idiots.  Nor, for that matter has the D leadership offered up any of the defenses shoveled out by the GOP to save their seat from AL.  That hasn’t stopped the GOP from demanding his immediate resignation which I’m sure has more moral outrage than the now twenty women claiming harassment by the Kaiser (plus his ADMITTED unauthorized tours of the ladies dressing rooms at Miss World) or the two GOP reps that tried to get their mistresses abortions even while publicly and vocally preventing women from having the right to choose.  None of them have resigned or even apologized.

      • Rugger9 says:

        There might be enough for a distraction here, since SHS is giving a presser today.  We’ll see how long it takes her to go after Franken.  I’d say within 2 minutes.

        It has been remarkable how quiet the Kaiser has been on Moore, it’s not like he was a rabid Roy supporter because he backed Luther Strange in the primary, and loudly.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Preet Bharara as number 17? A poke-in-the-eye to Donald, to be sure, but it would create an obvious conflict of interest, as Donald ceremoniously fired him. It’s not Mueller’s buttoned-down style, nor is it necessary. There are still enough top people with superb experience and a lower-key presence to do the job, who would be harder for defendants to attack or to use as a distraction. Plus Mueller, unlike Trump or any of his top aides, is capable of playing multi-dimensional chess.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Mueller is smart enough to not give away appeal points unnecessarily (look how leak-proof his investigation has been compared to Starr’s witch hunt), so I would agree with you.  However, it doesn’t answer the question about who #17 is, since the secrecy surrounding this name did not occur with any of the others.  That tells me this is a white-shoe lawyer with some name recognition.

  6. Bay State Librul says:

    Seen on a billboard twitter machine:

    “You’ve reached the Robert Mueller plea deal office. All of our agents are helping other customers. Please continue to hold.”

     

    • Rugger9 says:

      Good one. What music should be playing on the line, though? Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” or maybe Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” or “Godzilla”?

        • Rugger9 says:

          True, but this is Mueller’s plea deal line.  Something more topical…

          Anyhow, Moore’s attorney was out there claiming that Nelson did actually meet with Moore because he presided over a divorce hearing in 1999.  There are two things wrong with that.  First, Nelson’s attorney moved for a delay since a reconciliation was being attempted, and second, where is the transcript of the hearing which would list all parties and their attorneys in attendance?  The lowlife judge also tried to claim unfair treatment because in his twisted mind Franken got off easy with Mitch.  Never mind that McTurtle’s rejection came long after the charges started to surface, when the circumstantial evidence became too much to ignore (though both Mitch and LyinRyan did their best to try).

          https://www.rawstory.com/2017/11/attorney-for-roy-moore-claims-one-critical-piece-of-evidence-is-falsified-look-at-the-sevens/

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    In other Credibility News Service files, disgraced former judge and now GOP candidate for the US Senate from Alabama, Roy Moore, knows how to pick lawyers that are seemingly as competent as he is.

    Yesterday, Moore’s attorney, Phillip Jauregui, claimed to have proof that one of Moore’s accusers, Beverly Young Nelson, lied about never having met Roy Moore.  That is, not after Moore allegedly groped her and threatened consequences if she disclosed it.

    Jauregui, in a Team B cover boy moment, claimed that Nelson must be lying because he had written proof that a hearing in 1999 was scheduled before Moore concerning Nelson’s pending divorce action.  His presentation left in reasonable minds the inference that the meeting was held, the case was determined and Nelson must not have been happy with the outcome, and that she was lying in order to get even with Moore 18 years later.

    I hope that Jauregui’s press conference is not representative of his competence, his familiarity with due diligence, or with holding press conferences about controversial clients.  According to ThinkProgress, which does know how to check its sources, Mr. Jauregui is dead wrong. 

    A hearing was scheduled before Moore in 1999, but it was never held.  It was postponed by Nelson, then canceled a month later after she and her then husband reconciled.  (They apparently did divorce five years later.)  No other hearings involving Nelson’s divorce were scheduled or held with Moore.  Jauregui’s “information” seems to omit easily verifiable material facts. His claims do not contradict Nelson’s claim not to have met Moore since he allegedly groped and threatened her.

    One can only hope that Alabama’s bar association’s ethics committee takes note and action.

  8. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT?: Jared Kushner not forthcoming to SJC

    If you guess why he did not respond fully,
    your guess may be wrong. (hint: Grassley)

    This is also a tell for an even bigger story.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/jared-kushner-emails-russia-backdoor-feinstein-grassley-2017-11

    Jared Kushner has evidently failed to produce documents to lawmakers that “are known to exist” about “a Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” and communications with a Belarusan-American businessman named Sergei Millian.

    It had not been previously reported that “a Russian backdoor overture” was discussed in emails that Kushner “forwarded,” or that anyone on the campaign had communicated with Millian.

  9. Rugger9 says:

    Oops, and this is the guy who the Kaiser thought would save the world, but keeps forgetting stuff (we’re into the hundreds of items, now).  Really, this ticking down towards Mueller’s firing just got faster, since Caesar himself said the bright red line was his family.  That the backdoor adventure was attempted we knew early in this administration, but I don;t think the names were in play at the time.https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/11/16/1716253/-Jared-Kushner-left-things-out-of-the-emails-he-gave-the-Senate-Judiciary-Committee-and-he-got-caught

  10. JAG says:

    This time his army of lawyers and admin assistants forgot to click send.   I swear his week in spenr with posed twitter photo was really a deep dive with his first lawyer to figure out docs that he had to hide (not saying lawyer was instructing) while getting counsel.  Of course, he could have been solving for world peace and securing financing for 666 madison concurrently, multitasker that he is.

     

    He sure omits a lot for a multitasker.

     

  11. Jim White says:

    Trying to figure out what to make of this, but we have switched Mukaseys as this story has developed. Both AP (as appears here in the Chicago Tribune) and NY Times reported back in late March and early April, as it was happening, that Joon Kim, the prosecutor in the Zarrab case, wrote a letter to the judge stating that Guiliani and Michael Mukasey had been hired by Erdogan to work toward Zarrab’s release bypassing the court. The Tribune even has Michael Mukasey’s photo. The two lawyers went to Turkey to visit Erdogan.

    But the Daily Beast article Marcy links here, and a later NBC article, say it’s Marc Mukasey (Michael’s son). None of the articles on this that I’ve been able to find has a link to Kim’s letter to see who was listed then. The AP article does note the existence of Marc Mukasey, as Michael’s son and as a candidate to replace Bharara. And don’t forget that Trump personally interviewed a member of Guiliani’s firm as another possible Bharara replacement.

    What a mess. But does the change of Mukaseys in this story mean anything?

  12. Jim White says:

    Thanks for the update, but I’ll admit to being a little disappointed that it’s probably nothing more than confusion by the press on which Mukasey is involved.

    On a separate front, it occurred to me to do some digging on Zarrab’s “pop star” wife. Her name is Ebru Gundes. I can’t find any association of her with either Rob Goldstone or Emin Agalarov, but perhaps our roving reporter Rosalind can check in with contacts in the entertainment industry to confirm that. That would just be so juicy if there were some connection.

Comments are closed.