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

In this series, I’m analyzing the Mueller questions written down by Jay Sekulow and leaked to the NYT to show how they set up a damning investigative framework. This post laid out how the Agalarovs had been cultivating Trump for years, in part by dangling real estate deals and close ties with Vladimir Putin. This post shows how during the election, the Russians and Trump danced towards a quid pro quo agreement, with the Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for a commitment to sanctions relief, with some policy considerations thrown in.

Here, I’ll lay out the questions that show Mueller’s interest in how Trump and the Russians began settling the quid pro quo during the transition. To the extent these are quid pro quo payoffs, and not simply Logan Act violations, they’d be key elements in a conspiracy.

The quo: policy payoffs

Immediately after the election, the Russians called to collect on their winnings.

According to Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress, the day after the election, Putin sent a congratulatory email to the campaign. In response, he reopened communications with Sergey Kislyak. A day later, the Agalarovs emailed congratulations to let the Trumps know they were “always at your disposal here in Russia.”

“Don!!! Amazing run and a glorious victory!!!!! Congratulations to you and your dad, we are proud and happy for you !!!!!! Always at your disposal here in Russia

On November 28, Rob Goldstone sent an email passing on sanctions materials to Trump’s assistant Rhona Graff.

“Aras Agalarov has asked me to pass on this document in the hope it can be passed on to the appropriate team.

Natalia Veselnitskaya, too, followed up on her Magnitsky request.

In addition to the sanctions demand, according to Jared, the Russians emphasized policy concessions on Syria. A retracted Brian Ross story said that emphasis started even before the election, but in reality the outreach happened almost immediately after the election.

December 1, 2016: What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?

On December 1, Jared and Flynn met with Sergey Kislyak. Jared reportedly asked for the Russians to provide a secure channel. Jared claims the idea for a secure channel came from Kislyak (Mueller likely has intercepts that clarify Kislyak’s version of the story). But he makes it clear the back channel pertained to Syrian policy.

[Kislyak] especially wanted to address U.S. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his “generals.” He said he wanted to provide information that would help inform the new administration. He said the generals could not easily come to the U.S. to convey this information and he asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation. General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines. I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration.

Given how often Kushner and Trump talk face to face, this may be one of the questions about which Mueller has the least certainty of the answer. But we know that in Jared’s interview with Mueller’s prosecutors, they focused on that meeting. They also asked if he had information that exonerated Flynn; his answers (and Flynn’s reported unhappiness that Trump had proven disloyal) led immediately to Flynn’s plea deal, so for some reason Mueller must believe Flynn over Kushner.

Mueller’s interest in how much Trump knew about Kushner’s pursuit of a back channel is important for several reasons. It provides evidence that Kushner (and the Trump Administration generally) was engaged in what I call ConFraudUs on foreign policy, pretending to pursue US foreign policy that actually served other interests. And Kushner’s pursuit, possibly at Trump’s direction, of unmonitored channels is important background to Trump’s response as it became clear the FBI had collected evidence of wrong-doing during the transition.

Curiously, Sekulow’s version of these questions does not include one about Kushner’s December 13 meeting with Sergey Gorkov, the head of the sanctioned Vnesheconombank.

December 29, 2016: What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?

According to Flynn’s Statement of Offense, as he was on the phone with Kislyak, he was coordinating closely with a transition official we know to be KT McFarland.

On or about December 29, 2016, FLYNN called a senior official of the Presidential Transition Team (“PTT official”), who was with other senior ·members of the Presidential Transition Team at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to the Russian Ambassador about the U.S. Sanctions. On that call, FLYNN and the PTT official discussed the U.S. Sanctions, including the potential impact of those sanctions on the incoming administration’s foreign policy goals. The PIT official and FLYNN also discussed that the members of the Presidential Transition Team at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation.

Immediately after his phone call with the PTT official, FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador and requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the U.S. Sanctions in a reciprocal manner.

Shortly after his phone call with the Russian Ambassador, FLYNN spoke with the PTT official to report on the substance of his call with the Russian Ambassador, including their discussion of the U.S. Sanctions.

On or about December 30, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement indicating that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. Sanctions at that time.

On or about December 31, 2016, the Russian Ambassador called FLYNN and informed him that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to FL YNN’s request.

After his phone call with the Russian Ambassador, FLYNN spoke with senior members of the Presidential Transition Team about FL YNN’s conversations with the Russian Ambassador regarding the U.S. Sanctions and Russia’s decision not to escalate the situation.

We know Mueller has an email — one the transition probably didn’t turn over to Congress in voluntary discovery, and about which they may have intended to invoke executive privilege — that captures part of the discussion about sanctions. Of critical importance, the transition team opposed these sanctions for two reasons: 1) because they wanted better relations with Russia and 2) because they believed that sanctioning Russia for tampering with the election created the appearance that Trump wouldn’t have won without Russia’s help.

On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump’s victory. The sanctions could also make it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote in the emails obtained by The Times.


Mr. Obama, she wrote, was trying to “box Trump in diplomatically with Russia,” which could limit his options with other countries, including Iran and Syria. “Russia is key that unlocks door,” she wrote.

She also wrote that the sanctions over Russian election meddling were intended to “lure Trump in trap of saying something” in defense of Russia, and were aimed at “discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference.”

“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote.

In other words, Mueller has a good deal of evidence showing that Flynn’s actions were closely directed from Mar-A-Lago. He has multiple different versions from people involved about how closely Trump was involved in this direction. He also has substantial evidence that suggests that the worry about diminishing the victory idea actually comes from Trump. The question, then, aims not just to prove that Trump ordered Flynn to undermine the official policy of the United States at a time when he did not have the authority to set US foreign policy, but also to tie these orders to the response Trump took as FBI started discovering his conspiracy with the Russians.

January 11, 2017: What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?

After Jared asked for a back channel, after UAE’s crown prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan made an unannounced visit to Trump Tower with Jared, Flynn, and Steve Bannon in December, Erik Prince ended up at a meeting in the Seychelles set up by Nahyan with Russian Direct Investment Fund head Kirill Dmitriev and a bunch of other shady funders. On top of looking like the back channel Jared had been seeking in December, the meeting is also a logical follow-on to Jared’s meeting with Gorkov (RDIF is a somewhat less sanctioned subsidiary of Vnesheconombank).

Mueller has George Nader’s testimony about what happened at this meeting, and probably a good deal of SIGINT, which reportedly shows that Erik Prince lied in his HPSCI testimony when he claimed his meeting with Dmitriev had been a chance encounter.

On or around January 11, 2017, I traveled to the Seychelles to meet with some potential customers from the UAE for the logistics business of which I am chairman. After the meeting, they mentioned a guy I should meet who was also in town to see them, a Kyrill Dmitriev from Russia, who ran some sort of hedge fund.

I met him in the hotel bar, and we chatted on topics ranging from oil and commodity prices to how much his country wished for resumption of normal trade relations with the — relationship with the USA.

Even Prince’s testimony ties sanctions relief with policy considerations in Syria and elsewhere that countered the official policy of the US. And it likely also ties those policy considerations to the personal enrichment of people like Prince and Jared, if not Trump personally.

One note: by repeatedly pitching Trump and his associates using businesses under sanction, the Russians provided Trump with his own incentive to relieve sanctions, the opportunity for Russian investment.

Late January, 2017: What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

In late January 2017, just after the inauguration, Ukrainian parliament member Andrii Artemenko met with Felix Sater and Michael Cohen to propose a peace deal for Ukraine that would have Ukrainian voters endorse a long term lease of Crimea for Russia and undermine the government  of Petro Poroshenko. Cohen passed on the plan to Flynn just before he resigned. Sater — who claims to be cooperating with Mueller — said that the deal was endorsed by Russia.

Given Sater’s involvement in brokering both the Trump Tower deal and this with Cohen, it’s possible that this deal is another thing that ties policy concessions to Russia with business deals for Trump. Mueller will have both Sater and Flynn’s version of this story. Any records pertaining to it seized by SDNY will be preserved until such time as Mueller asks for them.


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

34 replies
  1. Galactus-36215 says:

    Great analysis’ in your three posts. You should also consider the Rosneft deal as well as real estate deals. Trump’s behavior with China and North Korea since you suspect policy/deals quid-pro-quo.

    CEFC’s current purchase of Rosneft shares has been stalled by China government. While there have been stories in the press related to China crackdown on corruption, the Chinese government is especially cracking down on CEFC.

    Patrick Ho, who was first arrested by US DOJ in SDNY (Hey, isn’t that where Cohen is at…what a coincidence) has just recently claimed that the DOJ is after him to get to, “The Big Tiger” whomever that is. His arrest caused China government to arrest CEFC’s CEO and that guy has been missing for over a month now. His arrest was on 2/28 or 3/1. Immediately after his arrest, Trump gave his VERY first tweet regarding the China Trade war currently going on (3/2). Everyone knows how thin-skinned Trump is and quick to tweet when something happens he doesn’t like. That’s a very specific personality trait of his.

    A few weeks later, another company purchased a 36% stake in CEFC and was set to resume the Rosneft share deal when again, the Chinese government stepped in and arrested that CEO as well and is now missing yet again.

    Each positive or negative reaction with respects to CEFC in the news has drawn either a complimentary tweet from Trump within 48 hours regarding either China or North Korea. It’s gotten so obvious, that I was actually able to predict a tweet RE China/NK.

    Watch the stories on CEFC and then watch how Trump tweets regarding NK or China. It’s policy for personal gain. The US will end up with very little as compared to what China/NK will get, only Trump gets his cash from completion of the Rosneft deal.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      Carter Page doesn’t appear in the list of questions as presented by the NYT, which fits with the hypothesis that he’s a weirdo Zelig-type who just hangs around with Russians doing “energy business” and bullshitted his way onto the campaign, or with even weirder hypotheses. Though it may just mean that his interactions with King Idiot (even via campaign middlemen) were minimal, and there’s nothing to ask him about.

      • lika2know says:

        Which is why all the complaints about the Steele dossier and the FISA warrant are mostly hot air…the campaign and administration did not care about Carter Page.

  2. SteveB says:

    Re the policy concessions in the Syria arena: is there still any milage in considering Flynn’s election day pivot on Turkey and the Gulen kidnap matter, as being potential aspects of favour trading to aid Russian interests in the region?

    I appreciate that the Flynn plea deal is silent on these matters, but does it necessarily follow that no relevant consideration arises from them?

  3. dc says:

    So I guess this means the persistence of sanctions is just another example of Trump not paying his debts.

  4. dc says:

    So I guess the persistence of sanctions is just another example of Trump not paying his debts.

    • Rapier says:

      The whole idea that  a back channel or any channels with The Donald would alter the sanctions except maybe at the margins was a fairy tale.  Rendering the grand chess master Putin into Peter Pan.  Pressure against Russia has been totally embedded into US policy circles for 100 years. The one chance to alter that was 92 to 98 and Clinton slammed that door shut with NATO expansion.  Then too The Donald’s and spawns belief they could turn the giant ship of state with a couple of winks and nod and meetings was more than a pipe dream, it was a full on acid trip.

      • matt says:

        @Rapier, that’s an awesome statement.  Russia is no longer antithetical to US/Democracy/Capitalism.  Why shouldn’t or wouldn’t the Ship of State turn towards diplomacy/trade?  Are we to imagine that existential threat of communism still exists?

      • aubrey mcfate says:

        I’m not sure you meant it with your phrasing (“slammed the door shut”), but I can’t object strongly enough to this notion that expanding NATO was a mistake; witness the commenter “matt” above. NATO expansion was a mutual decision between NATO and the sovereign nations that had been imprisoned by the Russians for nearly half a century. Have any of these apologists for the Russians asked a Pole, a Lithuanian, a Czech, a Hungarian or Romanian whether it was a mistake? If we hadn’t expanded NATO Russia would be considering those countries their “sphere of interest” instead of Ukraine. I’ve been amenable to hearing Russia’s side of things, and always opposed  neoconservatives, but the expansion of NATO, and the attendant expansion of the E.U., was a civilizational advance. Russia is a gangster state that has nothing to offer anyone. NATO membership, while a protection racket of a kind, is qualitatively better.

    • Trip says:

      Avanetti: (paraphrased) They got the tap/warrant because Cohen intended to destroy evidence.

      Is this speculation?

      Avanetti: It’s a fact.

      • JD12 says:

        It makes sense, they definitely had to have justification for the searches. Especially since they’re dealing with the president’s lawyer. Maybe Rudy will fill us in the next time he goes on tv..

        • JD12 says:

          The wiretap would cover the time of Daniels’ 60 minutes interview. It seems that they would have likely, almost certainly, communicated about it.

    • harpie says:

      Here’s the NBC story.

      At least one phone call between a phone line associated with Cohen and the White House was intercepted, the person said. […] Two sources close to Trump’s newest attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, say he learned that days after the raid the president had made a call to Cohen, and told Trump never to call again out of concern the call was being recorded by prosecutors.

      Marcy, on Twitter: “What 2 people with knowledge of the legal proceedings against Cohen have an incentive to burn a wiretap? ”

      CNN’s Kaitlan Collins tweets: “It’s the Trump and Rudy show now.” [LOL!]

      • Trip says:


        emptywheel‏ @emptywheel 9m9 minutes ago

        emptywheel Retweeted Robert Costa

        Oh would you look at that?!?! As if this was all scripted.
        Dear Donald Trump: You did the “tapp” story line already in season one. This viewer demands that you not repeat your storylines like this. GIVE US NEW OUTRAGE!!!
        NOW THIS:
        emptywheel‏ @emptywheel

        Next up, Giuliani, who has promised his client he can end this investigation right away, will be calling for Rosenstein’s head. Remember: Sessions is not actually recused from the Cohen investigation.

        • Avattoir says:

          We already know Sessions has been a ‘disappointment’ to Don John. I’m not convinced that Sessions is prepared to go so far as the Don hopes, or needs, on this front.

          Sessions likes being USAG; I think that just that is very pleasing to him as some kind of revenge / justification. But he himself has been a USattorney; he surely knows the power capacity of those who serve under him, if sufficiently motivated to act against him, and – I suspect – he loves being both their boss AND able to claim and feel like he’s one of them.

          (Other than the, you know, white supremacist racial bigotry, which, given the predominant make-up within the two agencies under him, isn’t necessarily a day to day deal breaker. Certainly didn’t prove to be so with an impressive number of Republican USAGs going back to Nixon.)

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Jefferson Beauregard Sessions – makes me think of Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, from Peckerwood in Georgia – is one of those southern lawyers who is still trying to get even with Bobby Kennedy’s DoJ.  He would flip on Trump before giving up as Attorney General.

    • harpie says:

      Matt Tait:
      [quote] *Woke: the process to get wiretaps is so hard, Cohen must have done super bad stuff
      *Broke: the process to get wiretaps is so hard, the FBI must have violated the process to get it
      *Bespoke: the process to get wiretaps is so hard maybe we should be suspicious whether it happened [end quote]

  5. Willis Warren says:

    Marcy, the title seems to promise real estate payoffs, but it’s all on policy…  may want to make a slight adjustment there.

    As always, great, great, great stuff

  6. big fan says:

    You are tying together a compelling narrative of conspiracy, wonder when and if it will go mainstream. We’re certainly all rooting for ya.

    • matt says:

      Whether or not Mueller pulls through… Marcy will have the goods, and publish a book (I hope).

  7. SteveB says:

    EW you make an excellent point about the use of sanctioned entities to repeatedly pitch to Trump et al, creating at the very least the prospect of personal gain through business opportunities and a personal incentive to reduce sanctions.

    If this perspective on matters is sustained by the evidence Mueller has gathered then it would be very important.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Rudy must think the Feds have Cohen and Trump cold on the facts.  He pivots and admits a few headline grabbing crimes, trying to draw attention away from the much bigger crimes elsewhere.  In a few days, Trump and Huckabee will start whining that “all this” is old news, and “litigated” in the last election (a nonsense framing, like much else Sanders comes up with).  The Base will believe it – it is old news to them, spun with everything Giuliani has left.

    Rudy must be telling Trump that’s the best way to defer action on the nastier crimes Mueller may have hard evidence of long enough to get to 2020.  The Don then hopes to bury it under an avalanche of campaign bullshit.  Rudy doesn’t give Bob Mueller much credit.  That could be a mistake.

    • Buford says:

      I agree, it is a big mistake to underestimate your opponent…and that is what trump and rudy are doing…they are just talking louder, and louder, until they can drown out the truth…

  9. GKJames says:

    Wouldn’t the defendant’s (all-too-credible) response be: I’m obsessed with undoing whatever Obama did, including Russian sanctions. That some of my people might have obtained dirt on Clinton is neither here nor there as it relates to the outcome in November 2016. (She certainly had her own people looking for dirt on me.) My policy on sanctions has always been driven by the need to discredit my unworthy predecessor. It has nothing to do with some supposed quid pro quo arrangement with the Russians. Besides, my administration has imposed new sanctions, so how much of a quo could there be?

  10. jon says:

    shouldn’t rudy911 and his involvement with the zarrab case move to front and center of his being knee deep in this conspiracy?

  11. Rugger9 says:

    There are so many targets it is hard to keep track, but Zarrab is also important.

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