Mueller Wants to Know How Far the Game of Email Telephone Got within the Trump Campaign

NBC has a story that has gotten a lot of people excited, reporting that Mueller’s team has been asking:

  • Policy towards Russia: Why Trump took policy positions that were friendly toward Russia and spoke positively about Russian President Vladimir Putin
  • Roger Stone: Whether Stone was aware of information the group had before it became public and when it might be released
  • Trump’s knowledge: Whether Donald Trump was aware that Democratic emails had been stolen before that was publicly known, and whether he was involved in their strategic release

I think this story is both less and more than people are making it out to be.

It’s being overhyped for its facial value. Of course Mueller is going to ask about what the president knew and when he knew it. Of course he’s going to chase down whether Roger Stone’s repeated claims to know what was coming were bluster or not.

But on at least two counts, I think there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

First, as I noted when George Papadopoulos’ plea came out, the FBI charged the former foreign policy advisor for lying about whether he had been told of dirt on Hillary in the form of emails (which we now know they said they might anonymously leak to help Trump) before or after he joined the campaign. That they believed this important enough to charge suggests that, after two full months of cooperation, they got the answer they expected.

FBI found those lies to be significant enough to arrest him over because they obscured whether he had told anyone on the campaign that the Russians had dirt in the form of Hillary emails.

To be sure, nothing in any of the documents released so far answer the questions that Papadopoulos surely spent two months explaining to the FBI: whether he told the campaign (almost certainly yes, or he wouldn’t have lied in the first place) and when (with the big import being on whether that information trickled up to Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner before they attended a meeting on June 9, 2016 in hopes of obtaining such dirt).

I’m sure that’s intentional. You gotta keep everyone else guessing about what Mueller knows.

But we can be pretty sure what the answers are.

There’s no way Papadopoulos’ plea would have been rolled out in the way it was except to get everyone he had told about the emails (as well as those who were instructing him on how to negotiate a meeting with Putin) on the record first.

So Mueller has a good idea of who learned first hand from Papadopoulos about the emails. What he may not know (or may be trying to lock in with further testimony) is how far that game of telephone extended; did it include Trump, and if so via what interlocutors. (Rick Gates may be, or may already have, enlightened Mueller on this point.)

These questions are also interesting against the background of something else suggested by the Papadopoulos plea (and subsequent NYT reporting), which I laid out here. Papadopoulos appeared to be signaling Ivan Timofeev, and those signals were closely tied to email releases.

In this post I did a timeline of all the known George Papadopoulos communications. The timeline made something clear: on two occasions, Papadopoulos alerted Ivan Timofeev to something in a Trump speech. On each occasion, something happened with emails.


I’m not saying that the timing of these email releases were dictated by the speeches. Of course they weren’t. They were timed to do maximal damage to the Hillary campaign (not incidentally, in a way that coincided with the “later in the summer” timing Don Jr asked for in his communications with Rob Goldstone).

Rather, I’m saying that Papadopoulos seems to have been signaling Timofeev, and those signals closely mapped to email releases.

And those signals are among the things he tried to destroy.

Importantly, that signaling pertained to public statements on policies of Russian interest. I laid out three apparent incidences in that post, incidences mentioned in the plea.

In this post, I suggested what might be a fourth: when Trump’s twitter account tweeted about Hillary’s emails just 40 minutes after the June 9 Trump Tower meeting started and incorporated a potentially accurate number for how many staffers Hillary had.

I want to return to a detail many others have already noted, Donald Trump’s tweet, just 40 minutes after the Trump Tower meeting started, referencing Hillary emails (albeit the ones she deleted off her server, not the still secret stolen ones).

Given that George Papadopoulos seemed to treat other public statements from the campaign (most notably Trump’s April 27 foreign policy speech) as signals to the Russians the campaign was prepared to take the next step, could this tweet be the same? A response, seemingly from the candidate himself, accepting a deal presented in the meeting?


I’m at least as interested in why Trump (or rather, Scavino or Parscale or Don Jr) used the number “823” in the tweet. In the aftermath of the John Sipher interview Jeremy Scahill did, Sipher suggested to me might be some kind of signal, a code; he’s the pro–maybe he’s right.

But I was wondering whether it might, instead, reflect real-time knowledge of the Hillary campaign’s finances and resources. That is, I wondered whether that number might have, itself, reflected the sharing of some kind of data that could verify the Russians had compromised Hillary’s campaign (or at least researched it substantively enough to know more than the Trump camp did). The public use of the number, then, might serve as a signal that that message, and the inside data, had been received.

While the specific number is difficult to check, I’ve been told the 823 number would have been at least “in the ball park” of the real number of Hillary’s campaign staffers on June 9, 2016.

If this (or, specifically mentioned in the NBC story, Trump’s July call for Russia to release Hillary’s emails) were part of the signaling, then Trump either could have been in the loop, or one of the flunkies who ran his iPhone account before he switched to iPhone himself could have been.

Which leads me to one more question reported by NBC today, almost as an afterthought. At least one witness was asked about the boundaries of Dan Scavino’s job.

At least one witness has been asked about Trump aide Dan Scavino, specifically about any involvement he may have had in the campaign’s data operation. Scavino currently runs the White House’s social media operations and is one of Trump’s closest aides.

I’m particularly interested in this given the report that Scavino was involved in negotiations through Rob Goldstone for promotions on Russian social media platform VKontakte, and the odds that he might have been the one tweeting any signaling tweets using Trump’s campaign.

So while these questions are, on the one hand, bloody obvious, they also may suggest a far more advanced understanding of how this operation might have worked.

70 replies
  1. harpie says:

    That reference to Scavino towards the end of the article certainly made me sit up and pay attention…hadn’t heard his name for a while. Thanks for putting things in context.
    [In your Roger Stone bullet point, you probably meant to write “Wikileak” instead of “the group”.]

  2. Patricia Frick says:

    How does, or does he, Mike Pence fit into this? Keep thinking about Don Jrs remarks to Kasich when begging him to be VP

    • matt says:

      Isn’t Pence (with Ryan and Priebus) the link to the Koch brothers- who flipped from Never Trump… to “crap he might win, so lets get in bed with him.”

  3. bloopie2 says:

    With all this talk now of Mueller and Russia , I went back and looked at your first thoughts on the Mueller appointment and his remit.

    “I’m agnostic about the selection of Mueller.… My bigger concern is with the scope, which I believe to be totally inadequate. … But there are other aspects of the great swamp that is the Trump and Russia orbit that might not be included here. For example, would Manafort’s corrupt deals with Ukrainian oligarchs be included? Would Flynn’s discussions with Turkish officials, or Rudy Giuliani’s attempt to excuse Turkey’s violation of Iran sanctions? Would the garden variety money laundering on behalf of non-governmental Russian mobbed up businessmen be included, something that might affect Manafort, Jared Kushner, or Trump himself?”
    Your ESP was certainly working that day!

    • emptywheel says:

      Had forgotten that stuff, though recently reflected on writing it while sitting in the same seat at OHare waiting for a connection.

  4. TheraP says:

    Brilliant Op-Ed in the Times, Marcy! Top Billing in the Opinion section too! Kudos!

    You have laid out the case so well. In a way that most people can understand. I love good writing. And your Op-Ed is just outstanding and answers my concern of late – that all the abstruse and confusing details people are hearing might lead them to tune out. That’s why I just love how you laid out the case. Simply. Without confusing detail. But making clear what’s at stake.

  5. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Hope Hicks resigns.

    Seems like no one wants to talk about ‘stuff’.

    House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff said Hicks would not discuss, for instance, her role in drafting the misleading statement from Donald Trump Jr. about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer.

    “All of our questions about what went into that statement went unanswered,” the California Democrat said.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Josh Raffel may have been keeping the ship afloat, and now with his resignation, …

      the implosion may be starting.

      Will not be surprised if others resign by weekend.

  6. harpie says:

    Mueller investigation examining Trump’s apparent efforts to oust Sessions in July  February 28 at 7:04 PM

    […].Behind the scenes, Trump has derisively referred to Sessions as “Mr. Magoo,” a cartoon character who is elderly, myopic and bumbling, according to people with whom he has spoken. Trump has told associates that he has hired the best lawyers for his entire life, but is stuck with Sessions, who is not defending him and is not sufficiently loyal. […]

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      When lashing out in fear that his lies and incompetence will catch up with him, Trump will shit on anyone within reach.  That’s one reason Jared should be afraid.  He is still tethered to reality.  Others close to Trump gave that up long ago.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Trump is as much of a victim and as forcibly tied to Jeff Sessions as Steve Mnuchin is to Louise Linton.  Like all Cabinet appointees, Sessions serves at the pleasure of the president.  He can be replaced at any time; Sessions’s replacement would only have to be ratified by the Senate.

      Trump retains Sessions because he finds him useful, just as he finds it useful to complain about him:  Trump is scared and frustrated, Sessions is his bitch, and he can get away with it.  It rattles his opponents’ cage over “what happens to Mueller?”  It scores points with a Base that does not much like lawyers, but remembers that Mr. Magoo was oddly attractive and harmless.  Sessions is neither.

      Trump is a master complainer.  He probably complains more than he has sex.  He would complain, hypothetically, that only affirmative action could explain why Penn would admit, instead of low-achieving Donald, a nationally-ranked African American athlete and actor-singer-dancer with a Hollywood screen writing contract, and a 4.0 average.  (In real life, the Don was admitted to Penn the way Jared was admitted to Harvard – and the way the mercantile class commonly breaks into the cultural strongholds of the elite: daddy’s seven-figure donation, plus that Trump’s brother got there on merit and did well, which made Donald a legacy.)

      By the same token, Trump got rid of Hope Hicks.  She was a potential embarrassment.  (He might even have been angry that she dated Rob Porter; only Trump has droit du seigneur.)  If there’s a sword she won’t fall on – such as being unwilling to lie to Congress or Bob Mueller – she’s no longer useful.  At some point, the USS Donald J. Trump may not have enough hands to surface the boat.

  7. harpie says:

    TheBeat w/Ari Melber‏Verified account @TheBeatWithAri  BREAKING: Trump aide @NunbergSam said he thinks Trump Jr. would have told his father about Russia meeting:

    Sam Nunberg [SN]: Well, I would also say that I think it’s probable at that meeting with Don Jr. I am sure Don Jr. reported to his father what they had heard. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, by the way.
    Ari Melber [AM]: Wait, you think Don Jr. told his father everything he was hearing about getting offers of dirt?
    SN: Yes. I’m sure he did.
    Commentator: I’m sure, too.
    SN: Now, where’s the crime? The issue is, what is the crime?
    Commentator: Here’s the crime…
    SN: And the other issue is the Russians…is this why Hillary Clinton lost the election? The answer is no.

    • Rayne says:

      “What is the crime? Uh, hey, look over there, it’s Evil Killary! We won the electoral college, you know. And her emails! No, wait, what about Obama?”

      This is the part that will look utterly insane to future humans. Compare this scandal side-by-side with Watergate or Iran Contra and good gravy, the utterly ridiculous clowns we have now. No wonder we have all those clown sightings — too many to staff the White House.

      • KM says:

        I have always thought that we haven’t had competent enemies since the Bushies.  I’ll take these clowns, eminently dangerous as they are in their own way, any day over the Roves and Cheneys.

        BTW, that’s a pretty reliable litmus test dividing the centrist Dems from the people who have their heads screwed on right.  It’s positively fashionable to wax “histrionic” about Trump and co.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Meanwhile, in a fit of indirect self-preservation, the US State Dept has told the American chief prosecutor at an international criminal trial in the Hague to pack his bags and be gone from the land of cheese and tulips before first light on April 1st.  It was not renewing his contract, nor indicated whether it will replace him.

    David Schwendiman was appointed during the Obama administration as chief prosecutor in a war crimes trial concerning events in Kosovo during 1998-99. State ignored Schwendiman’s repeated requests concerning renewal or termination of his contract.  The prosecution he’s leading may extend through 2020.  State recently called him via the embassy and told him adios.  The war crimes trial will continue temporarily under his deputy, but may stall indefinitely if the US fails to replace him.

    The State Dept just lost its leading expert on Korea – nothing much going on there – and has more unfilled job vacancies than at any time since Sen. Joe McCarthy emptied the place in the 1950s.  John Foster Dulles wannabe Rex Tillerson won’t be filling them.  Like his boss, he’s the only one who can fix anything.  He doesn’t even like interpreters with him when he talks to foreign heads of state.  Tillerson is committed to to the philosophy, “If it’s broke, don’t fix it.  If it ain’t broke, wait a while.  It will be.”

    Some might argue that this is just a case of Jacksonian patronage: always hire your own, always fire your predecessor’s people Personally, I see this as following the Powell Memo doctrine of not empowering one’s enemies.  Neither Trump nor Bush have much to gain from strengthening international criminal laws, let alone advocating for the prosecution of former strong men or heads of state.

    • Rayne says:

      I see a completely different playbook at work. If it was just one department — like Tillerson running the place on a shoestring — I’d agree with you. But the cabinet-wide combination of purges, budgetary starvation, and kleptocracy looks more like a corrupt take on Michael Ledeen’s “universal fascism,” which embraced creative destruction. Emphasis on destruction.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        This administration, like this president, is an empty shell. Trump is a PT Barnum, parading stuffed circus animals instead of real ones, using his red tie for a whip, his own denuded mane standing in for a lion’s.

        Like his businesses, this administration is badly run by inattentive, absentee managers who would be in over their heads at a cocktail party.  The demise of Trump’s signature Latin American property – his name-only Panamanian hotel/condo project – is emblematic.  Located in one of the great tax havens and money laundering capitals, the property is so badly managed that a messy, possibly violent divorce from its owners is imminent.  Competing security guards duke it out in the lobby while the courts try to undo the contract.  Meanwhile, Trump’s staff are running the shredding machines 24/7.

        Trump’s department heads, unable to declare a time out to watch television in their bedrooms, are spending more time redecorating their offices than they do on the job.  They are spending more money finding plush seats for their asses than they are implementing any of the vital programs for which they are responsible.  The industries they are meant to regulate roam wild.

        The core of Trump’s approach to government, as it is to business, is resource extraction.  Long term management and owning the assets that make things work – essential for effective and affordable government – are for chumps.  Cash and immunity are king.  If Putin had been scouring the world for the perfect foil to weaken his primary opponent, he couldn’t have found a better one than the guy at the top of Trump Tower.

        The novel that best describes Trump is not one by Rider Haggard or H.G. Wells.  It is Fitzgerald’s Gatsby.  If the Trump administration were a movie, the storyline would be Grover Norquist meets Mad Max.

      • KM says:

        I think you can both be right on this one.  Special animus for State, but part of a larger pattern.

  9. Therap says:

    What an utter abomination! (Meant to reply to the Earl above)

    Also: Nobel Peace Prize nomination committee has twice (this year and last year) received forged(!) nominations of Trump! (Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize?!) The forgeries have been sent to the Norwegian police, who referred this on to the FBI! (Doesn’t this just sound like something Trump would do? Or have his underlings “arrange”?)

    These are bizarre times.

    • orionATL says:


      in small and large ways, looking at the past is extremely important to gaining perspective on what’s happening now – in art, in science, in politics, etc. human behavior is surprisingly stable over time, e. g., the nixon campaign talked with the north vietnamese to influence the outcome of an election, as did the reagan campaign twelve years later. the trump campaign dealing with agents of the russian government seems simply par for the course for political-power-over-all-else republican politicians. some of thexsame actors arexaround nowxas were in 1980, e. g., manifort, stone. the execrable lee atwater is thankfully long gone.

      brill’s content and stephen brill! i was an initial subscriber and remained until it sadly folded – a great media concept with hard-hitting journalism that couldn’t survive.

    • Rapier says:

      I hope people notice that Whitewater, The Scandal, was a NY Times production. When they took it seriously, then like always, everyone could take it seriously.  Graduating from GOP ‘scandal’ de jure produced by the conservative industry, to serious thing, just like that.  Just like Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, or Hillary’s server, or and I hate to say it, Russia.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Props to the wag who said that when Hope Hicks leaves the White House, Donald will be home alone.

    Any bets on who plays the roles played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern?

  11. Yogarhythms says:

    OT CNN quotes US National Intelligence Chief Dan Coats “Russia is targeting US 2018 Election”. Our dear leader is not implementing sanctions against Russia ordered by Congress. Nor ordered cyber retaliation for 2016 election interference. Because he wants to repeat the 2016 miracle in 2020 with help from same players. Same Six States in play guarantees Electoral College significance limiting Facebook/Analytics/Troll investment. How do we stop the Tide from rolling in?

    • harpie says:

      […] Along with the contract drafts, the emails also appear to show Mr. Broidy prepared talking points for Malaysia’s prime minister ahead of a 2017 visit to Washington that included a meeting with Mr. Trump and other officials. In the talking points, the prime minister was advised to state that Malaysia wanted to emphasize its work with the U.S. in confronting North Korea, while also arguing against the U.S. legal pursuit of the 1MDB matter. It isn’t clear what, if anything, came of the talking points. […] 


  12. harpie says:

    Senate Intelligence Leaders Say House G.O.P. Leaked a Senator’s Texts; NYT; 3/1/18
    […] To the senators, who are overseeing what is effectively the last bipartisan investigation on Capitol Hill into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the leak was a serious breach of protocol and a partisan attack by one intelligence committee against the other. […]

    Quinta Jurecic: “let us discuss more how paul ryan and mitch mcconnell are enabling the dismantling of the russia investigations, please”

    • bmaz says:

      Gosh, that advice is just swell. Also, it has been a refrain for years, and is kind of a tired trope.

      What then, SLF, do you suggest as an alternative to at risk people worldwide? TOR may be imperfect, and it is, but it is an important layer of security for a lot of people. It is easy to blithely harp on it, but what do you have otherwise for the people out there that use TOR for what protection it can, and does,  provide? I’ll be waiting for that.

      • matt says:

        Right, it offer’s protection against commercial and private invasion of privacy… but is it legitimate to not want to be spied on by National Security Agencies?  Call me confused again, isn’t one of EW’s main themes abuse of surveillance?

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Depends on what the intel community wants, doesn’t it?  Are its priorities determined by Bill Black and Elizabeth Warren or Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump?

          Actually, it’s legitimate as hell.  The government can readily obtain a warrant if it has particularized information about a crime a person might have committed.  The trope that, “If you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide” is bullshit.  Everyone has something to hide.  It’s called personal, private space and information. Very little of it is the government, a corporation or your neighbor’s business.

          Adherents say that the Church of the Second Amendment can brook no heretics.  The Congregation of the Fourth Amendment is much larger, more inclusive and equally zealous.

  13. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Dots? Kushner, Apollo Global, ATT, Marc Kasowitz

    Kushner Cos., owned by the family of President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, on Nov. 1 took out the $184 million loan on the 30-story building at 225 W. Randolph St., according to Cook County property records.

    The report is the latest twist in the 10-plus years that Kushner’s New York-based firm has owned the Randolph Street tower, which is AT&T’s Midwest regional headquarters.

    A group of investors led by Kushner Cos. bought the approximately 849,000-square-foot office building for $275.7 million in December 2007, as real estate values were peaking ahead of an eventual crash.The deal was a sale-leaseback, in which AT&T signed a 15-year lease for the entire building.

    According to the Dec. 21 [2017] complaint, in a “massive fraud,” Apollo induced Harbinger “to invest nearly $2 billion in SkyTerra when defendants knew, but concealed, that SkyTerra’s planned telecommunications network, which defendants had touted as revolutionary and extremely profitable, had severe, material defects which prevented it from being built as planned.”

    SkyTerra, and its successor LightSquared, planned to build a multibillion-dollar satellite-based network that would have been able to compete with AT&T and Verizon’s 4G networks.

  14. TheraP says:

    Very good article at Politico on reasons why Jared is in deep excrement over not following NSC protocols for meeting with foreign dignitaries (e.g. how to protect yourself from becoming like Jared):

    Any bets on how long Jared can last – dangling out there by himself? Whether he’ll ultimately sing to Mueller, rather than let his parents go bankrupt? What will Ivanka do if so?

  15. Desider says:

    That 823 is kinda like in the movie Scream where the guy on the phone says something to let the girl know he’s actually nearby watching her – definitely to freak Hillary and team out, beyond signalling to Russians that they’d be using any dirt provided. Typical Trump bullying asshole intimidation move.

    (okay, 823 could also be “thinking of you”, but way too cute to believe even if they knew the internet slang.)

    • orionATL says:

      hmm. interesting.

      i’m not up on internet slang. “r” and “u” i can get :), but could you provide some detail on how “823” = “thinking of you” in slang-talk?

  16. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman has been nominated for the Nobel Memorial Prize in Journalism.

    Like its counterpart, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, the Journalism prize was not one of the original five prizes set up by turn of the 19th century Swedish explosives and weapons magnate, Alfred Nobel.  The Journalism prize was established following the Watergate scandal in 1974, not long after the establishment in 1968 of the Nobel Economics Prize.

    It is funded by grants from the Swedish Central Bank, the Svenska Handelsblad, the Katherine G. Krakker Fund and a trust established by Charles, Lord Coke and his brother, the Earl of Petrol.  It is not granted yearly, but only in years where a suitable candidate presents herself.  The prize is awarded in October.

    Ms. Haberman’s work spans many years with the Grey Lady.  She has seen editorial and opinion page editors come and go.  She has witnessed the rise and rise of David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and Bret Stephens, and the prominence given to advertising executives by the paper’s latest heir apparent.  All but the rise of the New Wave of online journalists – named after the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers of 1950s and 1960s France – have left her unscathed, untouched, unmoved, unrepentant.

    Ms. Haberman remains resolutely focused on access journalism.  She has remained loyal and left no source unprotected, no matter how reliable or how small the rose-tinted window through which she is allowed to peak.  She is a standout of whom the Times is immensely proud.

  17. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Another career diplomat bites the dust.  Latin American expert, current ambassador to Mexico, and former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Ms. Roberta Jacobson, is leaving the State Department after 31 years.  Shortly before her announcement, Donald Trump had ended another acrimonious telephone call with Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto.

    Jacobson is the latest in a string senior diplomats to leave the state department after Donald Trump’s election: the US has lost more than half its career ambassadors and many other senior diplomats since Trump took office.

    Last month, Tom Shannon, the state department’s most senior career diplomat – and another Americas expert – announced that he was stepping down. In January, the US ambassador to Panama resigned, saying he was no longer able to serve under Donald Trump.

    Trump announced today that he would replace the Latin American expert and career diplomat with a political appointee – former telecoms executive, professional board member, and short-lived chairman and CEO of General Motors, Ed Whitacre:

    On June 9, 2009, General Motors named Whitacre as chairman.  He took the position when the automaker emerged from bankruptcy proceedings on July 10, 2009.  On December 1, 2009, Whitacre became interim CEO following Fritz Henderson’s resignation.  Since taking the helm, he has been dubbed the GM Reaper by many in blogs, noted for his strong desire to “kill off” brands and projects, such as Saab and a sub-Volt Toyota Prius competitor planned for Chevrolet. In January 2010, chairman Whitacre was appointed permanent CEO after serving in the post in an interim capacity. On September 1, 2010 he relinquished the CEO position to Daniel Akerson but agreed to continue on as GM Chairman to the end of the year.  [Citations omitted.]

    A crony hires a crony.  Fuck diplomacy.

Comments are closed.