The Silent Cast of Characters in the Very Noisy Recent Mueller Moves

A fuck-ton has happened in the Mueller investigation already this month. Amid the noisy pleas and indictments, we’ve seen indications of hidden cooperation from a range of people, cooperation that may point to where Mueller’s next steps are.

Here, arranged by the date of the development, are hints at who either was or soon is likely to be talking to Mueller’s team.

February 1: In a proffer to Mueller’s team, Rick Gates lied about a March 19, 2013 meeting with Paul Manafort, Vin Weber, and Dana Rohrabacher.

Rohrabacher’s statement in response to the guilty plea is inconsistent with the version laid out in the plea, suggesting he’s not the means by which Mueller’s team learned it was a lie.

After the guilty plea on Friday, a spokesman for Rohrabacher, who has sought better relations with Russia, said: “As the congressman has acknowledged before, the meeting was a dinner with two longtime acquaintances –- Manafort and Weber –- from back in his White House and early congressional days.”

“The three reminisced and talked mostly about politics,” the spokesman said. “The subject of Ukraine came up in passing. It is no secret that Manafort represented Viktor Yanukovych’s interests, but as chairman of the relevant European subcommittee, the congressman has listened to all points of view on Ukraine.”

This suggests someone else provided the version of the meeting the government included in the plea. While it’s possible the other version came from Gates’ former lawyers, it’s more likely the version came from someone else. Vin Weber is the most likely source of that information.

Back in August 2016, as news of the secret ledger was breaking,Weber suggested he may have been misled by Manafort, both as to the purpose of his lobbying and regarding the need to register as a foreign agent for Ukraine. If he felt that way in August 2016, I imagine he came to feel that even more strongly as Manafort’s legal woes intensified.

February 9: Returning a call from John Kelly but speaking to Don McGahn, Rod Rosenstein spoke of “important new information” about Jared Kushner that will delay his clearance.

Given all the evidence that suggests Jared faces very significant exposure in this investigation, this new information could be any number of things. But two possibilities are likely. First, it might reflect Jared’s January 3 disclosure of additional business interests in yet another update to his SF-86, or his family’s increasing debt over the last year.

More likely, it reflects things the government has learned from Mike Flynn (who has an incentive to burn Jared, given that the President’s son-in-law was asked for and didn’t provide exonerating information tied to Flynn’s own lies to the FBI). Indeed, that seems to be one theory of those who reported on this phone call.

Kushner’s actions during the transition have been referenced in the guilty plea of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who admitted he lied to the FBI about contacts with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Prosecutors said Flynn was acting in consultation with a senior Trump transition official, whom people familiar with the matter have identified as Kushner.

All that said, there are two more possibilities. Given that she appears to have lied to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in her confirmation process, KT McFarland would be an obvious follow-up interview after the Mike Flynn plea; she asked Trump to withdraw her nomination to be Ambassador to Singapore on February 3. And February 9 might be (though probably isn’t, quite) late enough to catch the first sessions of Steve Bannon’s 20 hours of interviews with Mueller, and Bannon has long had it in for Jared.

February 14: Alex Van der Zwaan got caught and pled guilty to lying about communications he had with Rick Gates, Konstantin Kilimnik, and Greg Craig in September 2016. On top of whatever he had to say to prosecutors between his second interview on December 1 and his plea on February 14, both Craig and Skadden Arps have surely provided a great deal of cooperation before and since September 2016. (As I was finishing this, NYT posted this story that details some, but not all, of that cooperation.)

February 16: As I noted in my post on the Internet Research Agency indictment, Rod Rosenstein was quite clear: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.” That said, there are three (presumed) Americans who, both the indictment and subsequent reporting make clear, are treated differently in the indictment than all the other Americans cited as innocent people duped by Russians: Campaign Official 1, Campaign Official 2, and Campaign Official 3. We know, from CNN’s coverage of Harry Miller’s role in building a cage to be used in a fake “jailed Hillary” stunt, that at least some other people described in the indictment were interviewed — in his case, for six hours! — by the FBI. But no one else is named using the convention to indicate those not indicted but perhaps more involved in the operation. Furthermore, the indictment doesn’t actually describe what action (if any) these three Trump campaign officials took after being contacted by trolls emailing under false names.

On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.

The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”


Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona [email protected] account to send an email to Campaign Official 2 at that email account.


On or about August 20, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to contact Campaign Official 3.

Again, the DOJ convention of naming makes it clear these people have not been charged with anything. But we know from other Mueller indictments that those specifically named (which include the slew of Trump campaign officials named in the George Papadopoulos plea, KT McFarland and Jared Kushner in the Flynn plea, Kilimnik in the Van der Zwaan plea, and the various companies and foreign leaders that did Manafort’s bidding, including the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs in his indictment) may be the next step in the investigation. As a reminder: Florida Republicans are those who most tangibly can be shown to have benefitted from Russia’s hack-and-leak, given that Guccifer 2.0 leaked a slew of Democratic targeting data for the state. (In perhaps related news, this week Tom Rooney became the third Florida Republican member of Congress to announce his retirement this cycle, which is all the more interesting given that he’s been involved in the HPSCI investigation into Russian tampering.)

February 23: Manafort’s superseding indictment (a version of which was originally filed February 16) added the description of the Hapsburg Group for former European officials who lobbied at the direction (to some degree via cut-outs) of Manafort.

MANAFORT explained in an “EYES ONLY” memorandum created in or about June 2012 that the purpose of the “SUPER VIP” effort would be to “assemble a small group of high-level European highly influencial [sic] champions and politically credible friends who can act informally and without any visible relationship with the Government of Ukraine.” The group was managed by a former European Chancellor, Foreign Politician A, in coordination with MANAFORT.

It may be that the government only recently obtained this document (meaning it was not among the 590,000 pages of documents obtained and turned over to Manafort in discovery thus far). But it’s likely this also reflects further testimony. Former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer denied he is Foreign Politician A to BBC, though that may be a non-denial denial tied to his claim he wasn’t directed by Manafort and only met him a few times (this Austrian story suggests only he doesn’t remember what American or English firm paid him). NYT reported that Gusenbauer’s lobbying during the relevant time period was registered under Mercury Public Affairs. This is another piece of evidence suggesting the group — and Vin Weber personally — has been cooperating since the original indictment.

Note, I assume that Mercury/Weber’s cooperation has been mirrored by Tony Podesta’s.

32 replies
  1. R. Westcott says:

    It’s worth adding that Rooney may not be directly related to this stuff — according to the Tampa Bay Times he was a Rubio supporter at first in 2016 and then dropped his support for Trump after the Access Hollywood tape was released.

    That article also says he told the NY Times last summer he was thinking about not running again this year. He may fall into a category of GOP members who have an idea where things are heading and have decided they’d rather not spend a lot of time in the middle of it. I wish there was better reporting digging into the motivations of all of the GOP retirees we’re seeing — you’d think they would have less inhibitions on leaking about the mood in the caucus than those who are sticking around.

    • bmaz says:

      Yes. Because the intelligence and honesty of Republicans as to Trump and the direction of their party improved so much post the Billy Bush tape exposure.

      And Rubio proved himself to be so much less of an intellectually cowardly rube post that event.

      • seedeevee says:

        The intelligence and honesty development of Republicans is only matched by that of the Democrats, yet the Republicans are in charge of every level of the Federal government.


        I don’t think there is a shortage of intellectual cowardice from the right-of-center Democratic Party leadership.  This is problem for all of us and pretending that the leadership of both parties are not as cowardly and intellectually bankrupt as each other is tribalism at its worst.

        • Larry says:

          You write like Boris and Natasha speak on Rocky and Bullwinkle, which is kind of cute if you’re not a Russian troll.

          Also your last sentence is so obviously off the wall and over the top that it’s transparently nonsensical B.S. In other words, happy trolling!

    • emptywheel says:

      It may not be, I agree. Certainly Ros-Lehtinen made her decision before HPSCI got deeply into ints work, and her district was going to be particularly difficult this year. Goodlatte is also retiring, but he announced before he got deeply into HJC’s review of things, and hasn’t seen as much as HPSCI (though he has seen the Page FISA application).

      Rooney, however, is among the Republicans who has seen the most. So it’s possible this is related.

  2. Trip says:

    The irony of Rosenstein calling McGahn to tell him the deets on why Kushner can’t get clearance, while supposedly McGahn can’t get clearance either. Why is that? Why is McGahn not in peril of losing his position?

    Also Conway, Trump Jr, Flynn, Flynn Jr and Parscale retweeted a lot of the IRA garbage.

    This thing is huge. If Mueller ever truly got the bottom, I think it would take a decade.

  3. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Collusion vs Conspiracy
    (trees vs forest)

    Let the players continue to argue that as individuals that they were not colluding.

    Most certainly, each player as an individual sincerely believes that they are not colluding.

    The problem is that they are puppets and do not realize that they can be part of a larger conspiracy.

    Let them argue no collusion, and let their actions reveal the puppetmasters.

    This is why this will take a decade or more to drag out the truth. The actions will not all happen overnight. It will literally take years and years to collect the evidence.

  4. Avattoir says:

    So: Rohrabacher tells HPSCI Version 1; Weber tells OSC V2; Gates tells OSC V3 … or V1 – IAE not 2; ‘somehow’ OSC convinces Gates Weber’s V2 is verified or confirmed or at least makes more sense; then Gates folds, presumably adopting Version … 2?

    Iz possible OSC had some informal chat with Rohrabacher?

    Or has Dana slipped into something of a shithole?


    • emptywheel says:

      My guess is he will prove my repeated invocations of Speech and Debate, usually uttered wrt Nunes, wrong.

    • Avattoir says:

      First thought on seeing it there, right up front & unavoidable: There goes Marcy, like clockwork: comes along the decade’s massive executive branch security scandal, first she sets the trapline with some analysis you can’t get anywhere else, then just as everyone’s paying attention, she sells out to The Man.

      We know a number of folks who regularly post at LawFare will read this, but I really want to hear Wittes quote from it.

    • KM says:

      Wow, reading through the Twitter thread, EW sure is confident about / adept at guessing what’s behind redactions.

      Sigh.  “… the FBI had already opened sub-inquiries into [redacted — four] individuals …” reminds me of the good old days of trying to match fonts with Patrick Fitzgerald to find “Richard Armitage” behind the black marker.


  5. cfost says:

    There is ample evidence that Podesta would be itching to get some revenge on Manafort/Stone, esp given that Manafort and Stone were trying to misdirect in the Centre for a Modern Ukraine matter, by trying to ascribe the misdeeds to Podesta’s firm.
    To me, the phrase of the year is going to be “financial distress.” Perfectly illustrated by your reference to the Politico article describing Jared and Ivanka’s debt AND the fact the a significant portion of it is also owed jointly with Jared’s mother and father.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Cat’s cradle, pull one string, after a while the whole figure collapses.  The systemic reach of these investigations might startle even Mueller’s team.  It certainly startles the rest of us.  Which ones to pursue, which ones to prosecute.  Mueller may have enough to keep him going not just through 2018, but through 2020, in time to continue interviews with the former President Trump. All substantive, hard crimes leading down the yellow brick money road.

  7. Bjorn Jensen says:

    Dear Marcy
    And all

    Every time I am close to providing an idea or a new comment – or link-I have been pursuing – I can’t do it because the G-forces are bearing down on me-flattening my skull –
    I have prepared obs- then ditched them as the pace, root and branches have overwhelmed my ability to plug an idea or comment here- because I’m unable to keep up in semi, sort of real time and also work in my real life !

    I am in awe at the detail and commitment here.

    Marcy Wheeler is simply a life force.

    More breaking news on a Saturday night as I checked in from here , Europe. The Dem counter report – and I was supposed to go hiking tomorrow – but must read this release

    I was just reviewing my thoughts on CPage, absorbing the 13 busted of last week, Then …..

    Figuring out more Manafort – the Dutch playboy lawyer – the US seller of data, the wife beaters, the security lack of …jerk offs, Kushner the slumlord , the playboy bunny , the adult film smart star, the Rick Gates sideshow ? Rob Porter,
    Parkland Florida
    ( nightmare) and the only adults thinking rationally, …teenage survivors of another high school massacre . Poetry. Anger.

    Run the country you beauties – you are certainly smart enough
    – fight it-
    Shine guys- don’t give up
    Just shine…

    Thanks all of you here.
    Thanks EW

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      No matter where you reside on planet Earth…

      “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”

      “Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun”

      “You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon”.

      [Seriously, everyone needs to ‘shine on’, the problems are global]

  8. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Attribution is difficult.

    Do not buy the story that it was russians that hacked olympics but tried to make it look like it was north korea.

    It probably was neither.

    That leaves two other players, and your first guess of those two is probably wrong.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Who Wasn’t Responsible for Olympic Destroyer?’

      [Note Rayne: the http url works also. Just reference material, no credit card needed]

      [Also, parts point to APT10, china]

      Evidence linking the Olympic Destroyer malware to a specific threat actor group is contradictory, and does not allow for unambiguous attribution. The threat actor responsible for the attack has purposefully included evidence to frustrate analysts and lead researchers to false attribution flags. This false attribution could embolden an adversary to deny an accusation, publicly citing evidence based upon false claims by unwitting third parties. Attribution, while headline grabbing, is difficult and not an exact science. This must force one to question purely software-based attribution going forward.

  9. Bjorn Jensen says:

    AR Hopes and Dreams: The Closing Ceremony:

    The opening was in MHO pretty excellent

    Snow boarding was my favourite go to watch and loved Chloe Kim espesh
    Also Shaun White-

    These guys fly without strings -no SFX

    Don’t know how sporty you guys are out there but I’m an amateur scull rower (fine boat) and I enjoy competing with myself
    – every Olympics I watch with awe because I know that going from zero to hero is huge , enormous – I’m so into the sentimentality of it all-
    The ” if only the world was nice and fair”

    I love being my own zero hero… my small incremental goals

    And the mushy ceremonies blasted out
    a la Las Vegas to the universe – reminds us of all the talent and tech know how to bring these games to life and inspire kids the world over (politics and doping aside )who get up at dawn , train, go to school, eat, train, cram their studies , train, eat, sleep and get up at dawn again and again to push their aching muscles.

    Then what always follows are the Para Olympics- the real super heroes ! So don’t moan your aching legs after a run- embrace that you have them.

    So far so good with flying VR pandas- UNTIL
    I saw the grinning American Cheshire Cat
    The Ivanka ( hmmm… how can I monetize the US Olympic Team uniforms just in time for 2022?)

    My little journey into sentimentally – crushed by her mug .

    Boy did she wreck my little indulgence in TeeVee magic ;(

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