The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up (Part One, Cultivation)

I wasn’t going to do this originally, but upon learning that the Mueller questions, as NYT has presented them, don’t maintain the sixteen subjects or even the 49 questions that Jay Sekulow drew up from those 16 areas of interest, and especially after WaPo continues to claim that Mueller is only investigating “whether Trump obstructed justice and sought to thwart a criminal probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election,” I am going to do my own version of the questions, as released by the NYT.

I’m not pretending that this better represents what Mueller has communicated to Sekulow, nor am I suggesting NYT’s version isn’t valid. But the questions provide an opportunity to lay out a cultivation, quid pro quo, and cover-up structure I’ve been using to frame the investigation in my own mind.

This post lays out the “cultivation” questions Mueller wants to pose.

The cultivation

The questions start well before the election, focusing on both Trump’s persistent interest in building a Trump Tower in Moscow, the cultivation of Trump by the Agalarov camp, and Trump’s interest in becoming best friends with Vladimir Putin. The questions may also include other real estate deals that would be less obviously tied to Russia, but possibly just as compromising. It’s worth remembering, Trump probably didn’t expect he’d win. So the Trump Tower offers were a prize that would be available (and easier to take advantage of) based on the assumption he’d lose.

November 9, 2013: During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?

On November 9, 2013, the Agalorovs helped Trump put on Miss Universe in Moscow; Trump Tower meeting attendees Rob Goldstone and Ike Kaveladze were both also involved. If the pee tape — or any kompromat involving “golden showers,” as Jim Comey claims Trump called it — exists, it was made on November 8, 2013.

Leading up to the event, Trump talked about meeting Putin and “will he become my new best friend?,” but that reportedly did not happen. But he did meet a bunch of other oligarchs. In the aftermath of the event, the Agalorovs floated building a Trump Tower in one of their developments.

November 2, 2015 to November, 2016: What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?

On November 3, 2015, at a time when Trump’s campaign was experiencing remarkable success, and well after (per the Internet Research Agency indictment) the election year operation had started, Felix Sater approached Michael Cohen to pitch yet another Trump Tower in Moscow deal. He tied the deal explicitly to getting Trump elected.

Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins [sic] private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.

Remember: Mueller’s subpoena to Sam Nunberg goes back to November 1, 2015, suggesting this is the timeframe he’s thinking explicitly about.

The initial public story about the deal — which Cohen tried to squelch before his congressional interviews — claimed that the deal fizzled out in January 2016. More recent reporting has revealed that one of the people involved in this deal has ties to GRU, the Russian intelligence organization behind the hack-and-leak, and that Cohen pursued it at least as late as June, 2016.

Around that time (possibly on July 22, with the involvement of Ivan Timofeev, who was involved in offering up emails), Sergei Millian — who had brokered Trump business with Russians in the past — started cultivating George Papadopoulos. After the election, Millian pitched that the two of them should do a Trump Tower deal.

The Trump Tower offers are only the most obvious election-related deal Mueller might be interested in. In October 2016, for example, Cypriot businessman Orestes Fintiklis obtained a majority stake in the troubled Trump Panama development, which he has since taken over (possibly along with a bunch of papers showing the money laundering Ivanka did to fill the building). And all that’s before you consider any deals Jared was pitching.


These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript


Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

24 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Nice dangle: building a Trump Tower in Moscow.  Worked for years.  I hope Mr. Putin doesn’t think all American leaders are as easy to hoodwink as the Don.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Is Rudy a leader now? This spin made me laugh.

      “Rudy Giuliani, a member of President Trump’s legal team, said he believes Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is “desperate” to make a case and could be trying to “trap” the president into perjury, as he laid out the conditions for a possible Trump-Mueller interview.”

      [So, so, completely wrong. It is Rudy (any many others) that are desperate, not Mueller. Rudy is in absolutely no position to be laying out conditions]

      [No link. TV tonight. You get one guess and you will be correct. No need to watch]

      [As I said long ago, no reason for Mueller to talk to Trump. It is the Trump side that is phishing for info]

      • Trip says:

        Caputo, after sitting with the investigators, said Mueller is “Spear fishing”; Doesn’t need a wide net.

        All the Trump mouthpieces want it to seem like Mueller would waste time on tiny technicalities, rather than landing the shark.

        • harpie says:

          He also said:
          [quote] Michael Caputo, just interviewed by Bob Mueller’s team, told me: “It’s clear they are still really focused on Russia collusion. … They know more about the Trump campaign than anyone who ever worked there.” He didn’t want to discuss specifics / He added: ”The Senate and the House are net fishing,” Caputo said.  “The special counsel is spearfishing. They know what they are aiming at and are deadly accurate.” [end quote]

  2. SteveB says:

    Slightly but not wildly off topic:

    Steve Vladek and Ben Wittes have posted a piece analysing the legal basis for a grand jury subpoena for Trumps testimony.

    Posted at justsecurity

    And at lawfare

    • Full Wheel says:

      Why read anything at Lawfare. It should be called “law unfair.” They just hired James Baker, the former FBI attorney who protected Comey. He was a member of the FBI/DOJ cabal that launched the regime change operation against Trump. He resigned last week rather than wait to be fired. He thinks he can get awas like McCabe thought. But he’ll be fired anyway. Now he works for Lawfare.


      • bmaz says:

        “Why read anything at Lawfare”? Um, because, whether you agree with all of it or not, there is some some outstanding work done and posted there. Smart people can separate the wheat from the chaff and utilize a good resource.

        Jim Baker is actually one of the very good people at DOJ going back to the Bush years where he was one of the few decent people on identifying out of control surveillance policy.

        It looks like Emptywheel has picked up yet another troll. We must be doing something right to collect up all you twits.

  3. SteveB says:

    @ SLF

    re perjury trap.

    It surprises me that Rudy and Dershowitz keep banging the perjury trap drum. I will of course defer to the american legal scholars who  post here, but I have familiarised myself with the case of Chen and the article by Gershon ( 129 U Pa Law R pp 624 – 700) which is cited with approval in Chen.

    Gershons analysis points out that an individual DDs propensity or disposition towards telling lies forms no part of the trial/ appellate court analysis as to whether DD appearance as a grand jury witness and subsequent prosecution of DD for perjured testimony there amounted to a perjury trap.

    • Avattoir says:

      Well, it doesn’t surprise me, or, I suspect, anyone plying their trade in the criminal court system.

      What you cite is all fine and good, but also, so white lab coat academic. IMO – happy to be convinced otherwise – what you’re missing is a sort of passion play level understanding of the relevant cultural geography.

      Again, MO: what we have here is the confluence of, OTOH, the ancestrally southeastcentral Europe American BosWash-east coast U.S. mob, and on the other, the definitely-not-urbane ‘white’ Euro-ancestrals of flyover, rural and Southland America.

      Each of the many streams contributing to those tributaries brings its own long historically-based suspicion of non-familial/local-based centrally-organized government in general and policing in particular. So in essence they tend to cling to an origin-based suspicion of rule exercised and legal regime established somewhere remote from and without reference to their own set of myths and identity, e.g. by educated egghead elites who went to Ivy League school and live out their personal and working lives entirely within and in the pale of a made-up city of icons to centralized power, including an artificially homogeneous tower of Babel.

      So you got your mobbed-up types, who ‘know’ as catechism that the only reason one of them would ever talk to a fed is if he’s turned stoolie, cuz it seems like whenever any of them refuses to fink and tries to explain to the feds the particular nuances of his peculiar situation, rather than bond with the story, the feds always go off to check it out and undermine the alibi and next thing he knows,  he’s facing a perjury rap.

      And when that hard-edged, albeit simplistic, philosophy empties into a far wider but much more passive tributary that’s susceptible to wandering monks and minstrels and other such grifters – such as might be filled by super popular TV shows based on such familiar economic systems as the fundamental tribalism of organized crime and the authoritarian parentalism of pleasing the daddy boss – I submit it’s really not difficult to see how the hard-edged sayings of the former soon become the litanies of the latter.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:


      Drums work well for local communications.

      Smoke Signals are Long Distance.

      Keep a watch, look for the smoke.

      We may have already seen some at Trump Tower. Art dealer died. No rugs apparently.

  4. John says:

    It strikes me that these are a set of possible subject matter questions, not a set of all possible subject matter questions, or the set of all possible questions based upon all possible subject matter questions.  And yet, it seems as if the media is portraying that Muller is giving Trump an open book test; that is, that Trump has to sit down and answer these questions, and it will be done with.  If the Trump legal team released these questions, and the media has endorsed these questions as the subject matter of the “testimony” (read: interview), Trump will be able to object to follow up questions as impertinent and “Witch hunt” questions, without citing the fifth amendment.  Imagine Trump confronted with an email, and just denying that he reads emails.  He will then be able to continue to portray the investigation as a “witch hunt” and portray his ignorance as a virtue of standing up to a run-away investigation.  This is not a long-term strategy, but it will continue to politicize the investigation.  I’m sure the Mueller’s team has millions of ways to divert Trump back to the subject matter and to answer factual questions based upon their evidence, but I’m sure that Trump’s team has advised him not to invoke the fifth, but rather to ramble incoherently about how he manages people and is unaware of details.  Nonetheless, I look forward to the interview, but don’t eat all y0ur popcorn before or during it.

  5. Kim Kaufman says:

    ““golden showers,” as Jim Comey claims Trump called it” Yes, that is what those that indulge in it do call it. Trump seems no stranger to the concept.

    On another note, why is Flood saying yes to represent Trump now? Didn’t he decline before? Wonder how big the retainer is.

    Otherwise, good questions to ask.

  6. joejoejoe says:

    I think there should be more attention given to President Trump tweeting “disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were “leaked” to the media” and then it being revealed that the questions were created by his own attorney Jay Sekulow. Whether you want to call it a kabuki dance, a straw man, misdirection, or flat out lying — Trump is driving the story today just as he drove it during the election season. It’s more dangerous now.

  7. Kim Kaufman says:

    Anyone have any ideas on why Giuliani is going totally off the rails tonight?

  8. big fan says:

    I am a bit confused. Definitely don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth but if I remember correctly, you have argued that the Michael Cohen investigation is primarily not directly related to the Mueller investigation. Others have argued Mueller would delegate the search to NY for reasons of logistics and possibly as hedge if Trump shuts down Mueller. Here you argue Cohen was directly involved in exploring a quid pro quo with Russia. Right? Which means Mueller would most likely want/expect corroborating evidence from any search of Cohen. How does this ad up? Suppose I’ll have to wait and see.

    • Trip says:

      You know how there are TV shows and then spin-offs?  The first show was about eliciting business with Russian connections and getting Trump elected. The spin-off show examines the mistress payoffs, the medallions, the online casino investments, and so forth. Cohen is Saul in Breaking Bad, in the first show, and in the spinoff, he is Jimmy, who also is Saul. The stories are interwoven but have different focus. That doesn’t mean that the separate specific show examining Jimmy cancels out his part in Breaking Bad, in fact, it all overlaps.

    • emptywheel says:

      Mueller is definitely still investigating Cohen for conspiring with Russians. What got spun off was the Stormy Daniels thing. But in the process, SDNY seized and preserved evidence that will be useful for Mueller. And Trump can’t pardon Cohen for the Mueller stuff bc the money laundering stuff that SDNY now has evidence for can be punted to Schneiderman.

  9. Avattoir says:

    You’ve started on the right foot IMO.

    The librettist for Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Lorenzo da Ponte, based his work on a sex romp of a play from 2 centuries earlier, by Spanish monk/moral pornographer Tirso de Molina: El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra, The Seducer and the Stone Guest, a lurid tale of serial degradation & sexploitation of women by a rich dude, enlisted by de Molina in the cause of a Moral Lesson (possibly… Molina seems to have written an awful lot of seamy stuff.).

    It badly needed shrinkage down for use in a single opera. da Ponte made bold choices to accomplish that: 1. Opening with a real audience grabber, exhibiting DJ’s cowardice as he attempts escape form consequences of a rape, by homicide; 2. the opera’s only contemplative part introduces just the vehicle to meet the challenge of reducing Don John’s decades long prehistory of sexual assaults and outrages, as in il catalogo è questo, the List Song, da Ponte has Don John’s servant & fixer Mickey Medallions Leporello cite gross numbers from his detailed records of master Don’s conquests (can serve also as an indictment); 3. then it turns into a sort of Day of the Jackal police procedural, with pursuit, narrow escapes & a big chase scene; 4. culminating in an Oliver Stone / Brian de Palma level catered dinner scene featuring the All-time Bro Handshake, in which a Stone faced Bobby 3 Sticks guest takes Don John in hand & refuses to release; 5. closing with what was to that point the most boldly conceived musical feat since Bach, a parade up Mulberry Street 6 part fugue.

    da Ponte himself sailed to NYC just ahead of a tsunami of creditors & angry folk, where mostly he lived out the last 3 decades of his life. After a brief spell in Philly running a Piggly Wiggly, he established a successful NYC bookstore, conned his way onto faculty at Columbia as the first professor of Italian (by much the same sort of bent angle chicanery for which he was knonw in Europe), became the forerunner for all Fillmore Bill Grahams in staging not just Don Giovanni but lots of his and other’s operas,  eventually founding a short-lived NYC opera house to which today even the Met, among other NYC music institutions, traces its founding story; and in death his memory was honored with a yuge extravagant exuberant funeral, of which, if you’d been alive & in NYC in 1838, you could have said: “And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street“.

    Both I & Lorenzo (he won’t object) approve of how you’ve set about wrassling this into something comprehensible – particularly with your choice of dramatic start point: the most crassly American version of over-staged Carnaval, the beauty pageant.

    FWIW, I continue to be surprised no one has adapted the life of da Ponte into a feature film or cable series; the dude met everyone in western Europe and the U.S. from before Revolutions right thru to the end of the Jackson administration.

    • posaune says:

      @ Avattoir:  thanks for such a creative comment!   You’ll have me up all night now!

      What a guy, da Ponte!   The Commandatore for Mueller = brilliant!  such a dramatic moment, unleashed by the first trombone choral entrance of the opera.

      Undoubtedly, Lorenzo had a very deep understanding of Mozart’s mechanics of construction — he read Mozart’s opera orchestration as symphonic in character, against which he placed the voices — the sextet being among his greatest in voicing technique (open/closed, parallel/contrary,  retrograde or inversion.)

      As for his appointment to Columbia (King’s College):   da Ponte was both the first Jew AND the first Catholic to gain a faculty position at the college.   He was born a Sephardic Jew in the Veneto, the family converted to Catholicism to gain educations for their sons.   And Lorenzo was ordained a priest, although that never impeded his quest for pleasure and excitement.

      Mulberry Street is the right touch!    Any of you old NY’ers out there:   remember the D’Amato Opera ? cute, tiny score reductions for 10 instruments, audiences of 40 or so seated on folding chairs!

      Lorenzo – definitely worthy of a cable series — so many episodes!

      I’d love to see a parallel construction of Trump/Cohen with DJ/Leporello, and the spin offs.

      Thanks again, Avattoir!



    • Avattoir says:

      You might well think that qualifying for and working for so many years as respectively a CIA and a NSA would at least have some beneficial effect to their readers in being able to provide a joint POV reflecting the capacity to quarantine off a critical amount of b.s. and suppressing naivete from the assessments and hypotheses of these two nitwits. But … no.

      I mean, I worked for the better part of two decades with various government agencies, and among the common features was that every office I worked in had a majority of dolts and drudges who filled out the ranks while somewhere from a handful up to maybe a third of the officers did any work that qualified as at all useful.

      I’m not noting that to support an argument against the bureaucratic model because there are LOTS of reasons to prefer that model over any other (among them being the maintenance of critical institutional memory, and group pressure towards normalization of [hopefully good socially admirable] standards. I’m just reporting what I saw and that what anyone who’s ever tried to get things done in such an environment can observe for herself.

      But eventually the careers of the institutional ballast of such bureaucracies come to an end, and unfortunately what follows is that half-baked crap like that gets foisted on unsuspecting, ignorant, credulous members of a suddenly curious public – crap produced from ballast who, if they ever were productive during their bureaucratic careers, the loss of institutional support and the passage of time since has leached out all possible value.

      • Michael Keenan says:

        I do not think that briefing Presidents and security advisor’s with National Intelligence Estimates counts as ballast. I agree that Institutional memory is important.

        • Avattoir says:

          Fine: then YOU try to explain how they could come up the credulous wrong msm takes and the lame-ass suppositions in their article.

          I mean, it’s not even been one week, and already every conceivable ‘side’ and ‘take’ to the 45/49 Qs nailed to the NYT website is that neither Mueller nor anyone else in the OSC came up with those Qs.

          Yet, the two supposedly crafty old I/C dudes not only bit down hard on the hit, but continue to stick to the fic.

          (I shouldn’t even have to dignify the suggestion that the USIC’s ‘best’ somehow are assigned the direct distribution of POTUSessentials. In my not-insubstantial experience, that duty falls to the ‘most appropriate’, per the consensus of the topmost fearsome desk warriors of the political contact squadron.

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