Mueller Frees Up the Troll Team

In the background of the celebrating over the Carpenter SCOTUS decision — which held that the government generally needs a warrant to access historical cell phone location — there were a few developments in the Mueller investigation:

  • The George Papadopoulos parties moved towards sentencing, either on September 7 or in October. If Mueller told Papadopoulos his wife Simon’s Mangiante seeming coordination of the Stefan Halper smear with Sam Clovis (and his lawyer, Victoria Toensing) and Carter Page got him in trouble, we got no sign of that.
  • Amy Berman Jackson dismissed a Paul Manafort attempt to limit the criminal penalties of his Foreign Agent Registration Act violations; this isn’t very sexy, but if the well-argued opinion stands, it will serve as a precedent in DC for other sleazy influence peddlers.
  • After ABJ made sure Rick Gates ask Mueller if he really didn’t mind Gates going on a trip without his GPS ankle bracelet, Gates got permission to travel — with the jewelry.
  • Kimba Wood accepted Special Master Barbara Jones’ recommendations, which among other things held that just 7 of the files reviewed so far pertain to the privilege of anyone, presumably including Trump,  to whom Michael Cohen was providing legal services. So Cohen and Trump just paid upwards of $150,000 to hide the advice Cohen has gotten from lawyers and seven more documents — that is, for no really good reason.
  • In two separate filings, four DOJ lawyers filed notices of appearance in the Internet Research Agency/Concord Management case.

It’s the latter that I find most interesting. Mueller has added a team of four lawyers:

  • Deborah A. Curtis
  • Jonathan Kravis
  • Kathryn Rakoczy
  • Heather Alpino

To a team with three (plus Michael Dreeben):

  • Jeannie Sclafani Rhee
  • Rush Atkinson
  • Ryan Kao Dickey

Devlin Barrett (he of the likely impressive link map) reported that Mueller did this to prepare for the moment when his office shuts down and the Concord Management nuisance defense drags on for years.

People familiar with the staffing decision said the new prosecutors are not joining Mueller’s team, but rather are being added to the case so that they could someday take responsibility for it when the special counsel ceases operation. The case those prosecutors are joining could drag on for years because the indictment charges a number of Russians who will probably never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom. Russia does not extradite its citizens.

The development suggests Mueller is contemplating the end of his work and farming out any potentially outstanding prosecutions to other parts of the Justice Department.

Except this doesn’t make sense. Not only are Concord and the judge, Dabney Friedrich, pushing for a quick trial, but Atkinson and Dickey are themselves DOJ employees, so could manage any residual duties.

Far more likely, Mueller is ensuring one of his A Teams — including Dickey, DOJ’s best cyber prosecutor — will be able to move on to more important tasks on the central matters before him.

40 replies
  1. x174 says:

    thanks for the compiled list of the latest in the world of pain heading toward trump world

    i don’t know if you’ve heard but it appears that mcclatchy has come upon some interesting evidence which appears to extend the timeline of when the trump campaign began trying to remove the sanctions on russia (in February 2016). the detailed entanglements seemed to be something that might interest your curious mind.

    “A controversial peace plan for Ukraine and Russia that has drawn headlines and scrutiny from Special Counsel Robert Mueller was initially devised in early 2016 with significant input from an ex-congressman and a Ukrainian-American billionaire, according to a former Ukrainian legislator who promoted the proposal before Donald Trump’s election.”
    “The proposal would have lifted sanctions on Moscow if the Kremlin withdrew Russian forces from Eastern Ukraine; it also could have permitted Russia to keep control of Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.”

    • harpie says:

      Trump’s Moscow Tower and Back-Channel Ukraine Dossier: Both Began During the Election, Evidence Suggests Ryan Goodman; Just Security; 9/13/17 

      The second dealing with Cohen and Sater involved a back channel plan for handling Ukraine and Russia. Most all news outlets and analysis start the timeline for this plan in January 2017, but there is reason to believe it began much earlier. […] The discussions between Artemenko, Sater, and Cohen began long before January 2017, according to Artemenko. In an interview with a Ukrainian news outlet, Artemenko said that he began discussions with Cohen and Sater “at the time of the primaries, when no one believed that Trump would even be nominated.” Talking Point Memo reported on this interview in February 2017 (see also Josh Marshall’s assessment that the Ukrainian news outlet is a legitimate publication).

  2. Trip says:

    Michael Cohen should stop hanging out with Tom Arnold. I watched a clip of Nicole Wallace’s interview with him, where he announced some new show about digging up tapes on Trump (On Vice) with Cohen, and he was in a frenetic frenzy. Dude threw out a whole lot of breath and words but was seemingly incapable of forming one complete meaningful sentence; although his jumbled words went on and on, like one enormous scattered (Palin-esque) run-on sentence. Maybe his heart is in the right place, but his thoughts are a tangled mess. Mueller doesn’t need this kind of sideshow where potential witnesses are mucked up by a swirling kaleidoscope of incomprehensibility, straining credibility for any potential future court case.

    • Naomi says:

      Meuller can handle this show…   did you see O’Donnell later cross examine Arnold?  Didn’t need any more late night comedy last night!

      • Trip says:

        No, I didn’t. The interview with Wallace I watched online. I’m not sure if I can take anymore of the disjointed and frantic monologue. It was rattling. Is it worth watching, or can you give me a synopsis, so I don’t have to watch?

        • Avattoir says:

          You’re fearful about just WATCHING … an INTERVIEW? Pretty sure you’re not up to the rigors of reading a blog.


          The Last Word’s interview was extra-orderly, the host, a lawyer and TV show script writer himself, both recognizing the need for order and able at imposing it (From time to time his celeb status in the world of big time TV fiction pays off bigly, such as here, as in not just knowing Arnold personally but knowing how to cut out the crap.). IAE it’s easy to follow – particularly in contrast with the Wallace mess – so, there’s your test: if you can’t handle watching that, you may not be admitted onto this bumpy ride.


          Separately, Fearless leader has been tweeting about her impression to the effect that many in the Mueller peanut galleries are significantly underestimating how MUCH bumpier this ride’s gonna get when the peloton hits the chicane, i.e. we shouldn’t just expect an increase in the mass of missives from the twit in chief, but a far more significant massive mess of heavier and more accelerated chicanery.

          Remember the Trump U. case? That was pretty much a slam dunk administrative law prosecution of a series of related clear and plain regulatory violations at least two of which were inescapably obvious. Yet EVEN THAT Trump – pretty much alone, without any GOP or conniving propaganda press assistance – managed to turn into a border culture war.

          There’s this frequently stated cliché of whoever’s POTUS just by holding that office ‘being’ the “most powerful person in the world”. That runs generally against our lived experience whenever a POTUS seeks to do or say anything good, but it’s beyond argument true when it comes to the power to do bad, and there’s been every indication that Trump recognizes no limits to the depths of his depravity whenever he believes himself under attack.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Trip is usually fully up to any dog’s breakfast Trump or this blog can throw up.  But being human sometimes requires seeking relief, which is why work crews work in tandem.  Such things, however, are perceived as weaknesses to manipulate by the likes of Trump, Miller and Bannon.

        • Valley girl says:

          Thank you for that statement earl.  Excellently spoken.  Take care of yourself, Trip.

        • Valley girl says:

          Good for you!  Something I should do too.  Well, I guess I did, actually.   Spent the day Wednesday in the ER- presenting symptoms same as a heart attack, severe unbearable pain in my middle chest.  And, I was not very coherent.  EKG immediately determined it was not a heart attack.  After 8 1/2 hrs of unremitting pain the pain started to slowly subside, and then I felt normal.  ER doc said very likely a severe esophageal spasm triggered by acid reflux due to extreme stress.  I’d never heard of that condition.

          I certainly don’t want to go through that again, so seems like a very good idea for me, you, and others to take a break now and then from the ongoing news horror show, whatever our reasons.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    ABJ’s opinion and order dismissing Manafort’s claims regarding limiting consequences for violating the FARA should be important.  To exaggerate only slightly, there are probably as many FARA violations in DC as there are parking tickets in a notoriously parking restrained town.

    Movers and shakers seem largely to ignore FARA.  But we know this administration is driven to enforce the law without fear or favor.  So, more consequences to follow.  And on ABJ’s main point, financial transactions always precede or follow violating FARA.  So her argument is an important one.

    Manafort argued that FARA merely banned failure to register, not the act of representing a foreign principal.  Yet FARA makes willful violation a felony.  That strongly suggests that avoiding mere failure to register was not its purpose.

    ABJ demolishes Manafort’s argument in a few pages simply by referring to the text of the statute, which bans “acting” as a foreign agent, not simply being one or failing to register as one. After also dealing with the main case on point, which Manafort seems to misapply, ABJ concludes:

    These laws are not just about paperwork; their object is to ensure that no person acts to advance the interests of a foreign government or principal within the United States unless the public has been properly notified of his or her [foreign] allegiance.

    Given that there are probably thousands of unregistered foreign agents among top DC lobbyists and lawyers, and that this opinion gets at the proceeds of that representation, it should cause a stir.  The more perceptive among these lawyers and lobbyists, however, should have begun cleaning up their act when Manafort was indicted and Gates decided to take a plea.

    ABJ is plugging a tiny hole in the dike meant to protect American government from the massive influence peddling that afflicts it.  But hers is an important step.

    • Avattoir says:

      At absolute minimum, folks here should familiarize themselves with

      From that, anyone should be able to see the peripatetic, spotty, kinda sad history of an Act that’s been batted around quite severely by Congress over its 80 year history – to the point where the highly rationalized take of Judge AB Jackson will come – as it no doubt came to Manafort and possibly even members of his legal team – as a shock to a town, sure without pity, but massively infested with agents (including lobbyists and elected reps who might just as well be lobbyists who can vote – including the majority of elected reps of one entire national party).

      When I first read a short msm blurb on Jackson’s ruling, the blurb was written in a way that suggested she somehow felt compelled to look outside the Act for justification. Not True! I was relieved to see for myself, since she began, & actually could have stopped (I’m glad she chose otherwise), entirely within the wording of the Act.

      Except … hers will not be the last word on this. The sort – kind, nature, whatever – of arguments Team Manafort posed in their motion to dismiss have often found a distressing even alarmingly gentle home within in weirdly rationalized opinions of Justice Gorsuch over the years he’s been in the judicial system. Plus there’s no basis for thinking Thomas and Alito wouldn’t dispose of this challenge in basically the same Bizarro World irresponsible The Joker in charge chaotic way.

      The fact that Kennedy signed onto the dissent in this week’s SCOTUS grenade on cellphone towers is also deeply disquieting (even without factoring in the chance Kennedy will retire only for the Federalist Society to easily manage Trump to replace him almost certainly with Brett Kavanaugh). That would – likely will – leave the entire business in the hands of CJ Roberts.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Well, the ranks of would be agents for foreign powers are often filled by former lawyer and lobbyist congresscritters.  I’m almost surprised the act is on the books.  But it is, it’s fairly clear, and willful violations of it are a felony.

        Facts already public about Manafort’s longstanding behavior suggest his violations were structured, planned and willful, in full knowledge of what he was attempting to avoid: disclosure that his acts were by, for and lavishly compensated by his foreign principals.

        As you say, though, the main hole in ABJ’s argument is how seldom the act has been enforced.  That didn’t stop Mr. Obama or Mr. Trump from successfully using other seldom-used acts to impose criminal liability.

        ABJ’s argument, however, seems eminently neutral and straightforward, and a welcome relief.  I suppose we’ll soon see what Brett Kavanaugh and others on the DC Circuit think of it.

        • Avattoir says:

          Again I stress: read the history of the FARA.

          It begins in 1938, aimed by Congress to deal with the spread of PROPAGANDA in support of Americans getting onside with certain foreign interests. That sort of origin story is pretty much catnip for ‘originalists’ such as Scalia purported to be and Gorsuch claims to be.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          The history suggests that its use against Manafort is exactly right.  That he acted for foreign principals will probably be the easiest part of the case to prove.  But because of its infrequent enforcement, Mueller would be wise also to focus on other crimes.

          Since FARA’s 1966 and 1995 amendments, the focus has been banning unregistered political lobbying.  ABJ’s argument that it attacks the act of unregistered lobbying, not merely the failure to register, is sound.

          The Act does have a checkered enforcement history.  It appears, for example, not to have been used against the many agents working on behalf of the ROC and Israeli governments.  It has been used largely against lobbyists for governments disfavored by the USG.

        • emptywheel says:

          Thanks to both of you for this discussion. I agree the opinion is important. I think it is well argued but I agree with Avattoir, this is one that is dangerous enough to the influence peddling industry that they may appeal it aggressively. I’m hoping that Manafort is beginning to get worn down (he did not, for example, appeal revocation of bail, when that would be just as effective as anything else to generate useful press that might help POTUS pardon him down the road), and so won’t pursue it that aggressively. Given what SCOTUS did to bribery I would prefer this to be a precedent in DC, where it matters, until we get through the next little bit.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I’m afraid I have to agree.  This is largely, but not exclusively, a Metro DC problem, which means the DC and Fourth Circuits.  Thousands make many millions doing this sort of lobbying, many of them the biggest names in town, such as Haley Barbour’s shop, BGR, and Squire Patton Boggs (sharing offices with Michael Cohen is not their claim to fame).

          As was true with Manafort, that lobbying is more effective when it is hidden and not regarded as lobbying for a foreign principal.

          This rare decision squarely addressing acting for a foreign principal and putting revenue from it at stake will draw a lot of fire.  Typically, it will be behind the scenes.

      • orionATL says:

        given its intitial 1938 date i assume the fara was enacted in response to impending war in europe and to the “america first” activists in this country.

        the context of the discussion here of that act brings to mind the clauses in the 1787 constitution intended to prevent foreign influence on the affairs of the new nation – the emoluments clause, and the stipulation that an american president must be a “natural-born” citizen.

        it is a curiosity that a president (trump) who has devised a political strategy for the coming election centering on extremely harsh treatment of illegal immigrants would be the president who has violated the emoluments clause with respect to his business affairs, together with his having received russian help in his election as president.

        as well, president trump who got his initial start in national politics challenging the legitimacy of an oposition party’s candidate based on a spurious argument that barack obama was not provably an american citizen.

        no custom or law too important to break or ignore.

        summary of pdf:

        The Emoluments Clause: Its text, meaning, and application to …

    • Ed Walker says:

      I agree with EoH and Avattoir. I’d bet this opinion is bulletproof on appeal.

      The intriguing thing is that there are a number of other statutes that have similar provisions. Here’s the operative provision of the 33 Act:

      (a) Sale or delivery after sale of unregistered securitiesUnless a registration statement is in effect as to a security, it shall be unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly—


      to make use of any means or instruments of transportation or communication in interstate commerce or of the mails to sell such security through the use or medium of any prospectus or otherwise; or

      (2) to carry or cause to be carried through the mails or in interstate commerce, by any means or instruments of transportation, any such security for the purpose of sale or for delivery after sale.

      This is generally how these things are written. This wasn’t a close call. Manafort’s lawyers tried a bunch of purely legalistic games, including citations to an SoL FARA case with some loose language. But the implications are serious because of the link to money-laundering and reltated crimes.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      Given that there are probably thousands of unregistered foreign agents among top DC lobbyists and lawyers, and that this opinion gets at the proceeds of that representation, it should cause a stir.

      There are a lot of McMansions in northern Virginia built by foreign lobbying cash, registered and unregistered. Which may make the EDVA jury pool more interesting.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I think you’re correct on the staffing issue.  The Concord Management case is a relative sideshow.  The staff now working on it can be replaced, and would be available to the new team for assistance or follow-up as need be, and be free to work on cyber aspects of more important aspects of Mueller’s work.

  5. Trip says:

    Enter the feeling of doom:

    ‏ @emptywheel
    41m41 minutes ago

    I think even if I’m right — that Mueller inquiry is coming to a head, one way or another — I think people are dramatically underestimating how unpleasant it will be for everyone, not just for Trump’s buddies.

    • Charles says:



      I think even if I’m right — that Mueller inquiry is coming to a head, one way or another — I think people are dramatically underestimating how unpleasant it will be for everyone, not just for Trump’s buddies.

      Get your marching shoes on. We are protected by our institutions only to the degree that we are willing to back them up.

    • emptywheel says:

      Oh, pretty clear he is. Even tho they’re nice brits, the CA people working here were clearly violating Visa rules, something that Adam Hickey envisions charging. And he’d be in collusion with that part, even beyond whatever ties between Wikileaks and RU and CA there might be.

  6. pseudonymous in nc says:

    Yeah, I thought Devlin Barrett was weirdly off the mark with his reading of the trollfarm filing as the beginning of a wind-down: it might partly be because this is going to be stretched out for ages, but Mueller isn’t going to waste his top team members’ time on Eric Dubelier’s theatrical filings. (Again, I’m fine with Dubelier being paid to be a dick while making a few sharp legal points about the theatrics of indicting people outside US jurisdiction, but everybody on both sides knows exactly what the game is.)

    • emptywheel says:

      Well said, particularly about the fairness of Dubelier getting paid to be a dick and make a few key points. Though I will ALSO say that I think Prigozhin is genuinely trying to either force out some intel or force Mueller to shut down that prosecution. By making sure there are four people who can focus on Dubelier, you decrease the chance there’ll be a costly mistake on either point.

  7. Michael says:

    ‘So Cohen and Trump just paid upwards of $150,000 to hide the advice Cohen has gotten from lawyers and seven more documents — that is, for no really good reason.”
    I don’t get this. I’m not a lawyer but I never heard of anyone asking for a special master when 99.9% of the documents are not privileged. So why would Trump do this? Was he just trying to delay an indictment of Cohen until after the 2018 election? Or was he hoping that the special master would exclude documents that were not privileged but were relevant to the Mueller investigation but not the SDNY investigation? As I understand it, special masters don’t do this- if the warrant’s for embezzlement but the document’s not privileged but says “I raped 5 women”, the special master won’t exclude the evidence of rape- they only exclude privileged documents.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      No one but the defendant knows what’s in the document haul until after the review.  It was unusual to appoint a special master, it was a conservative move, but given the notoriety of the case, an appropriate step.  The special master handled it expeditiously and apparently for a reasonable cost, much less than Cohen or Trump incurred.

      Finding only a handful of documents that qualified as privileged was just how the cards played.  It was predictable, however, given the acknowledged character of Cohen’s work for Trump and how little he did for anyone else.

      Trump’s defense is a standard Sherman marches to the sea routine.  Burn it all down, invent any defense, to delay what may be the inevitable.  Trump supposedly has the money.  He certainly has the need.

      We’ll see a lot more of it.  We already have, in the way that Nunes and others in Congress are ignoring their responsibility to oversee the executive, while falling over themselves to protect the president and thereby protect themselves.

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        I would not assume that Cohen *remembers* all of the ‘stuff’ on his phones or computers.

        Based on events today, I suspect there is a ‘smoking gun’.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      Futerfas just filed an affirmation saying that the Family Business would like until July 11th to designate what it considers privileged, specifically from two tranches of documents they were provided this week. It seems like a pretty reasonable request and will probably be granted, but it’s also a way to extend the clock.

      • Rugger9 says:

        However, how does this delay help if all it does is make this news into September / October / November?  One would think it wiser to get this into the rear view mirror for the midterm elections.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I suspect they are playing a longer game, and maxing out on every delay possible.  Plus, we don’t know what their collateral attacks will be.

          The requested response time to me seems a week too long, but bmaz would know better.

        • emptywheel says:

          I don’t think the BB will delay things. SDNY already has the bulk of what’s out there, the BBs are, if Cohen can be trusted (?), really old. So SDNY can move along with its prosecution of Cohen w/o waiting for this.

          Trump Org may be genuinely worried abt stuff on money laundering though.

        • x174 says:


          it seems the whole money laundering thing is the great submerged whale–Moby Don–of this whole Trump World fiasco. it looks like the tricky bit will be disentangling the trump-cohen-russian mob-erik prince stream of money laundering from the remaining rivers of the world’s dark money flows. those places where there’s spillage of flow of funds of hidden assets may make for some interesting revelations.

          my money’s on hannity getting swept up in the rising tide of accountings information that’s sure to come once Mueller–our Cap’n Ahab–blows the corrupt Trump World wide open, tax filings and all.

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